Royal INdian exterior

I'm always glad to see a new Indian restaurant open in the area. Especially since I lost my go-to favorite, Memories of India on Turkey Lake Road in the Restaurant Row district.

The newest, Royal Indian Cuisine, is a long way from the Bay Hill Plaza area — it opened recently in Casselberry — and it may not fill the figurative space left by Memories, but its food is good, and the staff is exceptionally welcoming and accommodating.

As with most area Indian restaurants, Royal, rather than focusing on the cuisine of one region, features dishes throughout the vast country. So there are tandoor dishes, biriyanis, meat entrees as well as vegetarian, and seafood specialties from the coastal region.


EsquireCask & Larder, the Winter Park Southern Public House from the owners of the Ravenous Pig, has been named one of Esquire magazine's Best New Restaurants in America in its 2014 American Food & Drink Awards issue. Owners James and Julie Petrakis are attending a ceremony in New York this evening at The Cecil in Harlem, which is receiving the magazine's Best New Restaurant in America award.

"It was an honor to just be in that category and be considered," James told me by phone as he and Julie were preparing to head out to the ceremony. "So it was definitely a thrill when we heard that we had won." He said they were notified by the magazine about six weeks ago but were sworn to secrecy.

The Petrakises are natives of Central Florida but didn't meet until they were living in New York attending the Culinary Institute of America.

Petrakis said the award is a coup for all of Central Florida. "I think it's really good for Orlando," James Julie copyJames and Julie Petrakishe said. "This is a big publication, and it's good that a local restaurant is getting this kind of recognition." He acknowledged that a lot of people have been working to improve the area's culinary image in the eyes of outsiders; the award, he said, will help do that. "I think we're just as excited about that."

Only 11 restaurants are being named as Best New Restaurants by Esquire this year. New restaurants may be open more than a year to be considered. Cask & Larder opened in 2012.

The other 10 restaurants on the list are: Chi Spacca, Los Angeles; The Commissary, San Francisco; Faith & Flower, Los Angeles; Gunshow, Atlanta; Husk, Nashville; Knife, Dallas; Nico Osteria, Chicago; Rappahannock, Richmond, Virginia; Take Root, Brooklyn; and Tosca Cafe, San Francisco.

Paul Qui of Qui in Austin is Esquire's Chef of the Year. And chicken pot pie from the NoMad Bar in New York is the Dish of the Year.

The magazine will feature additional coverage on its website and in its November issues, which will hit newsstands on Oct. 21.

Cask & Larder is at 565 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park.


OK, I don't want anyone to start talking about a curse. It's much too soon for that. But the restaurants set to open on Park Avenue in the space that has been occupied by oh so many restaurants over the years is experiencing some chef issues. Dominic Rice, who had been hired to be the chef at Boca, one of three venues planned for that corner on Canton Avenue, has left the organization. Rice had been working as a chef in New York when he was tapped to lead the kitchen at the new restaurant. What happened?

"I wish I knew," said Michael Blesser, a partner with SoHo Hospitality Management, the Tampa restaurant group that is developing the new restaurants. According to Blesser, the chef's leaving was abrupt. "[Rice] called me from the airport."

"Airport?" Rice said when I reached him by phone. "I'm sitting in my house in College Park." So, again I asked, What happened?

Rice initially said that he thought the restaurant, which has not yet opened, was strong enough that he could step away. But chefs rarely step away from a kitchen without having another one to step into immediately, which is not the case with Rice. There's obviously more to it than that.

According to others close to the project, the partners wanted Rice to follow the menu that is in place, and apparently popular, at their Tampa Bay Boca. Rice, however, felt that he would have more freedom to be creative and put his imprint on the menu.

But his leaving doesn't put SoHo back at square one. Rocky Tarantello, the chef who originally designed the Boca menu and was the company's corporate chef when it opened in Tampa's Hyde Park, is being brought on to open the Winter Park restaurant. And he doesn't have far to go: Tarantello has been serving as a consultant through his company, ROC Inc., just down the street at Park Plaza Gardens. Tarantello told me that he will serve once again as the corporate chef to get Boca open. According to Blesser, that could be in approximately 10 days. He said he also hopes to open the venue upstairs, a bar with food to be known as Park Social, at the same time.

The third part of the project, Atlantic Beer & Oyster, off the Avenue in the Hidden Gardens plaza, opened over the weekend and was busy with crowds attending the art festival in Central Park.

As for Rice, there was some speculation that he had been planning to return to New York for some time, but he insists that isn't true. "I'm fully vested in Central Florida," he told me. "I just got my Florida driver's licence today."


HH DiningRoom

The Ritz-Carlton at Grande Lakes Orlando recently opened its newest restaurant, Highball & Harvest, which takes the place of the Vineyard Grill. Besides getting a new name — which we'll discuss in a moment — the space was also completely remodeled and redecorated, which means that somewhere there's a closet full of tacky plastic grapevines and wooden trellises.

The new restaurant, on the lower level of the luxury hotel, downstairs from the main lobby, is vast, yet features multiple spaces for more intimate dining, plus a lounge area for solo or communal dining. In addition, there's a chef's table area that resembles a country kitchen.

HH Chef Mark JeffersChef Mark Jeffers of Highball & Harvest


Patsios logo

Patsio's, the Casselberry diner, will close sometime Monday, whenever it runs out of food. The restaurant was opened in 1984 by Bill Patsio and was originally a 24-hour diner that served hungry revelers leaving bars and nightclubs. According to owner Mitch Lantigua, the rent on the building became too much to handle, and the landlord would not negotiate the lease. "Our rent is just ridiculously high," said Lantigua, "nearly $8,000 per month." The rent increased yearly, he said, but the sales were declining.

Lantigua's father bought the business from Patsio in 2004; Lantigua worked as a table buser when he was 12 years old. Many of the people who now work for him have been there all along. "All my staff are the original staff," he said. Some have been there 20 or 25 years. "I've known them since I was a little kid here." Patsio's employs 15 or 16 workers, according to Lantigua.

Since announcing the closing Friday on its Facebook page, Patsio's has been receiving an outpouring of support from old customers. One former customer, according to Lantigua, flew in special from China for one last visit.

As far as the future, Lantigua was uncertain what will happen next. He planned to remove his equipment this afternoon and store it in his garage. A relocation is possible, he said, and something he'll consider. When I reached him by phone during the lunchtime, he said customers were offering to buy memorabilia. He said he had just removed a review I did of Patsio's for a column I once wrote about takeout food. Someone offered to buy it, he said, but he told them no.

As coincidence would have it, just the other day I was visiting a restaurant directly across the street from Patsio's. When I saw it I thought to myself, They've certainly been there a good long time."

"A lot of stories and memories were made here in this place," Lantigua said. What are your memories of Patsio's?