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Cafe Annie logoGet ready for falafel wars in downtown Orlando.

Hubbly Bubbly, the silly-named quick serve restaurant that specializes in the chickpea fritters, has announced that it will open its second location near the corner of Orange Avenue and Washington Street.

Anyone familiar with food options in the downtown business district will recognize that to be the location of Cafe Annie, which has been serving a some-kind-of-wonderful falafel for about as long as I can remember.

I mean that literally, at least in terms of my memory of Orlando eateries. Owner Joseph Sebaali isn’t quite sure how long he’s been serving is Mediterranean food, either. We both figure that it’s been about 28 years, right about the time that I came to town to start reviewing restaurants. I’m guessing only Mama B’s Subs has been there longer.

Sebaali first opened Cafe Annie in the space that is now a car dealership, at Jefferson Street. He was made to move next door for the cars — originally tiny Renaults, now tiny Fiats — in 2003. He named the restaurant for his wife: “I figured if I named it for her she’d come here to work,” he said. “But that didn’t work.” Sebaali’s falafel, moist fritters with myriad seasonings served on pita bread with creamy tzatziki sauce, became my standard by which all falafel sandwiches should be judged. (Only L’As du Fallafel in Paris exceeds it.)

So then, Hubbly Bubbly.

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Earth Day JPEG copy

It's easy to forget that Kathleen Blake, the estimable chef and owner of the critically acclaimed Rusty Spoon in downtown Orlando, was the opening chef de cuisine at Primo by Melissa Kelly at the JW Marriott in Orlando. Kelly tapped Blake to lead the restaurant when it opened in 2003 as a second location for her popular Maine restaurant.

Although Blake moved on to her own successful restaurant, the two chefs have remained friends. And as part of Rusty Spoon's fifth anniversary celebration, they will collaborate on a special Earth Day dinner on Friday, April 22, at the restaurant at 55 W. Church St. The dinner is meant to celebrate not only their 20-year friendship but also the Central Florida's farmers and culinary artisans. Primo, you'll recall, was one of the early innovators of the farm to table movement, a concept that Blake continued with the Spoon.

The dinner will begin at 6:30 p.m. and is priced at $95 per person plus tax and gratuity. Seating is limited and reservations are required. Call 407-401-8811.

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Hermans sign

Recently, I found myself rather comically trying to locate a new bar I’d heard of in downtown Orlando.

I couldn’t quite remember the name but I knew that it had “Loan Office” in it. And I knew that it was a sister bar to another place with “Shoe Repair” in its name. It’s pretty difficult to do a Google search for those businesses if what you want is a drink. They’re fine if you need financial help or if your footwear is worn.

Even funnier is that I was pretty sure that the Loan Office bar was on West Pine Street, which meant that it was probably confined to one block of buildings before the railroad tracks — putting a bar beyond there didn’t seem like a reasonable business plan.

But walking along the block,my friend and I couldn’t spot the bar. We asked someone outside another bar if he knew where the bar called Something Loan Company was, but he looked at us like we were crazy.

I knew where the shoe repair bar was, so we walked the block and a half there to, oh,yeah, now I remember, Hanson’s Shoe Repair. Hanson’s is a speakeasy kind of place, so you’re not supposed to know it’s a bar, even though there was a bouncer out front talking to another employee. And neither looked like cobblers. I politely asked where the loan company was, and it seemed to throw them both for a minute. “You mean Herman’s?” one of them asked.

Oh yeah, that’s it, Herman’s.

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Chefs Gala JaredJared Gross, chef de cuisine at Urban Tide, previewed his dish for the upcoming Chef's Gala at a luncheon at the JW Marriott's Primo restaurant last month.

It’s time to start thinking about the Chef’s Gala, one of the premier food and wine events of the calendar, benefitting Heart of Florida United Way. This year the event will be on Saturday, May 21, from 6:45 to 10 p.m.

As always, the event is held at Epcot’s World Showplace, the biodome-like structure that also houses the weekly Party for the Senses dos during the International Food & Wine Festival.

Unlike the Senses Parties, however, admission to Epcot is not required to attend Chef’s Gala. The way they get around that is by busing attendees from a special area in the Epcot parking lot to the Showplace via the theme park’s backstage area, so besides attending a really terrific food and wine event, you also get an insider’s — or backsider’s, if you will — view of what’s behind the Epcot facades.

Tickets to the event are $275 per person or $500 per couple with all proceeds going to Heart of Florida United Way. Chef’s Gala supports programs in the areas of education, income, health and basic needs.

“Heart of Florida United Way is humbled each and every year by the community support we receive through Chef’s Gala to help more than 400,000 people in the tri-county region,” said Robert H. (Bob) Brown, president and CEO of Heart of Florida United Way. “Chef’s Gala is certainly one of my favorite events due to the impact we’re able to make with the help of volunteers, contributors and sponsors.”

This link will take you to the Chef’s Gala websitewhere you can get more information and purchase your tickets. See below for a list of participating restaurants:

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Pincho Factory sign

I’m not sure what it means when the best thing served at a place called Pincho Factory is not a pincho. At least not in the traditional meaning of the word. If such a thing exists.

I guess some explanation is necessary.

Pinchos (pinchi?) are Spanish tidbits that originally consisted of a piece of meat served on a bit of bread and skewered with a cocktail stick — or toothpick, if you will. (In the Basque region they’re known as pintxos, because my god how the Basque love adding x’s to words.) You might be in a bar in Spain and notice the little bites on the counter and start helping yourself to them as you drink your rosado. You might also be surprised to find later that the bartender was keeping tally of what you ate by counting the toothpicks and added them to la cuenta.

At Pincho Factory, a South Florida restaurant that recently expanded to Orlando, the pinchos are different. Some have described them as kebabs but I think they more closely resemble the satays you might find in a Thai restaurant: chicken, beef or shrimp grilled on long wooden skewers.

And they have turned it into an assemblage concept where the guests chooses a base (wrap, bread, rice or greens) and a type of sauce to go with it.

But never mind all that. You’re not going to come here for the pinchos. You’re going to come here for a burger.