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Saturday, November 24, 2018

The 25th Annual Taste of Bonita:Rocking with Rotary

Brian Howe Band, Holy Water

Rotary International is a world wide group of business owners and other professional individuals that perform charitable and humanitarian functions. They have at present over thirty five thousand clubs with a membership well over one million. Locally, the Rotary Club of Bonita Naples, was founded in 1992, and their contributions with both time and money in the community have been impressive. One fundraising event, the Taste of Bonita (TOB), is held in Riverside Park in Olde Bonita Springs.

Band shell, Riverside Park, 2018 Taste of Bonita
This event was structured differently than in the past as tickets were required for entry. The focus of TOB this year was more towards entertainment than food. Twelve vendors were at TOB that day as opposed to about thirty in past events. Nonetheless, there was some good food to be had here from Bonita Springs-based restaurateurs.

Buffalo Chips restaurant were serving their signature wings among other fare.

Buffalo chicken wings from Buffalo Chips

Angelina's Ristorante had samples of their signature butternut squash ravioli. It was delicious, in house made pasta stuffed with roasted squash, mascarpone cheese and topped with a sauce of citrus, sun dried tomatoes, arugula and candied pecans.

Butternut squash ravioli, Angelina's Ristorante
Doc Ford's Rum Bar and Grill was there
Doc Ford's Rum Bar and Grille
My dining companion and I opted for the shrimp tacos. They were good but a bit heavy on the citrus, all good though.

Shrimp tacos
Farmer Mike's U Pick was also at TOB,

Farmer Mike's U Pick

offering items made from produce on their farm from their onsite restaurant such as pumpkin pie, lemonade and on site grown strawberries with cream.

Offerings from Farmer Mike's U Pick
Smokin R's BBQ had some delicious grilled items for attendees,

Smokin R's BBQ
while if you were in the mood for Greek food, Zorba's Mediterranean Grille and Bar served gyros, a real crowd pleaser, in addition to other Greek foods,

Gyros wrap
and if you were in the mood for something sweet, Petar's had a very nice strawberry and banana crepe with chocolate sauce.
Strawberry and banana crepe
There were also a number of vendors serving pizza, ice cream, pretzels but most notably of these was Kona Ice, serving shaved ice treats

Kona Ice truck

with their patented "Flavorwave" technology. All in good fun!

The music ranged from tribute bands to Slow Ride, a band composed of former Foghat members (remember them?)

Slow Ride band
to the headliners, the Brian Howe Band. Mr. Howe took over as lead singer of the band Bad Company from 1986-1994. I particularly liked this version of the Bad Company song, Rock and Roll Fantasy.

Brian Howe Band, Rock and Roll Fantasy

This year's TOB emphasized music over food which was great, but I think a more balanced event may have been been better. The entrance fee may have reduced the crowds somewhat but for the price of admission the headliners, the Brian Howe Band, were totally worth it. I appreciate the Rotary wanting to take this event to the next level and I think that they will be successful perhaps given a more robust balance of food, music and marketing. I hope that the Rotary Club of Bonita Naples will continue on this tack for future events as Taste of Bonita could very easily become a premier annual event in Southwest Florida.

Brian Howe, Brian Howe Band

It's a wrap for another post on Forks.

The 25th Annual Taste of Bonita
The Rotary Club of Bonita Naples
P.O. Box 1092
Bonita Springs, FL 34133
Taste of Bonita Facebook Page

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Lunch at Beach Road Wine Bar and Bistro

Beach Road Wine Bar and Bistro (BRWB) is a restaurant serving lunch and dinner in Englewood, FL about forty five minutes north of Fort Myers. It has been about 4 years since I had dined there and my traveling companion had never been. I have blogged about BRWB Before, and was very impressed by the food. Being in the area, I thought a revisit was warranted.

The restaurant has a small indoor bar and wine cellar. 

Interior, Beach Road Wine Bar and Bistro
There is one thing of note here. You may notice the wine bottles on the wall are all stored horizontally. This is important and a very good sign in the wine world. This is the proper way to store wines as it keeps the cork moist and stops air from eventually getting into the bottle. If you see this, it is most likely indicative of proprietors that take pride in keeping their wines in proper condition for their customers. I did not scrutinize their wine list for our lunch, but it's probably a good bet the restaurant has a good bottle or two.

The exterior of the restaurant is where the majority of the seating was.

Exterior dining area, Beach Road Wine Bar and Bistro

The dining area has a lovely view of neighboring Lemon Bay but what struck me the most were the overhead canopies in the outdoor dining area. Not only were they very aesthetically pleasing, but practical in that they very much mitigated the heat from the overhead sun. These were very prevalent over streets and alleyways on a recent visit to Southern Spain and I have no doubt the proprietors were inspired by this also.

We arrived as lunch was ending and had just a few minutes to order before we were compelled to choose from the dinner menu. Rushing through BRWB's lunch choices, here is what we tried most definitely "shooting from the hip" with our menu selections.

The first thing ordered was the triple beet salad.

Triple beet salad
This was one of the more visually appealing salads I have ever been served with a flavor profile to match. The salad was made from Florida Citrus and honey whipped goat cheese, red and gold beets, marinated candy-cane beets, greens, balsamic vinaigrette, blueberries, blackberries and sunflower seeds. It was delicious and most highly recommended.

We also ordered the Cuban panini.

Cuban panini
It was good, but more Cuban-inspired. It had all the proper flavors of a Cuban sandwich including pork ribeye, sweet ham, pickle and yellow mustard. What really made this sandwich deviate from a traditional 'Cuban" was the addition of Jarlsberg cheese. The cheese was mild, buttery and tended to drip from the sandwich as you ate it. The sandwich was good to be sure, but deviated from the texture and flavor of a Cuban sandwich because of the cheese choice. We had a choice of sides, we decided on cole slaw. It was good, prepared in house with minimal sugar and mayonnaise dressing. A nice change from the status quo.

After we finished our meal, we sat and enjoyed the views of neighboring Lemon Bay.

Lemon Bay at Beach Road Wine Bar and Bistro
The food at BRWB was very good to excellent, complemented by good service and a very nice view. Although it had been four years since I had eaten here, it was as good as I remembered. If you go, I do not think BRWB will disappoint. Even better, Manasota Key is just down the road, one of the nicest beach areas I have been to in Florida. It's a perfect place to walk off your meal at BRWB.

Cast net fishing, Manasota Key
It's a wrap for another post on Forks.

Beach Road Wine Bar and Bistro
1350 Beach Road
Englewood, FL 34223

Hours: Sunday-Thursday- 1130AM to 930PM, Friday-Saturday- 1130AM to 10PM, lunch served till 4PM; All major credit cards accepted.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Lunch Special at Em-On's Thai Cafe

Em-On's Thai Cafe

Em-On's Thai Cafe
is a restaurant, as the astute reader may surmise, that serves Thai Cuisine. The restaurant has been open under the same ownership since 1996. Whenever I hear something like this regarding a restaurant it is generally without exception a very good sign. I had Blogged about Em-On's almost 5 years ago and thought it was very good. Recently, a couple of dining companions suggested going here for lunch. Why not I thought. It it's not broken don't fix it!

The restaurant looked generally the same as it did in 2014, a proverbial old shoe that fit very comfortably.

We decided to order off the lunch special menu, with soup, spring roll, rice and an entree for either $9.99 or $10.99, a one to two dollar increase from 5 years ago. I apologize for the quality of the menu pictures. I do not believe the lunch special menu is online.

Lunch special menu, Em-On's Thai Cafe

Lunch special menu, Em-On's Thai Cafe

This is not one of the lunch menu soup choices, but the server let us substitute chicken tom kha soup for the usual offerings.

Tom kha soup

It was one of the better versions of this soup I have ever eaten. This was richly flavored and delicious. This soup is typically made with coconut milk, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce, lemongrass, cilantro, mushrooms and lime juice. If you eat lunch here, ask to substitute this. It will not disappoint.

Both my dining companions ordered the chicken gang dang, a red Thai curry with coconut milk.

Chicken gang dang
This looked really good, the curry made red from red curry paste, it's color from the dried red chiles in it. Lemongrass, baby corn, chicken broth, fish sauce, garlic, coriander and other ingredients provide the complex flavors that make up, according to my dining companions, this delicious curry. A must try next time.

I ordered the beef pad prik pon. This is a stir fry of beef, onion, dry pepper, scallion, garlic and oyster sauce. It was excellent and highly recommended.

Beef pad prik pon
The food served to us was as good as I remembered it in 2014. There is a reason the restaurant has been open under the same ownership for over twenty years. What they do works and people keep coming back, it's as simple as that.

If you haven't been to Em-On's for their lunch specials, I hope you will. For the quality and flavor of the food served here, it is one of the best lunch values in town. If you have been here I am almost certain you will be back. I imagine there are very few who did not have a second visit.

That's that for another post on Forks.

Em-On's Thai Cafe
2364 Immokalee Rd.
Naples, FL 34110

Lunch: 11AM-3PM Monday-Saturday; Open Christmas and New Years Day, Closed Sundays; All major credit cards accepted; Kid's meals available

Sizzle Magazine Fall 2018 Edition

Sizzle, Fall 2018
This is the Fall 2018 issue of Sizzle, a free quarterly publication by The American Culinary Federation for students of the culinary arts. There are always good articles on culinary trends as well as recipes and cooking techniques. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Foodie Camp Naples at Alexander's Restaurant

Foodie Camp Naples is an event bringing together chefs and food aficionados for two charitable causes. Proceeds from this event benefit culinary scholarships at FGCU's Resort and Hospitality Management Program in addition to help feed the needy at St. Matthews House in Naples. 

The event is made possible by Naples Originals, a marketing group promoting local, independently owned restaurants. At present, Naples Originals has over 30 member restaurants. In addition to Foodie Camp, they sponsor a quarterly promotion offering a thirty percent discount on member restaurant Gift Certificates. The promotion is very much a win-win for restaurateurs and patrons.

I was happy that the team at Naples Originals would allow me to document one of their eleven Foodie Camp chef presentations this year. I attended the Very Vegan cooking demonstration at Alexander's Restaurant

What is a vegan anyway? The late Anthony Bourdain had definite opinions about them. “Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter-faction, the vegans, are a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn. To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living. Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food..." 

Strong opinions aside, Chef Alexander Bernard (Chef) brought his thoughts and methods vis-a-vis vegan dining into the Foodie Camp presentation that day, and it was most informative. I think it noteworthy he would champion this solely plant based diet. It is estimated that only 1/2 of one percent Living in the USA are vegan, or those that completely eschew a diet not exclusively plant based. It was mentioned during this presentation that only about 15% of Alexander's Restaurant sales are from their plant based "healthy" menu. Taken into consideration, a plant based diet has a much lower Carbon Footprint than animal protein, in addition to providing Benefits against obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

I thought it telling that Chef was observing the twenty fourth anniversary at his restaurant. This turned out in hindsight to be a very good portend of the group's culinary experience to come. Chef prepared four vegan dishes for Foodie Camp, but more on that later. He was an excellent instructor, making the preparation of these dishes seem easier, in addition to providing some good cooking tips along the way. 

Very Vegan Foodie Camp Naples, Alexander's Restaurant

We were told before the dishes were being prepared that there were 2 basic building blocks of vegan cuisine. One of these is vegetable stock, either home made or store bought, which serves as a flavoring agent in addition to a base for sauces. The other is cashews, which is a common base when ground into a paste for dairy substitutes in addition to a thickening agent for sauces.

Zucchini cannoli with mushroom stuffing and tomato sauce

The first menu item was a zucchini cannoli stuffed with duxelles (savory mushroom paste) and served with tomato sauce. It was very good, the thinly sliced zucchini being a substitute for traditional dough and doing a very nice job of being a vehicle for the mushroom paste stuffing. The tomato sauce was a very nice accompaniment here, even made better with the addition of some cinnamon. This was something I would never even think of and will be a must try for my next batch of red sauce.

Vegan mushroom duxelles
The second dish was a cashew curry stir fry, and was very good. The curry sauce was a great flavor combination, a wonderful amalgam of turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, almond milk, cashew paste, garam masala and curry powder.

Cashew curry stir fry with rice

The vegetable stir fry was made all that much better with the addition of sesame seeds and chili sauce. Probably my favorite of all was the mushroom Stroganov.

Mushroom Stroganov with pappardelle
Vegetable stock, garlic, onion, Dijon mustard, harissa (North African pepper paste) and chopped baby dill pickles were components of this dish. I would never thought of adding pickles to this dish but it worked very well and will be a must try the next time making Stroganov. We were also shown how to prepare vegan sour cream in the following video.

The mushroom Stroganov was a great flavor combination and is, as of this writing, on the menu at Alexander's Restaurant. We finished with a dessert of vegan flan topped with fruit, berries and granola.

Vegan flan with fruit, berries and granola

The flan was crafted from a mixture of pureed cashews and agar, which solidified it allowing the flan to be molded before it set. This did not really work for me, I suppose I'm just a dyed in the wool egg based flan man. The toppings were superb however, and this would have made me very happy with a traditional flan or panna cotta base. Not only were participants given a great cooking demonstration by a very talented chef but entered in a raffle as were attendees of the ten other Foodie Camps this year. The raffle was for an autographed Foodie Camp apron as a memento but also for a fifty dollar gift certificate to a Naples Originals member restaurant. In addition, all attendees at Alexander's Restaurant were given a fifty percent off coupon for dinner and beverages, an unbelievable bit of largess from Chef. All of this was a bargain for the fifty dollar entry fee for attendees. This event was a lot of fun and highly recommended.

Mise en place, Very Vegan Foodie Camp Naples presentation, Alexander's Restaurant

It's a wrap for another post on Forks.

Foodie Camp Naples 2018
For more information visit this link, Foodie Camp Naples.

Alexander's Restaurant
4077 Tamiami Trail N.
Naples, FL 34103

Monday-Friday: Lunch 1130AM-2PM, Dinner 5PM to 9PM, Saturday: Dinner 5PM-9PM; All major credit cards accepted

Friday, October 19, 2018

A Nice Meal at Ninja Thai and Sushi Bar

Ninja Thai and Sushi Bar

Ninja Thai and Sushi Bar
is an Asian-themed restaurant in Fort Myers, FL serving Thai and Japanese cuisine. They have been open for about five months and occupy the former space of the restaurant Koreana. My dining companion and I had not been here and decided to take a peek. They had lots of interesting things on their Menu. Normally, I would be all in for the rice side of the menu and all the interesting nigiri and rolls, but was respecting dining companion's low carb diet. As such, we stuck to lighter fare.

The first thing ordered was one of my favorites, Hamachi Kama, (graphic video) or yellow tail collar, the area right by the Pectoral Fin.

Hamachi kama
It was excellent, made all the better with the ponzu sauce served with it. Highly recommended.

Dining companion ordered the spicy beef salad.

Spicy beef salad
It was very good, with grilled beef slices, tomato, cucumber, scallion, red onion, cilantro and chili lime dressing. This dish was perfect for a low-carb diet.

Complementing this, I ordered the papaya salad which is off the menu but a mainstay of any Thai restaurant worth it's salt.

Papaya salad
I was offered this dish in two styles, American or Thai. What are these I asked? American is more of a sweet/sour dish while this establishment's Thai style is with Salted Crab. The latter is a rarity in North America and hearing this, jumped at it. The papaya salad was excellent. If you go here, this is a must order.

Still wanting to try one more thing on the restaurant's very varied menu, we split the chicken tom kha soup.

Tom kha soup
It was excellent, that delicious Thai soup of mushrooms, tomatoes, scallions, coconut milk, lime juice and chili lemon grass broth. We ordered the chicken version, though it was available with beef or shrimp if you wanted.

As with most of you, I was sad to see Koreana close but Ninja Thai and Sushi Bar is a most worthy replacement. The food sampled was good and will keep you happy. When I go back, I will be sure to sample the nigiri and sushi rolls. What was on the menu looked very good.

That's that for another post on Forks.

Ninja Thai and Sushi Bar
13550 Reflection Pkwy.
Fort Myers, FL 33907

Open daily 1130AM - 930PM; Major credit cards accepted.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Loco for El Gran Taco Loco in Bonita Springs

El Gran Taco Loco  (Taco Loco) is a fast food restaurant serving Mexican food.

El Taco Loco taco, torta and quesadilla menu
They are located in the back of historic Benson's Grocery. The grocery started business in the early part of the twentieth century and is still in business today. Taco Loco is the result of the City of Bonita Springs not allowing a food truck on premises a number of years ago, forcing Taco Loco to move into a refurbished storage space behind Benson's Grocery. This really ended up being a good thing. Opening about 2 years ago, Taco Loco started with the basics; tacos, tortas and quesadillas and has expanded their business model though more on that later.

Persuading a dining companion to join me for lunch, we proceeded to order from their "taco" menu. While waiting to order, I remarked that they had perhaps the best self serve condiment selection of any taqueria locally.

There were 3 different salsas, rojo (red, made with red pepper), verde (green, made with tomatillos) and avocado (made with tomatillos and avocado). Lime wedges also graced this section of the condiment counter.

Limes with rojo, verde and avocado salsas
There was more, with cucumbers, radishes, pico de gallo and what was described to me as onion salad. I researched the latter, but could find nothing describing this in Mexican cuisine. It is a salad (condiment) of sliced onions, oregano, pineapple and habanero chilis.

Radish, pico de gallo, cucumbers and onion salad

I think you will agree this array of toppings is hard to beat locally and will accommodate a variety of dishes and tastes.

Being a fast food restaurant there is limited seating on premises. Fortunately, Riverside Park is only about 1/2 block away; a perfect and shady spot to enjoy some take away food.

I ordered the pastor (pork) and chorizo (sausage) tacos.

Pastor and chorizo tacos; left and right, respectively
These were excellent, the grilled half jalapeno being a tasty and nice touch. Corn tortillas are always nice and that more flavorful.

My dining companion had chorizo and lingua (tongue) tacos, I show you this as they look much better "dressed" or with condiments. Although disappointed in the lingua, dining companion seemed to enjoy the chorizo. It's remarkable, after a recent trip to Spain I can tell you they do not waste any part of the animal. Once you overcome cultural differences things not eaten routinely in North America, such as lingua, can be very tasty. 

Chorizo and lingua tacos with radish andpico de gallo. Rojo and avocado salsas as well
Keep in mind that as with tacos, tortas (sandwiches) and quesadillas (large flour tortillas) can be ordered with any meat or chicken offerings. I ordered a cabeza (bbq) quesadilla and it was excellent, easily having a third of a pound of meat on it for all of four dollars. It was even better with some of the condiments offered at Taco Loco.

Since initially opening, Taco Loco has expanded their food offerings in addition to their hours. They now offer breakfast. Here was the menu when I was there.

Breakfast menu, El Gran Taco Loco
What is this you may ask? Salchicha en Jitomate are sausages in tomato; Pechuga a la Mexicana con calabacitas is chicken breast with zucchini in Mexicana sauce (more on that later). Chili jalapeno con quesillo y tocino is jalapeno chili with cheese and bacon; aroz with huevo hervido is rice with poached eggs; huevo entero a la Mexicana are hard boiled eggs in Mexicana sauce. Caldo de res is of course, beef soup while menudo is that lovely soup with beef stomach and red chilis with hominy, limes, onion and oregano.

For those that do not know Mexicana sauce is made from tomatoes, onions and green peppers (serrano or jalapeno); the colors of the Mexican flag. I don't know what readers think but the food here seems really compelling  as there are many intriguing things on this menu. I will be back to try their breakfast.

They also serve tamales and licuados, the latter fruit drinks similar to smooothies. The selection here, for such a small kitchen, is very good.

Besides a good breakfast and fast/street Mexican food selection, should you have a yen for tacos at 3 AM, they are open twenty four hours on Fridays and Saturdays.

What more could one ask for from a taqueria? I found the food here very good and reasonably priced. It is mostly for take out, though there are other options for dining nearby. I think Taco Loco is still, after almost two years, a hidden gem and highly recommended.

I wanted to close this blog post by saying bon appetit in Spanish. Having asked someone how to say this, I guess it was no surprise the answer was, bon appetit!

Al pastor, El Gran Taco Loco

It's a wrap for another post on Forks.

El Gran Taco Loco
27301 Old 41 Road (behind Benson's Grocery)
Bonita Springs, FL 34135

Open Sunday-Thursday: 5AM-10PM, Friday-Saturday:5AM-5AM; Breakfast 7AM-12PM; all major credit cards accepted.

BBQ quesadilla
Riverside Park, Bonita Springs