Plank Walks to Portobello

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Justin PlankLongtime area chef Justin Plank has been selected to be the new executive chef at Portobello at Disney Springs. Plank was chosen after traveling to Chicago earlier in the week to do a cooking demonstration for Tony Mantuano, the James Beard Award winner and chef of Spiaggia who serves as a chef advisor at Portobello. Both restaurants are owned by Chicago based Levy Restaurants.

Prior to accepting the position at Portobello, Plank was executive chef at Lake Port Square in Leesburg.

In late 2001 Plank joined Park Plaza Gardens, which changed its name during his four and a half year tenure to Chef Justin’s Park Plaza Gardens. (Park Plaza Gardens has been closed for several months due to a dispute between the owner of the restaurant and the landlord, reportedly over pest control issues.)

Portobello was called Portobello Yacht Club when it opened at Downtown Disney in 1989. It was one of the original Pleasure Island restaurants, themed as the former home of Pleasure Island's "founder" Merriweather Pleasure and his wife, Isabella, that was converted to a yacht club when they moved. (They did not leave a forwarding address.)

It has always been an Italian restaurant but only started gaining respect for its food when Mantuano came on, about eight years ago. There was talk a year ago of renaming the restaurant — Portobello by Tony Mantuano was one of the names floated. No word on whether that will now occur.

Maybe Chef Justin’s Portobello instead?

Bulla Gastrobar Opening Wednesday

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Bulla sign

Bulla, a gastrobar out of South Florida, is set to open Wednesday, Sept. 28, in the new Lakeside Crossing center in Winter Park.

This is the third Bulla (say BOO-yah), but others are planned. The menu is Spanish and heavy on the tapas selections, though there are a few larger plates, including paella and suckling pig.

I was invited to get a sneak peek at the place. The interior is bright and open and features a large bar in the front and a side dining area just off the main dining room that can be converted into one or two private rooms seating a large group of 50 or two parties of 25.

Regional chef Diego Solano demonstrated one of the restaurant’s signature tapas, Huevos Bulla, which has house-made potato chips, Serrano ham and eggs deep fried in canola oil. It was pretty yummy.

I’ll let Solano tell you more about the restaurant in the video below.


The shopping center, which is where the old Mount Vernon Inn and Red Fox Lounge once stood, is curiously named seeing as how it’s not on the lakeside of Orlando Avenue. Maybe that’s the crossing referred to in the name. Though if you cross the street, you’ll have to walk through Hillstone to get to the lake.

Watch for a review of Bulla after it opens.

Bulla Gastrobar is at 110 S. Orlando Ave., Winter Park. Beginning Wednesday it will be open for lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 321-214-6120.

Garcia to be Inducted into FRLA's Hall of Fame

Written by Scott Joseph on .


Central Florida restaurant maven Manny Garcia will be honored by the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association as the recipient of its 2016 Restaurateur Hall of Fame Award. The induction will take place at a ceremony  September 28 at the Hyatt Regency Orlando during the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association Show, Sept. 27 through 29 at the Orange County Convention Center.

FRLA bestows the Hall of Fame honor on individuals who have attained career distinctions and a record of industry achievements of at least 20 years. Recipients must also be held in high esteem for their “distinguished service to the industry, community, charitable organizations and family.”

Garcia’s career has spanned more than 50 years, beginning with working at his father’s Ybor City restaurants. Of the award, Garcia said, “I’m especially honored because my father served as the Florida Restaurant Association President many years ago.”

Garcia, a 1965 graduate of the Cornell University School of Hotel and Restaurant Administration, is remembered most by Central Florida residents for his popular restaurants that included Pebbles, Harvey’s Bistro and Manuel’s on the 28th, all now closed. The latter was named as a tribute to his father.

Before opening his casual dining restaurants, Garcia owned 67 Burger King franchises with annual revenues of more than $100 million. He sold the franchises to the Burger King Corporation between 1996 and 2000.

Still listed as managing partner of Davgar Holding Group, Garcia has turned over much of the operations to his daughter and son-in-law, Gina and Mike Buell. The company is currently concentrating on growing the Wahlburgers franchise in Florida.

Garcia, 73, was named to the Mid-Florida Business Hall of Fame in 2007.

First Look: Earls Kitchen + Bar

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Earls exterior

Earls Kitchen + Bar opens today at Mall at Millenia. It’s also opening day for Chroma Modern Bar + Kitchen. It’s clear that new restaurants are starting to, um, add up.

I told you about my preview of Chroma last week. I also got a sneak peek along with some other members of the media of the new Earls. I think you’re going to like this place, too.

The Millenia Earls is the first Central Florida location for a long-established, family-owned Canadian restaurant group, though the founder, Leroy Earl Fuller was originally from Montana. (I’m just guessing here, but maybe he moved to Alberta after a presidential election.) I haven’t been able to figure out why the restaurant is called Earls and not Earl’s; perhaps more than one Earl is involved.

Anyway, there are now, as of today, 68 Earlses, including one other Florida location, in Miami’s Dadeland.

Earls took over the space that had been Blue Martini. But if you were familiar with that drinking hole (and I’m not editorializing with that term) you won’t recognize the place.