Nona Social burger

Nona Tap Room is gone and Nona Social Bar + Kitchen has taken its place. Except for the variation of the name, I can’t see a whole lot of difference between the two.

It’s still a neighborhoody place that is more bar than kitchen. Still a bit on the small, cozy side. It still features a menu that is burgercentric. And the kitchen still can’t cook a burger to a medium-rare temperature. Or perhaps just refuses to.

Too bad because the burger I had when I visited recently, the Bacon Bleu, was a good burger that could have been better if it had been cooked properly. The patty was a decent size and had a nice char. It was topped with a smear of blue cheese that was half melted, plus a couple of thick-sliced bacon rashers. The bun was plain but fresh.


Lotus Asia House booths

Note:  An earlier version of this story referred to Scott Drewno as part of the development team, as detailed in a press release. Drewno is not involved in the restaurant.


More Asian food is scheduled to come in off the street when Lotus Asia House opens at Pointe Orlando next year. The new restaurant will take over the space formerly held by RA Sushi.

Lotus Asia House is being developed by restaurateur Karim El Sherif. El Sherif’s Linkedin profile says that he has been owner of Lotus since July of this year. Previously, he was director of food and beverage/taskforce consultant at the Waldorf Astoria, The Roosevelt in New Orleans.

In a statement provided by Pointe Orlando, El Sherif said of Lotus Asia House, “We want to make this an area where people will want to sip creative cocktails and sample Pan-Asian cuisine, inspired by street food vendors found all over Asia.”

The menu will offer Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese cuisines as well as sushi. The decor, shown here in artist renderings, will feature a sculpture of Buddha at the entrance to the lounge, because, you know, it’s Asian. Seating will be at large round booths and communal tables. There will also be an indoor-outdoor sushi bar. Outdoor sushi is fun in the Florida summers.

No date has been set for the opening, but expect it early 2019. The previously announced Hopdoddy Burger Bar, which is going into the former Funky Monkey Wine Company space, should open shortly after the New Year if not before.

Lotus Asia House Rendering bar


1921 dining alcove

Norman Van Aken has ended his partnership with the owners of the Mount Dora restaurant that bears his name. Or bore his name. 1921 by Norman Van Aken will now be known as 1921 Mount Dora.

The restaurant had been a collaboration between the celebrated chef and Donna Brown and Ken Mazik, who are also the owners of the Mount Dora Modernism Museum that is located across the street. Artwork and furniture from the museum’s collection are used throughout the restaurant.

A joint statement released by the restaurant read: “After a tremendous two-year run, chef Norman Van Aken and his partners at 1921 in Mount Dora have decided to part ways with much respect and admiration.”

The dissolution of the partnership was first reported by Faiyaz Kara of the Orlando Weekly.

General manager Adam Crane said by phone Wednesday afternoon that nothing about the restaurant is expected to change. Camilo Velasco will remain chef de cuisine and the menu is not expected to change.

One wonders if the split was sudden or at least thought through. The name has been changed on the restaurant’s Facebook page but Van Aken’s name is still listed under the culinary team heading. And then there’s the website — 1921nva.com. Seems that will have to go, too.

Van Aken retains ownership in two Florida restaurants, Three, a Miami restaurant and cooking school that just celebrated its first anniversary, and Norman's at the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes Resort in Orlando.


Burger generic

So much has changed since the last time we conducted a search for Best Burger in our Foodster Awards for Independent Restaurants, one of our most popular categories.

For one thing, many of the nominiees from last year are no longer open, including North Quarter Tavern, Oblivion Taproom, Nova, TR Fire Grill and Nona Tap Room. 

For another thing: The burger game has really been kicked up a couple of notches by some newcomers, some of whom you'll see in the list of nominees below.


Rusty Spoon interior

In the nearly eight years since she opened her restaurant in downtown Orlando, Kathleen Blake has established it as one of the premier restaurants in Florida and herself as one of the area’s most prestigious chefs.

She was recently presented with the Beacon Award by the Foodservice Council for Women; is a leader in the national organization of Women Chefs and Restaurateurs; and has  been nominated four times for a James Beard Foundation as Best Chef South Region. And on Nov. 9, she will be one of the featured chefs at that organization’s annual gala, a $500-a-ticket dinner held at the swanky Pierre Hotel in New York.

And, like so many in the local culinary community, Blake is a generous contributor to area food events for charities, most recently as one of the chefs serving at Cows ’n Cabs (a delicious smoked mullet on fried cracker was her offering).

Still, with all that activity and civic participation, she, along with her husband, William, manages to keep the quality of the food and service at the Rusty Spoon top notch. And if she’s not at a local charity event or Manhattan fund raiser, you’ll find her, usually in her signature bib overalls, cooking in the kitchen of the Rusty Spoon.