Itsa Chicken

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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You’d think Itsa Chicken would be a sufficiently self-identifying name for a restaurant. But it’s actually a little too succinct. Maybe Itsa Chicken Sandwich would be better, or Itsa Fried Chicken Sandwich, because that’s essentially what this new Milk District eatery offers.

And before we go any further, I feel compelled to mention that the logo for the business includes the apostrophe that makes the name more grammatically correct. But all other references on the business’s web and Facebook pages are Itsa, so it’s how I’ll refer to it here. Grudgingly.

Itsa Chicken is a hole in the wall, literally. It occupies a corner of Whiskey Lou’s Lounge, a longtime cocktail slinger from pre-Milk District designation days. A window was punched out for walkup orders. There are a few stools at a railing overlooking Bumby Avenue, and Lou’s, which recently went smoke-free (perhaps you saw the headlines about Hell freezing over), put in a back patio, so I assume chicken sandwich eaters would be welcome there as long as they’re also drinking from Lou’s. Heck, you may even be allowed indoors with the nonsmokers as long as you’re imbibing. But walking your sandwich across the parking lot to the new Milkhouse food hall would be bad form.

The Catfish Place of Apopka

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I have just enough time to induct the Catfish Place of Apopka into our list of Orlando Classics before it goes away forever. After 38 years, the restaurant has been sold and will soon change its name to Nauti Lobstah.

Michael Rumplik and his wife, Cara, along with Christine Gonzalez purchased the landmark eatery from Bob Johnson last month. Rumplik’s name should be familiar to longtime readers as the executive chef at Rosen Centre, where he oversaw Everglades restaurant. So he knows seafood (though one of my favorite Rumplik dishes is his focaccia-crusted lamb).

But devoted Catfish Placers should take heart: Rumplik says that although he’s adding to the menu – a live lobster tank is now on premises and he’s featuring more oysters and clams – he has no intention of deleting the erstwhile eponymous items. Translation: Catfish will still be available. “I kept many of Bob’s recipes and favorites on the menu,” Rumplik told me by phone. “I want to keep everybody happy and content.”

Francesco's Ristorante & Pizzeria

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I hadn’t visited Francesco’s, the Maitland ristorante and pizzeria, since it opened in 2012, so I thought it was time to go back and see how it’s doing.

Nicely, for the most part.

The restaurant was doing brisk business on a recent cold and drizzly night with people glad to accept outdoor tables. My guest and I preferred a table inside and waited patiently between the host stand and the counter of the open kitchen, which was strewn with packets of tablecloths (though tables were covered with sheets of paper), bins of flatware and various wine bottles, some full, some not.

Lu Garden

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I got Chinese food from Lu Garden the other day.

“Leu Gardens sells Chinese food?”

No, not Leu Gardens, Lu Garden.

“You mean Chuan Lu Garden?”

No, but Lu Garden has some good food to chew on.

Lu Garden is a compact, unassuming restaurant in a small strip mall on Conroy Winermere Road between Kirkman road and Dr. Phillips Boulevard. It seems the space was previously occupied by a business called Magic Wok, but Magic Wok apparently went poof.

I needed to order some food to take to a business meeting and found Lu Garden’s website. It was easy to navigate and had a user-friendly ordering feature. I grabbed some items and put them in my cart, easily choosing the side selections for each entree.

Corner Pizza Bar

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OK, this is going to get a little confusing, so stay with me.

There’s a new business occupying the space in downtown Orlando that most recently was the food hall Market On Magnolia and before that Frank ’n Steins, which opened in 2011. Taking a cue from its location at the intersection of Magnolia Avenue and Church Street, the new place is called The Corner Pizza Bar. It is owned by Diana and Alejandro Ranalli, who also own a restaurant called Italian House on Crystal Lake Drive just north of Curry Ford Road in a former Pizza Hut hut.

The Ranallis bought Italian House in 2019 after selling Ragazzi’s on Edgewater Drive in College Park. What’s confusing to me – and I’ll admit to facile befuddlement these days – is that the website for the Italian House states that it has been “serving Orlando since 1989.”

But in May of 2001, I reviewed a restaurant with the same address as Italian House called Cherazi’s. It may still have been a Pizza Hut before Cherazi’s because I mentioned in the review that I had once walked in while it was a PH and found it so unkempt and unclean-looking that I turned around and left. And in between Cherazi’s and Italian House, the restaurant was known as Italian Pie and Pasta House.

(Property records, by the way, would suggest the hut was constructed in 1971.)

So what does all this mean? I was hoping you could tell me. At the very least, you can take the “serving since...” with a grain of salt, or in this case sale.

But I left you waiting on the corner, so let’s go back there.

Shanghai Lane

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At Shanghai Lane it’s all about the soup dumplings. There are other things on the small menu of this quick-serve restaurant in west Orlando’s Chinatown mall at Westside Crossing, but it’s the soup dumplings that have fascinated most of the people who come here.

Officially, they’re known as Nanxiang soup dumplings, and they look like any other pot sticker except that they are filled with broth. The fascination comes from a curiosity similar to anyone who has studied a ship model inside a bottle – how did they get that in there?

Shakers American Cafe

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Every so often, I like to stop by Shakers American Cafe, the longtime College Park diner, to remind myself what great food it serves. I go in expecting good, basic fare and I’m always impressed that it rises a few levels above that.

That was the case recently when a friend and I stopped in for a between breakfast and lunch meal – we didn’t call it brunch because that sounded inappropriately tony, and we were definitely there for breakfast.

My eyes were drawn immediately to the blackboard outside the restaurant that listed short rib hash as one of the day’s special. I’m a sucker for breakfast hash. If you’re ever sitting in a diner that has hash on its menu and you see me walk in, make a bet with your dining companion on what I’m going to order; you’re almost sure to win.

Boca Winter Park

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Whenever there’s a big change in a restaurant I’ve formerly reviewed, I like to return to see if there have been any major differences in the operation, whether it’s the food, the service or the physical surroundings.

I told you recently that Boca, the Park Avenue restaurant that opened in late 2014, had been sold. It was originally owned by a group out of Sarasota, where the original Boca was. (Curiously, there were no Bocas in actual Boca.)

The new owner is Artistry Restaurants, a relatively new group based in Winter Park that also operates Burger U at UCF. It also took ownership of Atlantic Beer and Oyster, the seafood bar in the Hidden Garden off Park Avenue, as well as the original Sarasota location. (A third Boca in Tampa’s Hyde Park had previously closed.)

Ownership changed several months ago, and after verifying that the kitchen had made all of the adjustments it was going to do, I decided to head back and check it out. I can report to you that Boca is virtually the same as it was when I first reviewed it in 2015.


Wa Sushi

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Wa Sushi, the popular Casselberry restaurant, was closed for almost exactly a year, from February 2020 to February 2021. The reason for closing was not pandemic related – we didn’t start seeing closures until the following month. Instead, according to a post on the restaurant’s Facebook page at the time, there was an issue with drainage at its original location that forced it to close and look for a place to relocate.

But really, if you had to close your restaurant for a year, 2020 was the perfect choice.

George's Cafe

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The last time I had the sandwich known as the Abigail, it was at George’s Gourmet Cookie’s in a small storefront space at the corner of Lee Road and Orlando Avenue in what was then the Kmart-anchored shopping plaza. The sandwich, a take on a reuben, was revelatory. And even though it was in 2016 that I had it, that sandwich came to mind often – usually anytime I ordered a reuben elsewhere only to be disappointed in comparison.

Sometime during the haze of the pandemic, George’s moved to Park Avenue, taking over the former Brandywine Deli space. Gourmet Cookies was dropped from the name, but not from the menu, and it is now known as George’s Cafe.