Sunday, August 30, 2015

(Nearly) 35 years and counting: Too Jay's is Florida's go-to deli and bakery

TooJay's Original Gourmet Deli is celebrating 35 years in business next year, and I was invited to find out why they've become an institution in Orlando. TooJay's is known for its huge deli case full of meats, cheeses, cookies, cakes and other drool-worthy delights. But I'd say the restaurant is equally well known for its amazing catering spreads. If the boss at your current job has never sprung for a catered lunch from TooJay's, I suggest you pull out the want ads.

Founded by Jay Brown and Mark Jay Katzenberg, the two "Jays" opened the first TooJay's in Palm Beach, Florida. Today there are 26 restaurants across the state and six here in Central Florida.

I dined at the TooJay's in Lake Mary. It's been there for a while, tucked into the corner of an aging plaza that's recently seen a revival with the opening of Fresh Market and Academy Sports. I stopped in for an early dinner and there was just a scattering of customers. I was greeting with a friendly "Welcome to TooJay's," and sat promptly.

I started with the Stuffed Cabbage ($5.99) and the Mini Potato Pancakes ($5.99). I loved the meat and rice filled cabbage, but the potato pancakes were over-fried and very, very dark. I'm surprised the burnt pancakes made it out of the kitchen. One bite was enough.

With such a large menu, it was difficult to decide on a main course. The sandwiches all looked wonderful, and the salads sounded fantastic, but for dinner, I wanted a "meal." Liver and Onions? No. TooJay's Shepherd's Pie? I've had it before, and it was great, but no. Chicken Marsala? Not tonight. Turkey Dinner? It's August, but why not?

If you love gravy -- who doesn't? -- this is your dish. The Traditional Turkey Dinner ($11.49) featured oven-roasted turkey atop a mound of cornbread stuffing and smothered in giblet gravy. On the side was asparagus, a small dish of cranberry sauce and a giant pile of mashed potatoes -- covered with more gravy. Did I mention there was gravy? Gravy jokes aside, the dish was the best Thanksgiving dinner I've had since, well, last Thanksgiving.

At this point, I must mention the disgusting delicious beverage I enjoyed for the first time: Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray Soda. Yep, a celery-flavored soda. I couldn't decide if I liked it or hated it. It was just that odd to me. I mean I didn't hate it, really. But I surely didn't love it, either. You'll have to try it and decide for yourself.

For dessert I sampled the Mini Black & White Cookies ($1.99) and the limited-time Orange Dream Cake ($4.69). The black and white cookies are a TooJay's staple and were as delicious as always. The Orange Dream Cake, however, was just as described -- a dream -- a very pleasant, don't-wake-me-up dream of a dessert. Loved it.

Here's thanking TooJay's for a wonderful 35 years, and best wishes for another 35 years (at least) of Delicious deli food.

4 Jays out of 5

Note: I dined compliments of TooJay's.

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Love a Shake and a Steakburger? Freddy's to open second location in Orlando

Fast-casual restaurant franchise, Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers, recently began construction just south of Pineloch on Orange Avenue (3200 S. Orange Ave.). The location is slated to open in early 2016. It is the second of more than 20 Freddy’s locations planned for Orlando. The chain opened its first Orlando location in 2014 at 8107 Vineland Ave.

“We’re a privately-owned, family-oriented concept,” said Brian Pyle, franchise operator. “We bring to life the 1940s and 1950s; guests will see walls of the restaurant filled with genuine photos of 90-year-old restaurant co-founder Freddy Simon, who also served in World War II.”

Freddy’s offers lean-beef steakburgers, Vienna Beef hot dogs, and shoestring fries, as well as an assortment of dessert treats prepared with freshly-churned, chocolate or vanilla frozen custard. The all-new, 3,650 square-foot building will seat 110, with additional seating on the patio. Drive-thru service will be available.

“A steakburger has characteristics similar to a hamburger, but a steakburger is pressed to create thin, crispy edges,” said Pyle. “Our most popular menu item is the Original Double combo meal. We smash and sear two lean ground beef patties on the grill, sprinkle on our steakburger and fry seasoning, top with American cheese, mustard, pickle, onion, and serve it on a toasted bun. The meal comes with a heaping pile of our crispy shoestring fries, and a drink.”

Thursday, August 27, 2015

More Mexican options in Orlando area: Zona Fresca opening soon in Winter Park

Zona Fresca, South Florida’s top fast-casual Mexican restaurant, will open its first of five Central Florida location in Winter Park during the second week of September. Located at 1035 N. Orlando Ave., Zona Fresca will serve fresh, healthy Baja-style Mexican food and offer customers the opportunity to personalize every dish with an abundance of choices.

The 3,100-square-foot Winter Park Zona Fresca restaurant in the Ravaudage mixed-use center has indoor seating for 100 guests, as well as a covered outdoor patio that seats 28. Conveniently located at the corner of Lee Road and Orlando Avenue (U.S. Highway 17-92) and just minutes from Interstate 4, Zona Fresca joins the resurgence in development along the 17-92 corridor.

“We are excited to open the Winter Park Zona Fresca and welcome the community in to experience delicious Mexican food that is fresh, light and made daily with natural ingredients,” said Nigel Bogaert, Zona Fresca franchisee. “And all of our menu items can be customized according to customer preference, allowing for hundreds of options.”

From the fan-favorite Baja fish taco to traditional chicken or steak burrito, and quesadillas,
charbroiled chili rellenos, steak tostada salad and chopped nopales (prickly pear cactus) salad, the new Winter Park restaurant will serve the same signature menu items as the other Zona Fresca locations, including a kid’s menu and an assortment of Mexican-brewed and domestic beers.

As always, salsas are made fresh every day from only top quality produce, guacamole is made from scratch daily with only the ripest avocados, and chips are made in 100 percent cholesterol-free canola oil, making any Zona Fresca location the perfect choice for fresh, flavorful, and healthy food.

The Winter Park Zona Fresca will offer customers the opportunity to dine in or pick up their orders, as well as an extensive catering menu for groups of 15 to 500. From an intimate gathering of several people to a fiesta for hundreds, Zona Fresca can provide everything for any party’s needs. Zona Fresca’s catering menu and party platters feature taquitos, quesadillas, burritos and tacos and much more.

The Winter Park restaurant will be the 11th Zona Fresca location.

About Zona Fresca

The first Zona Fresca opened in 2001 in Fort Lauderdale, bringing the lighter, healthier Baja-style of Mexican food to South Florida. Zona Fresca’s motto is “not your everyday Mexican food, but Mexican food you can eat every day.” All Zona Fresca restaurants are open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Saturday andSunday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. For more information, visit Become a Facebook fan by visiting and follow on Twitter @ZonafrescaOtown.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

All hail the Hatch Green Chile: Chuy's Orlando celebrates with 27th annual festival

Yes, I love hot. Oh yes I do. Chuy's invited me to their annual Green Chile Festival this week and I said yes, I'll go. Oh yes I will.

Chuy’s 27th annual Green Chile Festival will kicked off Monday, August 17 and runs thru Sunday, September 6 at all Central Florida Chuy's locations (Kissimmee, I-Shops, Wally Park). Chuy’s puts the green chile center stage this year by capturing a “music festival” theme with a spirit of celebration and discovery.

This annual food festival celebrates the green chile harvest in Hatch, New Mexico with a special menu offered for a limited three week period. This year’s menu features six new dishes including Green Chile Pork Tamales, Bacon Wrapped Pork Rellenos and Veggie Fajitas. To cool down on a hot festival day Chuy’s will also feature a Frozen Watermelon Margarita and a Spicy Cucumber Texas Martini. The popular New Mexican Martini, made with green chile infused tequila, is always a festival favorite.

Chuy’s love for the green chile dates back to 1989 when their founders traveled to the “Chile Capital of the World” in search of the perfect pepper to complement their authentic Tex-Mex. The arid climate and rich soil of the Hatch Valley in New Mexico are uniquely suited to grow this legendary pepper and are not found anywhere else in the world.

As the first to host a green chile festival outside of New Mexico, Chuy’s commitment to offering the most flavorful pepper on the planet continues today. This year alone Chuy’s contracted with farmers to grow over 2 million pounds of the freshest green chiles just for their restaurants. When the chiles reach their height of flavor in August, Chuy’s will send a team of restaurant managers to the Hatch Valley to bring back the finest, fresh-picked chiles for the festival.

“This time of year is like a holiday for us at Chuy’s,” said John Mountford, Director of Culinary Operations for Chuy’s. “After months of cultivating new and excited recipes and watching the green chiles grow to the right size, color and texture, we can’t wait for the harvest to finally arrive at our restaurants. Green Chile Festival is the only time of year that we showcase new menu items and it’s the perfect chance for us to share this one-of-a-kind pepper with our customers.”

Customers are encouraged to join in on the fun by visiting their local Chuy’s Green Chile Festival merchandise booth for festival tees, free concert ear plugs and guitar picks. They can also enter a chance to win free Chuy’s for a year by posting a picture of their favorite Green Chile Festival menu item to Instagram and tagging @chuysrestaurant with #GreenChileFest.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Who doesn’t love luaus? Who doesn’t love amazing food? Both collide Sunday, August 23rd in the Fashion Square Mall parking lot

Hey foodies, what are you doing Sunday, August 23rd from 6pm to 9pm? If you’re a sucker for luaus and amazing food (I know I am) grab your fellow foodies, friends, and family, and come join me in the parking lot of Anthem College at the Fashion Square Mall for the Orlando Kona Food Truck Luau.
The food truck lineup will include:

Kona Dog
Korean Taco Box
Melissa’s Chicken and Waffles
Bem Bom
TJ’s Seafood Shack
Charlie’s Bakery
Monsta Lobsta
Crepe Company
Treehouse Truck
Barnwood BBQ
Twisted Plates
Ice Cream Social
El Cactus Azul 

Event Details…

Kona Dog Food Truck Luau
Fashion Square Mall
Anthem College
3710 Maguire Blvd.
Orlando, FL 32803

Sunday, August 23, 2015
6pm to 9pm
(Every 4th Sunday)

Don’t forget:
Most trucks accept credit cards. Bring chairs. Bring a table. Bring a party mood. Bring sunscreen. Bring a grass skirt. Bring a coconut bikini. No, leave that at home, actually.

There will be a DJ spinning some great music. Bring the kids -- this is a family-friendly event! For more details, visit: Kona Food Truck Luau