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Braccia interior

Well, here’s something different in the world of pizza eating.

Braccia Pizzeria & Ristorante is one of new eateries that have stepped in to take over the leases of closed restaurants on Winter Park’s Morse Boulevard. Or as the acronymic name for one of the recent departees indicated, Not On Park Avenue.

Braccia is small but has a certain charm in its glassed in wine cabinet, floor to ceiling blackboards and distressed wood tabletops. The charm does not extend to the Astroturflike greenery that has been applied in freeform to one of the brick walls; that’s just odd.

Not quite as odd as what is attached to those paint-stripped tables. A metal frame is clipped to the outer edge and holds a large Styrofoam cup. It is not, as you may first guess, a spit cup for tasting wine. Instead it is meant to hold the discarded plastic gloves that are supplied for diners to wear to keep their hands clean.

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Cityfish construction bar

First on SJO -- The pieces are starting to come together for what will be taking over the former Cityfish space in Thornton Park. The concept will be an Asian Gastropub with a menu designed by Greg Richie. Richie, of course, is a partner in the  Thornton Park Restaurant Group and is also the executive chef of their Soco, also at Thornton Park Central.

"It's going to be fun, very accessible, very casual," Richie said. He added that the price point will make it the sort of place you can dine in daily. Lunch and dinner will likely offer the same menu.

As you can see from the photos, the most significant change in the design of the restaurant is the relocation of the bar. It was along the right wall when it was Cityfish. Now it's been moved to the center of the room (making clever use of those annoying pillars that construction experts insist are necessary to prevent the condos above from caving in. Despite the way things look in the photos, the restaurant is just a few weeks away from a soft opening, I'm told.

And the name? Well, I have to keep that hush-hush for now. But I can tell you that if you were to just hear the name, you'd think it had to do more with something in the Northeastern United States than Southeastern Asia. I'll have more details for you soon.

Cityfish construction bar 2

TPRG is a former client of Scott Joseph Company's consulting services.

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Chicken Salad Chick trio

Now comes Chicken Salad Chick, a restaurant that serves a variety of salads chicken. Why do I keep thinking of the old Saturday Night Live skit where Gilda Radner worked in the Scotch-tape Store at the mall?

CSC is a franchise that started in Auburn, Ala., by Stacy M. Brown, a self-confessed chicken salad junkie and the chick of the name. What started as a business that operated out of her kitchen and moved to a real restaurant after someone turned Brown into the health department has blossomed into a franchise with a few dozen locations, all in the South (and Florida). Orlando’s Chicken Salad Chick is in the Plaza at University at Alafaya Trail across from UCF.

So the concept is that there are 15 or so kinds of tape, I mean chicken salad, from the classic, which for some reason is called the Classic Carol instead of the Standard Stacy, to versions with hot peppers (Jalapeno Holly), apples and grapes (Fruity Fran) and onions (Dixie Chick, also described on the menu as “our most offensive salad”).

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(Photos by Tom Hurst courtesy of Red Lobster)RL dining room

The newest Red Lobster kitchen, equipped with state-of-the-art appliances, sits in the heart of downtown Orlando, but its dining room has no customers. At least no paying customers.

It’s the seafood chain’s Culinary Development Center, part of Red Lobster’s Restaurant Support Center (don’t call it the headquarters), located in the CNL Tower next to City Hall and across Orange Avenue from the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center. The support center occupies three full office floors on higher floors, though not all adjacent, in addition to the ground floor Culinary Development Center.

Besides the kitchen and dining room, which is a replica of any Red Lobster you might find all over North America, the ground floor also has meeting rooms and training facilities. You’ll also find the company’s “Declaration of Independence, signed by managers from many of the Red Lobster restaurants. And, nearby, photos taken in front of Red Lobsters far and wide on the day the company was spun off. (The photos are arranged in what appears to be a free-form collage but what is supposed to be the RL lobster logo; maybe if you squint real hard you might see it.) When I visited last month, a group of managers from restaurants around the country were finishing a multi day training session, they’re collective luggage taking over all floor and table space in one of the meeting rooms while they finished up in one of the well-equipped training rooms.

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Chef Series Chefs

Back in February, when the Dr. Phillips Center still had that new performing arts center smell, the folks there decided to try a bit of alternative programming and brought in celebrity chef and popular television host Alton Brown. He talked about food science and did cooking demonstrations, and everybody had such a good time that the DPAC folks said, “Hey,” (I’m paraphrasing here) “let’s do that again.”

So they’ve put together Chefs at Dr. Phillips Center, a three-chef series with some really big time superstar chefs, television personalities and authors: Emeril Lagasse, Ina Garten and Guy Fieri.

Lagasse will kick things off — and probably up a notch, if we know Emeril — on Dec. 1. He’ll chat with the audience about what inspired him to become a chef and his food philosophy. He’ll also conduct a cooking demonstration on the stage and then take questions from the audience.

Ina Garten, better known as the Barefoot Contessa, takes to the stage of the Walt Disney Theater on January 21. Given the date, I trust she’ll be properly shod. Garten, whose first book, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, was one of the best-selling cookbooks of 1999 and still very popular, will talk about cooking and entertaining and, perhaps, footware, and then have a question and answer session with members of the audience.

On Feb. 11, Guy Fieri will storm the stage with a cooking demonstration and a chat with the audience.

Following each performance, the chef will sign books in the lobby of the Dr. Phillips Center. Writer’s Block Bookstore of Winter Park will have books for sale. Combined, the three chefs have written over 30 books. So, no writer's block among these cooks.

Tickets for the series range from $154.92 to $305.28. Tickets to individual shows will go on sale Oct. 2 for Emeril Lagasse ($59.50-$99.50); Oct. 9 for Ina Garten ($49.50 to $89.50); and Oct. 16 for Guy Fieri ($59.50-$99.50). But really, that series subscription price is going to get you the best bang for your buck.

Or bam for your buck, if you prefer.

For more information and to purchase series tickets, visit the Dr. Phillips Center website.

Chef series subscribe