Gott’s Roadside

Chili Cheese Fries, Impossible Cheeseburger
Exterior
Exterior

***** (5 stars)

Great historic roadside eatery from the 1940s, now occupied by a small local burger chain. Terrific chili fries, Impossible Burger, and some of the best onion rings I’ve had anywhere. Also a shout-out for the coffee shake! Sounds like a great 10am breakfast on Christmas Eve to me!

Gott’s Roadside
933 Main St
Saint Helena, CA
94574
(707) 963-3486
https://www.yelp.com/biz/gotts-roadside-saint-helena-2

Hook & Reel Cajun Seafood & Bar

Shrimp and scallops with spicy garlic butter
Shrimp and scallops with spicy garlic butter
Exterior
Interior

***** (5 stars)

I’ve been to a few of these crawfish-in-a-bag type places, and never been very impressed. They tend to be messy but not all that flavorful. But this place is different.

You can tell you’re going to have a good experience here from the moment you walk in the door. The staff is obviously really into what they are doing, and proud of the results. Our server, Wynona, was terrific, and it was apparent everyone else was enjoying themselves, too.

I ordered the shrimp (heads off) and scallops, because I felt they would be the least messy to eat. That was certainly true of the scallops, although the shrimp still need to be peeled, so you’ll want that bib and gloves they bring you! Both the shrimp and scallops were tender and flavorful. The corn on the cob was also particularly good. I chose the spicy garlic butter as my sauce, and it was fantastic.

This was really a tasty meal, and I’ll be back soon.

Hook & Reel Cajun Seafood & Bar
7480 W Colonial Dr
Orlando, FL
32818
(407) 801-5223
https://www.yelp.com/biz/hook-and-reel-cajun-seafood-and-bar-orlando-2

The Boathouse

Beef carpaccio
Chopped salad
Exterior
Interior

***** (5 stars)

Restaurants in tourist areas don’t need to be all that great, because there is a constant supply of new patrons. But I’m a big fan of Gibson’s restaurants in Chicago, so I decided to give The Boathouse a try, and I’m glad I did.

As you would expect for a restaurant at Disney Springs, the decor and theming are spectacular. But the food is even better. I had the chopped salad with a couple of shrimp added. The salad was huge, very fresh, and the shrimp were perhaps the freshest I’ve had anywhere. I will definitely explore their raw bar when I return.

My wife had a selection of raw oysters, and also commented on how fresh they were.

The place was packed at lunchtime on a Monday, but the servers did a good job of keeping up, and the noise levels were quite reasonable.

The Boathouse is definitely my new favorite restaurant at Disney Springs.

The Boathouse
1620 E Buena Vista Dr
Lake Buena Vista, FL
32830
(407) 939-2628
https://www.yelp.com/biz/the-boathouse-lake-buena-vista

Bull and Bear

The Wedge
Beef Short Rib
Carpaccio
Entry
Bar

***** (5 stars)

Orlando lacks variety in the high-end dining scene, with only a few top-notch restaurants that aren’t steakhouses. That makes the competition for best steakhouse even tougher, because there are so many to choose from. It doesn’t get much better than The Bull and Bear.

You won’t find much on this menu that isn’t on every other steakhouse menu in town, but the execution here is superb.

The wedge salad, really more of a stacked dome, is a good starter, with a choice of dressing, and delicious bacon crumbles.

The steaks, of course, are top-notch. But the real standout for me was the short rib, which was easily the best I’ve ever had. Served on one not-so-short rib, the meat was succulent without being overcooked, and the rich, complex reductive sauce was stellar.

The usual sides are here. Particularly good is the creamed corn.

Wine prices are average, and there is an adequate selection, although no vintage depth.

The electronic menu used for both food and wine actually works really well, and the pictures linked to the menu items looked exactly like the dishes we were served.

Our wine group used to meet here regularly, but over time it slipped off my radar, so I hadn’t been here in years. The food is a top-notch as it ever was, although the prices have certainly increased!

Bull and Bear
14200 Bonnet Creek Resort Ln
Orlando, FL
32821
(407) 597-5500
https://www.yelp.com/biz/bull-and-bear-orlando-2

The Waterfront

Tuna Poke Bowl
Waterfront Platter
Exterior
Interior
Exterior
Exterior

***** (5 stars)

This has got to be one of the best outdoor dining places in Orlando. The restaurant is barely visible from the road, and looks like a dive, but once inside you realize it opens out into a couple of great patios that really are on the water.

While the menu may look like a sports bar’s offering, the food is much better than the average sports bar. The smoked fish dip was balanced and complex, yet served with simple saltines. The Waterfront Platter was a generous mix of batter and fried shrimp, fish, chicken, hushpuppies and fries. All were done with a light touch, so they weren’t oily at all.

The tuna poke was a beautiful and delightful portion of chopped tuna and fresh veggies.

On a day with a nice breeze blowing in across the lake I can’t imagine a better place to be in Orlando.

The Waterfront
4201 S Orange Ave
Orlando, FL
32806
(407) 866-0468
https://www.yelp.com/biz/the-waterfront-orlando-3

Firebirds Wood Fired Grill

Exterior
Interior
Interior
Interior

*** (3 stars)

The highlight here is the gorgeous decor. From the large bar with its high top table to the comfortable dining room with large booths and an open kitchen, every surface is elegant stone and wood. Even the outside covered dining area is beautifully designed.

Unfortunately the food experience is rather uneven. Both the Ceasar salad and Mixed Green salad were wonderful. My prime rib was perfectly cooked, although there was a tremendous amount of fat, about a third of the serving. Still, it was plenty. But my wife’s “New York strip” looked like a flank steak, but was tough even for that cut. It was perhaps the toughest steak she’s ever been served. Sure, she could have sent it back, but it was obvious on inspection that it wasn’t a good steak, so I think that’s some measure of performance.

Tater tots were an excellent side.

Wine prices are reasonable by the bottle, only a bit more than double retail.

Service was very good. Note that if you’re not in a hurry you should tell them, though, as it tends to be very speedy.

Firebirds Wood Fired Grill
1562 N Mills Ave
Orlando, FL
32803
(407) 581-9861
https://www.yelp.com/biz/firebirds-wood-fired-grill-orlando

The Gathering Table

Fondue
Hamachi
Octopus
Exterior
Interior

***** (5 stars)

This terrific restaurant in The Ballard Inn is very popular, so be sure to make reservations. The atmosphere is a cross between modern and colonial, and the food is 100% creative.

We loved every course. The standouts were the best tomato soup I’ve ever tasted, and some incredibly tender octopus. The hamachi was also melt in your mouth tender. Service was an efficient team effort.

The wine list offers a nice selection of local bottles and some French wines, but very little variety by the glass.

Highly recommended.

The Gathering Table
2436 Baseline AveThe Ballard Inn
Solvang (Ballard), CA
93463
(805) 688-7770
https://www.yelp.com/biz/the-gathering-table-solvang-ballard

The Grill on the Alley

Exterior
Interior

**** (4 stars)

This location is far from an alley, like the original in Beverly Hills! The building and it’s interior design is exceptional.

The menu is very similar to the original, although the preparations are slightly different.

My favorite item is actually the creamed spinach that comes with the steaks. It has the perfect balance.

Service is friendly and professional.

The Grill on the Alley
120 Promenade Way
Thousand Oaks, CA
91362
(805) 418-1760
https://www.yelp.com/biz/the-grill-on-the-alley-thousand-oaks-5

Bahama Breeze

Goat curry bowl (small)
Rum Raid
Rum Raid
Island hopper combo
Interior
Exterior

**** (4 stars)

For a chain restaurant, there are some surprisingly authentic Carribean dishes in the Bahama Breeze menu. I visited the original location when they first opened and thought it was just okay, but a recent visit to this larger venue was more impressive.

There are standard sports bar-like items, of course, including an appetizer sampler that had some nicely fried coconut shrimp and onion rings. But there are also authentically seasoned items such as the goat curry bowl, which I thought was excellent. Best of all, unlike traditional goat curry, there were no bones!

My favorite item was a drink sampler that included 8 different tropical and tiki-style drinks. They were large enough that the assortment is intended for more than one person. Since I’ve recently been researching tiki drinks at some of the country’s top tiki bars, I wasn’t expecting them to be as good as they were. There were excellent examples of a Zombie, Painkiller, and Dark and Stormy, among others. At about $26 it was a good deal.

Service late at night seemed a bit harried, but was friendly. The restaurant is very large, nicely decorated, and there is a large outside dining area with live music.

Bahama Breeze
8735 Vineland Ave
Orlando, FL
32821
+1-407-938-9010
https://www.yelp.co.uk/biz/bahama-breeze-orlando-3

Barley & Hops

Beef brat

Flatbread

Exterior

Fried mushrooms

Potstickers

**** (4 stars)

By my count this is the fifth incarnation of this place, and definitely the best. The previous version, The Big Easy, was also good, but didn’t last long because of the narrow focus on Cajun food, I guess. This new sports bar menu should have broader appeal.

We tried the fried mushrooms and pan sauteed pork potstickers as appetizers, and both were very good. I particularly liked the cole slaw that came with the pot stickers.

For my main course I had the beef brat, which was nicely seared and served with sauteed peppers, onions, and sauerkraut.

My companion has a pepperoni flatbread. It wasn’t really a flatbread, it was a large rectangular pizza. And boy was it good! Lots of pepperoni, and most importantly lots of delicious pizza sauce, what I regard as west coast style. Ironically, this is the best pizza ever served in this building, a place that was three different Italian restaurants in the past!

Our server, Ashley, was terrific.

The space is mostly unchanged since the previous use, but this is the first time when the concept has truly matched the layout. It works as a sports bar, and I wish them much success.

Barley & Hops
7782 Winter Garden Vineland RdSte 140
Windermere, FL
34786
(407) 347-3688
https://www.yelp.com/biz/barley-and-hops-windermere-3