brass tap taps

I'm trying really hard to come up with a reason that people would choose to go to the Brass Tap, the beer-centric chain that recently opened at Mills Park with others planned to open soon.

It has 60 taps of craft beers, but other places in town have beer lists just as impressive. So what else would make someone want to come here more than once?


Dustin Hilinski Headshot copyDustin Hilinski has a big job on his hands. He is the director of culinary for a new seafood restaurant company, albeit a company started out as the largest chain of seafood restaurants in the world, with more than 700 locations. That's a lot of people to feed, but that isn't his biggest challenge. It's getting the dining public to reconsider its opinion of Red Lobster and to give it a second chance.

For Hilinski, that means putting more fish and lobster on the menu. You'd think that would be obvious, what with the name of the restaurant and all. But Hilinski thinks that Red Lobster sort of lost its way in its final years under the Darden Restaurant banner. It tried, he says, to be too many things to too many people, and in so doing lost its focus.

Darden, of course, sold the seafood restaurant chain in May for $2.1 billion to private equity firm Golden Gate Capital. It was all kind of a messy situation and ultimately contributed to the reasons that led Clarence Otis to resign as Darden's CEO and chairman. As it shed the brand like a crustacean during molting season, Darden said the company would be better off without it, citing that Red Lobster had not been profitable since 2011.

What happened to it? After all, this was the brand that launched what would become the largest restaurant company in the country when Bill Darden opened his first Red Lobster in Lakeland in 1968. He chose Lakeland because it was not on a coast, and he wanted to see if a seafood restaurant could succeed without a saltwater view. The middle of Florida, however, is hardly the middle of America. And getting average Americans to eat fish has always been one of the chain's biggest challenges. That's why, in its later years under Darden, Red Lobster was adding more non-seafood items to its menu.


Editor's note: The article is by guest columnist Erin Allport. Wine prices are from Wine on the Way.

daumas logo boutiqueI had the opportunity recently to have lunch with Samuel Guibert, winemaker and owner, of the French winery Mas de Daumas Gassac. I have been drinking the wines from Gassac for years and always enjoy them. The wines are affordable and the quality is very high so they are on my "go to" list for everyday drinking as well as bringing something fun and new to a friend's or dinner with family. Some of my most fun wine memories have involved the wines from Gassac. They just make you happy. The history of this winery is exciting and interesting. I also really love their website, it's very engaging and they actually re-wrote it in English instead of just "google translating" the page.


myntlogoMynt, the new and very good Indian restaurant in Winter Park's Hannibal Square, has joined the SJO Dining Deals Payback program with an offer that benefits Miracle Makers. Miracle Makers is an organization that aids mothers in high-risk pregnancies who might deliver early and those prematurely born babies.

For each certificate sold, $1, $2 or $3 will be donated to Miracle Makers. It's a terrific opportunity to try the exciting Indian cuisine at Mynt and to do some good for a worthy charity.

Follow this link to the SJO Dining Deals Payback page to learn more about the certificates. To learn more about the charity, here's a link to the Miracle Makers Facebook page. And in case you missed it on the first go-round, here's my review of Mynt Fine Indian Cuisine.


James Julie copyJames and Julie Petrakis are co-nominees for a James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef, South.Five Central Florida chefs representing four restaurants have been named semifinalists for a 2015 James Beard Award.

Kathleen Blake, The Rusty Spoon; Scott Hunnel, Victioria & Albert's; Hari Pulapaka, Cress; and James and Julie Petrakis, The Ravenous Pig, have been nominated for the Best Chef award for the South Region by the James Beard Foundation. All have been previous semifinalists. They are among a list of 20 chefs from Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Puerto Rico nominated. As has been the case in recent years, New Orleans is the most heavily represented city with five chefs named.

Hunnel is Central Florida's most nominated chef. No local chef has made it to the final ballot. You can find the full list of James Beard Award semifinalists here.

Regional judges, comprised of restaurant critics and food journalists, will choose up to five candidates from the semifinalists list. Those getting the most votes will advance to the final ballot, to be announced on March 24. The same judges will then choose one chef from each region or category. The winners will be announced at a black-tie gala on May 4.

This year, the awards ceremony will be held in Chicago. It will be the first time the awards presentation has taken place outside of New York City.

Who would you vote for? And which of your favorite chef didn't make the cut this time?