Norman's at the Ritz-Carlton closing

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Normans Entrance

Norman’s, the fine dining restaurant from Florida’s celebrity chef Norman Van Aken at the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes Resort, will close this summer after 16 years. The final day of service will be Sept. 1

In a statement, Alissa Perez, director of public relations for Grande Lakes, said, “Norman’s was and will remain an incredible chapter in the story of our business and we are proud of what the team has accomplished since our relationship began in 2003.”

The decision to close the restaurant was made by the hotel’s corporate division at Marriott International. Company has a goal to revamp restaurants throughout its properties with an emphasis on company-owned concepts. Norman’s leased the space at the Ritz.

Perez said that a decision about what to do with the space has not yet been made, but it almost certainly will be another restaurant. (There had been talk of turning it into meeting space.)

When it opened, Norman’s at the Ritz-Carlton was a second location of sorts for Van Aken’s popular restaurant in Miami’s Coconut Grove neighborhood. It was there the he won the Best Chef: South award from the James Beard Foundation. Van Aken was also one of a few South Florida chefs striving to create a new cuisine that would be uniquely Florida’s. Their style came to be known as Floribbean or New World Cuisine.

In 2016, Van Aken partnered in a Mount Dora restaurant called 1921 by Norman Van Aken. Though it was critically acclaimed, Van Aken severed ties with the restaurant in November 2018. The restaurant is now called 1921 Mount Dora.

Yusuf Yldiz has been manager and sommelier at Norman’s for 12 years. He said Thursday that there had been talk that this change was coming — I had first heard rumblings about it a year ago — but that no one had mentioned a date for the closing until now.

Norman’s at the Ritz-Carlton is one of the last of the area’s fine dining restaurants, offering “white-glove service” in an atmosphere worthy of a Ritz.

Van Aken, who has entities in South Florida, was not immediately available for comment, but a statement on the restaurant's behalf said the partners were looking for another Central Florida space to relocate.

Beard Foundation announces 2019 award winners

Written by Scott Joseph on .


Well, at least it wasn’t a chef from New Orleans, for a change.

The James Beard Foundation handed out its awards for culinary excellence Monday evening in a black-tie ceremony held in Chicago.

Frenchette, New York City, was named Best New Restaurant and the title for Outstanding Restaurant went to Philadelphia’s Zahav, an Israeli restaurant. Ashley Christensen of Poole’s Diner in Raleigh, North Carolina, took the Outstanding Chef award. Kelly Fields of Willa Jean in New Orleans is the 2019 Outstanding Pastry Chef.

Orlando had had a semifinalist in the pastry chef category, a national award. Rabii Saber of the Four Seasons Resort at Walt Disney World Resort was a first-time nominee in that category.

For the second year in a row, Central Florida had no chefs even on the long list or nominees for Best Chef: South, a region that also includes Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Puerto Rico. Over the past decade, New Orleans chefs have dominated the region. Three of the five finalists were from New Orleans.

But this year the honor went to Vishwesh Bhatt of Snackbar in Oxford, Miss.

You can see the full list of winners here.

Bullet Point Buffet: No weak links

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Steer interior

  • Watch for The Steer Steakhouse to open in a couple of weeks in the former Bauern-Stube space on South Orange Avenue. As you can see in the photo above (courtesy of Alan Herrington, who also did the redo), the place is looking pretty good. Just getting all of the German kitsch out of the building, which began its life as a Pizza Hut hut, must have been a chore. The restaurant is from Herrington's brother Jay, who also owns Fish On Fire.
  • Speaking of The Steer, there’s still no word on when Bovine, the steakhouse that will occupy the former Park Plaza Gardens space, will open. But yes, the owner is sticking with that name.
  • Our friends at Big Fin Seafood Kitchen are hosting a Happy Hour with street food flare, Sunday, May 19, from 5 to 8 p.m. Tickets are $45 and can be purchased here. You can also see the menu at that link. Just go back and click on it, I’m not putting another link here.
  • The next Chef’s Night at Second Harvest is Thursday, May 23, from 6 to 9 p.m., and it’s going to be a stellar one. Check out the chefs in these sub bullets: 
    • Chef Jason Wolfe of Cuisiniers Catered Cuisine & Events
    •  Chef Scott Pizzo, chef de cuisine of Highball & Harvest at the Ritz-Carlton
    •  Executive sous chef Anukul Hampton of the Hilton Bonnet Creek
    • Chef Alberto Navarrete Arias of La Luce
    • Chef Rabii Saber, executive pastry chef of the Four Seasons
    • Wine for the evening will be provided by Quantum Leap. Tickets are $125 and can be purchased at this completely different link.

Dexter's of Winter Park is moving

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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Dexter’s of Winter Park plans to move to the former TR Fire Grill & Lounge space from its current location in Hannibal Square.

According to Adrian Mann, the owner of the building that houses Dexter's has not renewed the leases for any of the business occupants. He did not know what the plans are for the current space. The move is expected to occur in July.

Dexter’s was founded in the 1980s by Dexter Richardson as a retail wine and sandwich shop on lower Park Avenue. In 1988 he moved it to a space on Fairbanks Avenue where the Rollins College bookstore now stands. Mann joined him as a partner and the menu expanded beyond sandwiches. When it moved from that location, in 1999, to the then emerging Hanibal Square neighborhood, the retail wine shop part of the business was dropped.

Last fall, the four-restaurant chain was sold and split up among different investors. 

TR Fire Grill & Lounge closed the restaurant at 1035 N. Orlando Ave. in Feburary of 2018.