Ellie Lou’s Brews & BBQ

Pork platter

Exterior

Interior

Sauces

***** (5 stars)

Orlando is an excellent town for barbecue, with many great choices, and a lot of different styles, from Southern to Midwestern and more. I like the barbecue here better than almost anywhere I travel to, because of that diversity. And I have to say, of all the great Orlando barbecue places I patronize, Ellie Lou’s is the best.

I had the pork platter with two sides. I was expecting sliced pork, so I was pleased when something more like burnt ends appeared: succulent chunks of lean, moist pork, with a nice charred crust on some of the pieces. It was a generous serving, too.

I liked all four BBQ sauces on the table: Kansas City (sweet), Memphis, Hot, and Mustard. The combination of the first three was my favorite. All of them are made in-house, and it shows.

Also made in-house are the sides. The baked beans were loaded with chunks of meat; a squirt of sauce and they were perfect. One of my favorite parts of the whole meal was the potato salad, which was also obviously homemade, with big chunks of potato, a creamy dressing and lots of herbs.

The two slices of garlic bread were also excellent: fresh, crispy and with lots of garlic butter.

Perhaps the thing that most distinguishes Ellie Lou’s is the environment. It’s not crowded and is actually quite pleasant inside. And even though you order at a counter, the staff is very attentive once you’re seated, so it’s like a real restaurant. A real GOOD restaurant.

Ellie Lou’s Brews & BBQ
336 Moore Rd
Ocoee, FL 34761
(407) 347-9515
http://www.yelp.com/biz/ellie-lous-brews-and-bbq-ocoee

BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse

**** (4 stars)

This BJ’s has the nicest interior decor of any BJ’s I’ve been to. As with all of them it has a very extensive menu, and a full page devoted to a very clearly described array of beers.

We took a large (16 people) group here after playing the Escape game nearby, and our servers did an amazing job of dealing with so many people.

I really liked the queso dip appetizer, which was more about chili than cheese. The appetizer combo was less exciting, and I particularly disliked the egg rolls and the spinach dip.

My entree, the ahi tuna salad, was delicious, with tender, rare slices of ahi arranged around a nicely tossed pile of greens with just the right amount of tangy dressing, and a nice variety of textures.

In short, this is a great place for large groups or small parties, for groups who all want something different to eat, and for beer lovers. One of the better choices on I-Drive, for sure.

BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse
8103 International Dr
Orlando, FL 32819
(321) 732-8190
http://www.yelp.com/biz/bjs-restaurant-and-brewhouse-orlando-4

Redlight Redlight Beer Parlour

***** (5 stars)

Beer, Beer, Beer! That’s what this place is all about. An ever-changing list of draft beers, plus a ton of bottles.

I took a group of ten here, and the helpful folks behind the counter were able to guide each of us to something we really liked. In my case I found two that were probably my top two beers ever.

The atmosphere was chill, and the music good, and it wasn’t crazy busy on a Thursday night.

There’s no food, but a food truck in front (on our night it was terrific Peruvian fare) fills that bill, and they even brought it inside to our tables.

Lots of fun, and I’m not even really beer guy.

Redlight Redlight Beer Parlour
2810 Corrine Dr
Orlando, FL 32803
(407) 893-9832
http://www.yelp.com/biz/redlight-redlight-beer-parlour-orlando

Round Barn Winery

***** (5 stars)

This place certainly had the best wine of any of the southwest Michigan wineries we visited. The large, round, tasting room can get busy, but the service is friendly, and your tasting fee includes five samples, a glass to keep, and a discount on purchases.

As with all Michigan state wineries, you can tell that the winemakers are struggling to compensate for less than ideal growing conditions for vinifera. But the battle is largely being won here, and the sauvignon blanc, in particular, was world class.

The weekend ambience at the winery is hopping. There is live outdoor music, and hundreds of folks gathered around enjoying it. There is also a barn where they sell their beers, although the brewery itself is elsewhere.

I don’t recommend their distilled spirits, as the rum tastes more like vodka mixed with gin. However the walnut creme liquor is fabulous, probably the best thing they make.

Round Barn Winery
10983 Hills Rd
Baroda, MI 49101
(800) 716-9463
http://www.yelp.com/biz/round-barn-winery-baroda

Whisper Creek Farm: The Kitchen

**** (4 stars)

This vibrant space off the Marriott lobby offers appetizers, small plates and beer. The concept is local sourcing from the property’s farm, although that’s not apparent in a lot of the items, since they aren’t raising pigs or cows or fish.

Many of the beers are microbrewed. I liked the porter I had, although the menu changes so often you can’t count on the selections listed on the sample menus outside the door actually matching the menu inside. Since they’re both just pieces of printer paper, I’m not sure why.

The background music is lively, so it’s a better after convention spot to have a drink than a place for a relaxing meal.

Whisper Creek Farm: The Kitchen
4040 Central Florida Pkwy
Orlando, FL 32837
(866) 435-7627
http://www.yelp.com/biz/whisper-creek-farm-the-kitchen-orlando

Ulele

**** (4 stars)

Ulele is quite a magical setting, notable more for its atmosphere than any particular style of food. Regardless of the characterization as Native American Char Cooking, whatever that is, there are few items on the menu that wouldn’t be at home on the menu of any plain old American bar and grill.

We liked everything we tried. My favorite was probably the closest to the theme, the grilled shishito peppers. They were perfectly charred and served on a bed of diced garlic.

The cheddar popcorn wasn’t apparent on the mashed potatoes, a huge mound of which propped up my excellent steak. It was described as a strip, but seemed more like a Delmonico.

The wine list offers some excellent values, particularly on the higher end wines such as the Caymus Cab we shared.

Service was extremely friendly, knowledgable and helpful. And the setting, overlooking the Riverwalk, can’t be beat.

Ulele
1810 N Highland Ave
Tampa, FL 33602
(813) 999-4952
http://www.yelp.com/biz/ulele-tampa

Sprecher Brewing Co

***** (5 stars)

I didn’t know what to expect from a microbrewery tour, but Sprecher certainly exceeded my expectations on all counts.. It’s a lovely facility, with a staff that is obviously in love with what they do.

Entry and exit is through a fair-sized shop that sells beers, sodas and gift items. For the bargain sum of $5 you receive a tour of the productions facility, from mashing to bottling. Then, in the indoor beer garden, you are invited to taste as many of their sodas as you like, and four beers. There are about ten choices of each. The pours are generous, and you even get to keep the glass.

The company was started in 1984 with two beers, but the introduction of root beer a decade later hit big. We learned that their soda assortment actually outsells their beer, and that their root beer outsells all their other products combined.

Our favorite soda was the orange dream, and out favorite beer was one of their originals, the Black Bavarian. We bought some of each to take home.

This was a great way to spend a couple of hours, and I’m looking forward to returning.

Sprecher Brewing Co
701 W Glendale Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53209
(414) 964-7837
http://www.yelp.com/biz/sprecher-brewing-company-milwaukee