Sunday, December 29, 2013

Johnny's Fillin' Station: Still The Best?





Just recently, I had the honor and privilege of graduating from UCF. Yes, that’s right, ladies and gentleman, I'm a big girl (and an alumna) now. And what better way to celebrate than to visit the place that boasts 'Best Burgers in O-Town'? On my ever-continuing quest to find this 'Best Burger', I can't help but get excited for a place like Johnny’s Fillin’ Station. When you ask around to locals about Johnny’s, you'll usually hear the same things, 'bar food' or 'it's okay' or 'it's a hole in the wall'. I learned early on when asking around that it'll usually be a combination of those three things and those three things are perfectly fine with this classy gal.

So where is Johnny's? It's located off of Ferncreek and Michigan and honestly, if you're driving fast, you might miss it. Like so many other 'hole in the walls', unless you're looking for a windowless box, you won't find it if you aren't paying attention. But I have a special spot in my heart for places like this so don't let my description deter you. I've had many fun nights in places that remind me of Johnny's so as a recent graduate, I was looking forward to anther one.

There's no need to wait for a seat or a menu, both are available as soon as you come in. This is a good thing because on the night we went, there was only one waitress for about an hour. I can't remember her name, but she was sweet and she did a fine job since my party grew from two to about eight pretty rapidly. She was very fluid so kudos to her. While we waited for our drinks (and they have decent drink prices, by the way) it gave me time to soak the place in. It's not tiny, which can be disorienting since outside it literally looks like a matchbox. There are two separate rooms. The front room where we sat had some long bar tables, two pool tables and one of those fancy electronic jukeboxes.

Oh, and also, a lot of trophies.

I mean, a lot of trophies.

Not only is Johnny’s apparently good at making burger's, they're fairly good at quite a few other things as well, like bowling. And they aren't afraid for show it. As they say on their website, 'It ain't boasting if we back it up'.




We started our meal off with loaded fries, which were fantastic. It's not hard to perfect fries with cheese on them and Johnny's, like many others, has got it down. I was definitely looking forward to the burger, which came out in a decent amount of time. My poison for this meal? The Bacon Bleu Cheeseburger.

Alright, I know, I know. Disappointing, right?

Yeah, in hindsight I probably could have picked something a little more adventurous, but I went with what I knew because honestly, a bacon bleu burger is as easy as cheese fries. I think I really wanted to be impressed Johnny's and so I didn't give them anything too difficult that could be messed up, but that’s a stretch. There is honestly no excuse for my terrible meal choice. If it’s any consolation for my next go around, I think I'll be a bit more fun and possibly order the Texas Toast Melt or the Patty Melt. I might even go for the Bar-B-Que Burger, which sounds fantastic.

The verdict on the Bacon Bleu Burger from the bar that 'Boasts the Best Burgers' in Orlando?

 I'm not terribly impressed, but I'm really hard pressed to admit that. The toppings for the burger were fresh, the lettuce was crisp and everything leading up to the burger had been delicious (watch out for that onion they give you, good God), but the burger itself left something to be desired. The thing is, I could definitely taste the effort. The meat was unseasoned and flavorless BUT it also tasted really fresh, like the meat was a good quality, which I can appreciate. I am honestly willing to give it a second try with a different burger. I really want to give Johnny’s my approval.

I do.

I mean, it's been family owned and operated for years and somebody had to put the word out for them having the best burgers. I want to try that burger that makes me nod and say, 'Okay, you're right. They do have the best burgers in O-town.' And perhaps it was a stretch trying to find that in a bacon bleu burger? Who knows, but like I said, I'm gonna give Johnny's the benefit of the doubt and try them again in the future. We’ll just say that the Fillin’ Station was having an off night, how ‘bout that?

Until we meet again, Johnny.


Johnny's Fillin' Station on Urbanspoon


Thursday, April 18, 2013

BurgerFi: Just Fine With Me

BurgerFi is my burger joint of choice (amongst a few others). When I am craving something juicy and greasy with choices galore, BurgerFi usually comes to mind first. And what more could you want after a a day of shopping (or window shopping, if you're a poor college student like myself) on Park Avenue.

Right at the entrance to the happening Winter Park street, BurgerFi stands out with its metal, black and lime green decor. The glass doors at the entrance have never been closed during operating hours, at least not from what I've seen, so circulated fresh air and large metal fans keep you cool on those signature hot Florida days or nights. The very enticing scent of fresh grilled burgers can be smelled from all the way down the street. I know this because that is how I discovered the place. I had been walking around with friends looking for a place to eat before our movie, and naturally, a burger was what I wanted (they're quick and delicious, who doesnt want one most of the time?). From the Rollins parking garage, located right down the first alley at the beginning of Park Ave., the smell can be picked out of the air.

The front of the building is scattered with pinic tables, and metal chairs (uncomfortable? A bit). The tables are metal as well and equipped with a BurgerFi embellished metal plate in the middle. The science behind this plate is beyond me, but when you order, you are given a device that really doesn't do much. It reminds me of those waiting list devices you're given when you go to Red Lobster or Olive Garden, minus the beeping and vibrations. I would have to assume that it is some sort of tracking device to help your server find you once you've placed your order, but perhaps that is me giving that place a bit too much credit. One of these days, I'll remeber to ask an employee how it works.

The menu, when you approach the metal counter to place your order, is on high-def TV screens. The black background with neon green letters help to make sure that you dont miss a thing when ordering. The menu offers the typical hamburger, cheeseburger, and bacon cheeseburger. But also gives some interesting choices like the BAD (Breakfast All Day) which includes their all natural angus burger, american cheese, hockory bacon, drizzled with maple syrup, fried eggs, hash borwns and grilled onions. It's intense. I've had a nibble at it. It definitely tastes like breakfast, but it's not my cup of tea. For vegetarian options, BurgerFi offers and quinoa burger (definitelty much better, ingredients-wise, than the typical veggie burger that is usually comprised of God only knows what). The quinoa burger is definitely crisp. There's no illusion that you're not eating meat though, which is something I usually prefer from burger places that offer a non-meat substitute.

Like any good burger place, they also allow you to make your own. You can get it single stacked, double stacked or triple stacked or you can get it over a bowl of salad. Their options for toppings range from the typical like onions, steak sauce, hot sauce or their secret BurgerFi sauce, to the not so typical choices, like salt and vinegar chips or BurgerFi chili (which is not that great).

My usual favorite is the plain Bacon Cheeseburger, which I indulged in last week. Now before I get into this, I feel it necessary to say, and this is me being completely honest: BurgerFi's burgers remind me of Five Guys, with less grease and more showmanship.

I mean seriously, they taste the exact same to me. Even their fries are just like Five Guys with significanly less post meal residue. I enjoy Five Guys, so this is not a problem, in my opinion, but the greasy mess of Five Guys, I can do without, so BurgerFi is a good option (still fairly greasy, but that comes with the burger territory). My typical five guys burger is fairly similar to my typical BurgerFi Burger: bacon, lettuce, onions, cheese, salt and vinegar chips (not at Five Guys), hot sauce, ketchup, mayo, mustard and pickles. It's simple. I like it that way. BurgerFi's burgers are simply delicious. They are the type of burger that you sit at the table after eating it and say, "That was really good."

One thing I really do need to say about BurgerFi! Their burgers are small. Tiny, in fact. They are big enough to not be considered "shooters" but small enough to have you consider ordering something else (or even another one) afterwards. If you do consider ordering something else, well then you're in luck. If you havent gotten your meat fix, they have hot dogs, which I've heard are quite juicy. Another option is of course, the fries. Their fries have a varieties fo ways in how they are served, which is always good (once again, I advise staying away from the chili. It's just not great). For those that need some sweet to offset the salty, there is frozen custard. Just like their burgers they offer a multitude of toppings. I havent tried their custard so I can't really give a 'yay' or 'nay' to it, but if that's your thing, then by all means.

My thing is burgers, and that brings me back full circle. So. Should you pay the extra money for BurgerFi when there is most likely a Five Guys in your local mall or even right down the street from you? Is it really worth it? I know. I'm usually giving you this in depth description of how the burger tastes and what my experience, or in this case experiences, were like. I think I've said all I can say. I like BurgerFi. Yes, it's like Five Guys with a little extra flair (a bit more metal, less white and red, more green, more wood, and a few of those fancy coke machines that everyone stands in front of for at least three minutes longer than is necessary). Absolutely. But I like not feeling like I have to shower after eating their burger. I give them a thumbs up, two, in fact. The place is clean and nice, the staff is usually helpful and nice and there's always alot of them. You usually don't have to look very far to find someone. The burger are delicious.

So, if your ever walking around enjoying the sites, sounds and views that Park Avenue has to offer and you don't feel like settling in for something fancy, BurgerFi is a hop, skip and a jump away. I suggest you check it out.
BurgerFi on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 25, 2013

Burger 21: Still Underage


The strip mall that once contained Underground Bluz, Lazy Moon, Fubar and Knights Library, all very popular late night hangouts for UCF students, has been torn down, and with it some of our favorite foods (who doesn't love Lazy Moon pizza, honestly). What is going there? I am not terribly certain, but don't fret, Lazy Moon and Knights Library have returned, and with it some new additions to the UCF student's freshman 15 menu.


I stumbled upon Burger 21 completely on accident. I had parked at the miniature plaza with the intention of snagging some Tijuana Flats and then sitting at the neighboring World of Beer for a few hours, but was pulled away from this when a friend of mine shouted, "What!? They opened a burger place here?" Naturally, this caught my attention, and checking the place out quickly turned into ordering from the menu and finding a seat. I was excited.  I no longer live on the east side, but I frequent it for work, school and friends. It was nice to think I would not have to hit up a TGI Fridays or Smokey Bones for a burger anymore.

The place looks fancy. There's another Burger 21 in the Millenia area, and I can only imagine that it looks similar to its UCF location because the decor was much different than most places in the area. Truthfully, it was a nice change from the dingy dark places that every UCF area restaurant seems to fancy, save for, perhaps, IHOP and Steak and Shake. It's almost welcoming.

And what better location than next to a bar, that allows outside food? Good call on your part, Burger 21.

The menu is excellent, many choices, from veggie burgers, to fish burgers and even a healthier bun less option for their more health conscious clientele (they lay it over a salad; its not rocket science, but its a wonder more places don't do it). They also have a Shake Bar, where they "specialize" in, yes, you guessed it, milkshakes. An interesting concept, especially for the area. 

The restaurant also has a small sauce bar. They have their typical choices of ketchup, mustard and mayo, but also a few more interesting sauces to pick from. How would you like to try Apple Cider sauce on your burger? How about Toasted Marshmallow? No? Yeah, well, me neither, but the effort and the ingenuity was duly noted.

And so my poison at Burger 21? I ordered the Tex-Mex Haystack: guacamole, bacon, onion straws, lettuce, tomatoes, Gouda and chipotle-jalapeno sauce.  Guacamole on a burger is probably one of my favorite things. 

But the burger fell short for me. Actually, it fell far shorter than I ever expected or even imagined for a place that has such a high rating with others. Was it juicy? Yes. Absolutely. Very, actually. But despite all of this, the meat itself was bland, didn't taste good or hold together as if it was cooked on a grill. It was almost as if it was microwaved (gross, I know, but it's the truth). The plethora of ingredients that I was sure would make my burger unstoppable once I started, took over and beat out the taste of the meat, leaving me wondering if the ground beef was actually a figment of my imagination. Surely, with how it tasted, I was only eating a guacamole sandwich. And on top of all of this, my burger fell apart. Literally, from the first bite, pieces of my meat, of the cheese, the onion strings, the lettuce, began falling out until halfway through, I was picking up pieces with my fingers like I was eating curry.

The fries I chose, they were of the shoestring variety, were their famous Cheese and Ale fries. 

Cheese and Ale fries are nothing than white cheese sauce that is just as tasteless as their burgers. I actually mixed mine with BBQ sauce in an effort to get some sort of flavor from something.

I am fairly certain that my only enjoyable portion of that meal was my Sprite.

My final ruling for Burger 21? Would I go there with friends again? Would I take my mother there for lunch or stop by there after class? Probably not. The jazzy idea of the gourmet burger is definitely not lost on Burger 21, but Burger 21 offers very little aside from a very well lit place to read a book while finishing your fountain drink (they are delicious).


Burger 21 on Urbanspoon

Beth's Burger Bar: Finally?




If you ask me, Orlando’s downtown scene isn’t anything to write home about. Lots of people, lots of cops, and lots of clubs. Most downtown areas in most cities can sing the same tune.  But once the bars, pubs and clubs close, the food choices are most certainly not in abundance. In fact, after midnight, basically the only food you can get downtown is either a hotdog from a sketchy vendor, delicious Gringos Locos (too bad I’m not doing a taco blog) or pizza.

While these choices are great (some more than others, depending on your level of inebriation), I’m certain I am not the only person in Orlando that has stumbled down Church Street at 2:30 AM wishing I had a big, juicy/greasy/ fully loaded burger at that moment.

And alas, an answer to mine, and other drunken Orlando residents (I’m certain), prayers came in the form of a small, almost hidden restaurant just behind Gringos Locos on Washington Street.  The place itself is full of surprises and opens up into the quite the restaurant, with booths lining the wall and a rather large (albeit un-utilized) jukebox in the back. Advertisements for cheap beer line most of the walls and promise $2 PBRs. The menu boasts the average choices for a burger, giving patrons the choice between a single patty or a double. They also have the courtesy of offering a veggie burger as well as a chicken. Big whoop, huh? Well, how about their choice of peanut butter as a sauce? Take that Five Guys.

But how does it taste, you might be asking? I wasn’t daring enough to order a PB burger, but I had the great honor of taking a bite of one, while also enjoying my own (the typical: single patty, bleu cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions and mayo). My burger, while simple was flavorful and quite delicious. The burger was juicy and kept together quite well. It had that right off the grill taste that I very much enjoy in a good burger and was cooked to perfection. The fries also compliment the burger perfectly; delightfully crispy and given in a cup that almost never seems to end.

Unlike the rest of Orlando’s interest in the gourmet burger (best lettuce, best ingredients, fancy schmansy this and that), Beth’s seems to have adopted the motto I learned in my middle school math classes: KISS. Keep It Simple Stupid. And that’s exactly what they do. In most cases, I would say that this isn’t wise. Especially in a place that has recently opened, first impressions are everything, after all. But despite all this, the cook behind the “bar” has done a wonderful job at packing such flavor into such a simple looking meal. Kudos to you, Mystery Cook.

So what rating do I give to Beth’s Burger Bar? A good, almost a great. An excellent cheap meal with the bonus of cheap beer and a good time (somebody please pick a song on that damn jukebox). To me, Beth’s has definitely gotten it right. What do downtown patrons want after a night of heavy drinking, schmoozing, smoking and dancing? Cheap burgers that taste just as good when you’re sober, as they do when you’re drunk.

Oh, and what of the peanut butter on the burger? I suggest giving it a try. The subtle sweetness of the PB is a pleasant surprise when matched against the salty, greasy challenge of the beef. I think, next time, I will order my usual and, perhaps, I’ll have a little peanut butter on it






Beth's Burger Bar on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Salamander Sports Grill, Not as Slimy as it Sounds.



"You have Gators and you have Froggers, so why not have a Salamanders?" Said Charlie, the server who'd kindly opened the door for my party and I, as we entered the Winter Springs located restaurant. It 's Charlie's first day, he tells us, after flawlessly serving us our waters. He is sweating and obviously stressed, and he has every right to be. On this random Tuesday night, Salamander Sport Grill is packed. A family inhabits every booth that lines the windows, and the only seats available are the tables that are sprinkled on the open floor right in the middle.

Salamanders, despite the name, isn’t just a sports grill, although they have done their darnest to make that obvious by the flat screens that line every wall that there isn't already a window. It's a neighborhood grill, and with all the complexes surrounding Salamander's, this point is evident. Salamanders, although only open three months, is a place where families can go to just sit down and enjoy a meal in a place that almost looks similar to that open garage restaurant your eccentric father tried to open when you were a kid. No? Just me? Understandable.

Seriously, though, the place is cozy. It's like the living room you wish you had with the friends you wish you knew. Although, I'm sure the open space and plethora of windows can be off-putting during the day, at night, it's nice to sit down in comfortable booths with people you love and just have a meal.

And if that's not your thing, Salamander's also happens to have a bar. A small one, yes, set in front of a very interesting beer collection (especially for one so tiny as theirs) with a sprinkling of wines here and there. I’m not kidding, it's very small, but it is a bar nonetheless.

I was lucky enough to mosey on in to the sports bar o, their "free burger night". Seeing as the place has only been open three months, it would be silly to call this a tradition, but the owners are definitely hoping to make it one. Just like a few other places around town that boast a "free burger night", you buy one burger, you get a second one for free. Just by hearing that alone, I was falling for the place. It was comfortable, cozy and I could get a burger for free? Unheard of!



The burger menu isn't much a of a burger menu, boasting a whopping five choices, all uniquely named in reference to sports, and all a 1/2 pound of "fresh, never frozen" meat.

Now here's the thing about thick burgers. Yes, everybody loves them. The more meat the better, right? Wrong. The more meat, the better chance you have of eating a burger that is nothing but a slab of bland meat with a couple vegetables sprinkled in and some bread as the cherry on top. The thicker the meat, the more flavor your expecting, the juicer the meat needs to be, and the more there needs to be a balance of toppings (or at least some pizzazz to them) to compete and blend, making the burger whole. Sounds like a lot of hubbub, right? Ever had a bland burger with no toppings? Did you like it? Yeah, me neither.

So, I ordered the "You're Fired". The menu describes this burger as: "A kick in the pants burger topped with our freshly made salsa, melted pepper jack, and spicy ketchup."

For the most part, anything spicy usually catches my attention, so there really was no other choice for me. I gave Charlie my order, my friends did the same, and he shuffled back to the kitchen with it, avoiding the other servers and their trays full of burgers (and let me tell you, everybody in that place had ordered a burger. I firmly believe that if a burger isn't good, people won't eat them, even if one is free. Why? Because you still gotta pay for the other one. Needless to say, my hopes were high for this one.)





 You know that feeling when you're sitting in a restaurant after having worked all day? You’re tired and you’re hungry, and it seems like everyone in the entire place has ordered what you ordered, causing you to be uber excited every time your waitress comes from the back with a plate only to beheld that the food belongs to the person behind you? Try sitting at a bar waiting, in perfect view of the kitchen, while this happens. I mean, literally, every person in the place had ordered a burger (Seventy burgers in 3 hours from what I was told). If my stomach were writing this, it would tell you that it had waited an eternity, but in actuality (despite the obnoxious estimation of 20 minutes that Charlie gave us for our wait) the waiting game was short-lived. The food came out in a timely manner and before we knew it, we were digging in.



Remember when I said that Salamanders was cozy? It's like the living room you wish you had? The food is the same. The burger had that homemade-family-reunion-BBQ-cookout taste to it, kinda burnt, kinda not, but it was delicious. The owner's, who apparently created the menu in their own kitchen before bringing it to the big leagues of restaurant owning, carried the tune of their surroundings into the way they prepare their food. There is a comfortableness to it, like they aren't competing to bring you the best burger, they just want you to eat the food, relax and enjoy it the way you would if you'd made it yourself.

The "You're Fired" is has a kick, not terribly spicy, but you can definitely feel a tingle no your tongue, which mostly comes from their spicy ketchup. Not sure that they put in the stuff, but it definitely is spicy. The salsa is homemade. It definitely wasn't their strongest point, fairly tasteless in the grand scheme of things, but it was a good addition to the meal. Paired with a small, and please, when I say small, people, I mean small, helping of fries, the meal leaves you feeling, not terribly full to the point of unbuttoning your jeans, but just good enough to wear you can probably kick back a beer and stay a while, watching the game.

In the end, Salamanders was a pleasant surprise, not a "diamond in the rough", but it was a definite shock for how delicious they were. The staff is superbly friendly and talking to the Manders was delightful. Anything you'd like to know about the food, the restaurant or anything else for that matter, they are more than welcomes to listen and talk to you. My friends and I stayed after for about twenty minutes after our meal talking to Mrs. Manders. While Salamanders admittedly didn't win my heart over completely with their burgers, the atmosphere, staff, and people, certainly did. I look forward to going there again. Perhaps trying the restaurant's most renowned burger, 'The Basketball Manager'.






 


Salamanders Sports Grill on Urbanspoon