College is a place that often kindles lasting friendships, as well as lasting eating habits based on haphazard diets of chips and day-old pizza. Chris Sanchez and Patrick Ortiz, proprietors of Simply Fit Meals, have managed to buck the latter part of this trend. The friendship they forged at the University of Houston continued after graduation, even as Patrick pursued a career in hotel management and Chris entered the world of marketing, eventually serving as store marketing director for Whole Foods. Their shared passion for healthy eating brought their disparate career paths together to form Simply Fit Meals, an amalgamation of Patrick's chef skills and Chris's marketing prowess.
The challenge behind each one of Simply Fit Meals' recipes involves finding an equal balance between nutrition and flavor so that clients can stick to a regimen that's easy to maintain, unlike fad diets that involve raw foods consumed only in prime-numbered portions. The science of it, says Chris, is making it taste as if it's been freshly made, even after reheating, and to this end, Chris and Patrick are both avid consumers of their own meals. Chris claims he could eat—and has eaten—their mac 'n' cheese for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The culinary team uses locally raised, free-range meats such as chicken and bison in virtually all of their creations, and concocts fresh-made ingredients whenever possible. The in-house dietitian guides clients toward their own fitness goals, as opposed to those dictated by fashion magazines or sentient elevators, who often lack tact.
The founders of Working Cow Homemade share more than just a name. Fueled by their mutual love for frozen desserts, Tim and Tim craft more than 100 varieties of hand-blended ice cream using only quality ingredients. To ensure that these ingredients—which include grade-A cream, pure cane sugar, and fruits—come together to produce a superior taste and silky texture, staffers mingle them in icy batch freezers before scooping the finished product onto cones. Flavors rotate weekly, and the roster of possibilities ranges from basic vanilla and chocolate to Crazy Cake, a cake-flavored ice cream loaded with ribbons of blue frosting, cake pieces, sprinkles, and an emergency straitjacket. Staffers are also at the ready with delicious dessert alternatives including sugar-free flavors and sherbets. Working Cow peddles its signature ice creams in a space shared with Gumby’s Pizza, and offers its own menu of savory salads and wraps.
According to their menu, Big Lou's chefs pledge allegiance to Italy's cuisine, but they prefer the way New Yorkers cook it. They bring this distinctive style of pizza to sunny Florida, rolling out paper-thin crusts topped with heaps of gooey cheese and savory toppings—including gorgonzola, hot sauce, tempeh, and meatballs. The staff serves their red and white New York-style pizzas by the steaming-hot pie or in monstrous slices, and guests can choose to customize their own gourmet pizza with a subset of more than 30 toppings. As calzones and Stromboli bubble up in ovens, chefs also create hot and cold subs, as well as a short list of carefully crafted timeless Italian dishes. Baked ziti, stuffed shells, and lasagna emanate ambrosial scents on the casual eatery's classic red-and-white checkered tablecloths—there's no reason not to use pieces of lasagna as checkers. Outside, alternatively, an expansive patio hosts live bands on the weekends.
101 Cantina showcases a menu of contemporary Mexican dishes served in a vibrant cocktail lounge. Opposite a wall decorated with a giant mural resembling urban street art, bartenders keep the nightlife alive by serving more than 50 tequilas as well as a variety of flavored margaritas and specialty cocktails. In the kitchen, chefs prepare traditional, home-style burritos and enchiladas, while experimenting with tacos filled with inventive ingredients, including everything from steak with Korean-style marinade and sesame-chili dressing to grilled chicken with wasabi aioli. 101 Cantina prides itself on providing a spirited night out, and the eatery?s wall of fame commemorates some of these nights by displaying a number of photographs of patrons and presidents of the clean plate club.
Mi Apá Latin Café likes to brag that they have the best Cuban food outside of Miami, serving hot pressed sandwiches, arepas, and meaty entrees made from scratch and complemented in authentic style with Latin colas and fresh juices. The steak sandwich combines palomilla steak with ham and shoestring fries, and the Miami sandwich stacks turkey, ham, and bacon in a bit of sliced meat architecture to rival Paris’s famous chicken-nugget Eiffel Tower. On the entrees list, diners find smoky ropa vieja made of shredded beef in a rich Cuban sauce, and a Cuban pot roast stuffed with chorizo and simmered in a tomato and wine sauce. Burnt orange umbrellas shade an outdoor seating area, where patrons can sip tamarind or guava juice while taking in the breeze.
BubbaQue's emulates the renowned culture of southern hospitality with a cheerful, welcoming atmosphere and a menu of hearty, southern-style barbecue. It's chefs slow-smoke premium cuts of pork, beef, and poultry to creating mouthwatering sandwiches and barbeque specialties— including the barbecue wings that won them the champion title at Lakeland's King of the Wing competition. The chefs utilize their barbecuing expertise to create seven different types of sauces, with flavors ranging from spicy to smoky to sweet.
Out in the dining room, baskets of barbecue and bottles of beer speckle wooden picnic tables. The restaurant decor is lively—with colorful knickknacks, playful signs, and zero marble busts of a glowering Andrew Jackson.