coming out of my shell

coming out of my shell

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Strip Malls


When you move someplace new you are adrift.  Nothing is familiar and everything involves taking a risk.  This is especially true with food.  It takes a long time to find the best places to eat. 

I guess you have heard there are many transplanted New Yorkers in Florida.  Central Florida is no different.  And yes, we realize native Floridians dislike and resent us.  Apparently we have a reputation for being rude.  Probably because we are hungry and we cannot find good food!  Whoops, there I go with my rude self again.  It takes so little for me to be off and running.

First of all, not every New Yorker is from New York City.  It is a big state.  Secondly, when I meet other New Yorkers the very first thing we talk about is the dearth of good, inexpensive restaurants in Central Florida.  Sometimes we whisper this to each other so that the locals do not hear us.  See, we are not really all THAT rude. 

The truth is T and I live near Disney World, the Land of Mouse, a place where French fries and chain restaurants reign supreme.  The challenge lies in hunting down the Mom and Pop owned restaurants.  They ARE here, they are simply hidden away in strip malls - a place I would never have thought to look for good restaurants before moving down here.

I have not located a bagelry. I miss fresh, crusty bagels. Perhaps if we travel to one of the Florida retirement havens on the Atlantic coast we might find a Northeast style bagelry?  We would definitely make the drive to get there if we knew FOR SURE a good bagelry existed.  I might even abandon the grandkids and move there permanently if I could buy a decent bagel.

The bagels they sell at Publix, our ubiquitous regional grocery store, are soft.  I assume they are made from a prepackaged mix Publix probably distributes to all its in-store bakeries?  Anyway, I see my granddaughter chowing down on one of those for breakfast and my heart hurts.  I feel like we have all let her down on a deep, cultural level. 

Chinese take-out can be found at virtually every strip mall, and there are plenty of strip malls.  In fact, it seems like every few blocks there is a strip mall with a Publix, a hair salon, a liquor store, and a Chinese take-out.  I am only exaggerating the teeniest little bit. 

Unfortunately, the Chinese restaurants here serve a milder version of what is served up north, and without shitake mushrooms.  I guess shitake is too weird?  Needless to say, we stopped ordering Chinese take-out early on.  I mean, who wants Hunan Chicken that has no zing and includes white button mushrooms instead of shitake?  I experience cognitive dissonance over this one. 


Pizza?  Well, we are lucky with pizza.  There is a place where the owners are from Buffalo, NY.  Although it nicely approximates NY-style pizza, the crust is not exactly the same.  The owners bemoan this fact and claim it is because of the water.  I understand.  Hey, the crust is good enough for me and I am grateful for this pizzeria.  The sauce is flavorful.  Thankfully they do not serve pizza with raw, chopped green peppers on top. Good thing, too, because my rallying cry regarding green peppers on pizza is: "Give me greasy roasted green pepper strips or give me none."

Happily, there is a lovely Thai Restaurant in town, and they are not afraid to spice things up. I have no complaints there. There are lots and lots of really good Mexican restaurants everywhere. And at a new strip mall down the road we discovered a Cajun place that makes a mean shrimp and grits. Yum.

There is a barbeque joint downtown that we like.  Part of what I like is that it is downtown instead of in a strip mall.  Of course their BBQ is not half as good you might find in South Carolina, but hey - half as good as South Carolina BBQ is pretty darn good. I hear there is another good BBQ place at one of the local strip malls, the one with the medium-sized Publix.  We need to check that out.

South Carolina style BBQ with collard greens, stewed tomatoes, coleslaw, and sweet potato
We found several interesting Cuban restaurants in the area. We frequent a Cuban place in a charming tourist town less than a half hour north of us. The picadillo is sublime.  

Picadillo with fried plantains and yellow rice
As far as the Greek experience, I live in hope. We may have to drive to Tarpon Springs on the Gulf Coast for an authentic Greek food experience. Tarpon Springs has the highest percentage of Greek Americans of any city in the US because of their sponge diving industry. I am looking forward to going there soon.

I am grateful to the Ancient Greeks for all the things they did well including democracy, philosophy, medicine, theatre, sculpture, and architecture.  But I think they reached the apex of their ancient civilization when they adapted baklava from the Ottoman Turks and made it their own.  Without the Greeks we may only be eating syrup with pancakes! Think about the perfect baklava, oozing honey syrup and melted butter with each bite.  It is so moist, almost like eating and drinking at the same time.

We stumbled upon a fabulous Greek Restaurant with our granddaughter the last time we went to St. Augustine.  She had avgolemono (egg and lemon) soup for the first time and fell in love with it. Of course the restaurant was in one of those homogenous strip malls that have no distinct sense of place, so I am not sure I can find it again.  The other two Greek restaurants we found are both about 30 minutes away in opposite directions.  Also in strip malls...  Neither of these two restaurants make their own baklava, they use the same pre-packaged variety they must purchase from their distributor.  I was disappointed, but I still ate the baklava.   

Anyway, the good, cheap restaurants we have found to date are only the tip of the iceberg.  They are out there and they are in strip malls.  The search continues.

12 comments:

  1. If only there were downtowns, instead of strip malls! I think you have amassed quite a collection, bakery aside. I used to do a show in New Paltz, NY. Oh, my God, the bagels. I understand the seafood along the coast is wonderful. Happy hunting.

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    1. Many thanks! Yes, New Paltz would be a good place to find a bagel. It is right there in the Belly of the Beast. I bet that was a good show - lots of creative people around there.

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  2. I have been to Tarpon Springs. It is worth the hour and a half drive. However, it has been over 15 years since I visited and things change.

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    1. I hear good things about Tarpon Springs, so maybe it hasn't changed much.

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  3. Gawd, that all looks so good! I've just discovered Chicken Shawarma at a local Lebanese restaurant here in Portland. I am addicted!
    And there is a new Indian restaurant I'm dying to try also. I love food. Especially if someone else cooks and it's something I've never tried before. This post has made me very hungry...!
    It was great fun, thanks!

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    1. Glad to hear you enjoyed it. I forgot about Indian food, I will see if I can find one around here someplace. You must have a lot of good restaurants in Portland. I lived in the Pacific Northwest (south of Seattle) for a few years when I was a kid and loved everything about it. Especially the moody, misty rain. I envy you living there!!!

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  4. So many things I can relate to in this post! As you know, my family lives in Florida and we have spent much time there over the years. Yes, NYers are not well-liked! It's weird to me! There used to be a NY bagel place right behind my mom (in a strip mall, of course) and I LOVED their egg bagel! But, it recently closed. I, too, am not a fan of chain restaurants and try to find interesting eateries when we are traveling and when we move to new places. Tarpon Springs has awesome baklava! Even a chocolate covered option! When my brother married the second time, the rehearsal dinner was held at the big Greek restaurant on the docks (which is also where you get the best baklava). Pizza is a biggie for us, too! There is a place, here in Denver, said to caterer to "Chicagoans" and we plan to catch a Bears game there, while enjoying some Chicago-style deep dish. We have a place within walking distance where we get "Big Ass Slices"...NY-style! :) I am a barbecue fan, mostly pulled pork, and usually get it when I see it on the menu! Well, that and chicken & waffles! We are fans of Cajun and discovered a place just off the 16th Street Mall called Cajun Bob's (go figure!) that is tasty and offers live music! (Be still my NOLA-loving heart!) I enjoy the search for eateries and hope that you & T are, too! Love ya!

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    1. You too, my sweet. I totally appreciate Chicago style deep dish pizza, but I am afraid I spent too many years in New York State far from my Midwestern roots. Given a choice I am always going to choose NY style. Be sure to give us a call when you are down here next so we can make some plans to get together. Maybe we'll meet you for baklava on the docks! You and C are in my thoughts.

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    2. We are more thin-slice lovers, too! I like really crispy crusts!!! We will see you during our visit!

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  5. I am TERRIBLE at choosing good restaurants, precisely because, as my partner tells me...I do not know what "good" food is. Also, I intensely dislike both Greek and Cuban food, so that leaves a lot of good restaurants out. One of my favorite Mexican restaurants in town is a place called Julio's. Bing calls this "americanized mexican." She favors a small little place in the hispanic part of our city where they serve a dish that is so hot that one bite left me wheezing. I also like Godfather's pizza. I am hopeless.

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So, whadayathink?