Cecil’s BBQ – Orlando, FL

Restaurant Name: Cecil’s Texas Style BBQ
Address: 2800 S. Orange Ave, Orlando, FL 32806
Social Media: Facebook / Twitter / Website


The Meat Sampler – March 23, 2018

Last weekend I did a quick 48-hour trip down to Orlando, Florida to watch a few rounds of the Arnold Palmer Invitational with my dad. I flew down first thing Saturday morning, we watched pretty much all day, ate dinner at STK – Orlando, and repeated the same thing Sunday. When the invitational was complete, my parents wanted to get dinner before I flew back and we decided BBQ was our choice. We weren’t near a 4 Rivers Smokehouse so I opened up the Yelp! app and did some researched and Cecil’s BBQ was only a few minutes away. 

Looking over the menu and seeing the nice variety of smoked meats they had, my dad and I decided getting the Meat Sampler was the best way to go to get a good sampling of all the smoked meats they had. 

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The Meat Sampler: Beef Brisket, Ham, Spare Ribs, Pulled Pork, Sausage, Chicken, & Turkey

The meat sampler included four side dishes so we got baked beans, jalapeno mashed potatoes, collard greens, and potato salad.

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Texas Toast, Collard Greens, Jalapeno Mashed Potatoes, Baked Beans, & Potato Salad

I will admit that the appearance of the plates of food looked AMAZING! Starting with the sides, everything had your traditional look and they just looked delicious. The meat platter looks like a lot of food and if I’m being honest was a lot of food for my dad and I (my mom had a few pieces). When I inspected each meat individually you could for the most part see the infamous “smoke ring” that BBQ is known for. Some meats had it more than others. 

Taste wise…the sides didn’t disappoint in any fashion. The Texas Toast was buttery and crispy. The greens, with a little hot sauce added to them, were spicy and salty. The jalapeno mashed potatoes were actually very complimentary flavors. I hadn’t seen many/any restaurants do that mixture but Cecil’s did a really good balance of jalapeno heat and earthiness of the mashed potatoes. The potato salad was also really good. I find myself going back and forth between white or yellow potato salad. Sometimes my flavor pallet fancies the creamier white and sometimes it’s the tangy of the yellow mustard potato salad. Cecil’s may be tipping the scale in the white potato salad as it was good sized but soft chunks of red potatoes and a balanced amount of cream. The baked beans I wasn’t overly impressed with which was a little bit disheartening as BBQ and baked beans are typically hand in hand.

The meats flavor ranged from excellent to just OK. If I had to rank the meats in order of my most favorite to least favorite it would be: pulled pork, ham, sausages, spare ribs, turkey, & chicken. I’m going to put the emphasis of this post on the pulled pork as it was excellent! It had a strong but not too strong smokey flavor, tender, and still moist without having to drown it in sauce. It had the smoke ring on some of the bark pieces which were mighty tasty. The portion that we had was still very easily pulled apart even more implying the tenderness was super all while still maintaining a good level of moisture with the meat. The ham, sausages, and spare ribs were good but not great. Hints of smoke were evident in the taste but needed some sauce. These three meats were moist but these are also difficult meats to dry out.  

I was disappointed in the chicken and the turkey though. They were dry and needed some sauce. The turkey slices looked great as they had a solid bark on the outside, but the meat was dry still and made it difficult to taste the smoke as I had to use sauce with nearly every bite. Chicken and turkey are tough birds to BBQ and keep moist so it’s understandable and I’ve been there.

SUMMARY

All in all, I enjoyed my visit to Cecil’s. I’d return for sure for the pulled pork. Maybe try it on a sandwich and topped with some coleslaw like my BBQ friends in the Carolina’s do. Accompany it with some potato salad or the collard greens and it’ll be a fine lunch hour.

 

Lucky Dog Grille – Mason, OH

Restaurant Name: Lucky Dog Grill
Address: 729 Reading Road, Mason, OH 45040

Social Media: FACEBOOK / TWITTER / WEBSITE


Super BLT – March 9, 2018

Yesterday I wrote about Jamaican food joint Island Friday’s in Cincinnati, OH which is what I and a coworker had for dinner. Between meetings with different subcontractors and suppliers we grabbed lunch at the Lucky Dog Grille and I enjoyed this tasty classic of a BLT.

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Super BLT: A classic sandwich piled high with 12 slices of our brown sugar peppered bacon for a unique flavor. Served with lettuce and tomato slices on marble rye with a side of fried onion petals.

This dish was so tasty! Before I get into flavors, let me share about the appearance of the plate. It’s a very well organized plate with half of it covered in the sandwich itself and then the other half covered in the fried onion petals. The rye bread was an excellent choice as it provides a darker tone and some color depth to the plate. 

When I think about a BLT…I think that the most important thing is of course the BACON!!!! I’m quite picky when it comes to eating bacon whether it be by itself or as part of a dish. To me bacon needs to be crispy and near burnt but not fully burnt obviously. I like the crunch and the sound of a strip of bacon snapping when I bite into it. Throw in some brown sugar and black pepper coated around each strip of bacon it’s like candy. 

This dish is taken over the top with the fact that it has 12 STRIPS OF BACON in it! This sandwich is essentially 3 strips wide by 4 strips tall and the bacon was on point delicious. The rye bread was a nice bitter flavor to go with the sweet and salty bacon. The lettuce and tomato are nice color compliments but don’t overpower the sandwich by any means and the focus is really on the BACON!

The only downside to this sandwich was the lack of mayo! I was caught off guard as I dove more and more into the sandwich and didn’t get the smooth, creamy, and unique taste that mayonnaise brings to this sandwich. I would’ve liked to have had some mayo but I guess the exorbitant amount of bacon will counter this knock on this sandwich. 

SUMMARY

Overall, this is a mighty tasty sandwich. The bacon is 100% on point and definitely takes the sandwich up a notch. Some mayo would’ve been a nice add, but the fact that this sandwich has 12 STRIPS OF BACON in it is definitely a must try. Maybe ask for a side of mayo and then add it on your own.  

Island Friday’s – Cincinnati, OH

Restaurant Name: Island Friday’s
Address: 2826 Vine Street, Cincinnati, OH 45219
Social Media: FACEBOOK / TWITTER / INSTAGRAM


Jerk Chicken Dinner – March 8, 2018

Today and really this whole week I’ve been traveling for work and by traveling I literally mean I’ve been driving all over much more than usual. This past Tuesday I had a pre-construction meeting at a project in Lafayette which isn’t really too bad because it’s near my alma mater of Purdue. Wednesday I ventured up to St. John, IN for a pre-bid meeting and then hurried back for Wednesday Night Youth Service at Club 365. Today I woke up early and hit the road at 7:00 AM to go to a northern suburb of Cincinnati, OH known as Mason for a full day of meeting with subcontractors and suppliers. 

With my evening plans freeing up, it opened up the opportunity to return to my absolute favorite place to get 100% legit and authentic Jamaican food at Island Friday’s. You may have heard about this place near the University of Cincinnati as it was featured on the Food Network show “Diners, Drive-in’s, & Dive’s”. When you think about Jamaican food you may jump right to the exotic of curry goat or a fish dish, but for me I think of Jerk Chicken.

 

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Jerk Chicken Dinner with red beans & rice, Jamaican greens, and fried plantains

Let me begin this review with the “appearance” review. Obviously, you can’t score really high when your meal is served in a styrofoam container. I’m not hating on places that do, but when it comes to appearance of the dish to me a styrofoam container doesn’t look appealing. When you open the container though the Jamaican greens jump out and the shine of the jerk sauce on the chicken. Not even taking into account the flavor of the steam that hits your nostrils is amazing!

Taste…where to begin when it comes to the taste of this dinner. The jerk seasoning/marinate is AWESOME! So awesome I bought two jars of it as I was leaving. I like to consider myself as a person who likes hot and spicy foods, but I don’t like hot just because I can and burn your face off hot. I prefer hot but robust and flavorful hot and the jerk seasoning and sauce here bring it 100%. I do love the choice to use bone-in chicken thighs as thighs are meatier and typically easier to keep moist. The chicken wasn’t dry except for maybe in a few spots where the skin may had been peeled back, but overall the meat itself was moist. But obviously the jerk seasoning and the sauce is what makes this dish come alive. It is so full of flavors your tastebuds will be getting stamps all over its passport in each bite. 

The jerk seasoning sauce (also known as “Island Magic”) has ingredients like habaneros, onions, scallions, garlic, thyme, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, pimento, seasoning salt, soya sauce, & vinegar as it’s primary ingredients. Seeing this list it speaks ROBUST FLAVORS all the way. Hints of sweet, savory, salt, bitter, and then a nice little jab of heat in every single bite. If you’re looking for melt your face off hot, this sauce isn’t it, but if you’re looking for a tastebud adventure it’s a must try flavor profile.

The sides were all really good too. The Jamaican greens were tasty…didn’t need any hot sauce as I typically do with most greens but they were a good accent to the dish. The red beans and rice were awesome especially the portions that got some of the jerk seasoning sauce on it! Mighty tasty bites there. Fried plantains are unique. They don’t have a distinct flavor that blows my mind, but they do provide a nice subtle sweetness to the dish. 

Negatives of this dish…really just come in the presentation. I think most of their customers get their food to go, but it’d be nice if for people dining in to get their food a plate of some sort vs. a styrofoam container. The food itself I wouldn’t change a thing!

SUMMARY

Overall, jerk chicken is one of my favorite flavor profiles. It’s a whirlwind of flavors in every bite that really is good on anything…just so happens to be commonly on chicken. Great choice to use chicken thighs and perfectly cooked side dishes were complimentary flavors to the focal flavor of the jerk chicken.

STK Orlando

Restaurant Name: STK Orlando
Address: 1580 Buena Vista Drive, Orlando, FL
Social Media: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram


Orange Dream Cheesecake – March 23, 2018

I recently revisited STK Orlando while back in Orlando for the Arnold Palmer Invitational. My parents wanted me to take them out for dinner and we wanted to go somewhere nice in Disney and so I knew I had to take them back to STK – Orlando. In the post after this one I got the steak. This time around I wanted to try something new so for my dinner I actually did the beef rib meatloaf dinner which was awesome. I’m going to have to write about that sometime, but this update to this restaurant review is for the Orange Cream Cheesecake I had for dessert!

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Orange Dream Cheesecake – bruleed oranges, whipped cream

This dessert was a little small so it doesn’t score high on my appearance points because it kinda got dwarfed by the plate. The burnt topping and orange slices and drizzle were nice touches but the dessert itself was still a little small for the plate. 

The taste of this dessert is just like the name…DREAMY! IT…WAS…AMAZING! Probably a close 2nd or 3rd favorite dessert is the dreamsickle which is basically orange and cream. I remember getting a dreamsickle from the ice cream man and absolutely loving it. I still to this day take orange soda and mix in some vanilla ice cream whenever I go to a Chinese buffet. The balanced flavors of tart and cream are straight delicious. 

Literally EVERY SINGLE BITE was just like eating a dreamsickle except not frozen. The graham cracker crust of the cheesecake was a great choice as it held together really well. Not a whole lot more to say about this dessert besides it is an ABSOLUTE MUST TRY if you go to STK – Orlando!


10 oz. Filet Mignon with Grilled Asparagus and Bleu Butter

Traveling by airplane can make Christmas present difficult to distribute, so a common go to for me is taking people out for some nice fine dining that they wouldn’t normally experience. I’ve been blessed lately at my job and that blessing is never meant for me to keep to myself but to also be a blessing and bring an experience that people may not usually get to enjoy. So taking my aunt and cousin to STK popped up on my radar as “Fine Dining Near Disney”.

The outdoor seating while we waited for our table to be cleaned was great and comfortable and a nice vibe overall. The perfect temperature and clear sky was a plus as well for the Disney Springs atmosphere. The menu at STK is traditional steakhouse, but they offer a variety of toppers and sauces. The bleu buttered sourdough bread was very tasty and got the taste buds salivating early. The special oil that came with it was unique and added some additional depth of flavor as well. 

I ordered us a side of the double smoked bacon which was basically cubed up pork belly that was smoked twice and came with some dates, tomatoes, & a very sweet BBQ sauce. It was an amazing explosion of flavors for the taste buds. My aunt ordered the coconut grilled shrimp, my cousin ordered the 12 oz New York Strip with the red wine sauce. I went for one of my favorite cuts of beef…the Filet Mignon. Got it with the bleu butter and some grilled asparagus.

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10 oz Filet Mignon with Bleu Butter Sauce & grilled Asparagus.

This plate looked a little empty at first because it was just the filet and the dish of bleu butter as the asparagus came on its own plate. I moved the asparagus to the plate with the filet and looked better but failed to get a pic before cutting into the filet which came out PERFECTLY for medium-rare doneness (look at that center!?!?!?!).

The seared crust on the filet was solid but not tough and definitely flavor packed. The knives that came with the steak made cutting each slice of filet easy. The meat was tender, juicy, and the bleu butter sauce wasn’t necessary by any means, but definitely added the unique flavor that bleu cheese and butter can do to beef.

Very tough to find something “wrong” with this dish as it was pretty near perfect. Maybe the “emptiness” of the plate when it came out. A side of potatoes or a risotto of some sort would’ve been a good compliment to the plate and have it jump out more. 

SUMMARY

STK Orlando is one of the best steak houses I’ve been to and I’ll definitely be coming back. It’s pricey…fine dining will do that, but when you celebrate and want to really treat family or guests or friends or a date or whomever to someplace special with a contemporary atmosphere and solid food, STK Orlando won’t disappoint.

4 Rivers Smokehouse – Winter Garden

Restaurant Name: 4 Rivers Smokehouse – Winter Garden
Address: 1047 South Dillard Street, Winter Garden, FL 34787
Social Media: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram


Pitmaster Combo – December 26, 2017

T’was the day after Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring except my tastebuds after eating lunch at this place with my aunt and cousin while on Christmas vacation in Florida. 

With a few locations in the Orlando area, we ventured to the one in Winter Garden just north of Orlando. I kinda knew this place was going to be pretty legit as you could smell smoke and BBQ down the street. 4 Rivers Smokehouse offers a full spectrum of BBQ with traditional sides and even a few unique BBQ’d meats that aren’t too common like tri-tip and prime rib. For our lunch, the three of us decided to enjoy the Pitmaster Combo which features probably 1/3 LB of four meats, 2 sides, and some biscuits. 

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Pitmaster Combo Featuring Brisket, Pulled Pork, Sausage, Tri-Tip (Not pictured), mac n cheese, baked beans, & greens.

Our Pitmaster Combo featured beef brisket, pulled pork, sausage, tri-tip, mac n cheese, baked beans, and additional side of greens. The first look at the plate, well tray, of food is pretty much going to be “WOW! THAT’S A LOT OF FOOD!”. Sure we ordered an extra pint of the mac n cheese and an extra pint of the baked beans, but still…this was a lot of food for three people. The layout of the tray and the colors are consistent with most BBQ joints…predominant red colors, a few contrasting ones for some “pop” but the focus an emphasis is on the meat. For the most part you could see some smoke rings on all the meats. The sausage had the most visible amount of smoke but ironically didn’t have the most smoke flavor. More on that later on in this review…

I must give a shout out for the side dishes. All three sides were amazing and the baked beans and mac n cheese are definitely one of my favorite sides from a BBQ joint. The greens had the traditional texture and flavor you’d expect, but I think there was some apple cider vinegar or something vinegar based as a left hook type of tangy flavor hits you at the end. The baked beans were FIRE! With some pulled pork and BBQ sauce integrated into it, you get that smokey and sweet flavor added to the beans and it was awesome. The mac n cheese rivaled my absolute favorite mac n cheese made by my friend Krista back home. It was a traditional mac n cheese nothing super fancy or special added to it, but it was the absolute CREAMIEST mac n cheese I’ve ever had…especially from a BBQ restaurant. Every spoon full the cheese was just dripping over the spoon…that’s how creamy the cheese was!

If I had to rank the meats from my favorite to least favorite it’d go: Tri-tip, Sausage, Pulled Pork, & then Brisket. All the meats tasted good and nothing was bad.

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I will admit this was my first time having smoked tri-tip. If you’re unfamiliar with what tri-tip is, it’s basically the bottom portion of the sirloin steak. Most sirloin steaks you get the store or restaurant are the top sirloin…the bottom sirloin or the tri-tip is commonly passed over because it is traditionally a much fattier cut of meat but to most pitmasters and BBQ’ers out there, fat = flavor and the smoked tri-tip didn’t disappoint. If you want tender, juicy, smokey meat…tri-tip is where it’s at. The medium rare doneness was spot on. Add a dash of salt and the traditional 4 Rivers Smokehouse BBQ sauce and you’ve got an amazing journey for your tastebuds.

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The smoked sausage is quickly becoming one of my favorite things to cook and to eat. It’s a perfect picture of simple, flavorful, and quick! Simple because it’s ground up pork, mixed with an array of seasonings, and typically gets cooked in about 3-4 hours on a smoker. The smoked sausage at 4 Rivers Smokehouse was exactly what I expected  it to be. Juicy, smokey, and flavorful and it fit that bill in every bite. A nice crust/casing on the outside too…sometimes sausages can have really rigid and tough to bite through casings or be really chewy casings, but 4 Rivers Smokehouse did it right.

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The pulled pork was tasty and had a little bit of a smoke ring on some of the end pieces. It needed some sauce though if you didn’t have one of the end pieces as it was a little bit dry. The meat could’ve dried out because I was enjoying the tri-tip and the sausage first, but it was still good and tasted and felt like pulled pork. Some of the pieces I was able to do some additional pulling and it pulled really easily.

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Brisket is a tough cut to cook right so it definitely has its fair share of challenges for every pitmaster out there. The smoke ring was solid and the taste of smoke was most evident in the brisket compared to the other meats. 

If I had to choose some negatives about this platter it’d have to be the pulled pork was a little bit dry, the brisket was a little bit over done as the slices were thicker than expected, and the mac n cheese as creamy and delicious as it was would’ve been over the top if some jalapenos or green chiles were mixed in it for some zing or maybe some breadcrumbs on top for a texture change.

SUMMARY

All in all…4 Rivers Smokehouse is an absolute MUST visit if you’re near one. They have other locations throughout Florida and recently opened a location in Atlanta, GA. Check out their website at http://www.4rsmokehouse.com for a full list of locations.

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I almost forgot to write about this dessert known as the “Hello Dolly”. We call my aunt who lives in Florida “Dolly” so I had to get it. This brownie bite thing was phenomenal. With chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, and coconut flakes it was a sweet end to a great lunch.

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