Smiling Bison Sanford

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Smiling Bison Sanford interior

I popped into Sanford for dinner the other evening.

That's not quite true. One doesn’t just “pop” into Sanford. For most of Greater Central Florida, visiting Sanford requires determined planning, especially the downtown historic district, several miles off of Interstate 4.

But with apologies to the businesses in an around the city’s mall, and despite the naming of that facility as Seminole Towne Center, the preponderance of restaurants, such as a preponderance exists, is in the historic downtown (not downtowne).

Joining the ever growing list of independent restaurants is a second location of the Smiling Bison, the funky little cafe and bar on the near east side of Orlando. Anyone familiar with the original may not recognize the new place. Whereas the Orlando Bison is divey with a fun and grungy vibe that suggests a pop-up venue, Sanford’s seems more adult and established — like a real restaurant. Part of that is due to the age of the building and its old time-y mien. It feels as though it has been there for generations. If this were a new Disney restaurant, they’d slap a sign on the front of the place that reads “ Est. 1910” and include a backstory detailing its provenance and just exactly what first caused the bison’s grin.

What will be familiar to the already loyal Bisonians is the food, which has always been creative, full of integrity, and with a promise of brilliance at times.


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Baoery pork bao

Bao are big.

They’re suddenly everywhere. Well, OK, that’s an exaggeration, but they’re showing up on enough menus to declare them an honest-to-Buddha trend. In the past week, I’ve eaten at two restaurants themed on the steamed buns: Bao in Ft. Lauderdale and Baoery, an Asian gastropub in downtown Orlando’s Thornton Park. The latter, from from chef Greg Richie and Thornton Park Restaurant Group, which also owns the nearby Soco, replaced Cityfish.

But why bao now? Part of the proliferation, I’m sure, is that the dining public enjoys exotic foods, especially those that aren’t too adventuresome. Asian dishes are particularly popular, and anything associated with street food is extra attractive. Bao are small but filling, and they can usually be gotten for a low price even as the restaurant selling them can claim a good profit margin.

And they can be pretty damn tasty, too.


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Guavate Exterior

Guavate, a Puerto Rican restaurant, apparently has been around for several years but has somehow escaped my notice. I’m sure some of that has to do with its location, which is eastern Orlando. Actually, if you use Semoran Boulevard and the East-West Expressway as bisecting lines, Guavate is in the southeastern quadrant, which makes it a bit more off of my radar. I understand that there is such a place as Avalon Park in that vicinity.

But Guavate is well before that mythical land. And I ended my ignorance of the little eatery with a blissful little lunch recently.

One of the servers greeted me warmly when I walked in and didn’t protest when I insisted on choosing my own table. She kept her good humor as I quizzed her about the menu and asked for recommendations.

Butter Chicken Indian Cuisine

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Butter Chicken interior

Butter chicken is a popular dish in Indian restaurants, though you might see it listed on menus as Murgh Makhani. Though I suppose is someone was going to name a restaurant after the dish, they’d go with Butter Chicken.

Which is what the owners of Butter Chicken Indian Cuisine in Winter Park did.

Butter Chicken is in a little clump of businesses on Howell Branch Road behind a 7-Eleven. It occupies a space we’ve been in before, including when it was Bravissimo (when Rosario Spagnolo, now of Terramia, was involved with it) and a forgettable restaurant called the Getaway Cafe. (And by forgettable I mean that I had forgotten about it until I did a search on the address — and I still don’t remember much about it.) It was also Chef Henry’s Tip-Top Bistro, an Argentine restaurant that closed before I could get to it, and a restaurant called Saigon, which inexplicably specialized in Chinese cuisine.

But Butter Chicken. It’s still new enough that the signage out front looks temporary. Or maybe they’re just waiting to see if it catches on better than the Argentine restaurant.

Chef Eddie's Breakfast

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ChefEddie dining room

Considering it is little more than 10 years old, the restaurant space in the City View apartments building on West Church Street in downtown Orlando has certainly had a lot of tenants. First was Uncle Henry’s Country Kitchen, the popular Johnson’s Diner, which moved from a cramped free-standing hut on Washington in summer of 2006. When it closed, Fish ’n’ Loaves took over. Then McKnight’s.

Now say hello to Chef Eddie’s. Or good morning, as I did recently when looking for a downtown breakfast spot.

The downtown address is a relocation for Chef Eddie’s. We visited the original restaurant last year when it was on the corner of Orange Center Boulevard and Goldwyn Avenue in west Orlando. The City View location brings Chef Eddie’s good food closer to the center of commerce, so I was surprised that just a little after 8 o’clock on a weekday morning that I was the only diner in the restaurant and would remain alone during my entire breakfast.

Ferrytale Wishes: A Fireworks Dessert Cruise

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Ferrytale dock

Well bless Disney’s little revenue producing heart. You have to give them credit for finding new ways to extract monetary blood from the touristing turnips. The latest scheme is called Ferrytale Wishes: A Fireworks Dessert Cruise. It really is a brilliant idea: take one of the ferries that ferries guests from the transportation center across the lagoon to the Magic Kingdom, a boat that presumably is usually idle during the nightly fireworks presentation, and sell tickets to watch said display of colorful combustibles from a unique vantage point.

And to make it more palatable, they serve a buffet of desserts. And get this: alcoholic beverages, the sort of elixirs that the poor thirsty folks inside the theme park are forbidden to imbibe. It’s open bar in the open waters of the Seven Seas Lagoon, sort of the resorts version of the International Waters demarkation that those gambling cruises to nowhere set sail for.

In fact, I sort of felt like I was on a cruise to nowhere when I was invited to ride along on a media preview of the new feature. The elements are all there to make is sound like a winning proposal: a nice vantage point of the fireworks, with the accompanying music piped in; wine, beer, liquor or soft drinks to sip; and all the desserts you want.

Yet with the exception of the fireworks display itself, the cruise is, in a word, boring. Guests board the ferry more than an hour before showtime and then slowly circle the lagoon. Once you’ve made one loop, there isn’t much else to look at.

Pepe's Cantina

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Pepes Cantina exterior

Mi Tomatina, the paella place in Winter Park’s Hannibal Square, is now Pepe’s Cantina. While Spanish may still be spoken here, the dialect is more Mexican than Catalan. And there’s a distinct Texas accent, as well.

Pepe’s Facebook page (the website is still “under construction) states that chef Jose Baranenko’s menu “puts a new twist on traditional Mexican cuisine.” Inasmuch as fajitas and nachos — and burgers, for that matter — are Mexican it’s only because they migrated from the country to the north.

But I’ll not quibble about authenticity. I had a pleasant visit to Pepe’s recently, and if the cantina vibe isn’t quite in sync with such neighbors as Chez Vincent, Mynt and Armando’s — Pepe’s Facebook page is promoting an event called Cinco de Drinko — it isn’t any more out of place than, say, Dexter’s down the block.

And to be honest, the place was fairly subdued when I visited, even though it was a Friday evening. The small dining room was all but empty, but the sidewalk tables out front were filled. My guest and I didn’t want to be inside (and alone) so one of the staffers asked us if we’d like to check out the tables by the bar in the back. If the bar was there when it was still Mi Tomatina, it had escaped my notice. We grabbed one of the high-top tables across from the bar and looked over the menu.

Raglan Road Caps Off 10 Years with a Memorable Dinner

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Raglan Anniversary table

I got to go back to Ireland the other day, just for a few hours.

The occasion was the 10th anniversary dinner at Raglan Road, the denouement of a months long journey that included an actual trip to Ireland. The dinner at Raglan Road, which recently changed its address to Disney Springs without having to actually move, was prepared by the winners of a contest the restaurant had as part of the celebration. They included Central Floridians Aaron Van Swearingen, Colleen Kerney and Janice Epaillard, and Heather McBroom Walker of Scottsdale, Ariz. Linda Rohr of Darien, Conn., was unable to attend the dinner.

Contestants had submitted YouTube videos telling Raglan’s chef/partner Kevin Dundon what they would prepare for a 10th anniversary dinner. From those videos, Dundon selected the five winners, then flew them to Ireland and his Dunbrody Country House where he also has a cooking school.

Morimoto Asia

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Morimoto dining room 1

Now that Morimoto Asia has been open several weeks, following a very splashy and high-profile grand opening, I thought it was time to stop in at the Disney Springs restaurant and experience the it at full throttle. So I headed down with a few friends to try what is arguably the hottest new restaurant in town.

For the uninitiated — or those who don’t follow challenge cooking shows — Masaharu Morimoto is a star of the programs Iron Chef in Japan and its spinoff Iron Chef America. He has several restaurants that bear his name around the world, including in Mumbai, New Delhi, Philadelphia, New York and Mexico City. Those restaurants are named simply Morimoto and feature the chef’s signature Japanese cuisine. (The nearest Morimoto is in Boca Raton.)

The Disney Springs restaurant is Morimoto Asia to distinguish it from the other restaurants. Technically, the restaurant is operated by the Patina Restaurant Group, which also has the two restaurants at Epcot’s Italy pavilion as well as others throughout the country, including Lincoln at New York’s Lincoln Center. My sources told me that the Disney restaurant started out to be a genuine Morimoto but that the chef became disenchanted with the bureaucracy and chose to continue under a licensing agreement. 

(For other photos and a video of Morimoto Asia before it opened, click this link.)

So don’t visit Morimoto Asia expecting to see the Iron Chef, um, ironing. He’ll undoubtedly visit from time to time, but he has left command of the kitchen to Takao Iinuma. (And let’s be fair: You’re not likely to see Morimoto at any of his other nine restaurants on any given night, either.)


Written by Scott Joseph on .

Oudom interior


 Oudom, a Thai and sushi restaurant, is the latest to take over the Graze/Prickly Pear/ Lotus/Mingos space in the Sanctuary condominium building in downtown Orlando. Five restaurants in seven years isn't too bad, is it? 

Maybe Thai will be the magic sauce for this place. Or curry. Or whatever. A restaurant in this location needs to count on frequent vists from neighbors. A menu with a lower price point can help in that regard.

Oudom Tom Kha

I began my lunch visit with a bowl of the Tom Yum soup, a hot-and-sour broth with some large chunks of tomatoes, mushrooms and shrimp, tails removed, thank you. I also was served a salad, apparently part of my entree order. The salad was a bit of a soggy sort.

I was heartened a bit when someone came by and left a set of chopsticks on my table after I had ordered my Pad Thai with chicken. The Thais don't use chopsticks except when eating noodle dishes, which is odd since noodles are the hardest thing to eat with chopsticks. I'm wondering now if the young fellow, who was not my server, just thought I had ordered sushi. I did not see chopsticks on the only other occupied table, even though some of the guests there were eating noodles.

And speaking of there being only one other occupied table in the restaurant, it was extra annoying that my server asked if I wanted to keep my fork when she took my salad away. "If that's my only option," I replied, placing it on the white butcher paper that topped the tablecloth.

Oudom pad thai

My Pad Thai was fine and had a good spiciness to it. (I had ordered it medium spicy so that I could gauge; ask for Thai hot if you really like the heat. I appreciated, but did not need, the tray of condiments, including crushed peanuts and pepper flakes, that were offered with the dish.

Food did not come out at a speedy pace. Something to keep in mind if you visit on a limited lunch break.

Oudom is at 100 S. Eola Drive, Orlando. It is open for lunch Tuesday through Sunday and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-849-3739.