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Christners wine glass

One in a series of reviews celebrating Central Florida’s classic restaurants, those open 25 years or longer.

Christner’s Prime Steak & Lobster celebrated its 25th anniversary this year. But just as with Linda’s La Cantina, another independently owned restaurant reviewed recently in this series, the milestone comes with an asterisk.

As those who have lived in the area longer than five years know, Christner’s was originally known as Del Frisco’s Prime Steak & Lobster. It was not part of the Del Frisco’s Double Eagle chain, though both had the same origin. I won’t go into all the details here, but if you want to know more about the backstory, I’ve written about it in this article.

Russ Christner, who made the original deal with Del Frisco’s founder to open a steakhouse with that name in Orlando, chose a building on Lee Road instead of opting for something in the Tourist World part of town. That should have been an early indicator that this was meant to be a place for locals, a restaurant for celebrational splurges for some and for others a steakhouse for a fine piece of meat.

Christner grew the business and expanded the building’s footprint. But even as it got larger, he, along with his wife, Carole, maintained a hands on policy — Carole at the host stand and Russ wandering the dining rooms in his “uniform” of blue work shirt with a well worn and singed terrycloth towel over his shoulder — that kept it a family run business.

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Puck rendering

It seems like we spend a lot of time talking about restaurants that have closed, it’s nice to be able to report a slew of openings.

  • Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill is expected to officially open at Disney Springs Monday. Puck had previously had Wolfgang Puck Cafe when the area was known as Downtown Disney West Side, but that’s another story. It was a good restaurant when it opened in 1997, with an upstairs dining room that was meant to more closely approximate the culinary experience at the celebrity chef’s popular Spago. Then Levy Restaurants bought the Wolfgang Puck brand and took over the restaurant. How much did the restaurant change? Puck once told me that he considered asking Levy to take his name off of it. Puck, I’m told, is in control of the new restaurant, so let’s keep a good thought.
  • F&D Woodfired Italian Kitchen has opened at 2420 Curry Ford Road, taking the place of Peppino’s Organic Italian Kitchen & Pizzeria, which operated in that building a very short time. This is the area that the developers have dubbed the Hourglass District. The city’s Main Streets program would rather you call it Curry Ford West (never mind that it’s on the east side).

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Dexter lake maryNew information coming in on the status of the four Dexter’s restaurants. As reported earlier, and confirmed in this story, Greg Peters, founder of Graffiti Junktion, is part of a partnership that took over the Thornton Park and Winter Park locations.

I confirmed that John Hoffmeister, who was one of the partners with Dexter Richardson and Adrian Mann, has retained the Lake Mary store. In a phone conversation Friday morning, Hoffmeister said that he isn’t sure if he will hold on to the restaurant or sell it. “Right now, I am currently back in control of everything,” he said. “I’m possibly selling everything but not 100 percent sure.” He said that if he did sell to a party that has shown interest, he would likely stay on as the general manager to run things. “I expect to be here another five to 10 years,” he said.

Hoffmeister started as a dishwasher at the Dexter’s on Fairbanks Avenue 30 years ago and worked his way up through the kitchen and into management.

Hoffmeister also confirmed that the owners of the Windermere Dexter’s are Tom and Holly Ziupsnys, who also own a restaurant called Dulcetto in Championsgate. The Ziupsnyses have not returned repeated calls.

As I told you in my article Thursday, the Thornton Park and Winter Park Dexter’s will bring back some old items that had been taken off the menu over the years, including the Chicken Tortilla Pie.

Hoffmeister said that he does not plan to make any big changes at Lake Mary. “We’re killing it up here,” he said.

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dexter pie

As I first reported last month, the Dexter’s restaurants in Thornton Park and Winter Park have been sold to a group that includes Graffiti Junktion founder Greg Peters. Peters confirmed Wednesday that the sale had been finalized.

Drew Weisner, who has been with Dexter’s for several years, will oversee the operations of the two restaurants, Peters said. Speaking by phone, Peters said that they plan to restore the restaurants to their earlier, more popular days and will bring back some old menu favorites, including the Chicken Tortilla Pie. (The Chicken Tortilla Pie, shown above, was always a guilty pleasure of mine.)

Other key staff members are expected to be kept on, and guests probably won’t start noticing any changes for another month, I’m told.

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Roccos bar

Ever since I first reviewed Rocco’s Italian Grille & Bar, in October of 2006, I’ve considered it to be one of the finest Italian restaurants in the area. And since I don’t get the chance to return often enough, I jumped at the invitation to dine there recently to try some of the dishes that owner Rocco Potami rotates through his menu.

Roccos burrata1

Potami started by serving my guest and me an appetizer of Bresaola, the air-cured beef that is a specialty of Northwest Italian, and fresh Burrata, often known as a creamier mozzarella. The cheese was topped with shaved Parmesan and fresh arugula leaves. Potami admonished us not to put any pepper on the burrata, which I probably would have done to perk up the mild cheese. But with the peppery notes of the arugula, nothing else was necessary.