Posts Tagged ‘dining’

Every New Dish at the 2016 Epcot Food And Wine Festival Reviewed!

by on September 16, 2016

Food and Wine 2016 EntranceThe 2016 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival is finally here! I was lucky enough to spend festival kick-off day sampling every (yes, I tried them all!) new and modified dish at the festival this year, to see which dishes were must-dos or must-skips for all of you. Here you’ll find photos and my thoughts on all of these new items, organized as you travel around the world (in the same order they are listed in the festival passport). Below my reviews, you’ll see a few hot takes – I’ve ranked all of these new items based on whether I’d try them again this festival season. As always, click on any photo to see the larger version of each dish. Don’t forget, you can check out full menus and prices from every booth here to start your planning now.

The Dishes

  • Craft Beer's Piggy WingsCraft Beers: Piggy Wings – Fried Pork Wings with Korean BBQ Sauce and Sesame Seeds ($4.25)

Sticky, sweet, and sour, these are definitely good BBQ wings, but you’ll only get to taste two of them per order. Perfect with a beer (or three in a flight), these are worth the purchase if you need a snack to munch on while enjoying a little free air conditioning, but I wouldn’t make a special stop here just to try them.

  • The Chew Collective: Grilled Beef Skewer with Romaine, Apricots, and Feta Cheese ($5.00)

At the end of the day, this dish is exactly as billed: it’s a few pieces of grilled steak on a salad. The apricots and feta bring some necessary freshness and texture, but ultimately, this dish needed a sauce to make it all come together. The Chew Collective's Peanut Butter and White Chocolate Mousse (L) and Grilled Beef Skewer (R)Kids who like plain steak may want to steal a bite from mom and dad on this dish.

  • The Chew Collective: Peanut Butter and White Chocolate Mousse with a Caramel Drizzle ($5.00)

This dish tastes exactly like someone crushed up a package of Nutter Butters (which is definitely a good thing, to me). Rich and slightly salty from the peanut butter, the white chocolate and caramel provide a bit of offsetting sweetness. Everyone (who can eat this) will love this dessert, and though it’s a small portion for the price, it’s worth a shot.

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Quick Picks for the 2016 Epcot Food and Wine Festival

by on September 13, 2016

It’s almost Christmas… well, *my* Christmas. Epcot International Food and Wine Festival opening day is quickly approaching, and it’s time to start strategizing how to tackle all of the great eats during your trip around the World (Showcase). To do that, I’ve made “quick pick” lists full of my favorites from past years in a few categories: classics (great for festival first-timers), dishes that are great for families with kids or picky eaters, dishes for adventurous eaters, vegetarian picks (that even carnivores will love), and of course, a few drinks. I’ve included new picks in some of the categories that I’m looking forward to, and also some tips and tricks for making the most of your time (and finding the shortest lines!) at the festival booths.

Classics for first-time Food & Wine Festival visitors

  • Kalua pork slider (Photo by Julia Mascardo)

    Kalua pork slider (Photo by Julia Mascardo)

    Hawai’i: Kalua pork slider with sweet and sour pineapple chutney and spicy mayo

This booth’s menu rarely changes because it’s always consistently good. Definitely stop here early in the day, as it is one of the first booths in World Showcase and lines grow quickly.

  • Australia: grilled lamb chop with mint pesto and potato crunchies

Great walk-around finger food to enjoy while strolling Epcot. Only a few bites, but the potato chip crunchies make this a fun take on a classic dish.

  • Hops & Barley: New England lobster roll

A consistent favorite, usually heavy on the lobster and served on a heavenly butter-grilled bun

  • Farm Fresh: Loaded Mac & Cheese with pepper bacon, cheddar cheese, and peppers

Who doesn’t like mac & cheese, especially when it has bacon and other toppings? This can be a lighter portion, but one that nearly everyone will enjoy

  • Belgium: beer-braised beef with smoked gouda mashed potatoes

The beer-braised beef returns this year with a new presentation (no more potato leek waffle). This booth can be a little slow, depending on how many are ordering sweet waffles (made to order), but it’s worth the wait for this dish.

  • Liquid Nitrogen Chocolate Almond Truffle (Photo by Julia Mascardo)

    Liquid Nitrogen Chocolate Almond Truffle (Photo by Julia Mascardo)

    Mexico: Mexican chocolate flan

Mexico is always a must-stop for desserts for me – every year they make something slightly different, but always tasty, and this flan is sure to fit that pattern. A great stop for the very end of the night, when this always-busy booth’s line tends to be shorter.

  • Chocolate Studio: liquid nitrogen chocolate almond truffle with warm whiskey caramel

This dish debuted last year and became an instant classic for pretty much everyone. It’s usually rich enough to share, and it’s always a blast to watch them freeze the truffles to order.

Perfect bites for families with kids or “picky eaters”

  • Germany: Schinkennudeln (baked mac and cheese with ham)

Again, who doesn’t like mac & cheese? This rich dish is a variation of the baked mac and cheese found inside Biergarten, and it is just ridiculously heavenly. A good stop if you are worried Farm Fresh’s version is too veggie-heavy, and usually a pretty quick line.

  • Brazil: Crispy pork belly with black beans and tomato

Most kids love bacon, and this is exactly that, just with the addition of a nice stew of black bean and tomato. Full of savory flavor, this dish will be a winner for many, and bonus – there’s a really cool seating area at this booth, too!

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Dani’s Best Week Ever September 1, 2016: Halloween Horror Nights Prep and Toothsome

by on September 1, 2016

Fall is finding its way, slowly sneaking out Summer. Yes, we do have a Fall season here in Florida. It is different than the rest of the country, but it is there. Scallop season gives way to snow crab season. Acorns begin to create a blanket on the ground. A short cool snap can be anticipated only to have the heat come back after a few days of relief. But above all this, Halloween begins in mid-September around these parts.

Preparations are underway for Halloween Horror Nights 2016 at Universal Orlando. And now we can prepare our sweet tooth for the treats of Halloween and the Holidays by visiting Toothsome Chocolate Emporium and Kitchen. I enjoyed one of my best evenings ever at Universal with a visit to Toothsome and a stroll, with an unexpected thrill, through Universal Studios Florida.

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The weather

Summer’s oppressive heat is still upon us despite the signs of Halloween popping up around town. Summer thunderstorms will soon give way to longer, mistier rains, and stronger chances for hurricanes. But alas on this visit, a traditional summer thunderstorm poured itself upon me as I made my way to Universal Orlando.

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Walking into CityWalk there seemed to be a changing of the guards of sorts.  Hoards of guests streamed towards the exit. Meanwhile, just as many guests headed into the parks equipped with ponchos and umbrellas.

With grey skies it was difficult to see the smoke stack effect rising above Toothsome Chocolate Emporium and Kitchen. With its black, white, and copper color scheme coupled with whimsical details, landscaping, and mechanical details, Toothsome’s facade stands out in CityWalk’s impressive line up.

 

Toothsome Chocolate Emporium and Kitchen

At first the concept of a chocolate / dessert-centric restaurant at Universal Orlando did not really grab my attention. Although, I really never enjoyed its predecessor NBA City, so anything was an improvement in my opinion. As I arrived to the still-in-preview restaurant, I noticed a large influx of guests. Thankfully, my friends had arrived before me and had secured a spot at the bar.

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Morimoto Asia Omakase: Fine Dining At Its Best

by on August 29, 2016

The menu for my meal, signed by Chef Morimoto.A few weeks ago, Morimoto Asia hosted their first omakase dinner led by Iron Chef Morimoto himself, and I was lucky enough to attend! An omakase meal is pretty simple – the chef makes all of the decisions for you, setting the menu as they desire (though sometimes customization is an option). California Grill offers an omakase dining option at their sushi bar, and it’s widely considered one of the best dining splurges at Walt Disney World. This particular opportunity, though, seemed even more special than that, as Chef Morimoto would be working alongside his team at Morimoto Asia – a rare chance to see one of the masters in action. I was excited for this meal, especially given the excellent meals I’d had here before (and Len’s great review of most of the menu).

Before The Meal

I arrived not knowing exactly what to expect, other than that every bit of chopstick and sushi etiquette I’d ever learned would be put to the test. The dinner was offered to only 12 diners, and we were seated in waves to make it easier on the chefs to time the meal. I was in the first wave of four to arrive, and we were immediately seated at the beautiful sushi bar on the upper level of the restaurant. Chef Morimoto and Morimoto Asia’s executive chef, Yuhi Fujinaga, were already engaged in a precise dance of preparation for our first few courses, working alongside four other chefs, ensuring every dice was to their exact specifications. After a few minutes of watching them all, I knew I was in for a special evening.

Every diner received a Chef Morimoto-signed menu for the evening listing all of the nine (!!!) courses to come as we sat down to the sushi bar, where we were also told that we could opt to include alcohol pairings with each course. Obviously, I had to take one for the team (in the name of research, of course!), and give the pairings a shot. Below, I’ll outline each course as presented and the pairings that came with them, with a few thoughts on each. As always, take a closer look of each dish with just a click on any photo.

The Main Event

 

First Course: Oyster Two Ways – caviar, foie gras

Paired with Jean Charles ‘JCB no21’ Cremant de Bourgogne, Burgundy, France

Oysters two waysThis starter was the perfect exercise in how hot & cold temperatures can work together to create a cohesive dish. One oyster was served cold topped with caviar, and the second, topped with freshly seared foie gras swimming in an umami-rich teriyaki sauce. My first bite, of the cold oyster, was as briny and of-the-sea as you’d expect, and refreshing to wake up the palate. The decadent foie gras was slightly sweet in my follow-up bite of the second oyster, helping soothe a bit of the first’s saltiness. The bubbly JCB Cremant, shown above with the menu, really offset both oysters perfectly with a bit of acidity.

 Second Course: Tartare Two Ways – toro, A-5 wagyu

Paired with Cerulli Spinozzi ‘Cortalto’ Pecorino, Abruzzo, Italy

Tartare two waysSimilar to the first dish, this second course played on the duo theme with a tuna tartare served in a dashi soy sauce alongside A-5 (the highest quality available) wagyu beef tartare. Chef Morimoto hand-chopped the beef in front of us, before mixing it with a bit of spicy aioli, and served the rich beef topped with slightly sweet julienned jicama. The dry and acidic Cortalto wine cut through the richness in both sides of the dish, though I probably could’ve had an entire glass of the dashi soy instead of wine for this course and been happy.

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The 5 W’s of Pre-Park-Open Dining at Disney World

by on August 19, 2016

Did you know that it’s possible to enter the parks at Walt Disney World before they officially open for the day? A valid park ticket and dining reservation for one of seven restaurants is all you need to get into the park before regular guests. Read on to learn about the who, what, where, when, and why of these reservations.

Who?

Regardless of whether you’re staying on or off site, guests with valid theme park admission are eligible to enter the park early if they have an Advanced Dining Reservation scheduled for before the park’s official opening time. Since these are some of the hardest reservations to score, guests staying at a Disney resort have an advantage due to the extended 180 day + length of stay window for dining reservations for on-site guests. Our dining Reservation Finder can also help you snag those hard to get reservations.

Walking through World Showcase before Epcot's official open

A perk of early reservations – walking through a nearly empty Epcot

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Blaze Pizza: A Fast Favorite at Disney Springs

by on August 16, 2016

As I mentioned last week, Disney Springs has had so many new restaurants open in the past few months. Just last Friday, one of the final pieces of the dining puzzle opened its doors to welcome pizza lovers from near and far. Blaze Pizza, located in the Town Center area just across the springs from Homecoming Kitchen, is a fast casual chain that promises fast-fired pizzas and salads in just 3 minutes. The easiest way to think of Blaze is to look at it as Chipotle for pizza: pretty much everything is customizable, from the crust, to the sauce, toppings, and pizza finishes.

After my first glance at the menu board outside the restaurant, I was excited to try Blaze just based on the price – a plain cheese pizza, 11” personal size (as all pizzas are served here), is just $7.25; add one topping out of a huge selection, and the price is $8.45. For any and all toppings you want, or one of the specialty pizzas, the price is still less than $10, at $9.65! You can even have your pizza made half-and-half, if you’re indecisive or looking to split a pie with a friend, at no additional cost.

I visited Blaze not long after it opened a few days ago for an early lunch, so there wasn’t yet a long wait that particular day (though a queue was set up outside for later use during rushes). Once I was greeted inside, I was introduced to the huge variety of topping options and the four “simple salads” available. I decided to leave my first pie at Blaze Pizza up to the experts, so I ordered half-White Top (white cream sauce base, mozzarella, bacon, garlic, oregano, and arugula) and half-Art Lover (artichoke, mozzarella, ricotta, garlic, and dollops of red sauce on top). I also chose to add pepperoni on the Art Lover half, just to see what the portion size was like there, too.

I’m glad I took a chance adding a topping here, because my expert pizza makers made it clear that some who’ve passed through the doors of Blaze had already made a fatal pizza flaw: too many toppings. They really do know their stuff – too many toppings leads to soggy pizza, one that’s harder for them to cook and for you to eat.

Simple is better here, and while you don’t get a ton of each topping on your pizza, everything I tasted on my pie was fresh and flavorful to the point that I didn’t really miss the extra few bites. I chose the standard crust, which is thin, almost like a flatbread. The high-rise crust was explained to me as being a bit more like what most would think of as “normal pizza crust”, but at $2 more, I felt like the standard crust was just fine.

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Dani’s Best Week Ever August 11, 2016: Creating Your Own Epcot Food and Wine Festival Experience

by on August 11, 2016

The Epcot International Food and Wine Festival kicks off in just about a month, September 14, 2016. But you don’t have to wait until it’s festival time to taste your way around the world. Personally, I feel it is a better experience and a better value to make your own food and wine festival type experience at Epcot. That’s exactly what I did on my recent visit, and it turned out to be one of the best visits ever!

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Though there was rain in the forecast, blue skies provided a lovely backdrop to the iconic view of Spaceship Earth as I arrived. I made a bee line through Future World; my stomach growled and would wait no more. World Showcase holds so many culinary treasures, even when it is not Food and Wine Festival time. Beverages and snacks at Epcot are very easy to come by. Practically every pavilion has at least one full service restaurant, one counter service restaurant, and at least one cart or stand along the promenade offering snacks or drinks, or both.

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When it comes to exploring World Showcase from a culinary perspective, there is some debate as to which direction to start, either Mexico or Canada. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. On this visit I headed toward the Canada pavilion because I had a 2:00 PM FastPass+ selected for Frozen Ever After and planned to my Epcot trip there.

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United Kingdom and Canada Pavilions

Starting off with the Canada Pavilion is a bit rough if you arrive before 12:00 noon. The outside snack and beverage cart does not open until about 12:00 noon and the relatively new Trading Post Refreshments is currently unavailable – slated to reopen by the end of August. So really, there aren’t any snacks or beverages to enjoy here until later in the day.

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A Night Out On The BoardWalk at Flying Fish and AbracadaBar

by on August 5, 2016

The marquee at Flying Fish remains as colorful as everDisney dining fans have been anxiously awaiting the reopening of one of the most popular signature table service restaurants in Walt Disney World, and it’s finally here. After several months under refurbishment, Flying Fish (formerly Flying Fish Café) reopened this week with a new look, new menu, and a new chef leading the way (though Chef Tim Majoras is a familiar face to the restaurant, as he’s been with Flying Fish for the past five years). As a longtime favorite of mine, I was just as excited as all of you to try the new menu (and probably just as sad to see favorites like the potato-encrusted snapper fly away off the menu). But first, I had to make a quick stop into another new addition to the BoardWalk, right next door, at AbracadaBar.

The front of AbracadaBar's menu offers a peek into the bar's backstory.Located in the space formerly occupied by Seashore Sweets, AbracadaBar is the newest addition to the Disney bar scene, though it may surprise a few guests with how different it is from other recent additions. AbracadaBar, open at 4:00 PM daily, is a bar, through and through, and decidedly not a lounge in the traditional Disney lounge sense. The menu (featuring a little magic trick of its own) is fairly short, featuring eight signature cocktails with high-end spirits, a selection of beers, wines, and two non-alcoholic drinks (that can also be tailored to your tastes if you prefer them on the alcoholic side).

If you frequent Disney lounges, you’ll notice something – I didn’t mention any food on the menu; that’s because there isn’t any, though your server will likely offer you some truffle popcorn to snack on with your drink. This is probably for a specific reason – there are a TON of food options on the BoardWalk (AbracadaBar itself is sandwiched between Trattoria al Forno and Flying Fish). It seems like it’s meant more as a stop-off for those on their way to their final dinner destination. This could be a great idea for the area, typically packed with adults looking for a fun place or two to spend a night out without kids.

AbracadaBar's interior is both cozy and welcoming.The space inside AbracadaBar isn’t huge in size, and the beautiful dark finishes and ornate red and gold wallpaper inside make it pretty cozy but welcoming. The tables aren’t on top of each other, which is always a plus in a bar or lounge. I loved coming in to this atmosphere out of the harsh Florida summer sun – a quick twenty minute break inside to enjoy a drink was really all I needed. Speaking of a drink – what to sample? I’m a big fan of many of the style of cocktails on this menu, so my choice was difficult, but I settled on one of the rare-at-Disney drinks, the Elixir 13.

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A Disney Springs Dining Digest

by on August 2, 2016

New restaurants abound at Disney Springs (pictured here: Chef Art Smith's Homecoming Kitchen)We’ve had an overwhelming amount of news and reviews lately about dining at Disney Springs, so I thought it’d be nice to take a step back this week to compile a Disney Springs Dining Digest of all of the new options now open. Below, you’ll find a quick summary of each new restaurant and what we thought of it here at TouringPlans (with links to our menus and full reviews, because we know you love photos of all that tasty food!). I’ll also rank the restaurants to give a sense of my overall favorites, which will hopefully help you plan your next visit to Disney Springs.

The Big Five (Table Service Restaurants)

Disney Springs has always had table service restaurants representative of a variety of modern cuisines with Wolfgang Puck, Bongo’s Cuban Café, and Crossroads at House of Blues. Recently, though, five new table service locations have opened that diversify the dining scene even further. Since we’re looking at the changing landscape of Disney Springs as a whole, we’ll start with one of the first new locations to open, even before Downtown Disney converted to Disney Springs, and move chronologically to restaurants that have opened as recently as the last few weeks.

The BOATHOUSE

  • Food: American steaks and seafood (priced similarly to Yachtsman Steakhouse or Shula’s); sandwiches, burgers, fried baskets (priced similarly to lunch at non-signature restaurants like The Wave or platters at more expensive quick service locations)
  • Atmosphere: The waterfront location and white tablecloths make it seem pretty fancy, but never so stuffy that eating a burger and fries here feels out of place. Families are welcome here, but it also works well for an adults-only date night out.
  • Quick Tips: Wait times for a walkup table here can creep up pretty high, so take advantage of the indoor/outdoor bar areas if your party is small. Steaks are good, but with few exceptions, require ordering other stuff to feel like a full meal: an appetizer (shrimp cocktail or oysters from the raw bar) or a la carte side (giant bowl of mac and cheese? Count me in.) is perfect for two people. On that note, always share desserts here (they’re huge!). Burgers and filet sliders are among the best budget-conscious meals at Walt Disney World for their quality. Beer selection is mostly bottled, so if that bothers you, stick to the cocktail menu.
  • Previously On TouringPlans…: I haven’t formally reviewed The BOATHOUSE here on the blog, but I’ve previously mentioned it as a great alternative to Wolfgang Puck and STK Orlando. Definitely one of the first places I consider for a meal if I find myself hungry at Disney Springs.
  • How Do We Get Here: Park at Lime Garage or use the walking bridge from across Buena Vista Dr; The Landing’s boat dock for water transportation to/from resorts and other Disney Springs docks is right next door to the restaurant

Morimoto Asia

  • Food: Pan-Asian (influences from Chinese, Japanese, and Thai cuisines); dim sum appetizers, sushi, ramen, noodle bowls on the lower-priced end ($15-25 for a meal, like a standard table service restaurant), plated entrees including Peking duck and amazing kalbi beef on the higher-priced end (signature dining pricing)
  • Atmosphere: The glitzy centerpiece chandelier is worth a visit to the restaurant alone, and it feels a bit more adult and upscale than most restaurants at Disney Springs due to the modern music and darker tones throughout. Kids and families wouldn’t be out of place, but you’ll probably see far more adults-only groups when you dine here.
  • Quick Tips: Grab a spot in the bar/lounge area or the upstairs Forbidden Lounge if wait times are high. If entrée prices are out of your budget (believe me, though, they’re worth saving for), you’ll still have a great meal by sampling from the extensive dim sum, sushi, and appetizer menus. Desserts are easy to share, but your money is better spent trying a cocktail, sake, or beer from their well-crafted menu.
  • Previously On TouringPlans…: In true Len Testa style, this epic review describes reactions to a vast majority of the menu’s dishes. Overall, Len listed it as “good, quality dining at reasonable prices”, and my meals there have reflected the same sentiment.
  • How Do We Get Here: Technically located on the outskirts of The Landing, just across from Raglan Road, it’s a two minute walk on newly-opened pathways from Orange Garage.

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Homecomin’ Kitchen Review: Delectable Southern Fare at a Fair Price

by on July 13, 2016

Chef Art Smith's Homecoming: Florida Kitchen & Southern ShineProbably one of the most eagerly-anticipated of all the new Disney Springs dining locations, Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’: Florida Kitchen & Southern Shine sits in a prime location in the springs: just behind STK, across from Morimoto Asia, right across the springs from D-Luxe Burger.

Open as of Tuesday, July 12 to all guests, the restaurant is taking walk-ups only for lunch and dinner (Sunday-Thursday 11:00 AM-midnight, Friday & Saturday 11:00 AM-1:00 AM); guests will be able to make reservations beginning July 15 for meals on or after August 15 through My Disney Experience. Sadly, no discounts are offered just yet, but the Disney Dining Plan is accepted. I was lucky enough to dine at Homecomin’ Kitchen on opening day to taste their take on upscale Southern comfort food.

A Southern Welcome

The view of Homecoming Kitchen from across Disney SpringsFarm-to-table Southern classics are are the focal point of the menu, highlighting the flavors of Chef Art Smith’s native Florida. Even the décor in the restaurant is Florida-centric: 51% of everything inside was sourced locally, and the beautiful murals of Florida’s natural wonders on the interior and exterior were painted by a local Florida artist.

Natural light floods the main dining room, with a large bar in the center, burlap-sack lighting fixtures accenting the custom-crafted wood tables and Homecomin’ Kitchen-logo-adorned chairs. A screened-in porch wraps around the back side of the restaurant, perfect for enjoying an outdoor meal right on the springs. The amount of home-state pride really shines through in every facet of the restaurant as soon as you first walk in, setting the expectation that this is probably going to be a great meal for Southern comfort food fans.

The menu has a pretty wide spread of options, depending on your budget and hunger level: easy-to-share starters and desserts book-end reasonably-priced sandwiches/salads and more-filling main plates, along with a wide variety of shareable side dishes. Like we saw with Frontera Cocina’s all-day menu, I was happy to see that Homecomin’ Kitchen does a really great job including options appropriate for both lunch and dinner.

My server, incredibly excited to greet and seat me in the bustling restaurant, recommended a few of her personal favorites right off the bat: the Palmetto Punch or Fig & Berries to drink, shrimp jubilee to start my meal, and shrimp & grits or any of the fried chicken dishes as my main dish. I also learned that many of the favorites from the main menu are available to-go – takeout menus featuring many of the restaurant’s favorites are available at the hostess stand and you simply place your order at the bar, or order from the shorter “grab and go” menu of sandwiches and sides from the outdoor bar – a great option for those on the go!

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