We packed a lot into 2014. Time to take a look back on all that happened in the Central Florida culinary community.

Notable newcomers

ScratchKappo prepKappo, the cubby hole sushi bar at East End Market, the charming small-plate place on Fairbanks Avenue; The Strand, a homey diner on Mills Avenue; Brown's New York Deli, bring on the half-sour pickles; Artisan's Table, Scott Copeland's three mealer in downtown Orlando; Soco, the Thornton Park HUE replacement with Greg Richie's Southern contemporary menu (the restaurant's parent company is an SJC consulting client); South + York, finally a nice restaurant for the Oviedo/Winter Springs crowd; Highball & Harvest, another Southern style eatery, this one at the Ritz-Carlton; Txokos Basque Kitchen, Henry and Michele Salgado's much anticipated East End Market restaurant; Bistro CloClo, authentic French cuisine in the Restaurant Row area; Hamilton's Kitchen, technically not a newcomer, but new chef Marc Kusche made it feel like it was; Kappo, creative sushi in a cramped corner of East End Market; Pig Floyd's Urban Barbakoa, fun little Mills 50 'cuerie; Royal Indian, good food for the Casselberry crowd; American Gymkhana, exciting fine Indian replacement for Raga on Restaurant Row; RusTeak College Park, second locale for the Ocoee favorite (I like this one better); Mamak Asian Street Food, tapas with an Asian flair; JJ's Grille, cute little assemblage concept on Curry Ford Road; American Q, cowboy culture meets the churrascaria; Mynt, another fine Indian concept in Winter Park's Hannibal Square; The Coop, John Rivers' homage to fried chicken.

Notable Trends
Southern cuisine (Soco, South + York, Highball & Harvest, The Coop) and Indian food as fine dining (American Gymkhana, Mynt, Royal Indian).

Burger Boom, or the Continuing Trend That Shows No Sign of Ending, saw these newcomers:


Le cirque logoEXCLUSIVE -- Is downtown Disney big enough for two Cirques?

A deal is currently in the works to bring the restaurant brands Le Cirque and Circo to Central Florida. Le Cirque would be intended for the collection of nationally known restaurants that are planned for Disney Springs at Downtown Disney. As it stands now, there are no available spaces for Le Cirque to occupy, but the officials at Disney are very interested in having it join Morimoto Asia, the Boathouse, STK and others that will surely make the waterfront complex currently under construction a dining destination for tourists and locals alike.

Circo is much closer to becoming a reality, and much closer to downtown Orlando. Negotiations are underway for it to take over the former Mingos space in the Sanctuary condominiums. According to Paul Ardaji, an independent businessman who is working with representatives of Le Cirque and Circo to put the deal together, the group would also take over the space next door, which was most recently Nick's Italian Kitchen, and develop a fast-casual French and Italian bistro. "I don't want to make it sound like it's a done deal," Ardaji told me. "We are moving forward."



I'm calling mine a saltburger.

The latest entry into the Central Florida burger wars is Smashburger, the Denver based company with more than 275 of the fast-casual burgeries in operation either as company owned or franchise operations.

The conceit here — the gimmick that is meant to make it stand apart from a BurgerFi, or Burger 21, or Five Guys, or Shake Shack, or... — is that, as the name suggests, the meat patties are flattened as they are griddled. Not too flatly so as to remove all the juices, but just enough to remove the roundness of the meat ball and form a bunable patty. This is not a new concept, in fact, this is often referred to as the diner style of burger. It's favored among some burger circles because of the crispy edges that the flattening allows. It's anathema to those who insist on a rare or even medium rare burger because the short distance between the top and the bottom of the patty makes anything but a medium to medium well temperature all but impossible.


Amazon continues its pace to be the one-stop shop for all things consumable -- now literally.

What started as basically an online bookseller is now the site many people turn to for just about anything, including diapers, composters and movies. The latter can even be streamed on demand.

Now, how about some food to eat while you watch the movie? Amazon is currently testing a restaurant delivery service that will allow customers to order from menus online, click and pay and wait for the hot food to arrive. As PC World said in this article, the test is confined to the Seattle area for now. Amazon also recently announce a one-hour delivery service test in New York City for all other items on its site, so don't be surprised to see NYC as the next place the food delivery service is tried.

Of course, this isn't anything new. GrubHub, Takeout Taxi and others offer such services. But Amazon is a behemoth and could up the delivery game considerably.

My only question is whether they'll deliver the restaurant meals by drone.


amgym interior

When I visited Junoon, the Michelin-starred restaurant in Manhattan, owner Rajesh Bhardwaj told me that his goal was not to have an Indian restaurant but to have a restaurant that served Indian cuisine. The distinction is more than subtle, it puts the emphasis on the dining experience to break down the stereotype of the average Indian restaurant. Junoon is no average Indian restaurant; it offers an extraordinary dining experience with a menu that is based on tradition but creative and exotic as well.

It was Bhardwaj's goal to do the same thing in Orlando when the owners of Raga called upon him to take over the business and make it the restaurant they had originally wanted but had accomplished with only limited success. After some cajoling by the owners, Bhardwaj agreed to take on the task. The result is American Gymkhana, a fine dining experience with an Indian flavor.

The name is derived from the sports clubs popular during the raj where the British and India's social elite would meet. The decor, which has been completely reworked from the Raga days, is less like the typical gymkhana of dark wood paneling. It's less masculine, more elegant and very comfortable. The open kitchen remains, and there's something less masculine there, too.