Azul Foodster

I stopped by Agave Azul the other day and presented the Best Mexican Gold Foodster Award for Independent restaurants to Alex Burns, above left, and Richard Li.

A.A. won the award just in time -- it soon may be ineligible. As you know, the Foodster Awards are exclusively for restaurants with three or fewer locations. Agave Azul has just announced that it will be taking over the former Square 1 Burger location in Winter Park (should still have some of the new-restaurant smell to it since Square One didn't occupy it very long).

And, according to its Facebook page, the company has two other Agave locations planned for Windermere (fall 2018) and Maitland (summer 2019). At least they're not rushing into things.

Agave Azul is owned by the Rios Restaurant Group, which also operates Saint Añejo in Winter Springs and La Fiesta Mexican Cocinas (cocini?) in Port Orange and Ormond Beach. The latter two are not related to La Fiesta Mexican Grill and Catering on Curry Ford Road in Orlando.

Coming soon: Best Microbrewery Foodster Award. Who would you nominate?

bates ext

I drove out to Ocoee the other day and found myself back in 1988.

Well, not really, but as I had dinner at Bates New England Seafood & Steakhouse, I couldn't help thinking of when Boston's Fish House opened in Winter Park. That was when good seafood restaurants were hard to come by in Central Florida, which is odd to think of today considering we're essentially surrounded by seawater.

It's even odder that one of the best new seafood restaurants in town was flying its fish in from New England.

So does Bates. And just like Boston's before it, it features New England specialities like Ipswich or whole belly clams and seafood platters of breaded and deep-fried fish, shrimp, scallops and other things from the sea.

And it's all done very well.

Chew set

If you tune into today's broadcast of The Chew, you can see me in the audience. I'm easy to spot: I'm the one who isn't cheering, clapping wildly and laughing on cue. Sorry, I just not the type for audience participation.

But I enjoyed seeing the show being taped as part of the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. I went along with the folks from icFlorida.com to interview the show's cast members after the taping. Those cast members are Mario Batali, Michael Symon, Carla Hall and Clinton Kelly.

The Chew is a weekday program that airs locally on ABC affiliate WFTV-Channel 9 at 1 p.m. It has been on the air since 2011. You can see some of my interview in the video below from icFlorida.

And now, a confession: The first time I saw an episode of The Chew was last week, when I sat in the audience at Epcot. Here are my thoughts:

Epcot FW 2017 cover

There's still over a month left to go in the 2017 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, which began on the last day of August this year and runs through Nov. 13. Not only is the festival longer than in years past, it's also bigger, spreading out farther into Future World West than before.

Like other businesses in Central Florida, Walt Disney World was affected by Hurricane Irma when it hit the area in September. There was little damage, according to Epcot executive chef Gregg Hannon, but the storm did have an affect on attendance. Not only leading up to the projected landfall and the ultimate closing of the park while Irma was passing through, but also afterwards, especially with locals who were busy dealing with cleanup and facing unexpected repair costs. It's difficult to justify the expense of visiting the Food & Wine Festival -- and it is a costly affair that includes required admission fee to the park -- when you have to repair a roof or pay someone to remove fallen limbs.

And, of course, there's the heat, which makes some people want to wait for cooler times.

I was lucky enough to be invited to experience some of the festival's food items in the cool comfort of a media event inside the World Showplace. And I was invited to experience a Party for the Senses, which has some major changes this year. More about that in a moment. (Click on the video below.)