CFRA logoThere’s a new restaurant association for Central Florida. It's called Central Florida Restaurant Association.

Al Gardner, president of A & L Associates, a hospitality management consulting firm, and restaurant and bar owner Jesse Newton and co-founded Central Florida Restaurant Association. According to the CFRA’s website, the organization’s vision is “To provide Central Florida's leading restaurants, bars and related allied businesses with the most dynamic forum to establish and nurture relationships with which to energetically lead the area's dining culture for the ultimate benefit of increasing profitability within member foodservice venues and to positively influence the overall economic growth of the foodservice industry in the great Central Florida area.”

At a kickoff reception at Earls Kitchen + Bar last month, Gardner explained that CFRA will provide a different service from other associations, such as the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA) or National Restaurant Association (the other NRA), which he says are primarily focused on lobbying issues.

CFRA, which will have monthly meetings for members, will hold its inaugural dinner meeting on Wednesday, February 8, at Funky Monkey. Nonmembers may attend, so if you’re a restaurateur who’s interested in a new organization focused on local issues, you might want to look into it. Details at the Central Florida Restaurant Association’s website.

Paramount falafel

Paramount Fine Foods is such a grand name for what is essentially a fast food restaurant. Quick serve at most.

Actually, I’m not sure that’s the name. I’ve also seen it refer to itself in various places at Paramount Middle Eastern Cuisine and Paramount Lebanese Kitchen.

Whatever, Paramount is a Middle Eastern eatery out of Ontario, Canada, that has recently moved into the United States with its U.S. headquarters on International Drive. A location there has been open for a while, but I stopped in to the newest store near UCF to give it a try.

China Palace streetGoogle Maps

This place has scared the hell out of me for nearly 29 years.

That’s how long I’ve been driving past it, usually as I turn left onto South Orange Blossom Trail from Michigan Street heading for the on-ramp to Interstate-4. It’s a route I’ve taken probably thousands of times. And most of those times I’ve been conscious of glancing at the freestanding boxy building with the yellow plastic sign across the top, just over the windows clad with metal bars, with the name China Palace Restaurant and a couple of Chinese characters.

Who goes there? I wondered. What must it look like inside? Do people really eat there? And then I’d turn my attention to the traffic ahead and gird myself for the only thing scarier, a drive on the moving hell that is I-4.

But like I said, I’ve been passing China Palace for almost 29 years, ever since I moved to Central Florida to begin reviewing restaurants. Nearly three decades in a town of fickle diners. A new question began to needle me: How has it lasted so long?

We’re in the midst of the Lunar New Year festival, which began on Saturday. And since this is designated the Year of the Rooster, I decided to stop being so chicken.

So this time I made the left hand turn from Michigan Street onto Orange Blossom Trail and then veered right into one of the parking spaces directly in front of China Palace.

 

Paddlefish concept

Those of you who enjoy chasing the newest and shiniest restaurants are going to be busy.

We’ve already seen the opening of Luke’s Kitchen and Bar in Maitland. (Watch for my review of the new restaurant from the owners of Prato and Luma on Park soon.)

Planet Hollywood Observatory last week opened more quietly than you’d expect a Robert Earl property to. One of the reasons for that may have been that a splashier opening — or at least a more fanciful pre-party featuring menu contributor Guy Fieri — was canceled when Earl’s daughter went into labor. Beth and baby girl are fine, but grandpa Earl opened the doors to the Disney Springs behemoth without attendant hoopla. I somehow pictured him in the style of a vintage Hollywood movie throwing a huge switch and declaring, “It’s Alive!” Maybe there will be something later, but in the meantime you can step right up and try out Fieri’s frighteningly large burgers. And don’t worry, the Cap’n Crunch chicken (though it seems to be called only World Famous Crunch on the current menu.) You can see video of the interior of Planet Hollywood Observatory and my interview with Guy Fieri, wherein I pronounce his name correctly after he corrected me on our first take.

Full English

Polls are now open for two new Foodster categories: Best Breakfast and Best Irish Pub. Extra points for a breakfast cafe offering a Full Irish!

Visit the Foodster Page to place your vote. Winners will be announced March 15.

The Foodster Awards for Independent Restaurants is an ongoing program to recognize and celebrate culinary excellence in Central Florida. The Foodsters are open to any business with three of fewer locations -- no chains.

Winners are chosen by you, with your vote. Make your selection in each category carefully -- only one vote is allowed per person.

You may nominate a restaurant for an appropriate category, but make sure it isn't already in the list of nominees. And remember: independent restaurants only.