Waterfront patio

In case you haven't noticed, the weather has been incredible lately. After a winter with two hard freezes, we're ready to reemerge and start enjoying more typical Florida weather.

That means outdoor dining. So that's our next category in our Foodster Awards for Independent Restaurants.

Below is a list of semifinalists for Best Outdoor Dining. You may vote for up to five restaurants, or you can write in your own candidate. The top 10 vote getters will advance to the finals. The nominating phase will run through March 14. The final list will go live on March 15 through April 19. The winner will be announced April 20.

4 Rivers Coral Springs

Winter Park based 4 Rivers Smokehouse, which has a closed-on-Sundays policy for all its restaurants, will open its Coral Springs location on Sunday, March 4, from noon to 4 p.m. It will donate 100 percent of its proceeds that day to the victims of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The school, in Parkland, is less than four miles from the 4 Rivers Smokehouse at 2660 N. University Drive, Coral Springs.

“The entire 4 Rivers family is deeply saddened by the tragic events at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School," John Rivers, the popular chain's founder and CEO said in a statement. "Our Coral Springs Smokehouse employs one current student as well as several alumni,” he said.

In addition to the Sunday fundraiser, the restaurant has created a Soaring Eagle sandwich in honor of the school's mascot that will be available throughout March. A portion of the proceeds from the sandwich will also go to the fund. And Coral Springs customers will also have the option of "rounding up" their checks with the additional monies also going to the victims.

“Family and community are the core of our brand, and we’re proud to donate to a fund directly benefitting the victims’ families, ” said Rivers.

This is the third time that the smokehouse has made an exception and opened on a Sunday. The first was for a fundraiser at the flagship restaurant on Fairbanks Avenue in Winter Park following the Pulse nightclub massacre. And last year the Kissimmee location raised money for the families of police officers Matthew Baxter and Richard Howard, who were killed in August.

Here's hoping the 4 Rivers gang can take the rest of their Sundays off for a good long time.

TR Fire Logo

TR Fire Grill & Lounge, the casual concept from Orlando based Romacorp, parent company of Tony Roma's, has closed its Winter Park location. Sunday, Feb. 25, was the final day of operation.

This was the second location of the first TR Fire Grill. The first one opened in 2013 near Orlando International Airport. It closed there in 2015 and reopened at the corner of Lee Road and Orlando Avenue in Winter Park in February of 2016. In between, the company made vast improvements over the food and service and gained some loyal fans, but apparently not enough to overcome the increasing competition in that area.

Since opening the Winter Park location, Romacorp has introduced TR Fire Grills to Waikiki and Kuala Lumpur. Those locations remain, and indeed other Central Florida locations will be investigated to reopen here, according to a spokesman. "We have thoroughly enjoyed serving and connecting with the Winter Park community, but it is time for us to seek new opportunities and potential new locations for TR Fire Grill," said Jim Rogers in an email Monday morning.

DT food wine

The 10th annual Downtown Food & Wine Fest Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 24 and 25, in downtown, of course.

More specifically, it's along Robinson Street next to Lake Eola Park. Actually, some of it even spills onto the east end of the park. That's usually where the stage is set up.

The stage is for the various bands that will play throughout the weekend, including nationally known musicians and local groups. It really should be called the Downtown Food, Wine and Music Fest.

This event differs from others in that you pay a nominal fee to enter the fest area then purchase food and drink tickets to sample what the numerous restaurants and wine vendors are offering. Depending on the item and the size of the portion, one, two or three tickets might be required. It's handy when you don't want to commit to a three ticket glass of wine -- you can taste it for one ticket then decide if you want more.


On Thursday I chatted with event spokesman Jay Edwards at Hubbly Bubbly on Orange Avenue about the fest. Hubbly Bubbly is one of this year's participating restaurants. Take a look at the Facebook Live video we did with the folks at icFlorida. I also spoke with Georgie -- just Georgie, like Cher -- who showed me how to make a falafel sandwich.

You can get more fest and ticket details at this link.