MagDin 22 lofo

Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining, the annual restaurant promotion now in its 17th year, officially begins Friday, Aug. 26 and continues through Oct. 22. That gives you 38 days to try as many of the 104 participating restaurants as you can.

You can’t do them all – we’ve had this talk before; no, you can’t – so you’ll need to do some research and homework to narrow your choices. I’ll explain my strategy in a moment.

For those new to town, or the otherwise uninitiated, Magical Dining, MagDin for short, first began as Magical Dining Month (MagDinMo) and was confined to the month of September. That was the time of year that Visit Orlando had determined was the slowest month for restaurants, and MagDinMo was initiated to generate business for the organization’s member restaurants.

The promotion has always operated the same, with a few tweaks here and there. Restaurants, which pay a fee to Visit Orlando to be a part of the marketing initiative, agree to offer a special prix fixe three-course table d’hote comprised of a soup, salad or appetizer, a main course, and dessert, usually with three or four choices in each category. This year’s cost is $40, which is a new high but in line with general inflation costs.


Bacon BitchBacon Bitch

A Miami breakfast and brunch restaurant with the unfortunate name Bacon Bitch (no comma between the two words, please) plans to open Friday on Collegiate Way near collegial UCF. The restaurant’s menu has offerings such as Main Bitch, Naked Bitch, Cafe Bitch and extras known as Side Bitches. I feel the need to mention that this isn’t one of those doggie dining concepts. I guess the casual use of the word is a generational thing. You’ll recall that last year a restaurant called Japango opened on Colonial Drive with a bento offering known as a Bitch Box. As I’ve said many times, coming up with a name for a restaurant can be really hard, but sometimes it can be an absolute...well, you know.

Here’s a good name: John & John’s. No, it’s not a port-a-potty business, it’s a pizza shop that opened last week in the former Mediterranean Blue Cafe space in SoDo. The Johns in question are Markaj and Cavallini. The latter is also the owner of Cavo’s Bar & Kitchen in Thornton Park.


EvrBar Takeover

Cafe La Trova from Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood is planning a takeover (non-hostile) of the EvrBar at JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes on Sat., Sept. 3, from 6 to 10 p.m.

La Trova, number six on the North America’s 50 Best Bars list – and number one in the South – is known for its cantinero style of bartending, which harkens back to the golden days of pre-Revolution Cuba. The word cantinero generally means bartender, but cantinero style is much more than a job title.

La Trova’s founder, Julio Cabrera, is trying to keep alive the cantinero style, which includes bartenders dressed in white shirts, bow ties and vests who know the Cuban classics like the El Presidente, the Hotel Nacional, daiquiri and mojito. He’s especially focused on teaching his bartenders how to properly make those last two, which are too frequently done using shortcuts.

What’s more, a proper cantinero will be skilled in the practice of throwing drinks. No, that doesn’t mean he hurls cocktails at unruly patrons crowded at the bar (that’s known as Miami Beach style). Throwing a drink means that instead of shaking the ingredients, the cantinero tosses the beverage from one mixing vessel to another. Actually, it’s more like a a high vertical pour from a mixer held high above the bartender’s head to another container held below the waist.


Bostons ext

Boston’s Fish House and I both made our Orlando debuts in the same year, 1988. The restaurant opened in February and I rode in to town in May. We didn’t meet each other until that November, but it was instant love, at least for me.

As someone who had moved to Florida from the desert Southwest, I expected that every other restaurant I would be reviewing in my new job at the Orlando Sentinel would specialize in seafood. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

It may seem odd now (actually, it seemed odd then) but despite Central Florida’s proximity to the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean their bounties made it into few of its restaurants. Instead, fish offloaded onto local docks were immediately boxed and sent flying to other parts of the country to restaurateurs who appreciated fresh seafood.

What made this doubly ironic was that it took a family from Massachusetts to move to town to demonstrate that Central Floridians do indeed appreciate good seafood. Want triple irony? The family was flying in its seafood from New England.


Se7enbites shortcake 768x768 copySe7en Bites

If you start to notice a lot of culinary-savvy tourists finding their way to the Milk District, it’s probably because they’re looking for Trina Gregory-Propst’s bakery and eatery, now known succinctly as Se7en Bites.

It opened nine years ago, first in a small former sandwich shop (which is a sandwich shop again: Bad As’s) before moving to its more spacious current location. In that time, it has earned numerous accolades and national recognition. Se7en Bites was featured on Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” — though it’s really none of those — and recently was recognized as a Bib Gourmand recommended restaurant in the first Florida Michelin Guide.

All the praise is well deserved, and Gregory-Propst’s delicious pastries are the reason why. In the current issue of The Community Paper, she shares her recipe for Perfect Florida Strawberry Shortcake in my Local Flavor column.