Not Tres Leches – Tres Lunches, Orlando Style
Nutshell: Fly in to city. Rent car. Find friends at conference. Talk about food. Find not-so-safe part of town where people are mostly hard-working folks who can’t afford to spend a lot on food. Spot a joint that’s got business. Eat there. Tell the rest of the conference-goers as their eyes open…”You went WHERE?” (See: Harold’s Chicken Shack – South Side of Chicago, July 2009. Plexiglass between you and the employee and a dude selling bootlegs DVDs in from one of the three tables in the joint)
This time is was the OBT for the first two lunches. That’s Orange Blossom Trail. Local talk for Route 441 and US 17 as it winds from Noertheast to Southwest in Orlando Florida. If you get off I-4 and head north on 17 you end up in a predominantly African-American neighborhood. That’s where we found Mama’s Cheesesteak. Head south back toward Universal and you hit a string of taquerias. We were heading for Taqueria Ameca Jalisco. But we stopped at El Mexicano because it happened to be the first thing we saw…and we liked what we saw.
Then there was Sunday after the conference wrapped. I was staying an extra night along with several other friends. Several folks also had late flights. There was time for lunch. There was a local who had a hankering to show off her favorite BBQ spot.
At all three spots, we ate. And we ate enough that signs like this one (actually taken from outside Friday night’s dinner spot, an AMAZING Indian restaurant) were disappointing to say the least. Swinging would have been the perfect low-impact exercise to reduce the belly-bulge-inducing feasting that occurred during…Tres Lunches!
Mama’s Cheesesteak and The Airport of Doom
And we need a tangent. I’ll preface by saying the Orlando airport was clean and the check-in to gate on the way out was perfect. But let’s talk about cell-phone waiting areas at airports. I would prefer, MCO, that yours…was actually AT THE AIRPORT. CassiBob commented that we were well on our way to Cuba by the time we got to your lot. And Parking ENFORCERS…when I tell you that I am not ‘stopping’ but am in fact picking up a person who is at that moment walking out the door from baggage claim after having called me while I waited in your cell-phone lot…put the ticket book away. I am not a threat, I am not breaking the law, I am doing exactly what your airport and TSA policies told me to do (Go to lot, wait for call, drive to arrivals, pick up traveler, move along). Thank you.
So now there’s a car full of conference goers who have 2pm meetings, got up to catch early flights to get to Orlando, and are presently quite starving. There is much hilarity in that car. And there is the rapid fire decision that ‘Yeah, this exit looks good.’
Finally, there was Mama’s. Bright orange and clearly open. Cheesesteaks. In Orlando…okay, we could see how they riffed on the Philly classic.
Curveball. Mama is clearly Chinese. And she, her husband on the register, and their daughter in the kitchen, also rock out the fried rice and chicken wings. Natch. We’re hungry.
I’ll leave it to the others to talk about their food in the comments section and leave you with just a few impressions about Mama’s. The teriyaki cheesesteak was damn tasty. Since it wasn’t in Philly, it wasn’t blasphemy. The meat was chopped to a texture somewhere between Pat’s and Geno’s. Soy in a bottle for extra salty goodness was a nice touch too. Good bread but definitely not the real deal. Again, this was Orlando, cooked by a Chinese family, in the ‘hood. I’m not expecting Philly.
Karl ate a sandwich. There was little comment. This is a good sign if you own the place that made said sandwich.
I don’t know that we’d go back to Mama’s if we came back to Orlando, but only because it’s a bit out of the way for the conference-gong set, and we like to hit different spots. If you live near the laundry next door or somewhere off the OBT in that part of town, you have a tasty neighborhood sandwich shop run by an extremely pleasant family. Be thankful and go give them some business.
El Mexicano – The Taqueria that Google Forgot
“Where are we going?”
“A place that sells tacos.”
“Oh, I’ve been there.”
Welcome Scott to the Foodie Caucus. He will be welcome to join us at all future meetings. Where Scott goes, hilarity soon follows.
We didn’t make it to Taqueria Ameco Jalisco. Mostly because we saw a lovely painted shack before we got to our intended destination. There were cars in the lot (it was open), there was a 6-foot tall anthropomorphized jalapeno painted on the wall (inferred tacos and deliciousness), there were people of Hispanic decent entering and exiting with bags of food (people who know better want to eat here).
A small salad bar set up in the dining room with multiple salsas, cilantro, and onions. We can go get a small cup of the brown beans and pork while we wait for our food to arrive? Ok, that sounds good.
Ceviche? Not sure about that here…oh that was it that just went by that looked really good. AS will have two.
Quick conference with the kitchen staff…we’re out…drat…two pollo tostadas then? Ok. One carnitas, one cabeza, and two al pastor for me. And a tamale. Scotty-Boy went two carne asada and one carnitas. Karl was a carne asada, pollo, cabeza guy. Jwilli went carne asada and pollo. No lengua or tripa this time. S’okay. I didn’t want to press my luck after the PERFECT lengua at La Fundita. And tripa is just…well guts that I’m not down with.
The tamale was simple corn masa studded with chucks of carnitas served still wrapped in the husk in which it was recently steamed to a tender perfection. Sweet masa and piquant slow-roast pork is never going to be a bad combination.
Steady stream of dudes on lunch break wandering in for a togo lunch. A family of 6 was at the large table across the dining room from us. One girl worked the room well. One other helped her out with deliveries but only to the tables where Spanish was a clear language choice. Which meant every table but ours. Like I said, authentic.
Head up to the bar for salsa and toppings. Which did not include lettuce, cheese, or tomatoes.
Refresher course. Real Tacos? Corn tortilla, small. 3-4 Tablespoons of ‘stuff’ you ordered (carne asada, pollo, carnitas, etc.). Add a pinch of cilantro, a small bit of diced onion, and a quick splash of fresh salsa (tomatillo with HEAT for the carnitas, some of the smoky red chipotle for the cabeza). That’s it.
These were handmade in Florida. I know this because there was a Florida address on the label and because the sticks were not all uniform in the center, nor were they completely perpendicular to the popsicle. There are real people mixing these recipes and setting sticks in molds by hand somewhere in central Florida so people can have food they remember from home. You know me, this place got 3 stars just for that fact.
Yellow Dog and the Gentrification of the Foodie Caucus
After several more hours of meetings and dinners and late night shenanigans, we wrapped up the conference and headed out for one last big meal as a group before the late night folks took their flights and the Monday flight folks got in one more night of hangin’ with people from across the country you see for three days three times a year. No pictures here as the iPhone was the only camera in sight.
Ms. Natalie is a local, and was sorely disappointed we weren’t able to hit her favorite BBQ joint the night before. Too much going on. This time, we were going to get there. Promise. Off we go. To Windemere, Florida. You may have heard of it recently.
Yellow Dog BBQ is best described as what happens when there’s just enough hippy, hard wood, and proximity to north Florida for a handsomely decorated and homey ‘house-style’ restaurant to serve sweet, tangy sauced pork with tongue in cheek menu names like the ‘White Trash’ (on white bread with cole slaw, gouda, and applewood smoked bacon).
The display case up front showed off homemade pasta salad, cherry tomatoes with boccocini, and a mound of potato salad that almost tempted me…almost.
The joint was charming. The staff was super-friendly. The food was delicious. And there was a back patio with picnic table that let the cold-weather state peeps enjoy one last bit of Florida sun before heading home.
The only negative I could find is that gouda, while good, does not have enough to get past tangy sauce on pulled pork with slaw and crumbled bacon. Waste of cheese.
But sitting on that patio with $1 Bud Lite and Coors Lite cans on a sunny Sunday afternoon was a brilliant call. Yellow Dog has an easy charm and a ready comfort that would quickly make it one of my favorites for a lazy weekend afternoon all year round.