Divas Brisket

So maybe you're over the whole hearts, flowers, and fatty chocolate foolishness. Maybe your current idea of romance is a bit less predictable, something juicy, primal, perhaps thickly sliced, cloaked in a sheen of perfectly caramelized glaze: brisket, the-ever elusive, nearly unknowable cut of beef that, not unlike a romance, demands patience and perseverance.

The brisket’s scarlet beauty seems to promise the most tender of relationships with a slow hand and some culinary wiles. Seduce her with a warm, saucy bath, both during and after cooking time, and then she's all yours (after 15 minutes of beauty rest, of course).


Weekend events kick off Friday evening with Central Florida Regional Hospital’s seventh annual Iron Heart Cook-off at 6:30 at the Westin Lake Mary-Orlando North, 2974 International Parkway, Lake Mary.

No, Iron Heart isn’t like an iron lung. And don’t worry, the contestants won’t be cooking hearts, at least I don’t think so. But they will be actual doctors, including Dr. William David, Dr. Manjunath Harlapur, Dr. Brad Litke and Dr. Lawrence Vallario. They will be competing Iron Chef style with secret ingredients to prepare a heart-healthy entree. I don’t know about you, but when I want good eating, I always turn to the nearest physician. Fox 35 anchor Bob Frier is the emcee.

Saturday it’s the 2016 Orlando Chili Cook-off, which is appropriate because Saturday is predicted to be chilly.

And with the temperatures cooler, a bowl of chili sounds great. Chefs from around the country whose friends have told them “Hey, you make a really great bowl of chili, I’ll bet you could win a contest; would you pass me another beer?” will meet at Festival Park, which most of the time is a vacant lot at 2911 E. Robinson St. in Orlando.

There will also be live musical entertainment, a kids zone and the World Chili Eating Challenge, which I’m pretty sure doesn’t mean “I’ll bet you can’t eat this.” Organizers expect to dole out over 100,000 samples to the estimated 20,000 attendees. Here’s a link to the official website, and if you can find the time that the event starts, you’re a better person than I am.

Also, don’t forget that flog favorite Bevfly is having a a Pre-Valentine’s Day Pairing Party Saturday. I really like this idea. From 2 to 4 p.m. (thanks for providing that information, guys) you can sip Champagne, Port and other selections and nibble on oysters, charcuterie and chocolate

It’s just $25 per person, but you’ll need to make a reservation because they don’t want the crowds to be so overwhelming that they can’t talk to everyone. I like that they’re doing this the weekend before Valentine’s Day — it’s perfect for someone who wants to a Valentine out to dinner and order a bottle of wine with more authority.

Bevfly is at 5425 International Drive, Orlando. It is open daily. For reservations at the February 6 event, or just to chat about wine, call 407-826-1542.

Solarium 2 copy

Love is in the air. Or maybe that’s just Rosemary and Dijon Encrusted Lamb Chops. Either way, my heart is beating a bit faster.

Yes, it’s time for Valentine’s Day, which often means a dinner at a romantic restaurant. This year, Valentine’s Day falls on a Sunday (it’s February 14, in case you’d forgotten). That’s not the most convenient evening for dining out, what with it being a school night and all that. So many of the restaurants that are offering V-Day specials are making them available all weekend long, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. That’s convenient for those who those who want to treat their sweetie to an evening out but not on a Sunday. It also allows the scamp with three different Valentine’s to play all weekend.

One of the enticing specials is at Bistro on Park Avenue, an especially romantic restaurant because of its location in the Hidden Gardens, perfect for a secret rendezvous or tete-a-tete.

Bistro on Park is offering a five-course dinner for two for $80. It includes shrimp bisque; a shared second course of prosciutto-wrapped melon; Bistro Salad; and a choice of entree from Grilled Fish Tacos, Filet Mignon or those Lamb Chops I mentioned above; and a shared dessert to finish.

The special is offered Friday through Sunday. And because Sunday is the official big heart day, Bistro on Park will be staying open until 10 p.m. — 3 p.m. is the usual close time. (School night, like I said.)

For reservations — and you really should make reservations — call the restaurant at 407-539-6520. Bistro on Park Avenue is at 348 Park Ave. N., Winter Park.

And for some other restaurants offering Valentine’s Day special, check out our Holiday Listings here.

Sanctum table

Anyone who questions whether there is a market for vegetarian restaurants only needs to visit The Sanctum, a new meat-freetery in the Mills 50 district whose slogan is “Real, damn good food” and whose online description calls its menu plant-based. It seems that it is always packed.

Admittedly, it doesn’t take a lot of people to fill the space, which is set back from Colonial Drive at the northeast corner of Fern Creek Avenue. The space is small and narrow, with a bar and communal seating up front and a few tables hugging the wall down the side, across from the kitchen area. But it was clear to me when I lunched with colleagues there recently that more than a few were repeat customers hungry for vegetarian and vegan options.

That may be one of Sanctum’s secrets of success: It isn’t totally vegan but offers several items that can easily be veganized. As long as you’re not concerned about the purity of the kitchen as far as your food commingling with mere vegetarian offerings, you should be just fine.

Antonella pie

It’s still a nice pie, Frank. Pretty good calzone, too.

Frank is also known as Francesco Paradiso and he is the pizzaiolo at Antonella’s Pizzeria, which opened recently on Fairbanks Avenue in Winter Park. The pie shop is named for his wife, and the two of them are partnered in the venture with Antonella’s brother, Leonardo LaCommare.

If the LaCommare name is familiar to you it’s probably because you knew Stefano’s Trattoria in Winter Springs when the brother and sister’s parents, Stefano and Marie, were the owners. The older LaCommare’s sold the restaurant, including the name, and so the younger family members, who all had worked at the popular trattoria for many years, decided to get their own place.

But they didn’t want a large full-service restaurant. A pizzeria that focuses more on takeout and delivery seemed manageable, so that is what Antonella’s is.

Unfortunately — for me, anyway — the delivery area only extends in a five-mile radius from the restaurant, so I made my own pizza runs to try out the pies.