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TOTN 2015

Orlando’s Taste of the Nation event is coming up, on Saturday, August 8. This is one of the biggest food and wine events of the year, and it’s also one of the most important because it benefits Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry program to eradicate childhood hunger.

And we’re not talking about kids going hungry in foreign countries or even rural parts of the U.S. We’re talking about right here in Florida. A report released just this past Tuesday and highlighted in a story by Kate Santich in the Orlando Sentinel, stated that nearly one in four kids in Central Florida is living in poverty.

That’s unacceptable.

So something like Taste of the Nation is very important. All of the money raised at the event will go toward feeding hungry children right here in our own community. So the $150 ticket charge seems a mere pittance when you consider the good it can do.

And it’s not like you’re not getting something for the entrance fee (not that feeling good about yourself for doing good is nothing!). Nearly 45 restaurants will be on hand handing out samples of their menus. These restaurants donate their time, talent and, not incidentally, money to be part of this event. They do it for the cause, of course, but they also know that this is a terrific opportunity to show a large audience the kind of food they do at their restaurants. They’re there to impress you.

I have the full list of participating restaurant below, but I’m especially proud of the restaurants that are part of the SJO advertising family. They include Highball and Harvest at Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes; JJ’s Grille; K Restaurant and Wine Bar; MOOR at Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center; Taverna Opa; and The Whiskey. I hope you’ll stop by their booths and thank them for doing what they do.

Taste of the Nation is Saturday, August 8, 2015, from 6:45 to 10 p.m. at the Orlando World Center Marriott, 8701 World Center Drive, Orlando. Tickets are $150 per person and may be purchased at the Taste of the Nation webpage.

I hope to see you there. And by the way, if you can't make it but would like to help, here are a few other restaurants offering specials before the event.

Here’s a list of all the restaurants scheduled to participate:

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Hamiltons Supper Club Table

It was another terrific meeting of Scott Joseph’s Supper Club at Hamilton’s Kitchen last week. The entire Alfond Inn staff made all of us feel welcome and treated us to excellent service in one of the beautifully appointed private rooms next to the restaurant.

And chef Marc Kusche and his crew put together a five course feast — not counting a pretty substantial amuse bouche — perfectly paired with wines and, in the case of the first course, a special cocktail.

Hamiltons Supper Club duck

The amuse bouche was a take on chicken and waffles, with shredded duck meat standing in for the chicken. The sweet meat on top of the heart shaped waffle with a drizzle of syrup could have been its own course.

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North Quarter interior

The tagline on the home page of North Quarter Tavern’s website — “A chef-driven neighborhood tavern from the Citrus Restaurant team — might lead you to expect something a little grand, maybe even upscale than what you’ll find there. Heck, even the North Quarter designation sounds a bit highfalutin. Perhaps you envision something along the lines of Manhattan’s Gramercy Tavern or Tavern on the Green, where the dining experience is more upscale and the tavern tag is used ironically.

But no, North Quarter Tavern is truly tavernlike. The floating-island bar is the central focus of the small space. There is no separate dining room; tables, both high and low, are set about the bar, the school-teacher style wooden chairs complementing the wooden stools around the bar top.

This is a bar, albeit a bar with above average fare.

Yes, you’ll find a burger on the menu, even a Reuben sandwich and a meatloaf entree, all classic pub fare. But you’ll also find hand-cut wagyu steak tartare, grilled Scottish salmon and smoked Duroc pork belly. (The menu is under the direction of the chef Matt Wall, who moved over from Citrus, just across the side street.)

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Tornatore meatballs

First off, let me just say that I have not seen the episode of Food Network’s “Restaurant: Impossible” that features Tornatore’s, the cafe and pizzeria in College Park that used to be known as Caffe Positano. I haven’t seen any episodes of “Restaurant: Impossible.” In fact, I do not watch any of those types of “reality” programs. I find most of them ludicrous, and they seem to be more interested in embarrassing and humiliating the participants in the name of entertainment.

And I find R:I’s host, Robert Irvine, to be especially insufferable. I attended a local charity event that he hosted and he couldn’t have been more obnoxious. As a friend of mine always says, “He smells mighty good to himself.”

That said, whatever transpired to result in Tornatore’s was beneficial. It’s a small, neighborhood restaurant the likes of which rarely are seen these days.

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HoulihanThe Houlihan’s restaurant at Colonial Plaza on Highway 50 in Orlando will close on Sunday. A Miller’s Ale House will take its place.

According to a manager at the restaurant — who at first kept arguing with me that I was supposed to have been there Monday morning for my 9:30 shift — all approximately 30 employees have been told their jobs will be ending. (The guy who didn't show up for work today might not make it until Sunday.)

The casual-dining chain, which is privately owned by Houlihan’s Restaurants, Inc., has fewer than 100 restaurants nationwide. According to Nation’s Restaurant News, the company had been seeking a sale.

Miller’s Ale House is a Jupiter,Florida, based chain with 14 locations in the Orlando area. The restaurants have a sports bar decor and matching menu. A spokesman reached in the Orlando office could not give any details about the timing for the new location. 

h/t Robert Huss