Essence of India, Tallahassee, FL


This is actually one of our favorite local restaurants except for one thing: it’s almost never busy. Now, I know, you might think that’s a good thing but think about it: if a restaurant isn’t busy when you go at 7pm on a Friday night, it might not be there the next Friday night you want to stop by. Plus, being the only couple in a restaurant is like being the only person in a movie theatre: awkward. The waitstaff just stands there (a fair distance away, of course, it’s not like they’re hovering) until you need them again.

But there is hope! This last time we visited there were several tables occupied when we arrived and even more by the time we left. Todd counted 14 or 15 tables being served over the course of our meal: we were astounded. Also, I’ve driven through that shopping center at lunch and seen fairly good business coming from, I’m guessing, the state office buildings and other businesses around it, so that’s a good thing, too.

Now, onto the food. The menu is long, something I usually dislike, but it’s well-ordered and the length is because there are separate sections for each protein style with the various sauce treatments. It’s actually less confusing than other multi-page menus I’ve encountered because of this.

We always start by sharing the Appetizer Platter which comes with samosa, pakoras, papadum and onion bhaji. Pakora are similar to tempura in that they have a light batter and are fried. The chicken pakora is always a favorite, followed by the cheese with it’s spices and the vegetable (potato, onion and spinach). Bhaji are more like fritters, even though the menu’s description almost makes them sound like onion rings and samosa are a mix of potatoes and peas in a pastry crust, usually triangular in shape. Finally, papadum are thin, crispy lentil crackers that generally don’t contain salt but taste like they do–it must be the natural property of the lentils. These come with three sauces: tamarind, red onion  and mint chutneys. Beware: the tamarind is spicy!

When the entrees (most priced $10.95 to $13.95) arrive, there’s a large plate with rice and smaller pots of the individual entrees. It doesn’t look like a lot, at first, but we usually end up taking half of it home. Also, don’t forget to order some naan to go with your meal! We prefer the garlic naan but there are several varieties available.

On this trip, Todd ordered the Lamb Rogan Josh. The meat is always fork-tender here, just amazing in it’s consistent melt-in-your-mouth texture and they’re not stingy with their meat the way some places might be, adding more potatoes to make it look like a fuller portion. Rogan Josh means a yogurt-tomato sauce with garlic, ginger and various spices. It’s not too hot, but definitely well-seasoned. I decided to go veggie this time and ordered the Navrattan Korma which is vegetables cooked in a yogurt sauce and spices that I can only describe as comforting. This is mega-comfort food chock full of potatoes, carrots, peas, corn, green beans, tomatoes, nuts and raisins. So good, I’m getting hungry just thinking about it!

We’re usually too full, even taking half our entrees and bread home, to order dessert but we made an exception, this time (strictly in the interest of a full report, of course). Todd ordered the Gulab Jamun (fried pastry balls in a flavored honey syrup) and I had the Rice Pudding. It’s important to thoroughly dunk the pastry in the saffron, cardamon and rose-flavored syrup, otherwise the first few bites might be rather unimpressive. Most people think of rice pudding as a carb-loaded goo, but in a good goo-way, but this version is actually thinner, not goo-like at all, and flavored with green cardamom which is a nice change from the usual cinnamon.

All told, our meal was $50 and change, before tip, which is an excellent value for all of the food ordered and the very full to-go boxes that accompanied us home and made for a good lunch for each of us the next day. For whatever reason we don’t order alcohol here but they do have a fully-stocked bar and various beverage choices beyond the usual water and soft drinks. One day I plan to try their lunch special, advertised as $7.99 for an entree (choice of 9) with soup, rice, naan, onion chutney and the dessert of the day (no wonder they seem so busy then!).

Ray’s Steel City Saloon


In the building that once housed a Godfather’s Pizza (high school years) and a Mexican restaurant (college years) now exists a bit of Pittsburgh transplanted to the South. Or at least that’s what the inside cover of the menu says.

One Friday night Todd & I decided to give them a try and while we expected a little bit of a wait (it was 7pm on a Friday night, after all) we didn’t expect to stand in the entry for fifteen minutes with hostess and waitstaff passing us by, refusing to even make eye contact and acknowledge our, or anyone else’s, presence. Not the best introduction.

Eventually we were seated and presented with the drink menu which comes in the form of a very busy paper place mat. One of the selling points of Ray’s is the extensive beer selection featuring all sorts of micro brews and specialty beers. I’m not a beer aficionado but I do enjoy a good brew so I wanted to try something interesting. Unfortunately, the menu leaves a lot to be desired unless you know your way around IPAs, Ales, Lagers and Stouts. The beers are arranged by price and could benefit, at the very least, with some sort of legend or key for the uninitiated. Better yet, if they were arranged by style, people might have a better chance of picking something new to try but in a category they know they’re familiar with. Something like a “If you like ______, you might like these.” Help your customers broaden their horizons, don’t overwhelm them or make them feel cheap by choosing something from the $4 category.

For the record, I ordered a Honey Weiss something, it was okay, but still not what I was really looking for.

Then we got into the main menu. Which is 16 pages long. Half pages, sure, but even full-size, 8 pages worth of menu is WAY too long. Again, we’re back to too much, poorly organized and potentially overwhelming to the clientele. Also included in the story section of the menu is a bit about their French bread being flown in a baked fresh daily. Really? Flown in? Considering it’s not an integral part of their menu, nor do they serve bread and butter with every entree, what’s the big deal about flown-in bread dough? It’s sounds like a lot of hype and even if it’s true, it just makes me think that they’re paying extra for an unnecessary perk. Plus, while some vegetarians do include eggs and dairy in their diet, it’s probably not the best move to mark the Coral Gables Crab Burger or Asian Tuna & Calamari as vegetarian entrees.

We ordered the Key West “Konk” Fritters as an appetizer and were a little surprised to be served something that more resembled hush puppies. The texture was somewhat dry and mealy with an aftertaste that we couldn’t quite place. Moving on to entrees, my Chesapeake Chicken Pot Pie came topped with a tower of puff pastry that had slumped over and eclipsed the dish it was in (one word: docking). The “grilled chicken” showed no sign, or flavor, of ever seeing a grill and the entire thing needed something akin to a flavor. The next day, warmed up, with salt and pepper it was decent, but not worth $16 and the “made to order” wait entailed. Todd’s Open Faced Jacked-Up Stuffed Meatloaf was more of a mouthful on the menu than on the plate. Certain bites had flavor but it was a rather confusing entree. At least the onion rings were decent.

In the spirit of fairness, we did go back at the request of Mom, who wanted to give it a try and, well, it was Mother’s Day weekend and her choice.  We were seated much faster but not served any quicker (mid-afternoon it was a few 4-or-under-tops and 2 larger parties). In addition, the waitress spilled water on the floor while refilling our glasses (non-carpeted, so very slip-prone) and no one cleaned it up until I snagged another passing waitress to point it out. Oblivion rules, so be forewarned.

At least the food was better, this time, of course we were given the dinner menus and Mom happened to pick the one thing that wasn’t really served until dinner (Pittsburgh Steak Salad), but they ended up letting her order it anyway. It was a good thing, too, since (even with fries on the salad) the New York Strip slices were very tender and probably the highlight of the lunch. My Yenta Yacht Club was passable (it’s tough to screw up a club, though I do prefer mine with a tad more schmear) and Todd’s Grandma Dulin’s Dog looked absolutely atrocious on the plate but was, apparently, tasty.

Overall, I think if they dropped a bit of the hype (ditch the fly-in and understand that we EXPECT things to be homemade without being told every other entree), streamlined their menu and expected more from their servers, it might be worth going back. Until then, I’ll keep missing the Mexican place that once was (they had the _best_ Taco Salad).

Bogey’s Bar & Restaurant, Defuniak Springs, FL


As part of our impromptu weekend away to visit the local winery and stock up on some favorites, Todd and I enjoyed a night at the Hotel Defuniak and dinner at their on-site restaurant: Bogey’s.

In the looks department, the restaurant is decorated very nicely, lots of sage green with white trim, draped windows and framed black-and-white images from the movie Casablanca. This was a nice touch since it’s one of Todd’s favorite films. The lights are kept fairly low for dinner and there’s a small dance floor across from which the Saturday-evening entertainment performs.

Like most places these days they have a well-arrayed martini list. My Pomegranate Martini was, unfortunately, all alcohol, no juice but I’m sure that’s how a lot of people like it. I just prefer mine tempered a bit. Todd’s Lemon Drop Martini, in contrast, was amazingly good: Citron Vodka, Grand Marnier and sour mix. I think, though, when I work on recreating it I’ll try it with lemon juice and a splash of simple syrup instead. Another interesting cocktail that we didn’t try, but that I took notes of from the menu, was the Pineapple Upside Down (vanilla vodka, butterscotch schnapps, pineapple juice and a splash of cola)–doesn’t that sound just too good? They also featured a pretty long wine list but, surprisingly, none of the wines they offered came from the local winery, not even a token bottle.

The dinner menu is pretty varied running the gamut from steak to seafood to chicken and veal. From the brief appetizer offerings we tried the Oysters Rockefeller and the Spinach and Artichoke Dip, both were tasty, portions were definitely not meant for sharing but it was a nice taste while we waited for our entrees. And speaking of entrees, Todd’s always in the mood for veal so he ordered the Veal Restauranteur (topped with ham, tomatoes and cheese) while I ordered the Catch of the Day Lorenzo (with Blue Crab stuffing and a bernaise sauce). Whereas the appetizers may have been of modest size, the entrees were more than generous.

You know, I had a dream the other night about an upscale restaurant that featured entrees at true portion sizes–talk about a dream! Inflated portion sizes aside, the taste couldn’t have been better. Both of our meals were well-seasoned, well sauced and perfectly prepared. They do have a dessert menu but I honestly don’t remember much about it–I was way too full to even think about dessert. Todd got something very chocolatey a la mode that I had a couple of bites of but that was it.

Bogey’s offers breakfast and lunch, as well, at least on certain days. It’s not unusual for restaurants to close on Mondays and, even, to have abbreviated Sunday hours but I have to admit I was a little puzzled that a hotel that bills itself as a Bed & Breakfast offers only a Continental breakfast on both Mondays and Sundays. Sundays, really? Sure, Sunday night isn’t a big travel night, most people head home that day so going Continental on Monday is probably not a big deal. But Saturday night? I would think that’s a fairly busy time for overnight guests so not offering a hot breakfast on Sunday morning seems really alien to me.

We’ll definitely go back–there’s a room that’s supposedly haunted that I want to check out, after all–but I guess we’ll have to go over after work on a Friday to try out their true breakfast.

Random Appetites: Bono’s Barbecue


Bono’s Put Bar-B-Q
Locations in Florida and Colorado

The second husband introduced me to Bono’s in Gainesville on one of our trips down to Orlando and I have to say that might just be one of the best things to come out of that marriage 😉

I was told they had the best smoked turkey. Ever. And I was told right. Most smoked turkey breast tends to be kinda dry, at least in my experience. Not Bono’s. I don’t know how they do it (I suspect a deal with some dark overlord), but their turkey breast is moist and flavorful, you don’t even need any sauce!

But speaking of sauces, there’s another stand-out in the Bono’s smoke pit: the Mustard sauce. Technically known as the Original 1949 Sauce, this mustard sauce is the tops, be all end all of meat condiments.

Granted, they also offer pork (tasty), chicken (standard) and beef (can be dry, needs the sauce!) along with 3 other sauces in their stable: Sweet & Tangy, Hickory Red and Smokin’ Pit Hot sauces are all available to try and bring home in bottles behind the register. Next to the mustard I’m partial to their sweet sauce, as I am with most places, but usually don’t even bother when the beloved Mustard sauce is on the table.

Side dishes range from green beans redolent with bacon (very salty so it might actually be salt pork instead of bacon), the usual fries, sweet potatoes and (Todd’s favorite) the deep-fried corn on the cob. I’ve also ordered their potato salad (which is the only side not made on the premises, according to our waitress)  and their squash casserole.

Now, at every barbecue some rain must fall. There have been a few less-than-stellar experiences at Bono’s. As I hinted above, the smoked beef was rather dry on our last visit (both Todd and I ordered it with similar results) and their Texas toast is often similarly dry (I like mine with penty of garlic butter, thank you very much, and last time there was almost no butter and definitely no garlic!). But probably the worst item we’ve ever had there were their onion rings. It’s sad, right: how can you screw up onion rings? I’m afraid they did, though. While nice and large (always a good start) they were coated with such a load of heavy, caked-on, barely seasoned batter which made the size overwhelming, and not in a good way. The sauce they came with was good, though.

So if you find yourself in one of the many cities along the Florida east coast (or Gainesville, or, you know, Colorado?) with a Bono’s and you want some good smoked turkey, Bono’s is the place to try! And if anyone is brave enough to order the “Hawg Size” portion of one of their plates, please take a picture and send it to me!