Hourglass Brewing and Wako Taco

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Hourglass

With just a little over a week left to vote for Best Craft Beer in our Foodster Awards for Independent Restaurants (voting ends at midnight Aug. 23), I've been out doing some practical research. Very demanding, but I insist on it.

To that end, I met a friend at Hourglass Brewing in Longwood recently.But for some reason I hadn't gotten around to visiting it until now.

It's a big place and a big operation in terms of its brewing facilities. A big, boxy space, sort of like a warehouse with a bar set up in a corner, there's plenty of room for tables and stools and still space for brewing tanks, seen behind tall windows behind the back side of the bar.

They keep the beers rotating, as a good brewer should. In fact, the available beers listed on the website are under the heading Live Menu; currently they're featuring anniversary drafts with such variety as Auld Clootie (old ale), 'Round the Riverbend (farmhouse ale), Rusty Barnacle (American wild ale), and Apricaustic (fruit beer), which was concocted for the fourth anniversary. This year's commemorative brew is Giant Giant Braggot that blends two stouts blended in bourbon barrels and apple brandy barrels.

Pepe's Cantina Church Street

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Pepe church platter 1

Pretty soon, I'm going to have to start writing reviews in Spanish.

Or Spanglish, perhaps.

In case you haven't noticed, we've had a lot -- A LOT -- of Mexican, Tex-Mex and tacomongers open lately. So many that it was a factor in Mucho Tacos and Tequila's decision to close and make way for Muddy Waters, a New Orleans style restaurant (which we could certainly use more of).

But el market will supply what el dining public demands.

Tin & Taco

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Tin and Taco ext

Now comes another player in the craft taco game: Tin & Taco, a downtown quick-server hawking “Craft Tacos. Craft Beers. Craft Soda” from a small storefront on Washington Street just west of Orange Avenue.

The Tin of the name apparently refers to the metal trays the food is served on, the sort of conveyance usually seen in George Raft prison movies.

The Taco part of the name refers, unstartlingly, to tacos, though not exclusively. You may also get your chosen ingredients wrapped within a burrito or in a bowl with rice or served in a bag of Doritos.

Most of the selections are $8, which gets you two “tacos.” It’s nice, however, that you’re allowed to get different varieties to make up your twosome. I chose the Taco Bomb and the Tacosaurus and went conventional taco with both, though I was tempted by the bag of Doritos gimmick (and if it had been 2:45 a.m. on a weekend there would have been no question).

F&D Cantina

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FandD interior

I’m not sure I would call F&D Cantina a sister restaurant to F&D Kitchen and Bar, the Lake Mary restaurant that opened in 2015. Other than the initials, which unimaginatively stand for Food and Drink, and, obviously, ownership, there aren’t many comparisons to be drawn. There isn’t even much of an effort to make a connection by the two entities, other than a small link on the Lake Mary F&D website to an Orlando Business Journal article about the “soon to open” Cantina.

The two are different concepts, which, for the Cantina, is a good thing. If you guessed that the concept here is Mexican, you’d be correct. But the way it is presented is a bit curious.

The menu is divided into sections with headings like “dip,” Social eats,” “Plates,” “Soups,” and “Greens.” Then there’s a separate section called “Mexican Stuff,” though there’s a Carne Asada under the “Plates” heading and another separate section called “Tacos.” Not sure why tacos aren’t considered Mexican but I do give kudos for not including the nachos among the Mexican Stuff. Points taken away, however, just for including nachos on the menu after the OBJ article quoted Charly Robinson, the F&D developer, that the menu would be authentic Mex, not Tex-Mex. (Complimentary chips and salsa are also proffered, a concept that definitely originated north of the wall.)

But let’s not niggle. You want to know how the food was.

PR's Taco Palace College Park

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 PRs interior

I think I might know why it took so long for PR’s Taco Palace to open its College Park location.

You may recall — and you’ll be forgiven if you don’t — it was first announced that popular Winter Park dive would take over the former Taste restaurant space on West Smith Street in January. Of 2014. That’s a long time even when you take into consideration Orlando’s arcane permitting and inspection procedures.

But apparently they’ve spent the time making the place look old, as in well worn and broken in. The paint seems to have faded a bit, the walls are covered with the sort of handwritten graffiti you’d find on a bathroom stall, and the furniture has been over abused, which in the case of the booth I was sitting in means that the seat back was broken so that every time the woman sitting behind me shifted her weight I was thrown forward face first into the basket of complimentary tortilla chips (nice chips, though they could use a little salt).

Verde Cantina

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verde wall

Generally speaking, if you want to open a restaurant in a space that was recently vacated by a restaurant that was doing the same type of food that you want to offer, you need to make sure that everything about the experience — especially the food — is better than the recently departed concept.

Verde Cantina has moved into the space in Thornton Park that was previously held by a Tijuana Flats, the homegrown chain of Tex-Mex eateries specializing in tacos, burritos and other foods that are as easy to eat as they are to produce. Tijuana Flats is on few “Best of…” lists, but it built its empire on offering reliable food at a good price.

And you’d think that it would be easy to step up the game when following a chain restaurant into a location. But I don’t think that’s the goal of Verde Cantina. The new restaurant, in its early days, doesn’t seem interested in doing better, just good enough.

Pepe's Cantina

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Pepes Cantina exterior

Mi Tomatina, the paella place in Winter Park’s Hannibal Square, is now Pepe’s Cantina. While Spanish may still be spoken here, the dialect is more Mexican than Catalan. And there’s a distinct Texas accent, as well.

Pepe’s Facebook page (the website is still “under construction) states that chef Jose Baranenko’s menu “puts a new twist on traditional Mexican cuisine.” Inasmuch as fajitas and nachos — and burgers, for that matter — are Mexican it’s only because they migrated from the country to the north.

But I’ll not quibble about authenticity. I had a pleasant visit to Pepe’s recently, and if the cantina vibe isn’t quite in sync with such neighbors as Chez Vincent, Mynt and Armando’s — Pepe’s Facebook page is promoting an event called Cinco de Drinko — it isn’t any more out of place than, say, Dexter’s down the block.

And to be honest, the place was fairly subdued when I visited, even though it was a Friday evening. The small dining room was all but empty, but the sidewalk tables out front were filled. My guest and I didn’t want to be inside (and alone) so one of the staffers asked us if we’d like to check out the tables by the bar in the back. If the bar was there when it was still Mi Tomatina, it had escaped my notice. We grabbed one of the high-top tables across from the bar and looked over the menu.

STP - Sloppy Taco Palace

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STP tacos

You might expect one thing from a place that refers to itself as STP. You’d definitely expect another once you knew that the initials stand for Sloppy Taco Palace. You get both at this fun little place in South Orlando. The walls are covered with assorted signage, some of which would bring to mind the motor oil company, and the menu filled with tacos, sloppy or otherwise.

You won’t get a palace, that’s for certain. STP is decidedly a bar. Think Johnny’s Fillin’ Station but with tacos instead of burgers. There are some hightop tables, but this is the sort of place that if you walk in and there are places to sit at the bar and no one sitting at tables you’d be considered odd not to hop onto a barstool.

Which is what I did on my recent lunchtime visit.

Chuy's

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Chuys hubcapsWhen it was announced, in January, that Austin-based Chuy’s would be opening a restaurant in Central Florida, fans of the Tex-Mexery were enthusiastic. Many of the commenters were ex-Texans (extans?) who bemoaned the lack of good, authentic Tex-Mex food in Central Florida.

As someone who moved to the area from the Southwest, I can understand the disappointment with some of the restaurants that foist what they call Tex-Mex -- or worse, “authentic Mexican -- food but which is really no more than some tortillas with refried beans and melted cheese. It’s the equivalent of a cook boiling up some pasta, dumping some tomato sauce on it and proclaiming, “That’s Italian!”

But in the 25 years since I moved here, restaurants have moved beyond Flori-Mex and learned the nuances of Tex-Mex. Amigo’s under the original owners is one example; Cocina 214 in Winter Park would be a more recent one.

Rocco's Tacos and Tequila Bar

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Rocco wallIt took four visits to Rocco’s Tacos and Tequila Bar before I was able to sample the food. The first time I didn’t even make it out of my car. The restaurant had announced its grand opening -- and the promise of free food -- and the Sand Lake Road complex where Rocco’s is located was so jam-packed that there weren’t any parking space even at the neighboring strip mall. I don’t need free food that badly.