1cantina ext

Do you want to know what I like about The 1 Cantina, a new Mexican restaurant in Avalon Park? Everything.

I like the comfortable and attractive space. I like the knowledgeable and charming staff, led by the gracious owners, Giovanni Rodriguez and Marigel Haaz.

And I especially like the food. This is true Mexican cuisine. It’s not Tex-Mex or a Floridian’s idea of what Mexican food should be. There isn’t a burrito or fajita on the menu; no sides of rice or refried beans, either. I didn’t even see one flour tortilla. As Rodriguez explains, he wanted to present foods of Mexico City he remembers from cantina tours with his father. I sampled a number of items from the menu and there wasn’t a thing I wouldn’t order again.


Muhammara Sauce

This month’s edition of “Local Flavor,” my collaboration with The Community Paper, features a recipe from Hungry Pants, the SoDo restaurant that is “100 percent plant based 80 percent of the time,” according to its owners, Joey Conicella and Alex Marin.

Marin and Conicella are sharing Hungry Pants’ recipe for muhammara, a versatile and spicy dip popular in Lebanon, Syria and Turkey (the country, not the bird). “I am a big believer in having ‘back pocket’ options to use for quick options at home,” Marin said. “Muhammara is something that both Joey and I are obsessed with. We use it as a dipping sauce for crudité, spread it on toast in the morning with a runny egg for breakfast, and add it to sandwiches for a little extra flavor.”

Find the recipe at YourCommunityPaper.com and give it a try. You can even put it on turkey.


Drawn to LifeIllustration: Cirque du Soleil

I went to Disney Springs recently to see Cirque du Soleil’s “Drawn to Life,” which features the same high-quality acrobats, aerialists, dancers, musicians and skilled performers you’ll find in other CdS shows but tied together with a storyline based on Disney animations. It’s a good production – maybe not as jaw-dropping spectacular as “O” or “Ká” in Las Vegas but with some terrific moments. (The aerialist and the juggler are amazing but they could have come up with a more thrilling act to close the show than people on swings.) I recommend it.

But I was struck by how things have changed since Cirque du Soleil’s “La Nouba” first opened in 1998 in the elaborate circus tent-shaped building that was purpose-built for it. The entertainment complex itself has transitioned from Downtown Disney to Pleasure Island, and the addition of the West Side, to the current iteration of Disney Springs.

In those early years, one of the most frequent requests I would get – via actual letters or real phone calls on a landline – were from people who wanted to know where they could dine before or after for the whole dinner and a show evening. I didn’t have good news for them.


Rusteak ocoee

RusTeak, the restaurant and wine bar, closed its original location on Maguire Road in Ocoee yesterday. It plans to relocate not very far away to 1681 Amazing Way. (Apparently, naming streets is just as hard as naming restaurants.) There is no projected date for the new Ocoee location to open. So for now, the only RusTeak is the one in Thornton Park, which itself relocated not so long ago from College Park.

RusTeak opened about 10 years ago, replacing a forgettable restaurant called Tamboras Grill. It originally identified as a gastropub, because back then that was the “thing.”


VandA culinary teamFrom left, Scott Hunnel, Matthew Sowers, Kristine Farmer and Kevin Chong. (Photo: Walt Disney World)

Victoria & Albert’s, the uber fine dining restaurant at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, will finally end its pandemic-induced hiatus when it resumes service on July 28. It will begin accepting reservations, which are mandatory, on Monday, June 20.

It will reopen with some personnel changes. Most notably, Scott Hunnel, who has steered the restaurant almost since it first opened in 1988, beginning as its chef de cuisine, now holds the title of Culinary Director and oversees multiple resort hotels, including the Grand Floridian. When V&A closed in March 2020, Hunnel was executive chef for the Grand Floridian’s food operations.