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North Quarter interior

The tagline on the home page of North Quarter Tavern’s website — “A chef-driven neighborhood tavern from the Citrus Restaurant team — might lead you to expect something a little grand, maybe even upscale than what you’ll find there. Heck, even the North Quarter designation sounds a bit highfalutin. Perhaps you envision something along the lines of Manhattan’s Gramercy Tavern or Tavern on the Green, where the dining experience is more upscale and the tavern tag is used ironically.

But no, North Quarter Tavern is truly tavernlike. The floating-island bar is the central focus of the small space. There is no separate dining room; tables, both high and low, are set about the bar, the school-teacher style wooden chairs complementing the wooden stools around the bar top.

This is a bar, albeit a bar with above average fare.

Yes, you’ll find a burger on the menu, even a Reuben sandwich and a meatloaf entree, all classic pub fare. But you’ll also find hand-cut wagyu steak tartare, grilled Scottish salmon and smoked Duroc pork belly. (The menu is under the direction of the chef Matt Wall, who moved over from Citrus, just across the side street.)

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Tornatore meatballs

First off, let me just say that I have not seen the episode of Food Network’s “Restaurant: Impossible” that features Tornatore’s, the cafe and pizzeria in College Park that used to be known as Caffe Positano. I haven’t seen any episodes of “Restaurant: Impossible.” In fact, I do not watch any of those types of “reality” programs. I find most of them ludicrous, and they seem to be more interested in embarrassing and humiliating the participants in the name of entertainment.

And I find R:I’s host, Robert Irvine, to be especially insufferable. I attended a local charity event that he hosted and he couldn’t have been more obnoxious. As a friend of mine always says, “He smells mighty good to himself.”

That said, whatever transpired to result in Tornatore’s was beneficial. It’s a small, neighborhood restaurant the likes of which rarely are seen these days.

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HoulihanThe Houlihan’s restaurant at Colonial Plaza on Highway 50 in Orlando will close on Sunday. A Miller’s Ale House will take its place.

According to a manager at the restaurant — who at first kept arguing with me that I was supposed to have been there Monday morning for my 9:30 shift — all approximately 30 employees have been told their jobs will be ending. (The guy who didn't show up for work today might not make it until Sunday.)

The casual-dining chain, which is privately owned by Houlihan’s Restaurants, Inc., has fewer than 100 restaurants nationwide. According to Nation’s Restaurant News, the company had been seeking a sale.

Miller’s Ale House is a Jupiter,Florida, based chain with 14 locations in the Orlando area. The restaurants have a sports bar decor and matching menu. A spokesman reached in the Orlando office could not give any details about the timing for the new location. 

h/t Robert Huss

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Summer noodle salad

July is picnic time, and the divas are expected to show up with something delicious. Although we avoid the stovetop in summertime, this feisty dish come together in less than 30 minutes, with big flavors from Sichuan peppers, sesame oil and fresh Florida shrimp. Or skip the shrimp and serve it as a side with any meat or seafood from the grill.

We recommend fresh Florida shrimp, which takes a little more time to clean and quickly steam on the stovetop, but you also can grab cooked shrimp at the market. For picnic savoir faire, serve in little cardboard to-go cartons with chopsticks that you can pick up at the party store.

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macdown logoI don't think there's a more ubiquitous item on local menus these days than macaroni and cheese. Once a lowly go-to stomach filler for grad students and harried mothers alike, mac and cheese has taken on gourmet qualities with such enhancements as chichi cheese and sweet lobster meet.

I know there are a lot of mac and cheeses out there, and I know that a lot of the chefs at area restaurants believe that his or hers is the best. Here's a chance to prove it, and to help out one of my favorite charities.

Give Kids the World is hosting the O-town MacDown, a creative mac and cheese cooking contest, Saturday, September 12 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Osceola Heritage Park's exhibit hall. The competition is open to area chefs and restaurants, who may apply by visiting the MacDown's official website.

General admission tickets to the event are $10 in advance ($15 at the door) for adults and $5 for kids ($10 at the door). Proceeds go to Give Kids the World. Besides all-you-can-eat macaroni and cheese, the event will also feature live entertainment, celebrity chef cooking demonstrations, and a kids' fun zone.

What does the winning chef get? Bragging rights for having the best macaroni and cheese dish in Central Florida and the satisfaction of helping out some good people doing some very good work. Maybe someone will craft a trophy made out of macaroni and spray paint it gold.

More info at gktw.org