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Russells exterior

It’s going to be a while, I’m afraid, before I return to indoor restaurant dining. But when I do, I’m heading directly to Russell’s on Lake Ivanhoe.

Although I didn’t dine in, I did step inside the front door to pick up my order, and I was able to see that the former Mesa 21 and Gargi’s Lakeside space has been transformed into a beautiful two-tiered space with a three-sided bar at the entry level and a step-down dining room with windows overlooking the lake. It’s casual but with that touch of elegance that tablecloths can provide. Comfortable, welcoming.

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How to Chop Parsley still

Many years ago, I took cooking classes at what was then known as Peter Kump’s New York Cooking School in Manhattan (now the Institute of Culinary Education). I learned a lot of simple techniques to make cooking easy, and this is one I use all the time, so I wanted to share it with you in this video.

When you’re chopping loose herbs, such as parsley, you could just lay it out on your cutting board and attack it.

But here’s a better way:

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HamburgerMary ext

I felt the need to visit Hamburger Mary’s, the bar and burger grill in downtown Orlando, recently. The reason was the death of Sam Singhaus, a local entertainer and popular personality who regularly entertained at Mary’s as his alter ego Miss Sammy. Sam, who was a friend and one-time neighbor of mine, died Oct. 12 after a recent diagnosis of an inoperable brain tumor. He was 60.

Sam grew up in Orlando but moved to New York to break into show business. And did he ever. He landed a part in the original Broadway cast of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” a 1982 stage version of the 1954 film musical that played 15 previews and five performances before closing. (Considering the story line involves the titular siblings abducting young women to cook and do the housework for them in their backwoods home, it isn’t likely we’ll ever see a revival.)

But the following year, Sam was cast as one of Les Cagelles in the original Broadway production of “La Cage aux Folles.” (Search YouTube for the La Cage performance on the Tony Awards broadcast and you’ll see a closeup of Sam about 37 seconds in.)

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celeste drawing

The University of Central Florida long planned for a hotel on its campus. Last week, the Celeste Hotel finally opened, part of Marriott’s Tribute Portfolio of independent hotels.

And with the hotel comes a new restaurant for East Orlando: Aurora (there’s a lot of super-terrestrial branding here). It will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner and has an American menu under the direction – or as the hotel’s website puts it, the “inspiring culinary genius” – executive chef Mike Trudnak. Trudnak has also been the e.c. at at the contradictorily named Orlando Lake Mary Marriott.

Look for shrimp & grits, grilled skirt steak, pork tenderloin and a breakfast item called the Metro Pileup. Brilliant.

  • FK Your Diet, a breakfast and lunch restaurant, has taken over the former McGinnty’s Irish Pub on Hansel Avenue south of SoDo (SoSoDo?). The FK is for foster kids, which doesn’t make as much sense as what you originally thought it meant. But owner Doug Miller, who grew up a foster kid himself, has pledged to donate five percent of the restaurant's revenue to agencies that deal with foster children. There are two other FKYDs, in Fort Myers and Cape Coral.

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Foodandwine limited

Due to popular demand, as the saying goes, the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin has added a second date for its Food & Wine Classic: Limited Edition, part of its Sip, Savor & Stay Saturday events during the month of October.

The new date is October 30, and a limited number of tickets are available only as part of a one-night package. Prices start at $395, which includes two tickets to the event, which runs from 5:30 to 8 p.m., and features food and beverages from the resorts’ top restaurants.

Originally, the Food & Wine Classic – dubbed Limited Edition because it’s a more intimate, VIP-quality event this year – was to be held only on Saturday, Oct. 17. The Sip, Savor & Stay promotion was to conclude with an Oktoberfest-inspired biergarten on Saturday, Oct. 24.

But with the added date the event will stretch to the end of the month.

The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Food & Wine Classic has become one of the area’s best events, running two days during October and attended by hundreds. But due to the restrictions made necessary by the pandemic, a full-blown event was not possible.

But rather than cancelling outright – and recognizing that cabin-fevered locals were anxious for staycation opportunities – the Swan and Dolphin team developed the Sip, Savor & Stay events, which have obviously been quite popular.

Packages may be booked by calling 888-828-8850.