Jersey Mike’s Subs

** (2 stars)

I’ll confess I’m not a huge sub sandwich fan. I love sandwiches, but I regard subs as the bottom level of sandwich quality.

They used to be even worse, when Subway was the only game in town, but then Quizznos forced them to raise the bar with more breads and toasted options. Then Quizznos was forced out of our area by Jimmy John’s which specialized in speed of assembly, and Firehouse, which introduced better ingredients.

That leave Jersey Mikes in a neverland. They don’t have Firehouse’s quality or Jimmy John’s speed. They don’t even have Subway’s variety of bread.

What they do have–at this location, anyway–is a nice outside eating area that attracts a breeze to cool things off, even in summer.

The pastrami sub I had, prepared the default way, was pretty flavorless. But perhas the addition of some mustard and peppers could zest it up. Still, with a Firehouse a few blocks away, I’d probably go there instead.

Jersey Mike’s Subs
6700 Conroy Rd
Ste 100A
Orlando, FL 32835
(407) 445-6453
https://www.yelp.com/biz/jersey-mikes-subs-orlando-8

Cafe D’Antonio Celebration

Quattro pizza

Carpaccio

Caesar salad

Interior

** (2 stars)

This really should be a much better restaurant than it is, given its nice decor and great location.

Pizza crust is fairly flavorless and limp, and many of the toppings are obviously canned.

Beef Carpaccio was pretty much flavorless.

Ceasar salad was good.

Although very few tables were seated, both the kitchen and the service in general were slow.

There is a nice selection of wines by the glass at reasonable prices.

Cafe D’Antonio Celebration
691 Front St
Celebration, FL 34747
(407) 566-2233
https://www.yelp.com/biz/cafe-d-antonio-celebration-celebration

Nona Blue Modern Tavern

Smoked salmon dip

Chicken tenders

House made salsa

Interior

**** (4 stars)

Nona Blue is a particularly nice sports bar. It has lower lighting levels and nicer decor than most, and the menu, while offering familiar dishes, adds a unique twist to most.

For example, the salsa is house made, filled with interesting herbs and onions, and served in a large dish that would easily service four people. (If you like it spicy you’ll need to ask for some tabasco to add some zip, as it’s quite mild). The accompanying chips were fresh and plentiful.

Smoked salmon dip was fresh tasting and flavorful. It contains quite a bit of egg white, so be aware if that’s not your thing.

The chicken tenders were exceptional. They aren’t the usual chopped up chicken, but were tender strips of white meat in a spectacularly crunchy, crisp, yet oil-free crust. We had them tossed in buffalo sauce rather than the standard BBQ or honey. Our waiter brought the other sauces to try, but the buffalo sauce was a great call. They were delicious.

Speaking of our waiter, he was very friendly and helpful. Service was definitely beyond expectations.

Nona Blue Modern Tavern
9685 Lake Nona Village Pl
Orlando, FL 32827
(407) 313-0027
https://www.yelp.com/biz/nona-blue-modern-tavern-orlando

Carrabba’s Italian Grill

Interior

Kitchen

Zucchini Fritte

Sandwich and soup

Lettuce wraps

**** (4 stars)

I’ve always thought Carrabba’s is much better than other chain restaurants, and this visit reinforced that opinion. None of the food items taste like they are “formulated” in an industrial kitchen. Ingredients are fresh and flavors are discrete and complex.

I’m pleased that many Carrabba’s locations are now open for lunch, as it’s much more likely for me to visit then. It was quiet the rainy Thursday we stopped in but business was starting to pick up in the afternoon.

The interior of this location is particularly nice, more like an upscale steakhouse than a chain Italian restaurant.

We started with the zucchini frittes, which were like very light french fries. They were excellent, but we probably didn’t need them in addition to the lunch that was to follow. Still, we nearly finished them.

The Pick Three lunch deal is a great way to try several things. I chose the Caesar salad, lentil sausage soup and lettuce wraps.

I would ask for less dressing on the salad next time, but it was excellent.

The soup was good too, although so rich I could only eat half. The generous serving of sausage had a really nice fennel component.

But the highlight was the lettuce wraps. This “small plate” wasn’t so small, with three lettuce leaves filled with a chicken mixture that was an interesting combination of Vietnamese, Italian and other Mediterranean flavors. I could only eat one of these but took the other two home for dinner.

That was quite a lunch for the price!

Service was exceptional, both from our server, the attentive manager, and the friendly hostess staff.

Carrabba’s Italian Grill
8702 Vineland Ave
Orlando, FL 32821
(407) 938-0015
https://www.yelp.com/biz/carrabbas-italian-grill-orlando-12

Chuy’s

Elvis green chili fried chicken (green chili festival)

Valley combo (green chili festival)

Bar

**** (4 stars)

This location of Chuy’s is a bit easier to get to than the one in the very crowded stretch of International Drive. The decor is the same funky coolness, but with different themes and pictures.

We went during the annual green chili festival, which offered some different menu items, although they didn’t have the promised complementary fresh green chilis.

The best thing to get at Chuy’s is the appetizer combo, which makes a great and economical meal for two people. Another excellent selection is the taco salad, one of the more healthful (as in “more healthful than extremely bad for you”) items. Get it with the creamy jalapeno dressing. You can also ask for that as a chip dipping sauce, which is delicious.

Speaking of chips, perhaps the very best thing about Chuy’s is the ultra-thin chips served when you sit down. They are always crisp, and despite their thinness they are sturdy enough to support a big scoop of salsa.

Margaritas are also excellent.

Our server here seemed like she was still learning, but she was a bit busy.

Overall a very good experience.

Chuy’s
7913 W Irlo Bronson Memorial Hwy
Kissimmee, FL 34747
(407) 787-3545
https://www.yelp.com/biz/chuys-kissimmee

McDonald’s

Custom pizza and side salad

Custom bistro burger

Interior

Counter and touch screens

Games

Redemption area

*** (3 stars)

This is probably the nicest McDonald’s you’ll visit. The downstairs is divided into several nice eating areas, and the upstairs contains a large play area and many redemption games.

I’m not a frequent fast food eater, and especially not at McDonald’s, but we went here to check out their touch screen ordering system. It worked great, and allowed us to customize our orders of Bistro Burgers and Pizza.

After selecting the desired ingredients, you select a numbered “hockey puck,” enter its code, pay (I used Apple Pay) and find a seat. Then your food finds you.

The actual food was no different then other McDonald’s. The burger had good ingredients, but the beef patty itself didn’t distinguish it. The pizza toppings were good but the crust was limp.

If you’re looking for a decent environment for a fast food meal, and want to entertain the kids, this is a good choice.

McDonald’s
6875 W Sand Lake Rd
Orlando, FL 32819
(407) 351-2185
https://www.yelp.com/biz/mcdonalds-orlando-10

Tijuana Flats

Mexican pizza

Interior

**** (4 stars)

This chain’s food is consistent from location to location. This location is a bit larger than some of the others, and has more outdoor seating. The hot sauce bar here has more selections than the one on Kirkman.

If you order the Mexican pizza, ask for the red sauce on the side, as it is rather odd.

Because of its size, it can be quite noisy, especially at lunchtime on Taco Tuesdays.

Tijuana Flats
7560 W. Sand Lake Rd.
Orlando, FL 32819
(407) 352-6113
https://www.yelp.com/biz/tijuana-flats-orlando-9

Negril Jamaican Restaurant

Curry chicken

Jerk chicken

Exterior

**** (4 stars)

Many of the Jamaican places in town are a bit divey, but not Negril. It’s a neat counter service place in Ocoee.

We tried the curry chicken and the jerk chicken. Both were very good. The curry sauce on the accompanying rice and beans was particularly good.

The mac and cheese side wasn’t very good, but the fried plantains were very nicely caramelized.

The “small” size is plenty for a full meal.

Service was fast and friendly.

Negril Jamaican Restaurant
2795 Old Winter Garden Rd
Ocoee, FL 34761
(407) 347-7449
http://www.yelp.com/biz/negril-jamaican-restaurant-ocoee

1921 by Norman Van Aken

Exterior

Entry

Foyer/kitchen

Dining room

Fried Cornish game hen, collard greens, Mac and cheese

Duck

*** (3 stars)

The challenge a new restaurant faces is threefold: providing good food, good service, and attracting customers. 1921 has succeeded on two out of three.

The customers are no problem. Open only a week or two, the restaurant was packed when we visited. Unfortunately, although the decor is beautiful, it didn’t include acoustic treatment, so the dining room was at a deafening level–enough that my companion and I had to keep repeating ourselves, even though we were at a small table for two.

The food also passes muster. I’ve never been a huge fan of Norman’s at the Ritz Carlton, but I thought three of the dishes we had here were better than anything I’ve ever had there.

The Caesar salad was enlivened by some lemon zest, a trick I will try at home.

Chaufa “Aeropuerto” was an Asian-influenced fried rice dish with grilled octopus and sausage. The octopus and sausage were just okay, but the rice flavors were wonderful. This is a large starter, but would make an excellent side dish.

The fried cornish game hen was excellent, like a wonderful fried chicken, and served with good collard greens and mac and cheese.

The only miss was the duck breast that our waiter highly recommended. It looked unappetizing, and the “mole” sauce bore no relationship to a true mole, overpowered by odd tasting herbs.

The third aspect of a good restaurant is the service staff, and the place was certainly heavily staffed. But our waiter was in way over his head. Upon taking our order he told us he’d “try to get the wine out as soon as he could,” as if this required some Herculean effort. Apparently it did, as it didn’t arrive until we were almost done with our first course. Someone should also mention to him that you present the bottle before opening it, and you don’t fill the wine glasses to the brim to save yourself a trip later. And had we not anticipated his failure to pace the meal, I’m pretty sure our entrees would have arrived before we’d even finished that course.

Management seemed involved, so perhaps this will be corrected as they adjust staff levels.

Overall I’d say that if you’re in the area and want good food, 1921 is worth a try, as long as you don’t plan on having a conversation during dinner.

1921 by Norman Van Aken
142 E 4th Ave
Mount Dora, FL 32757
(352) 385-1921
http://www.yelp.com/biz/1921-by-norman-van-aken-mount-dora

Luigi Stefani Pizzeria

*** (3 stars)

This place has quite a collection of poor reviews, but it is possible to get a good meal here. In fact, it can be one of the more healthful options in the entire airport food court. The trick is to go around the corner, past the greasy pizza, to the deli salad area. There, for$10, you can get a green salad topped with your choice of three fresh made deli salads. I chose grilled vegetables, asparagus, and something called harvest grains. They were all delicious.

Luigi Stefani Pizzeria
5700 S Cicero Ave
Chicago, IL 60638
(773) 838-8824
http://www.yelp.com/biz/luigi-stefani-pizzeria-chicago