Vinia bar

We restaurant critics love to talk about our “finds” – new or obscure, out of the way restaurants that haven’t been touted but deserve to be.

I’m not sure a place that has been open for more than a year and is in the heart of Winter Park’s Hannibal Square qualifies as new or out of the way, but I sure was happy to find Vinia Wine Bar.

It’s actually easy to miss, even if you frequent the stretch of New England Avenue where it is located. The other restaurants – Armando’s, Pepe’s Cantina, Chez Vincent, Hannibal’s – are more visible and grab the attention of passersby.

Vinia is on the other side of the street from those businesses and at the top of a stoop in a building that doesn’t look like it holds a wine bar and restaurant. Indeed, until Fabio and Paula Gamba took it over last year the space was a shoe store. (Actually, from the outside it doesn’t look like a shoe store, either.)


KnifeSpoon diningSchoos Design

Knife & Spoon, a steak and seafood restaurant headed by Dallas chef John Tesar, will move into the space that was formerly home to Norman’s at the Ritz-Carlton. Schoos Design of West Hollywood, Calif., is doing the renovation.

Tesar’s Dallas restaurant, Knife, was named one of Esquire magazine’s Best New Restaurants in 2014, the same year Orlando’s Cask & Larder made the list. Knife specializes in dry-aged prime steaks and specialty cuts of meat.

The Spoon of the name is a reference to the spoon-shaped fishing lure, a nod to the seafood side of the menu.


Beefy reopen sign

If you had driven down Bumby Avenue over the weekend, you may have noticed a convoy of service vans surrounding Beefy King, the landmark Orlando sandwich restaurant that was the target of an arsonist Nov. 12. The fire was confined to the exterior of the building, but minor water and structural damage caused in extinguishing the blaze caused the 51 year old restaurant to close.

But thanks to the fleet of electrical, structural and painting service people, Beefy King was able to reopen Wednesday morning.

And Orlandoans came out in droves to welcome back their king.


Thai Express exterior

The little outparcel building in front of the Costco in the Millenia area is becoming quite the United Nations of fast fooders. There’s a Tijuana Flats representing Mexico (and the U.S. via Texas), a Sus Hi Eatstation for Japan, and now a Thai Express, representing Canada.

Well, yes, Thailand, too. But Thai Express is a Canadian-born franchise, which you might deduce from the Quebecois company’s Facebook page, which is in Frenchand the Millenia location is its first in Florida.

When I first walked into the compact space I was a bit concerned that this was going to be a Thai version of an assemblage restaurant. But it’s not. It simply offers basic Thai dishes quickly, just as the name suggests.


Grisham coverIt’s always exciting when there’s a new John Grisham novel. But it’s even more exciting when there’s a little bit of local color included.

Grisham’s latest, "The Guardians," takes place in Florida and at one point the protagonist sets up a rendezvous with a woman who suggests a place for them to meet. “There’s a place called Christner’s on Lee Road. Let’s meet there. And Dutch treat.”

That would be Christner’s Prime Steak & Lobster. Co-owner David Christner showed me the passage when I was having dinner there recently and said he had no idea the popular steakhouse would have a cameo in the book or how it came about.

One would assume Grisham visited the restaurant for research. After all, he knew enough about to place to have the character suggest sharing the bill.

Grisham passage