FW2020 peacock

I finally had a chance to experience the newest First Watch, the current flagship and prototype restaurant for the Florida based daytime cafe, and to taste the dishes added to the spring menu.

As you know, First Watch closed its longtime Maitland location and moved that operation down Orlando Avenue to the former Cinco Tacos + Tequila and Carmel Kitchen building in Winter Park. The new location had been long planned, but the circumstances of the pandemic and the changes it made to the way we dined caused the First Watch team to change the design.

For example, because takeout and delivery became so important to us, First Watch created a separate entry for customers and delivery drivers to pickup orders to go. What’s more, it reengineered the kitchen area to provide a separate cook line for those takeout orders. That allows for an efficiency of output, with to-go meals packaged apart from where dine-in orders are “plated.” But it also allows better spacing for the kitchen staff.

That’s important: When we hear about social distancing in restaurants we think about the spacing between tables, we seldom think about the often-cramped conditions in the kitchen where cooks regularly work elbow to elbow. And plexiglass partitions aren’t going to help back there.

But changes were also made to facilitate better spacing for diners, too, including an expanded patio area, which is where I sat when I was invited to sample the spring menu items.


CE dinner venue

Following the success of the inaugural event in February, the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott will host the second Curated Experiences weekend April 23 through 25 at the beautiful Grande Lakes Orlando. Celebrity chef John Tesar of Knife & Spoon will once again be on hand, this time joined by Primo’s Melissa Kelly.

I attended the first Curated Experiences weekend and found there was so much to do that I had to spread the review over two articles. You can read part one here and part two here.

Based on feedback from attendees, the Grande Lakes team is offering multiple ticket options this time. Guests may still opt to attend the full weekend, beginning with the Friday reception featuring food stations from the many Grande Lakes restaurants and chefs, Saturday’s full day of seminars, including lunch, and a multi-course wine-paired dinner, and a sumptuous brunch on Sunday at Knife & Spoon.

Or, you can choose to attend only Saturday’s events, with dinner or not. Or just go out for the dinner.

The pricing structure for April is:



It’s Good Friday so let’s talk about some good stuff.

Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida officially opened its new warehouse and kitchen space this week. Called Mercy Kitchen, the facility will support the organization’s efforts to fight food insecurity by putting out more than 115,000 meals a week. For the past year, Second Harvest has been distributing enough food to produce 300,000 meals DAILY. That’s twice as much as it did prior to the pandemic. The new facility is two miles from the main warehouse at 702 Mercy Star Ct., Orlando.

You don’t have to be a big organization to do something good and to fight hunger. Hinckley’s Fancy Meats, the sandwich maker and charcuterie-er at East End Market, has for the past year been offering free peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to anyone who wants one, “no questions asked.” In a recent post on its Facebook page, Hinckley’s noted that with the vaccines now widely available, “some of us can begin to see brighter days ahead. Others are still struggling. We’re going to continue serving up free PB&J sandwiches indefinitely. It’s part of who we are now. If you’re hungry please come and order one the same way you’d order any other sandwich.” If you’re not hungry, please consider ordering one of Hinckley’s really delicious meat sandwiches and help support a truly fine initiative.

I happen to think that a PB&J sandwich is one of the most perfect meals ever devised.

Everybdy Eats

Hinckley’s also contributes to a community fridge set up at the East End Market called Everybdy.eats. The initiative was led by Sashauna McKain, a student at UCF, who, along with other students, installed the refrigerator under the steps outside the market, decorated it, and helped fill it with food, mainly prepared meals. John Rife, the market’s founder, said of the fridge, “You put in what you can, you take out what you need.” If you’d like to drop something off, you should know that homemade items are not accepted and everything must be packaged and sealed and have an expiration date. And on Saturday, April 10, the group will host Everybody Meets, for donations and entertainment. More information on the group’s Instagram page. East End Market is at 3201 Corrine Drive, Orlando.

Over at Orlando Science Center a new permanent exhibit called Food Heroes has been installed at 4Roots Cafe, an eatery inside the center developed by 4Rivers BBQ. Visitors can see videos, watch cooking tutorials and operate interactive displays, such as a robotic arm that picks strawberries. Admission to the Science Center is required to visit the exhibit (and to eat at the cafe).

Information on the Food Heroes exhibit doesn’t mention the names of any actual heroes. I’d like to nominate the people mentioned above.

Other Stuff


Orlandomeats ext

Even when Orlando Meats was in its original location, on Virginia Drive in Orlando proper, I wondered if it knew what it wanted to be, a butcher shop or a cafe. It even sold doughnuts originally. I liked it – well not the doughnut – I just found its concept confusing.

That was in 2017, and there have been a few times over the years that I’ve stopped in in search of a good steak to cook at home. But the inventory was always limited, which isn’t surprising for a boutique butcher. Prepared foods were at a minimum, too, and the space was cramped.

Now the business has moved to Winter Park (Orlando improper?) to a spacious space in the Ravaudage plaza. Curiously, despite the larger digs the butcher shop offerings don’t seem to have grown and is still limited, though it does have some things you wouldn’t find at most other local butchers, such as duck beef tallow and ghee.

Most of the space is occupied by bare-top tables with lots of chairs for seating. And the menu is expanded, too. So is Orlando Meats leaning toward being more of a restaurant than a butcher’s market?

And if so, what kind of restaurant does it want to be?


North Italia logo

The space vacated so long ago by J. Alexander’s on Sand Lake Road’s Restaurant Row appears to be set to welcome a new tenant, North Italia, a concept owned by the Cheesecake Factory.

That doesn’t sound promising unless you know that North Italia was originally developed by Fox Restaurant Concepts, a Phoenix group known for its high quality restaurants like Culinary Dropout and the Arrogant Butcher. (OK, neither of those sound very promising, either, but trust me they’re quite good.)

Cheesecake Factory acquired North Italia and FRC in October of 2019 for over $300 million. The company had previously invested moe than $88 million dollars in North Italia and another FRC concept, Flower Child, over the previous three years in anticipation of the acquisition.

North Italia currently has 26 locations in 12 states and the District of Columbia, including two in South Florida: Miami and a recently opened restaurant in Dadeland.