Meza interior

Meza isn't anything like Cafe Annie, but it's that late lamented eatery from downtown Orlando that gave rise to this Baldwin Park mediterranean newcomer.

In fact, although there is still a Facebook page for Cafe Annie, the address it gives is the one for Meza in Baldwin Park.

You remember Cafe Annie, don't you? If you worked in downtown Orlando over tha past three decades it was probably one of your reliable lunch spots. If you partied there, you may have included a stop at Annie for sustenance to carry on. It occupied a space on North Orange Ave. for nearly 29 years before closing in the final days of 2016. (It wasn't a continuous run; Annie closed for a time when the building on the corner was renovated for a car dealership. That's where Orange County Brewers is now.)

Lease issues, not to mention the announcement that Hubbly Bubbly, a falafel franchise, would be moving in next door, prompted owner Nabil Sebaali to look elsewhere.

He found a space on Jake Street just off the main thoroughfare of New Broad Street. Why he named it Meza instead of Cafe Annie is not known. (If you want to dive deeper into the history, Sebaali bought a restaurant called Cafe Fareed and renamed it Cafe Annie. Ironically, Cafe Fareed served American food. Sebaali named the restaurant after his wife figuring it would make her want to come in and help out. "It didn't work," he told me.)

Meza is bigger and brighter than the old place, and the menu is more ambitious. And it's all wonderfully delicious.


Taste overview

The numbers are in for this year's Taste! Central Florida, help Sept. 8 at the Orlando World Center Marriott. Presented by Uncorked Gourmet, the eventraised $252,031 to support the childhood feeding programs and services of Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida and Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida.

Technically its 29th year, Taste! Central Florida was previously part of the national Taste of the Nation. The organizers decided to go independent last year, which means that all of the monies raised stay local.

Nearly 2000 people attended this year's Taste!, which had competition from other charity events. Nevertheless, they sipped cocktails, craft brews and wines from 24 beverage vendors and sampled the food of more than 50 of the area's top chefs and restaurants.

Among them were:


bar louie logo

The former Mitchell's Fish Market space in Winter Park Village is finally getting a new tenant, the first non-seafooder in a very long time.

Bar Louie, the Texas based franchise chain, will add another to its approximately 135 locations across the country. There are currently three in Orlando.

Mitchell's Fish Market closed in November after nearly seven and a half years in the large corner space across from the entertainment and shopping complex's movie theaters. Before Mitchell's, it was a place called Beluga's, which was a precursor to present day's Big Fin Seafood Kitchen on Sand Lake Road; Blackfin; and Kovar's, which opened with the development in 2000.

Bar Louie refers to itself as "an urban bar made famous for our signature martinis, cocktails and dynamic beer selection." It serves food, too, but has become less known for being a place to eat than as a watering hole. An urban watering hole, if you insist.

The Winter Park Village BL is not expected to start shaking its martinis until sometime in the first quarter of 2019.


cafe madrid deli sign

A new restaurant opened Friday in the former Cafe Madrid space. It's called Cafe Madrid Deli & Bakery.

The deli and bakery should be a clue that it's not the old Cafe Madrid, which closed in January after a 28 year run. (It closed a week after I reviewed it, but I swear it was a positive review.)

The old CM was a full service restaurant, the new one is a counter service. Also, "We don't do rice and beans," said owner Edgar Ramirez. Instead, "we have pastries, sandwiches and tapas with wine and beer."

Cafe Madrid Deli & Bakery is at 4502 Curry Ford Road, Orlando.


deep blu mussels

One of the best things about Visit Orlando's Magical Dining Month -- at least it was when it was first instituted -- is that it allows you to experience a restaurant that perhaps might be beyond your financial comfort zone. At some of the featured restaurants, you couldn't even afford an appetizer from the regular menu let alone a full three-course meal.

Magical Dining Month made those restaurants -- Ruth's Chris, Eddie V's and Morton's among them -- approachable. The smart restaurants knew that it was an opportunity to woo new customers, even if it was just for special occasion dining, by showcasing the best of their regular menus on the specially priced three-course Magical menu

Then some restaurants started changing what they would offer. In many cases today, the MagDinMo menu doesn't feature any items from the regular menu. What's the point of that? Others make subtle changes, such as offering smaller portions of changing the ingredients used in a dish.

When I put together my "How to Do Magical Dining Month" video last year, which emphasizes comparing the MagDinMo menu to the restaurant's regular menu, found on most of their websites, I dinged deep blu seafood grille for changing the makeup of its Bouillabaisse (the regular menu had lobster, the Magical menu did not). I had previously dinged it for its inability to use capital letters and misspellings.

So I made a point of checking deep blu's Magical menu this year, and boy howdy, is it a bargain. At least on paper -- the three entrees on the MagDinMo menu range from $35 to $42. And since the three course special menu is $35, there's no need to pull out a calculator.