The Daily Flog

Chicago Beard Awards

Oh, look; a New Orleans chef won the James Beard Foundation’s award for Best Chef South. There’s a surprise.

It’s becoming something of a broken record to announce the winner of the American culinary community’s biggest prize is from NOLA. Last year the south region had a tie, and both were from New Orleans.

This year’s winner is Alon Shaya of Domenica. Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico, New York, was named Outstanding Restaurant. Donnie Madia, One Off Hospitality Group, Chicago, is the 2015 Outstanding Restaurateur. It must have been nice for him to win the award this year — for the first time in its 25 year history the foundation held the awards in Chicago instead of New York.

Michael Anthony of New York’s Gramercy Tavern was awarded the Outstanding Chef title. That’s one I can’t quibble with — I dined there again a couple of months ago and found it to be as wonderful as ever. (And I was happy to lend my vote to Anthony for the overall award.)

New York City’s Batard was crowned Best New Restaurant.

For a full list of winners, visit the James Beard website.

GusStamatinConstantine “Gus” Stamatin, whose restaurant was a West Orlando staple for many years, died on May 1, 2015. He was 84.

Gus’ Villa Rosa, which opened in 1980, featured a Mediterranean menu with Italian fare that also leaned a bit toward the Greek shores to reflect its owner’s heritage. The restaurant was on Old Winter Garden Road in Orlando and was a favorite among locals until it closed in 1993.

In my November 8, 1992, review of Gus’ Villa Rosa, I wrote:

The restaurant is stuck in a time warp; it does not appear to have changed since the 1960s. The main dining rooms most prominent feature is darkness. This is not the romantic mood of dimmed lights; this is blackness interrupted only here and there by bare light bulbs in overhead lamps and an occasional beer sign. It’s enough light to see the funky Italian-scape murals on the long wall, but not enough to read the menu. (Across the room

 

I noticed a man reading by Bic-light its the first time I have ever envied a smoker.)

What isn’t knotty pine is knotty plywood or plastic brick paneling. Chairs don’t match, and the walls sport laminated posters. A large aquarium with tiny fish separates the bar from a smaller (and better lighted) dining room. Tables are covered with linens and protected by a clear acrylic cover.

 

Does any of this detract from the dining experience? Are you kidding? All of this makes the dining experience. Without this eclectic atmosphere Villa Rosa would be just another Italian restaurant. With the crazy decor, its a hoot.

 

Gus Stamatin is the man whose name is on the restaurant (literally, in big red letters on the white block building). He and his wife Marlene have operated Villa Rosa for 12 years. They may not be big on decorating, but they sure know how to put some fine food together.

Stamatin was also one of the founding members of the Central Florida Chefs Association. His wife, Marlene, who ran the restaurant along with him, died in 2009. He is survived by the couple’s four children and four siblings plus numerous grand children and great grandchildren.

Mothers Day Pasta

Mother’s Day is one day of the year you should insist mom stay out of the kitchen. No matter how much she resists, it’s a day to let her know she’s raised you right.

If you prefer a day at home instead of queuing up at a restaurant, we’re sharing this epicurean combo that anyone can toss together in less than 30 minutes, then serve at room temperature. It’s super easy to prep and clean up, with fresh tomatoes, a little wine, lots of garlic and the salty finish of capers and Kalamata olives. Serve with a little green salad and crusty bread for a meal worthy of mama.

2015 AWARDS LOGO SHELFThis certainly is Chicago’s time to shine in the national spotlight.

First the NFL held their draft Thursday in the Windy City, the first time it’s been conducted outside of New York, the, um, Not So Windy City. On Monday, the James Beard Foundation will have its annual awards gala at Chicago’s Lyric Opera, the first time that ceremony has been held outside of New York.

Let’s hope the top chef pick isn’t a misogynistic, accused-rapist shoplifter.

The Bearders also held the announcement of the semifinalists for the awards in Chicago, but it wasn’t the first time that’s been outside of its Manhattan home. The first time was in 2014 when the announcement was made from East End Market in Orlando.

But so far that’s the closest Orlando has gotten to the awards. Although we consistently have area chefs on the semifinalists list, none has made it to the final ballot.

But take heart. As I’ve been saying for some time — a long time, actually — it can be a long process to get to the awards podium. Judges, who may vote only for chefs whose food they’ve actually eaten, see names of regional nominees on the semifinalist lists and often choose those restaurants to visit when they travel. It can take several years of having a name on the long ballot to make it to the short one, and even longer to win the award.

As this interesting series of charts explaining the James Beard Awards from Eater shows, Tom Colicchio was nominated seven times, as chef for two separate restaurants, before winning the award. Granted, it was for Outstanding Chef and not a regional Best Chef, but still.

Then there is the other extreme, such as last year, when New Orleans’ Ryan Prewitt won for Best Chef South Region, which also includes Florida, and his Peche Seafood Grill also was named Best New (!) Restaurant nationally. By the way, I’ve dined at Peche and it’s nice, but I wouldn’t have cast my ballot for either award over one of several of our area chefs. Not out of local loyalty but because I would put the quality of the food and dining experience ahead of Peche’s food.

Maybe next year.

Ace Groundbreaking Buddy

What was supposed to have been a ground breaking turned into a ground shaking when more than a hundred vintage automobiles and motorcycles revved their engines to signal the start of renovations for Ace Cafe Orlando. Following a proclamation naming April 30, 2015 as Ace Cafe Day in Orlando, Mayor Buddy Dyer donned a leather jacket with the cafe’s insignia, hopped on a motorcycle and gave the call for all of the others to “Start your engines.” Then, after a couple of minutes of ear-splitting noise from unmuffled mufflers, he waved the checkered flag for all to stop. (We knew the mayor was going to run; we didn’t know he was going to ride, too.)