Saturday is a big day for fans of good food and wine.

Rioja logoIt starts with an event from our friends at Rioja and a replay of the fun Rioja & Tapas Escape they held last summer at Mitchell’s Fish House in Winter Park Village. This time there will be more than 40 Rioja wines to taste along with some specially created chef-inspired tapas. Throw in some live music and you have a fun afternoon. An inexpensive one, too, at just $45, which includes tax and tip.

The event is from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. at Mitchell’s, 460 N. Orlando Ave., Winter Park. Call 407-339-3474 or click this link for tickets.

Then try to grab a little nap before Beard in Baldwin kicks off at 7 o’clock.

This will be an outdoor walkabout food and wine tasting featuring some of the area’s best chefs as well as some out of towners, including: Brad Kilgore, Alter, Miami; Cesar Zapata, The Federal Food, Drink & Provisions, Miami; Ferrell Alvarez, Rooster & the Till, Tampa; and Timon Balloo, Sugarcane Raw Bar & Grill, Miami.

The Osprey Tavern’s executive chef, Joseph Burnett, and pastry chef, Kristy Carlucci, are serving as hosts for the James Beard Foundation sanctioned event. Proceeds will help fund The James Beard Foundation National Scholars Program.

General admission tickets are $85 per person; VIP tickets are $200, which gets you inside Osprey for a private cocktail party and a few other extras. (VIP experience begins at 6 p.m., so set your alarm accordingly for your nap.)

Local chefs and restaurateurs scheduled to participate include:

  • Kevin Fonzo, K
  • Kathleen Blake, Rusty Spoon
  • Nathan Hardin, Highball & Harvest
  • Wendy Lopez, Tapa Toro
  • Katerina Coumbaros, Taverna Opa
  • and 17 others

Click this link to the Beard in Baldwin website to see the full list of participating chefs, what they plan to serve and to buy your tickets.


Georges sandwich

You wouldn’t expect to find savory soups, salads and sandwiches at a place called George’s Gourmet Cookies. Even less expected would be to find those foods not just good, not just something to grab on the go, but excellent. Food that I can only describe as having integrity.

By that I mean that from all tastes and appearances, the food served at this little hole in the wall is not produced via shortcuts, i.e. defrost and heat, or open another can before the lunch rush. It’s produced by people who care about the quality, regardless that it is being served from a counter in a space that does not appear to have a huge kitchen.

Still, I would not be surprised to learn that the corned beef that the star ingredient of the sandwich called the Abigail had been corned right there in the back, it tasted so freshly seasoned and was oh so tender. The Abigail, the menu explains, is George’s version of a Reuben, with the expected salted beef brisket, sauerkraut, swiss cheese and 1000 Island Dressing. The menu states that everything was house made except the cheese, which was imported. So I should probably capitalize Swiss.


Divas asparagus

Sweet asparagus, spring’s runway-slim veggie, is dressed to impress with a classic vinaigrette, accessorized with chopped egg and black olives for a crunchy, salty ménage a trois. And the green giant gets super-food status with no fat and no cholesterol.

Just a quick plunge in boiling water brightens the asparagus and gives it a crisp-tender crunch—or microwave for 3 to 4 minutes with about a tablespoon of water, salt and pepper, and a small drizzle of olive oil. (Broccoli can stand in for the asparagus, but be sure it’s crisp tender.)


Tamale Co. breakfast

If you’re in the vicinity of the Winter Park Farmer’s Market Saturday, do yourself a favor and find a parking space (try Maitland) and visit the Tamale Co. food truck.

I happened upon the truck — which is more van-like, if you want to be technical — while I was strolling along looking for something breakfasty. You might be thinking, “Tamales don’t sound like something for breakfast,” to which I say, “You must be new here.”

Besides, all you have to do is crack a couple of eggs onto just about anything and, wah-la, as they say in France, breakfast. (By the way, the French lessons are going great, thanks for asking.)

So anyway, I happened upon the tamale truckvan — shiny black with orange lettering, and poster hanging from the ordering window of two peppered eggs sitting on a couple of tamales with rice and beans. The sign said that it was called Tamale Sunrise. Perfect, I thought, and I placed an order, though I held no delusion that what I would be handed through the window would look anything like what was in the picture.


Wahlburgers burger

I finally got a chance to experience the phenomenon that is Wahlburger’s. I had been to the massive grand opening for the Orlando location that included appearances by Paul Wahlberg, who founded the burger franchise, and his brother Mark, the heartthrob actor. The restaurant was packed to overflowing that night.

Turns out that it’s just about as packed most nights, even on a rainy evening midweek, before the hordes of young people start descending on the nearby bars.

I waited inside the door while a young woman with a tablet device dealt with the people ahead of me. Visitors to Wahlburgers have the option of ordering at a counter or being seated for full table service. It didn’t seem that anyone was opting to order at the counter, and all were being told that the wait would be lengthy.

I was finally greeted by the young woman. No, greeted isn’t the correct word. When the couple in front of me moved out of the way, she looked at me, completely unsmiling and without a word of welcome. It was apparently up to me to initiate the conversation. (Everyone else I had contact with was friendly and helpful, so why they put someone so dour at the door is a wonder.)

I was given the standard wait time — don’t remember what it was but it fell beyond my tolerance level to wait for food. But then I was told I could take a single seat at the bar. Fine. I like sitting at the bar anyway.