I liked Joel's Steakhouse on Bloomingdale Avenue and just can't understand why it went out of business.
It seemed to have all the right ingredients.
The location was prime, I would think, and I know the food was excellent and the service super.
I stopped in for lunch next door at Joel's Pizza Palace, 1028 Bloomingdale Ave., Valrico, in Plaza Bella, and there was a regular crowd coming and going. The workers, including Joel, all seemed to know everyone, and they were all happy to see each other.
Five of the nine tables were occupied, and they had a regular parade entering and leaving, so this is a great sign for success.
It actually reminded me of this little pizzeria back in Connecticut with photos of Marilyn Monroe, the Rat Pack and James Dean on the walls, and familiarity is a good thing.
I ordered the stromboli and the waitress, Janelle, talked me into trying some garlic knots as well as some iced tea while I waited.
She was very personable and I could tell she was proud of the people she worked with. She boasted that they were voted Best In Brandon for 2011.
While waiting for the stromboli, which took a while (so at least I knew it was going to be fresh), I went over the menu.
It was an involved menu, to say the least, with a few items that still make me quiver. Salmon and escargot on pizza?
I asked the kitchen if that was a real menu item, and the young man making the pizza simply smiled and nodded his head. They also said it had been a while since they actually sold one, so at least I will sleep tonight not wondering if there was an escargot pizza-eating monster hiding in the shadows.
A margherita pizza sounded intriguing, and I am told it is an excellent, fresh pie with tomato, garlic and basil.
The stromboli was cooked perfectly with a ton of cheese, which allowed me to dissect the foot-long hunk of dough and stuff mozzarella into the dry corners of the bread.
I liked the less-than-saucey way the stromboli was cooked, with plenty of marinara on the side. I thought there should have been a little more salami as opposed to all the pepperoni, but that's just me being too picky.
The garlic knots surprised me with all of the super flavor. There was even a garlic-butter sauce in the bottom of the pan that just screamed for dipping bread. The knots of bread were toasted just right and very fresh.
The only problem I had with the meal was the way it was packaged for me to take out. I hadn't walked 10 feet out the door and the grease was already coming through the brown paper bag. I'm glad I had just taken my mail out of the mailbox on the way to Joel's, so I sacrificed my daughter's teen magazine for the sake of my car seat. She's not happy, but I can better afford a new magazine as opposed to a new car seat cover.
I'm giving them 3 1/2 stars, and a good portion goes to the friendly attitudes of the owner and staff — makes for a decent lunch.
1 Star — Wouldn't go back on a bet
2 Star — Would have to go back, but only on a bet
3 Star — If I was in the neighborhood and hungry
4 Star — Would go out of my way even if I wasn't hungry
5 Star — Would make reservations and wait in a line