Strand ext

The Strand, the small cafe in the Mills 50 district, is approaching its seventh anniversary, long enough for most people to forget that it is in the space that for many years was Chuck’s Diner. So I thought it might be time to stop by and see how it’s doing.

I found it looking warm and inviting on a midweek evening, shaded lights giving a soft glow to the tables with formica tops and metal banding, the sort of table that was in my family’s kitchen when I was growing up. More eclectic work lights hang over an L-shaped bar that leads to the in-full-view kitchen.


Cuvee tables

KCuvée is aiming to elevate the wine tasting experience in Central Florida.

KCuvée is a wine education and consulting company established by Katie Bean and Carolina Marin (their first initials are the K and the C of KCuvée). Their tasting classes differ from others in that they’re not social gatherings disguised as wine tastings – the two are serious about providing an educational experience.

Which is not to say they don’t have fun doing it. The two young women are amiable and take a good-humored approach to the topic at hand. But they’re determined that even well-seasoned wine lovers leave one of their classes with some new knowledge.


First watch bloody

This is just what 2020 needed.

First Watch, the Florida-based breakfast and lunch brand, has announced that it is expanding its cocktail program to most of the Central Florida locations beginning Friday, Dec. 11. Twelve more First Watches (Firsts Watch?) will join the Waterford Lakes location, which had been a pilot for the program along with a few other locations across the nation. The soon-to-open Winter Park restaurant, in the former Cinco Tacos + Tequila building, had already announced that it would serve cocktails.

First Watch’s booze initiative does not include a full bar, nor will there be any bartenders on hand. You won’t be able to request a scotch and soda, say, or a dry martini. Instead, the alcohol selection will be limited to the curated cocktails, including the vodka kale tonic, morning glory (vodka, orange juice, lemon, turmeric, ginger and agave nectar), and the Million Dollar bloody mary (pictured at top), made with the popular Million Dollar bacon.

Initially, 13 of the area’s 18 First Watch restaurants will offer the cocktails (others are still awaiting licensing). To see if your location is on the list, check FW’s brunch cocktails page.


Prato to go

In March, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order that allows restaurants and other food purveyors with a liquor license to offer alcoholic beverages for takeout and delivery. Now two state legislators, Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg and Sen. Jennifer Bradley, R-Fleming Island, have made motions to allow off-site consumption permanently.

The booze would have to be in a sealed container and part of a food order. DeSantis has indicated that he approves of the measure to make the change permanent.

A similar rule has been in place for years. The so-called Merlot to Go rule allows patrons who order a bottle of wine with their dinners to take home any wine leftover, providing the wine is recorked (or the cap screwed back on) and placed in a sealed plastic bag with the dinner receipt showing the wine was part of a full dinner purchase stapled to the bag.

It’s not clear how cocktails and beers might be packaged under the newly proposed provisions.

In any event, it probably would not be made permanent law until June.

No one has pointed this out yet, but a recent ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States may have offered restaurants a path to stay open and serve as many people as they wish, inside or out.


KnifeSpoon dining

  • Knife & Spoon, the steak and seafood restaurant now in residence at the Ritz-Carlton, is nominated for USA Today’s 10Best list for Best New Restaurant. The John Tesar-led restaurant, which I reviewed in October, is currently no. 2 on the leaderboard behind Charleston’s Tempest. The only other Florida restaurant on the list of 20 finalists is a Pensacola barbecuer called Water Pig, which is my nickname for the guy a couple of blocks over who runs his irrigation too much. You can place your vote until noon Dec. 21 for Knife & Spoon here. You may vote once a day, which seems totally fair.
  • Virtual Dining Concepts, the Orlando-based business from Robert Earl and his son, Robbie, is looking for local restaurants to cook its brands, including two newly announced menus from DJ Pauly D and Mario Lopez. VDC offers delivery-only foods prepared in existing kitchens. It’s sort of like the growing concept of ghost kitchens though the company prefers the term virtual kitchen because it partners with restaurants that may also cook their own menus for the public – ghost kitchens aren’t in restaurants. The two new concepts are Pauly D’s Italian Subs and Mario Tortas Lopez. They will join Tyga Bites from the eponymous rapper and Wing Squad, which is not attached to a celebrity. If you’re a restaurant owner and want to learn about being a virtual – not ghost – kitchen, visit the Virtual Dining Concepts website. Speaking of Mario Lopez, you may recall that he was involved in Winter Park’s Cinco Tacos + Tequila, which is now a ghost restaurant.