Pulapaka portrait

Hari Pulapaka, who along with his wife, Jenneffer, built his DeLand restaurant, Cress, into a destination for Central Florida food fans, has stepped away from day-to-day operations and is no longer listed as the restaurant’s chef.

The new majority owner is Tom Brandt; the Pulapakas are still listed as co-owners and Jenneffer continues to run Cress’s wine program.

Brandt quietly bought a majority of the restaurant last summer with the understanding that Pulapaka would eventually step away fully. In a message, Brandt wrote, “Was a little sooner than expected but Hari is focussing on a new cookbook and other ventures...”

In a phone conversation Wednesday, Pulapaka said he had remained involved as chef at Cress when it reopened as a full-time restaurant last August after a time as a special events venue. He stayed on for about nine months. “Up until just before Covid hit, I was running the kitchen,” he said. “When we were hit with this calamity,” Pulapaka said referring to the pandemic and the forced shutdown of restaurants, “I helped them in reorganizing.”

But he saw the downtime as a chance to work on his next cookbook, “Sinfully Vegetarian,” a sequel to his first book, “Dreaming in Spice.”

BrandtTom BrandtThe Cress kitchen is currently staffed by sous chef Phil Pierce and Sam Bove, both of whom were trained by Pulapaka. “As far as I know,” Pulapaka said, they’re “still practicing scratch cooking and sourcing their ingredients from local producers.” He said the cooks, and Brandt, consult with him from time to time.

“My stamp is still on the menu, if you read it,” he said, but noted that it may go “in more French directions.”

When it reopened in August, Cress celebrated its 12th year in business. During that time, Pulapaka has gained national recognition as a chef with multiple nominations for a regional James Beard Foundation Award, and the restaurant has won numerous awards, including two Foodster Awards for Independent Restaurants.

In addition to completing his cookbook, Pulapaka will return to his other full-time job as a math professor at Stetson University in the fall.


Dean Street int

The British government plans to pick up half the cost of the meal for anyone who dines out at a restaurant in that country. Well, up to £10 ($12.59) of the cost, not including alcohol. It’s an effort to boost the hospitality sector, which, as in the U.S., has been particularly negatively affected by the pandemic.

The incentive, called Eat Out to Help Out, was announced Wednesday by Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Despite the 10 quid limit, the discount may be used unlimited times throughout August and at any restaurant, even posh one, like the Dean Street Townhouse in London's SoHo district, where I took the photo at top last year. But it’s limited to on-premise dining and only Monday through Wednesday. The restaurants will make the deduction on the customers' checks and will be reimbursed by the government.

Still, it’s a nice effort from the government.

Star InnFenceStar Inn via Facebook

And in other news from Britain, a pub owner in St. Just in Cornwall county at the southern tip of the island has found a way to keep patrons socially distanced when getting their orders.

Jonny McFadden, owner of the Star Inn, has strung wiring around the bar with a sign that says, “Warning, electric fence."

McFadden has told reporters that the fence “is not usually turned on,” but the thought that it could be seems to be keeping people back from the bar.

I encourage the U.S. government and Central Florida bar owners to steal either of these ideas.


Aardvark exterior

For as many years as I can remember, there was a sketchy looking business on Ferncreek Road just north of Michigan Street called Aardvark Beverages. It seemed to specialize in cold beer, especially those sold in hand keg sizes. It was undoubtedly of an age where a business’s position at the top of the Yellow Pages (ask your grandparents) was paramount. Now the most important thing is the algorithmic ranking (ask your grandkids). Although I probably drove past it thousands of times, I never felt the need to go inside.

Then, a couple of years ago, it started to change from a package beverage store to a boutique cafe (that also served packaged beer and still had kegs to go, because tradition). When I first visited the reimagined business, now called simply The Aardvark, I found it a charming place to have a bite to eat and a glass of wine or beer (both now on tap), but it didn’t seem fully baked.

The reason, I discovered, was that there wasn’t a real commercial kitchen, such as one with a certified fire hood, in the back, so the menu was limited to items that mostly could be cooked offsite and then assembled in the back. Sandwiches, flatbreads, yawn. I decided to wait a while to return.

Apparently it’s time because the new menu has more ambitious items, including some that couldn’t be pulled off from commissary cooking and onsite reheating.



As of now, Visit Orlando is planning to go ahead with its Magical Dining Aug. 28 through Oct. 4. It will be the 15th year for the event formerly known as Magical Dining Month. Magical thinking? For those unfamiliar with the popular promotion, participating restaurants offer a $35 three-course menu, which often means big savings over the restaurant’s regular menu. One dollar from every meal sold goes to charity. Currently, no restaurants are listed on the official Magical Dining website. My question: Will the meals be available for takeout?

Oh hey, did you see where Florida had another record number of positive coronavirus test results? Sad news, but if you want to drown your sorrows with a drink from your favorite bar, it’s going to have to be one for the road – governor Ron DeSantis has extended the on-premise consumption ban for bars indefinitely.


Stefanoto ext

Approaching four months into the pandemic, I checked in with some area restaurateurs to see how they’re adjusting and what lessons they’ve learned to keep up with the changing demands.

Alex Martinez of Stefano’s Trattoria says he’s learned that the right packaging is key for takeout. “Shortly after closing the dining room, we recognized the importance of going from styrofoam to plastic microwaveable containers,” he said.

Martinez also said that he learned that delivering food is not easy if you’ve never done it before. “This can be challenging when you have no experience,” he said. Like so many other restaurant owners, he sees third-party delivery apps as necessary. And online ordering, too.