Madras Cafe ext

Orlando has a new Indian restaurant with an all-vegetarian menu that includes some vegan selections and even some that follow Jain dietary restrictions that exclude vegetables grown underground (potatoes, garlic, carrots) as well.

The Madras Cafe is part of the family of restaurants from Sunny Corda that include Mynt in Winter Park’s Hannibal Square and Saffron, which is just a couple of doors down from Madras on Restaurant Row.

The menu, which focuses on the cuisine of southern India, is extensive and may be intimidating to some, but Corda’s crew is knowledgeable (and patient) and happy to make recommendations.

I left the ordering to one of Madras’s managers and brought home a veritable feast of tastes and textures and myriad spices.

It included my first thali to go.


togo sack

Below are the finalists for Best Takeout 2020.

You may vote for only one restaurant one time. Write-in candidates are not accepted. When deciding whom to vote for, consider the food, of course, but also consider the takeout experience. Give special consideration to the restaurants that have had to reconfigure their business model to provide takeout during the pandemic.

Items for evaluation:

  • Takeout menu: Is there a special menu that focuses on foods that are appropriate for takeout
  • Ease of ordering: If by phone, is the person taking the order courteous and careful? If online, are the descriptions concise and thorough, and are you able to complete the transaction easily?
  • Pickup experience: Was the food ready when promised? Was curbside pickup provided?
  • Packaging of the order: Clearly marked containers and attention to items that might spill.
  • Quality of the food: Was everything properly prepared and did it taste good? No need to deduct points for food that has to be reheated – that’s sometimes the nature of takeout.

After placing your vote, leave a comment below telling us who you voted for and why. (Be sure to mention the restaurant’s name; we can’t see who you voted for.)

Voting ends Sunday, June 14, at midnight.


Old Jailhouse extrior

The Old Jailhouse restaurant in Sanford has been on lockdown since early April, choosing to forego even takeout or delivery, waiting for a reprieve from the governor announcing a reopening.

When that day comes, Bram Fowler will not return to his role as executive chef. In a note, Fowler cited “many different reasons” as part of his decision to sever ties with the restaurant, which has had a tumultuous young life.

It opened to critical acclaim in Spring of 2019, taking over an old building that at one time had been the Seminole County jailhouse. It won Foodster Awards that year for Best New Restaurant and Best Restaurant Overall.

But shortly after it opened, its owner Anthony Sirica was arrested and charged with attempted sexual battery and indecent exposure. The accuser was a contract worker hired by Sirica to clear out a storage unit. She was not employed at the restaurant. A call to Sirica’s lawyer, David Webster, for an update on the status of the case was not immediately returned. Earlier this year, Webster had expected the case to be resolved by April.

Fowler did not comment whether the owner’s legal problem factored into his decision to leave. A new chef is expected to take over the kitchen but details were not available Wednesday morning.

Bram Fowler has been one of the area’s more celebrated chefs for many years. With his wife, Geraldine, he owned Journeys, a popular Longwood restaurant. Geraldine Fowler had been handling Old Jailhouse’s social media. She, too, has severed ties with the restaurant.


Hungerst togo tacos

Being a fan of alliterative literature, I can think of only one thing better than Taco Tuesday: Taco Tuesday Takeout.

Surprisingly, the first two taquerias I looked up online had no information about takeout, let alone their safety protocols. But when I got to the website for Hunger St. Tacos, it clearly listed curbside pickup as an option on its front page.

What’s more, it’s initiated an online menu system that makes it easy to place a contactless order – you don’t even have to speak to anyone. I chose to call in my order anyway.

My quarantine companion and I each ordered a taco and a quesadilla. Together we shared the Fried Avocado and El Mañanero tacos and the Rajas con Crema and Campechana quesadillas.


Big Fin check

Big Fin Seafood Kitchen, the Restaurant Row favorite, has managed to keep operating the last couple of months providing takeout and delivery, but it did it with a skeleton crew of mainly managerial staffers. The bulk of the restaurant’s employees were furloughed.

And those of you who continued to order Big Fin’s Scallops Orleans, Crab Cakes and other delicious delicacies showed your appreciation with generous tips.

But general manager Michael Venutolo, who joined Big Fin just before the shutdown and who is the restaurant’s first GM in its 11 year history (!), didn't feel right keeping the tips. “We were still getting paychecks,” Venutolo told a reporter for WKMG News 6, “the hardworking staff weren’t.” So he proposed to the management team that they set the gratuities aside and save them for the regular staffers when they returned.

So they did. They saved $5,000 in tips.

Big Fin doesn’t just have a new general manager, it has new owners, Philippe Villain and Kevin O’Donnell. And the two of them decided they would match what was in the tip jar and increase it to 10 grand.

And that’s what will be distributed to the employees as they return to work.

I thought you could use a little good news today.

Here's a link to the story News 6 ran.