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.


Cecils ext

I first wrote about Cecil’s Texas-Style Barbecue in 1992, the year that it opened on South Orange Avenue. It was in my weekly Chow Hound column in the Orlando Sentinel and I included it in a roundup of new barbecue joints that had recently opened.

I also mentioned Ream & Co. in Bayhill Plaza; Buz-moz Barbeque & Grill in Apopka; and Lazy Pig BBQ and Tavern just a few blocks south of Cecil’s. I also noted in the same column that there was a new College Park location for Carolina BBQ, a popular Eastern North Carolina barbecue restaurant on Curry Ford Road, and a second location on Primrose Drive for B’s Bar-B-Que Diner, which was near the corner of Mills Avenue and Nebraska Street.

You may have noticed that all of those restaurants have closed – B’s original spot has been a vacant lot for years, though the last time I looked its sign was still there. Heck, even the Chow Hound is gone. (Cecil’s also opened a second location in the Casselberry area that closed in late ’99.)


Festivalholidays top

Walt Disney World is continuing with its roster of attenuated Epcot events with its current offering of Festival of the Holidays, now through Dec. 30. Or Dec. 31, whether you believe the Festival Passport or the website.

Officially it’s called Taste of Epcot International Festival of the Holidays, sort of the way Stephen Colbert’s program is currently called A Late Show instead of The Late Show. It’s a way of acknowledging that things are different during the pandemic.

And speaking of the ongoing pandemic, I should mention that this Taste of A Festival is sponsored by AdventHealth. Perfect marketing. Go directly to the people most likely to need your services.

I attended a media event to showcase the festivalette inside the social distanceable World Showplace where we were able to spread out and have our very own table. (Still, some of the attendees decided to cram in together around one small table, so I hope there was an AdventHealth representative there to hand out cards.)


Island Fin package

There was a time when the only place in Central Florida you could find sushi was in a Japanese restaurant. Then – I don’t know, maybe 15 years ago – it started to show up on the menus of Thai, Chinese and even American restaurants. Sushi was suddenly hot.

At first I took a purist view. Sushi, I argued, was an art that should only be performed by those who had painstakingly studied the craft. Then, a well-known restaurant consultant whose opinion I respected told me to get over myself. Sushi, he argued, was a good way to introduce fresh fish to a menu and in doing offer a healthful dining option.

That’s how I feel about today’s growing poke market. There are some people who still would not deign to try sushi, but put many of the same ingredients into a bowl and they’ll gladly partake.

One of the area’s newest poke purveyors is Island Fin Poké Company in Windermere. It’s a small storefront in the Grove shopping complex, and at first glance you might think the menu is rather small. But with three bases, eight protein options, and over 30 mix-ins, toppings and sauces, the variations are infinite. (Well, technically they’re finite but I can’t do the math.)