Stouffer’s Farmer’s Harvest Roasted Chicken & Bowtie Pasta (with a vegetable medley)
180 calories from fat
About 8 minutes cooking time
Stouffer’s has apparently caught wind of what other frozen meals have been doing lately regarding marketing. You can see on the front of the box they’re selling this frozen ‘delight’ as a healthy choice (note their billing of: 1.‘No Preservatives.’ 2. Olive Oil and Sea Salt. 3. A fresh Carrot on the box! My response: 1. It’s frozen. 2. Rachel Ray bandwagon. 3. That carrot looks nothing like what I got in my frozen meal.). While I laud making a healthier frozen meal, I think they’re going a little overboard with the “Farmers’ Harvest” tag. If you make something that’s good you don’t need hyperbolic packaging.
The chicken is pretty good despite not resembling what’s advertised on the box. No cartilage thus far (none of the chicken wound up with that Chicken McNugget “suprise” where you take a bite of what looks like normal chicken and you get a fist-sized chunk of gristle or cartilage. Definitely one of the most unappetizing aspects of reconstituted chicken, you know, aside from the whole process of reconstituting chicken parts into the proverbial ‘chicken boot’ [of course I couldn't find a picture of the proverbial McNugget boot shape, but suffice it to say that McNuggets are shaped like little boots. Next time you have one, look for it.]), and it’s kind of moist. Their blend of herbs and spices, primarily parsley and sea salt, are satisfactory. You won’t be calling your mother telling her about your amazingly flavored frozen meal, but I have had far worse. The bowtie pasta is alright, nothing stands out positively or negatively. The vegetables (green beans, carrots, and red pepper) are actually some of the best I’ve had from a frozen meal. The veggies taste fairly fresh (considering their circumstances), retaining a bit of crispness and they’re a little bit buttery (I’d hazard to guess that’s the vegetable oil that the box lauds).
I tasted each component seperately for the purposes of this review, but as you can see above I like to get all of the pieces together in a war of textures and flavors. You can certainly eat this meal without adding anything to it, but I’m a fiend for hotsauce so after my initial impressions I added a little bit of Louisiana Hot Sauce on top. Considering this is a frozen meal, and not freshly prepared I would recommend this for anyone that needs an easy meal they can heat up in the microwave.
Stouffer’s you get a Rating: for this one (based on quality of components, flavors, and cost). Neither great nor bad, but totally edible.
Queen of Sheba is celebrating their 4th Anniversary, November 11th and 12th. They are putting a full spread out each day, I would definitely suggest trying to visit during that time.
Before coming to Queen of Sheba I had never had Ethiopian food. Due to my friend Jacob’s, and my brother’s enthusiasm for Ethiopian cuisine we wound up hearing from a young lady about Queen of Sheba; in particular their beef tartar. I’m always up for trying something new (except for Balut… unless I am REALLY hungry), so off we went to try Queen of Sheba for lunch.
Normally I write my reviews immediately after, or shortly after eating at the restaurant. In this case, I had eaten at Queen of Sheba and taken some notes on my phone… and then promptly became a lazy shit and didn’t write anything for months. I’ve since eaten there several times (most recently went for dinner with my roommates and one of my friends, Jamie, when she was in town this previous weekend). I’ve lost some steam from my original notes, so I’ll post what I had noted and let you suss out my experience from that (lazy, I know):
*2nd time here, had the buffet the first time, it was excellent. Costs around $10.
*Note the hand sanitizer, traditional Ethiopian eats with hands using “injera” as your fork, amd it’s a little plate basically.
*Harar beer is basic lager but good. The Hakim stout is delicious, recommend.
*Music is really laid back, and the setting as you can see is very casual. Fresh butcher paper goes down for each table and the proprietress, Seble Gizaw, works everything with a good word for all customers. She explains how to go about eating Ethiopian for any first timers.
*Ordered Queens Special (cook’s choice of items), Beef Tartar, and the Chefs Choice Veggie Combo Platter.
*Jake and Dan talking “shop”, discussing boring work nonsense.
*Food came out and impressive. Each time we come we enjoy the food thoroughly. The tartar was tender, spiced without a lot of heat in it. All of us thoroughly impressed but we all agreed that the veggie dishes are our favorite. Rich flavors, satisfying cravings for curry flavor. With the tartar you get an assortment of sauces and spices to add heat and we added those in providing an additional kick. Definitely advise coming back.
Synopsis: Definitely try something new and go to Queen of Sheba. Every trip has left me feeling contented and with a smile on my face. I give it a consistent Rating:
Let me preface this review with: Holy shit, Honey’s chicken wings.
Other than Google confusing me on what I should list as the proper name of this restaurant, I couldn’t find anything wrong with my chicken wing crushin’ experience at Honey’s (caveat, their credit card machine was down and usually that’s a deal breaker as I am wont to never have cash in my pocket… except today I had some greenbacks in my wallet!). Honey’s was so good that it broke me out of my writing malaise. Before I ramble on about how much I liked the food, I’ll build out the atmosphere for you. Honey’s is a sports bar. When you step inside it’s fairly dark to give you a better shot at watching the game you want to see, without glare from the Florida sun. Honey’s has a fairly similar ‘feel’ to that of one of my old haunts in Lansing (see Bonnie’s Place), in that you can get a good bite to eat without a bunch of bullshit and maybe catch the game you wanted to see while you’re at it. Likewise the wait-staff aren’t scantily clad young ladies, serving you tender vittles with a side of silicone. Don’t get me wrong, I like the sight of pleasant looking young lasses as much as the next guy, but I don’t like feeling like a fucking creeper because my server is all T&A’d up so I wind up goggling at her while trying to mow down a burger. <insert stale ‘breast/chicken breast’ joke here>, yeah that’s not me.
One thing I find myself craving in Tampa are hole in the wall joints to grab a bite or a beer. Pyschoanalyzing this desire aside, finding these kinds of places in Tampa is fairly difficult. One reason Lansing may have a plethora of these kind of places could be due to the town’s blue collar residents. A city that was home to several GM plants and specifically to a large GM car assembly factory from 1901 until 2005, the longest operating factory in the US when it closed (all that remains are the gates and plots of land full of rubble); generations of line workers defining the culture in the Capitol City, subtly dictating the kinds of establishments that thrived and remained open throughout the years. For better or worse, the same culture that likely led to Lansing having more bars per capita than any other capital city in the United States. (This being a factoid I’d heard years ago and I can’t speak to the veracity of the previous statement, but suffice it to say that there are a shitload of bars in Lansing in comparison to the population density.) Another likely factor is the presence of Michigan State University. Cash strapped students are always looking for a good deal, and any joint with competitive prices that serves up a good dish can keep itself in business. While not all hole in the wall joints serve up the best experience (or the best of anything, sometimes they’re a hole in the wall because they just plain suck), there is something to be said for a place that must simply stand on its drink or food without reliance on being prettied up. My love of these places could be to due to being a general malcontent, or it could be the value of these places and the experiences I’ve had at them. You can only dine at an Applebee’s so often before wanting to kick and punch your way out of manufactured mediocrity.
Restaurants and bars in Tampa generally lean away from the hole in the wall and tend toward a vibe of business casual lunches and dinners. While there is nothing wrong with going out and not having to put up with that drunk guy in the corner cursing like a well traveled sailor, I generally prefer not feeling like I’m underdressed when dining in a t-shirt and jeans. Tampa certainly had a blue collar grounding with its early 20th century cigar production (see: Cigar City), but that same hard working populace did not seem to have the same impact that Michigan autoworkers had on their area. I don’t know whether that’s due to the drastic differences in the locale or some other influences (differences: where Lansing is bathed in snow for a quarter of the year and shares lists with the likes of Seattle and Buffalo for being some of the most overcast cities in the US, whereas Tampa is continuously drenched in sunshine and heat and you’re never far from a beach). Honey’s did not disappoint regarding appropriate dress and vibe, we felt at home in our t-shirts and jeans.
I had heard from my neighbor Lindsay for months that Honey’s has the best wings in Tampa. While she has yet to steer us wrong in this respect, I can be stubborn in quick acceptance as I generally like to find things out on my own (like my father before me, you can tell me the stove is hot, but I don’t believe it until my hand is burnt). I usually grab lunch with my friends/coworkers and we generally like to try new things for lunch, but unfortunately Honey’s is just far enough from the office that it managed to stay off our list of restaurants to try. Due to the distance, you’re pretty much bound to take a lunch that is longer than an hour. While an occasional long lunch isn’t a problem at work, you don’t want to waste a long lunch on a crappy or mediocre restaurant. Due to the blue corn Moon aligning with the stars and other mystical forces and shit, we wound up taking a shot at Honey’s today.
While Honey’s has a large and delicious sounding menu, I had eyes only for chicken wings today. On the advice of my coworkers who had gone to Honey’s the week prior, I ordered 16 of the Spicy Garlic Parmesan wings with a side of Hot Sauce and I was not disappointed. I would prefer that they sold their wings in 5’s or 10’s as I think 10 chicken wings are generally the filling point when ordering wings. Despite this, I managed to house 14 of these bad boys (the other guys at the table polished off the other two) and crush some fries. I washed it all down with unsweetened iced tea. I ordered a large order of the homemade fries to share with the table; the fries come in half pound and pound orders. Honey’s doesn’t mess around.
I don’t think my words will do Honey’s wings the justice they deserve. The wings themselves were high quality, with the perfect ratio of sauce to meat and lacking the superfluous amount of skin and fat that some wings have. The wings were cooked exactly how I like them, where the skin winds up a bit crispy but not overcooked and dried out or inundated with oil. The sauce itself was fantastic, a bit of heat with a bold garlic flavor and dusted with the right amount of parmesan. I enjoy some spice with my food and their hot sauce was the perfect compliment to the wings’ base sauce. Dan ordered the Spicy Honey Garlic wings, and anyone with a bit of a sweet-tooth would appreciate this flavor. They were sweet, yet not cloyingly so. The fries appeared to be house cut, lightly salted, and fried to order. If you want to eat chicken wings, and eat the best chicken wings in Tampa then you need to go to Honey’s.
My friend Phil ordered the Beef and Cheddar Sandwich which looked delicious, and Jacob ordered the Chicken Sandwich (which in turn looked delicious):
Overall Honey’s earned a Rating: stars. That elusive 5 is reserved for those meals that are so good you can’t put a finger on it, and typically involves the company with you. The spectre of returning to work may have been that -.5, but either way Honey’s deserves a visit.
Wicked Wiches pulled up to the office where I work recently. I was intrigued when I first saw them as I’m interested in the food truck business model. What restaurateur would thumb their nose at the thought of virtually no overhead (no brick and mortar location with rent/mortgage) and being afforded the ability to relocate if one particular area does not provide the necessary customer traffic? The lower overhead means you can likely show a higher profit margin in a shorter period of time and soon go from red to black in your startup costs. The downside to the model is that your food must shine as you don’t have any other accoutrement to give the customer a positive experience (aside from the general customer service experience). Based on my coworker Nook’s humorous review of Wicked Wiches, and their appetizing menu (http://eatfreshdaily.com/wicked/menu.jpg) I decided to give them a shot.
My coworker Rob in blue sampling the kettle chips.
I like the look of their truck, it has a very clean look that instills you with confidence that their kitchen is clean as well. While a car wash doesn’t equate a clean kitchen, it’s a great tactic. They’ve installed green lights that attract your eye and help passerby notice the truck. The canopy is a thoughtful addition in Tampa to afford customers a moment out of the sun while waiting for their food.
There were more chips in the basket than you see here.
I typically review meals as a whole, but in this case there were three discrete parts of this meal and thus I will review them seperately. I will start with the chips as they were my favorite part of the meal. The chips are a skinny kettle chip that has a great charred and caramelized flavor (if you have ‘Better Made’ chips in your area, you can get something akin to Wicked Wiches’ chips called ‘Rainbow’ chips). For some people this might be an acquired taste (so if you’re 5, you might not like them) but I loved them. They topped the chips with a thinned out honey-based sauce (there was a hint of caramel, but it may have just been the caramelization on the chips). The richness of the sauce set off the flavor of the chips; this is something I would gladly order a small bowl of by itself. The chips got a Rating: , and would merit a great snack.
Next I ate the ‘Panino.’ The first few bites of the sandwich left an odd acidity in my mouth that wasn’t appetizing. As I continued to eat the sandwich, the oddness seemed to resolve itself, it may have just been something fickle with my palate. The meats tasted pretty good, but the baby greens didn’t marry very well with the richness of the salami and prosciutto (I think something like arugula would have gone better to really provide contrast). I would prefer a bit rougher or drier bread with this sandwich, I suspect that the prevalence of Cuban Bread in Tampa may play a role in why most restaurants here serve sandwiches with soft breads. My favorite aspect of the samich were the sauteed onions, carrots, and roasted peppers. The Panino got a Rating: , I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this to particular item to anyone but I would eat it again if someone gave it to me.
Finally we arrive at our unfortunate turn of events, the Smoked Ruben. I was curious if there was a South African, Texas, or frankly any reference to ‘Ruben’ as a sandwich that I hadn’t heard of it, but the top results for a Google search of ‘Ruben’ only brought up Ruben Studdard. Ruben Studdard is a big guy who seemingly enjoys his share of eats, so perhaps this ‘Ruben’ is his favorite iteration of the more traditional ‘reuben’. Whatever the case may be, I was not a fan of this Ruben. The concept of the sandwich was sound, making a ‘barbeque’ version of the reuben by using a chipotle russian sauce; an idea that I haven’t seen/tasted before. As I ate the Ruben last, the bread had started to get quite soggy. The primary issue I had with the sandwich was the beef brisket as it wasn’t cooked so that the fat and tissues and had broken down. Each bite felt like I was fighting with the sandwich and at a couple of points I had to take the chewier parts out. While I don’t scoff at chewy things or connective tissue, they need to be presented in the proper context. This sandwich was being delivered as a decadent, comfort-food, gooey mess but the ball is dropped on that when you’re fighting to bite through the sandwich and have to get all Primal Rage to claim your bite. This is not a sandwich I would recommend to anyone until they really nail down how to cook the beef brisket like a traditional corned beef (which requires time, some more time, and then just to make sure give it a little bit more time). This sandwich got a Rating: , mainly for the concept.
From what I had seen, there appeared to be some tasty items on the menu at Wicked Wiches, I just happened to choose poorly. Unfortunately, if something doesn’t shine, it really shouldn’t be on your menu. Overall Wicked Wiches got a Rating: , chips can only take you so far but Wicked Wiches definitely has a vibe that they could redeem themselves… just don’t get the ‘Ruben’.
Some life updates that may not have been reflected on HalfTon:
1. My twin brother Dan got hired by my company and he moved to Tampa.
2. I was able to get one of my best friends Jake hired at our company.
3. Another one of my best friends, Phil, moved down to Tampa to check something new out for a while.
The four of us share a house north of downtown Tampa, about 5 minutes from Ybor. Our proximity to Ybor usually defaults us to visiting there (read: The Bricks) on the weekends. The past couple of weeks we have developed an informal ‘morning after Ybor’-ritual which usually involves going out with Phil so he can buy smokes and we all grab some RockStar Recovery Drinks and then we head out to Guitar Center. Through my ineptitude last weekend I had purchased the wrong heads for drums, so this weekend we repeated our little ritual.
As you can see, I wised up and just took the old heads off so that I can accurately match up what I needed to purchase. We purchased our musical necessities, but man can only be sustained on liquid energy drank for so long. Dan was interested in eating at a new joint so he commandeered Phil’s phone to use Yelp to plot our next steps. He found a 4 and a half star restaurant, which is fairly amazing on Yelp so off we went. Side note, we tried to get our roommate Jake to join us, but due to his inability to EVER answer his phone he missed out on the best meal we’ve had in Tampa.
We showed up around 2pm, and as you can see the place was pretty busy (please excuse the shaky camera work, I was trying to take a quick vid without looking too conspicuous and there were several kids running around the table next to us. I was fairly certain that I was going to accidentally destroy one of the kids when adjusting my chair as they were all over the place. Something along the lines of this). Frankly, after we sat down there was a line of folks waiting to sit and eat the entire time. That’s one of the best indicators of a good restaurant. Unlike a dance club, people don’t seem to like to wait in line for food.
I may have laid this out before, but it’s fairly difficult to write about excellent food. Eating at La Pequena was one of those times. The service we received was fast, friendly and very helpful without smothering us. At no point were we waiting on the wait staff to fulfill our requests. After having had a very poor service experience the past evening at another Tampa restaurant, La Pequena stood out for its competency and extremely high level of service.
On the recommendation of the Yelp information, Dan ended up ordering the Bandeja Montañera, aka ‘The Country Platter’, which comes with Grilled Steak (or ground beef), Pork Skin, Sausage, Red Beans, Rice, Eggs, Sweet Plantains, Corn Cake and a Salad. Clearly this is a meal that you have be packing an appetite to order. Phil and I opted to order the Bistec A Caballo which comes with Stewed Beef, Rice, Red Beans, Potato, Cassava, and Egg.
The red beans and rice showed up first, and frankly there was enough right there to make a meal. Phil and I started digging in as we had all been brewing a mean hunger. Shortly thereafter our main dishes came out.
The portions provided would make a lumberjack hesitate. There is enough food per meal to leave you full for the remainder of the day. The stewed beef was fantastic, the acidity of the tomato base and the starchiness of the potato and cassava complimented each other very well. The eggs on top of the platter were like the cherry on top of a sundae… unnecessary but totally delicious. My meal was outstanding but I think the real items that shone were on Dan’s plate. The thin-cut, hand tenderized steak was just that, tender. The steak was perfectly seasoned with salt and pepper, and the grill flavor on it was impeccable. The sausage was the other item that blew me away. From what I could tell it had a natural casing and was filled with high quality meat and filling. I have no idea what was in there, but I do know it was the best sausage I’ve ever had. The one surprise on the table was the pork skin. I didn’t know what to expect, but in hindsight I should’ve expected good things as everything we had today was the best we’d had of its kind. If you dig on swine, you should definitely give it a shot.
One thing we had noticed upon entering was the bakery. Well, that and some of the pretty patrons and pretty girls who were working there. They offer fresh baked breads, sweets, and pastries. As Jake wasn’t able to join us we purchased a loaf of 3 cheese bread that had literally just come out of the oven and an apple turnover. The bread was so good that as soon as it got home it was demolished.
This was one of those rare experiences where you try something new out of the blue and you are absolutely blown away. If you haven’t had the pleasure of being completely surprised with the excellence of something, you’re missing out. I don’t know that there is a way to cultivate having these experiences other than trying something new and avoid coming into that experience with a preconception of how your experience will be. The only thing I can relate to this was seeing The Matrix for the first time. Dan and I were in 9th grade, and we went with our parents to see it on opening day. There wasn’t a lot of advertising surrounding it. We knew of the movie but frankly had no idea of what it would be about other than it would have a base in science fiction. The graphics, the plot, the music, the acting (this was the perfect role for Keanu Reeves. Whoever his agent is, is brilliant) and each aspect of the movie hit on all cylinders. We walked in with virtually no expectations, and left raving. Minus the science fiction, we walked into La Pequena and left with that same Matrix-esque experience.
La Pequena deserved and received a Rating: . I recommend this to anyone with an appetite. It’s just too bad Jake (and any of you who read this) didn’t get to experience this with us.
I can’t believe how long it has taken me to review this place. I mean, dead grass and leaves starting to come back.. hell.. long sleeve shirts were still appropriate daytime attire. Now it’s consistently in the 90′s and humid enough to swim. I’m on the brink of growing gills. Tangents about my lax writing schedule aside, I digress. I’ve dropped by numerous times for the shrimp Po Boy. Shrimp is always perfectly cooked, light layer of mayo on a semi crusty bread. Crisp lettuce and fresh tomatoes. Drop some hot sauce on the Po Boy and it’s the best Po Boy I’ve had in Tampa (to be fair, I’ve found very few places that offer shrimp Po Boys).
The prices aren’t too high, but it’s not cheap either. The quality of the food outweighs any misgivings I might have had though. Coworkers have told me about how good their beignets are, but it’s something I’ve yet to try. I keep wanting to try their Jambalaya and Gumbo, but the draw of a perfectly made Po Boy keeps me from straying. The decor is fun, but I’ve never been to New Orleans.. so I can’t really comment on how it relates to that. Cozy atmosphere and servers have always been friendly.
I give it a Rating: . Excellent Po Bo, but I’ve yet to try anything else out.
Our friends Jacob and Phil have recently moved down to Tampa, so lately we’ve been going to the same places for lunch and dinner, or cooking at home. Falling into a habit of going to the same joints to grab a bite is easy, especially when life gets a little hectic (figuring out the new dynamics in our household isn’t stressful but it does require you to reassess how you spend your free time). So, when Chris, of our very own site’s fame, sent me a link (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/27/dining/27united.html?ref=dining) about the brief history of the devil crab croquette and Tampa’s abiding affinity for it, I was compelled to go find a joint to try this out. I wound up settling on Brocato’s from the title picture of the article. After loading up the Blue-Bomber on this sweltering Tampa afternoon, we trundled east on I4 to meet our fate.
The first thing I noticed was that Brocato’s was busy. Not just slightly busy, but the kind of busy where folks are ‘waiting to get a spot in the large parking lot’-busy. A busy restaurant is always a good indicator of a restaurants worth (this is not always true, see: Chili’s, Appleby’s, etc. I think people just like going to those places for beer specials… that’s the only logical conclusion; who is willing to pay $13 for a paltry amount of crappy nachos?). As we entered the restaurant I saw a steady stream of people coming in to place an order and sitting down or just grabbing their food and taking off. This rate of turnover is pretty amazing considering we got to Brocato’s shortly after 1pm.
Brocato’s offers a fairly large menu: sandwiches, soups, desserts, and of course crab croquettes. You may be asking, “What is a crab croquette?” Sauteed green onion, jalapenos (or green peppers), with Crab meat, next you cover it in a breading and deep fry; it’s like a Tampa empanada. They have a Pick 1, 2, or 3 lunch offer where you can choose from 6 or 7 different items and a drink. We mistakenly chose 2x ‘Pick-2′s and 1x ‘Pick-3′. Why were we mistaken? Well, we had misled ourselves on how much food we would receive. In the future, with 3 people, we would order the Pick 3 and get a couple additional drinks as the additional items we ordered were only sampled and not consumed en masse. If you order the Pick 3, you need to bring a bear’s appetite and the ability to hibernate (after consuming that much food). I had brought eyes that were much larger than my stomach and ordered the Pick 3; I chose to get the 6 inch Cuban sandwich, Devil Crab Croquette, and Fries. All washed down with an unsweet ice-tea.
What the picture fails to bely is the actual size of the crab croquette, which measured in at about the size of Shane Carwin’s fists (which are in fact the size of lunchboxes). The pictures also fail to convey the weight of the 6-inch Cubans. While they fail to weigh in at a metric ton, they are indeed loaded with enough meat to burden anyone stuck with carrying a bag of Cubans back to their lazy coworkers. Portions aside, the food itself was fantastic. A word of warning, if you don’t like crab you probably shouldn’t order a crab croquette. If you DO like crab meat, you will find that they must’ve used roughly 50 actual crab claws to make each croquette and will be pleased to find it’s not the fake, reconstituted fish parts (that get labelled as “crab meat” but in fact look like creamsicle colored crinkle-cut fries). From what I could tell the croquettes were made of crab meat, jalapenos, green onions, salt, pepper, butter, and maybe lemon. I thought this was fantastic lunch fare and would gladly bring out-of-towners here. I didn’t house my Cuban sandwich as I was loaded down from the crab croquette alone but the bit I did sample was fantastic, made like a traditional Cuban that has been stuffed to the gills with meat. The crinkle-cut fries were fairly standard ‘fry’ fair, but unremarkable only in that they were good fries and not excellent in some respect (they were cooked properly, not undercooked, not soggy).
Brocato’s has a very laid back atmosphere. While I was there they were serving everyone from suits to the working man. It appears if you like food you’ll wind up at Brocato’s regardless of your station in life.
I had a fantastic time and really enjoyed my food. Brocato’s earned a Rating: . My one minor complaint is that it took a while to get my food, but considering the volume of customers Brocato’s handles it’s very understandable.