Coop breakfast

I stopped by the Coop in Winter Park to try the new breakfast menu as the guest of the founder, John Rivers. The quick-serve restaurant, which opened as a fried chicken and Southern cuisine specialty, added a breakfast menu recently.

As you'd expect from any Southern breakfast menu, there are the usual biscuits and gravy, pancakes, and, marrying the dinner menu to the morning fare, the inevitable chicken and waffles. 

I'm an eggs-for-breakfast kind of guy, so I focused my attention on that part of the menu. I almost went for the fried catfish and grits (which came with an egg, so I'd be covered) but decided on the Low Country Omelet instead. It was a fat omelet stuffed with sauteed shrimp and bits of spicy andouille sausage in a red sauce that oozed out when pierced. It was plopped atop a bed of Anson Mills grits, so it was a bit like having shrimp and grits for breakfast. The biscuit that came with it was fresh and firm and it had me wishing I'd gotten an order of gravy to cover it with.

Rivers told me that the Coop is very busy for breakfast on the weekends but that during the week it's calmer. I'm going to keep that in mind the next time I need to schedule a morning meeting over eggs. Or catfish.

The Coop is at 610 W. Morse Blvd., Winter Park. It is open for breakfast Monday through Saturday at 7 a.m. The phone number is 407-843-2667.

Tapa Toro flamenco

Amid the myriad chains and franchises that are populating the area around the Orlando Eye attraction, an independent restaurant is a welcome find. And that it offers very good food and a fun dining experience makes it all the better.

Tapa Toro comes to us from Vassilis and Katerina Coumbaros, who also own Taverna Opa at nearby Pointe Orlando, one of my favorite Tourist World recommendations. Opa, of course, is the Greek restaurant where every evening is a raucous party of napkins tossed in the air to buoyant balalaika music and belly dancing atop the tables.

At Tapa Toro the theme is Spanish and the music flamenco, and here the napkins stay in the lap and the clacking heels of the dancers punish only the floor.

Gnarly Barley interior

I had driven past the little shack on south Orange Avenue that is the home of the eye-rollingly named Gnarly Barley for years without ever stopping. But when the restaurant I had intended to visit on a recent night was closed unexpectedly, and with no other prospects on my route back home, I decided it was time to pull over and check it out.

As the Barley part of the name would suggest, GB specializes in craft beers, with about 16 ever-changing selections on draft and an array of by-the-bottle choices. The current draft selections are detailed on a black chalkboard that covers an entire wall. Actually, it doesn’t take a lot to cover a wall here — this is a pretty compact little space.

Gnarly, besides its rhyming characteristic, I’m sure isn’t meant to be taken for its original definition, which is unpleasant or unattractive. Hmmm, well, it isn’t a very attractive place, but it isn’t without its charm. I’m guessing it’s to be taken for its slangier meaning, which is more like bitchin’, but come to think of it, that has multiple meanings, too.

Divas white bean salad

Savvy foodies rally 'round the humble bean, ready to entertain in style whatever the season. The bountiful bean's appeal lies not only in its versatility and rock-bottom affordability.

Tangy, crunchy, slightly sweet and herbaceous, this salad serves as a stylish side or veggie-lovers main course. And it's even better the next day. Rolled in soft, warm flatbread, it's a fabulous breakfast for life on the go.

Cress exteriorCress, the DeLand restaurant headed by the heralded Hari Pulapaka, will celebrate its seventh anniversary on August 29 by changing its concept.

Actually, there will be two concepts: Counter Cress and Taste Cress. Counter Cress, Pulapaka explained, has nothing to do with the type of seating. Instead, it will offer more casual dining (counter, I suppose, to the finer dining experience of Cress 1.0) featuring a la carte selections that have been popular on Cress’s menus over the past seven years.

Taste Cress will offer three prix fixe dining options of three- or five-course tasting menus, each with choices from categories labeled “Small,” “Big” and “Last,” or a Chef’s Tasting menu that will be at Pulapaka’s whim. Each of the tasting menus has the option of wine pairings selected by Cress co-owner Jenneffer Pulapaka, who handles the restaurant’s wine program.

Hari Pulapaka explained that the dining room will be partitioned to separate the Counter Cressers from the Tasters. Also, those opting for the Taste experience will get full attention from either Pulapaka or his sous chef, Derek Peters, from the greeting to taking the order to serving the food. The idea, he said, is to make every table a chef’s table. At least every table on the right side of the partition. Costs will be $35, $55 and $60 for the three Taste options, or $50, $75 and $80 with wine pairings.

Also, um, counter to what most restaurants enjoying continued success would do, Cress will cut back on its days of service. Beginning with the new concept on the 29th, Cress will be open for dinner only Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Beginning Sept. 6, Cress will offer a Sunday brunch, the only meal that will be served that day.

I’m sure the Sunday brunch will be popular for many people in MetrOrlando who have wanted to visit the DeLand restaurant but loathed the thought of a nighttime drive back down I-4.

As I reported earlier, Team Cress is fresh off of a big cooking competition win in New Orleans.

Cress is at 103 W. Indiana Ave., DeLand. The phone number is 386-734-3740.