Aug 2, 2010

Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives 2010

What a difference a year makes ...

Last year, we had just moved to Tallahassee and we were discovering all the new culinary options that the state capital had to offer.  We were pleasantly surprised to find that there actually were several great places that helped us to forget the loss of our beloved Orlando.  There were more independent restaurants and less dependence on chain establishments.  So, I put together a little review of the places Tallahassee had to offer and my favorites.

Well, now we have had more time to experiment and see if my initial thoughts were correct.  The biggest thing, though, happened in January of this year when I completely revamped my approach to food.  (Painstakingly documented on THIS BLOG.)  That has caused us to completely revisit our evaluations.  Places we used to visit frequently have been tossed aside.  And we have learned to embrace other places.  We now value restaurants that offer healthier food and ones with flexibility - where both the kids and the restricted Daddy can be happy.  I thought about it and decided it was time to put out a new list.  You know, for the two people in Tallahassee that actually read this blog.

First, I am going to take a peek at the places I mentioned last year, to see how they are holding up.

  • 1 Fresh Stir Fry - I would say that 1 Fresh was the MVP of 2009 for the Staples Family.  We all loved it.  People who visited us from out of time loved it.  It was our go to choice.  However, all that changed in 2010.  First of all, it was hard to get food there without starch - which is something that I needed.  Second, I started making meals at home for lunch.  They were shockingly like 1 Fresh bowls.  And I began to realize I wasn't too thrilled with paying 9 bucks for what I was creating at home with leftovers.  The third strike came when another restaurant came into town.  But I don't want to spoil that.  2009 Rating: 10 of 10.  2010 Rating: 6 of 10
  • La Fiesta -  I can honestly say that we have not been back to La Fiesta in at LEAST ten months.  I'm not sure what killed it, but I think it was the discovery of a bunch of other Mexican places.  There are several that are at least as good, usually with better kids meal deals.  2009 Rating: 9 of 10.  2010 Rating: 4 of 10
  • Barnaby's Pizza - Now here's a pickle.  I don't eat pizza any more.  So none of the pizza places really rank well with me.  I kind of need to know what else there is at the place.  Barnaby's loses some points with me because it has a lousy menu besides pizza.  Their wings are not very good.  (When you are trumped by Domino's wings, you know you are not great.)  They have steak, but it is expensive.  However, when it comes to the kids and Heather, Barnaby's is still the best place in town.  2009 Rating: 10 of 10.  2010 Rating: 10 of 10.
  • Helen's Silver Bullet Diner -  This place is closed down.  So, that solves the issue.  2009 Rating: 9 of 10.  2010 Rating: 0 of 10.
  • Decent Pizza - We tried this place twice.  It was good.  But it was ridiculously expensive, especially if you wanted it delivered.  And, face it, you don't want to drive down Monroe to pick it up at dinner time.  So we never have gone back.  Combined with my rejection of pizza, this place is dead to us.  2009 Rating: 8 of 10.  2010 Rating: 1 of 10.
  • Red Elephant Pizza Grill - This is the sole ranked place from last year that did not take a hit.  The biggest problem is their prices.  They are not a place we can go often.  However, their pizza is still a clone of Barnaby's.  And they gained points for their extensive menu that I can enjoy.  They have tomato bisque, great salads, and an amazing grilled chicken dish with balsamic glaze.  I actually would raise their score this year.  2009 Rating: 8 of 10.  2010 Rating: 9 of 10.
So that is the look back at 2009's stellar performers.  As you can tell, there is a big change in our view of places.  So, here is a look at the all stars for us in 2010.  
  • Genghis Grill - MVP - Yes, it is a chain.  But this is the only location in Florida.  And it is so . . . dang . . . good.  I have always been a sucker for Mongolian BBQ places.  You know, the places with the giant volcanically hot flat grills.  Be it China Jade in Orlando, the late Stone Turtle in Tampa, or any of the Japanese steak house joints (plus Hu Hot, BD's, and others).  They are just fun and tasty.  The concept is you take a bowl, fill it with all the raw meats you want, put the seasoning you like on it, add the veggies you want, toss on an egg if you like, pick your sauce, pick your starch.  They cook it and put it in a different bowl and send it back to you.  What's not to like?  Every single person I know that has gone to Genghis has loved it.  Personally, I think it is the best one of these places I have been.  And it is perfect for my food needs.  The kids beg to go. It also single handedly killed our love for 1 Fresh - it does similar stuff but WAAAY better at the same price.  2010 Rating: 10 of 10
  • Pepper's Mexican Grill - I mentioned this place last year as one of the places we hadn't tried yet. Well, we have tried it now.  Many times.  And it is the reason we have rejected La Fiesta.  They are good and pretty reasonable.  Plus, they have free kids meals on Tuesdays.  AND, when our kids' school sold their discount cards, Peppers was on there.  So we get free kids meals all the time now.  They have fish tacos, which Heather likes to order at Mexican places.  They also have nuggets and fries - a big deal for kids.  And their Fajitas Peppers is a great thing for me to eat now.  2010 Rating: 9 of 10
  • Black Bean Cuban Cafe - Here is the extent of my knowledge of Cuban cuisine up to this point: cuban sandwiches suck.  I lived in Tampa for four years, and they had cuban sandwiches everywhere.  I hated them.  Pork, pickles, mustard - three things I hated beyond belief.  I guess I knew they had black beans and rice, too.  I wasn't impressed.  Well, the other day I was realizing I drove past this place about five times a week.  We had never been.  I finally looked it up on line and realized it was worth trying.  What we found was incredible.  They have a ton of pressed sandwiches, which I can't have.  But they also have tons of other things - many of them I can have.  Mojo chicken breasts, pulled pork, fried pork chunks (you have to try them - the description doesn't do them justice).  All meals come with black beans and rice or red beans and rice - AND plantains.  They also have these little deep fried potato covered meat balls that are just ridiculously good.  AND they have free kids meals ALL THE TIME.  Needless to say, it has become a favorite haunt.  2010 Rating: 10 of 10
  • Piggy's BBQ - I am stunned that no BBQ places were on the 2009 list.  With how much BBQ I eat now, I have a hard time remembering when I didn't do that as much.  There are some good places here.  Dave's BBQ is very tasty - but pricey.  Jim and Milt's is cheap and good - but not great.  Piggy's is my favorite.  Their brisket is stellar.  The pulled pork is the best in town - and it has a peach vinegar sauce that comes with it.  Plus there are daily specials, sausage, and they have the best sweet potato casserole around.  Their kids meals are cheap (free on Saturday), and they come with ice cream.  All the meals come with a drink, which is a huge money drain at most places.  Over all, it is my choice for BBQ in Tally.  2010 Rating: 9 of 10
  • Ichigo - The new food plan has led us to explore frozen yogurt places.  Fortunately, that is a booming industry right now.  We have tried several of the fro-yo joints in town.  Our favorite by far is Ichigo.  They are one of the self serve places where you can get as much, as many flavors, and whatever toppings you want.  They charge you by weight.  But their yogurt is creamier than other places.  Fusions is too icy.  Sunberry is too tart and too expensive -- even though you can't beat their 60 flavors.  And TCBY is too chain - they are like the McDonald's of frozen yogurt.  Ichigo is good stuff.  2010 Rating: 9 of 10
  • Barnaby's Pizza - You have to rank a pizza place.  This is the best.  Since I don't eat it, I can't compare it to anyone else.  But I just go by the loudness of the cheers when I tell my kids I ordered it.  2010 Rating: 10 of 10
  • Crispers - Again, I know it is a chain.  But it is just in Florida, from what I understand.  And it is the best of the soup/salad/sandwich chains out there.  I loved Bagelheads, a local place.  And I like the guy who owns it.  But, their other menu items are not extensive enough for me to rank them.  We haven't been there since December, which is a darn shame because they were great.  Crispers, though, has amazing soups.  I usually just get the soup trio - rotating between Italian chicken, butternut squash, black bean and sausage, and tomato bisque.  They used to have chili, and I am perplexed as to why they don't now.  Their rating is shaky, though.  If there were a full McAllister's or a Jason's Deli here, it would not be on this list.  2010 Rating: 8 of 10
That's the basic awards section.  As always, there are other places that could easily have been ranked.  I basically went by how often we went, how often we were satisfied by our visit, and how flexible they are.  If it is a place that doesn't have something for everyone (except for Barnaby's), it didn't get put on there.  The only other place I didn't list that should have been was Tijuana Flats.  We go there a lot.  Our school discount card gets us a free meal every visit - which makes for a cheap dinner.  But is a big chain.  And if you don't have that card, it can get expensive.  Next year, this post will be based on our apparent return to Orlando.  After two years, there will be all kinds of new places to try.  And with a new view of eating, it will honestly be like trying them for the first time.

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