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I arrived in Winter Garden 45 minutes ahead of my appointment, so I thought I would stop by Three Birds Cafe for a quick bite. I was almost late for my meeting.

Three Birds is an attractive eatery in the heart of Winter Garden’s downtown district. Its corner location allows for lots of window light and the interior is rustic exposed brick, hardwood floors and touches of foliage, including vines that hang from the walls behind the counter and the video monitors that display the menu. (Interesting side note: Despite its name, Three Birds does not seem to have a Twitter account.)

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I’ve often marveled at the generosity of the Central Florida culinary community and its willingness to donate, volunteer and participate in good causes. But here’s a new level of compassion.

Beginning this month, restaurants are participating in an ongoing Dementia-friendly Dining program, wherein family members and caregivers can bring people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia to dine in a safe and welcoming environment. The program was founded by Dennis Dulniak, who was caregiver for his wife, Nancy. Dulniak started Dementia-friendly Dining a few years ago but had to suspend it when the pandemic hit. Nancy Dulniak died in January 2021.

But Dulniak is restarting the program so others can benefit. As it says on the organization’s website, “Sharing a meal out of the house reduces isolation, increases social contact, encourages opportunities for engagement, stimulation, communication and creates memories that will be shared among families and friends.”

The Meatball Stoppe had been one of the first restaurants to sign on before Covid-19 hit and is once again offering dementia-friendly hours from 2 to 5 p.m. on Tuesdays beginning May 10.

Oviedo’s Town House Restaurant will welcome families on Wednesdays from 2 to 5 p.m. beginning May 4.

And Patio Grill in Sanford will have Dementia-friendly dining every second Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. beginning May 10.

It’s a start, but of course more restaurants are wanted and needed. If you’re a restaurateur and would like to learn how you can offer special dining hours – or if you’re a caregiver who would like to learn more about the program – visit centralfloridadementia-friendlydining.com.

Musical Chefs...Alberto Taboada was named executive chef for the JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes in March. He oversees the newly reopened Primo by Chef Melissa Kelly, Whisper Creek Farm: The Kitchen, and Knife Burger by John Tesar, which is now officially open, as well as other culinary operations. Taboada replaced Michael Dunton, who has been named executive chef at Rosen Shingle Creek.

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I’m not sure who was in charge of this year’s calendar, but having Mother’s Day come so fast after Easter was just bad planning. I want names.

But there’s nothing we can do about it now, and in case you haven’t noticed, Mother’s Day is just over a week away, May 8.

But luckily we have several good Mother’s Day dining options for you on our Holiday Dining pages.

Some of the highlights include:

  • A buffet with bottomless mimosas at the beautiful Hemisphere at the Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport.
  • Tap Room at Dubsdread’s always popular spread featuring carving stations of prime rib and roasted leg of lamb.
  • A special a la carte menu at the the Ritz’s ritzy Knife & Spoon.
  • Brunch at Highball & Harvest, also at the Ritz-Carlton.
  • Brunch favorites and spritz cocktails at Primo at the JW Marriott Grande Lakes.
  • And a lavish brunch at the JW Marriott Bonnet Creek.

Lots of other options to consider, too, but be sure to make your reservations right away. You don’t want to just show up with Mom on the eighth and not have a table. She’s just going to look at you with a look of disappointment, just like that time you told her you were going to finally get a job and make something of yourself and then took off to Aruba with a bunch of your friends and then had to call and ask her to send you money to get back home. You don’t want to see that look she had when you came through the door and slunk off to your room.

Here’s that link to the Mother’s Day dining listings again.

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This isn’t my first time visiting Sushi Pop in Winter Park, an off-Park offshoot of the original Oviedo restaurant that opened in 2019. For myriad reasons – please check events from the past two years – that review was never published. But I remember thinking at the time that the Winter Park restaurant was a mere shadow of its Oviedo self, both in terms of the quality of the food and the overall experience.

I still feel that way.

When it opened, in 2011, Sushi Pop really did pop. It was fun, not only for the diners who were enjoying having good quality sushi in a part of town that was still inundated with bland American chain restaurants, but also for the staff, who seemed to delight in wearing costumes and sporting wildly colored hair, all while still offering good service.

There is none of that at the Winter Park SP, and maybe it’s no longer the case in Oviedo, either, but I missed it.

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This month’s Local Flavor, the column I do in partnership with The Community Paper, features a recipe from a downtown favorite, Soco Thornton Park.

Soco has become a fixture of downtown dining, thanks to the cuisine of chef/partner Greg Richie. Here he shares the recipe for his Sweet Potato Gnocchi, which is a perfect example of the restaurant’s style of southern contemporary, from which the name Soco is derived.

Follow this link to see the full recipe at The Community Paper’s website.