Newsy Nuggets: Orlando loses a fine fine dining restaurant, no mystery on I-drive for a while, and no hooley this weekend

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Elize tuna

  • Sad news out of downtown Orlando this weekend: Elize, the very good Dutch-accented restaurant that took over the Rusty Spoon space just over a year ago, has closed due to the economic downturn brought on by the coronavirus. Elize was owned by Michelle Lagerweij, who has a similarly named restaurant in her hometown of Utrecht in the central Netherlands. She brought in Leon Mazairac, once recognized by Gault et Millau as the Netherlands’ most talented chef, to head the Orlando kitchen. The food was excellent, and the menu unique in Central Florida. Elize had recently reopened under the Phase 2 guidelines “to an immensely positive response,” according to a not on its Facebook page, but “the large economic impact resulting from the coronavirus pandemic has made it impossible for us to sustain operations.”

Another Church Street restaurant a few doors away, Ceviche, closed permanently in June.

Newsy Nuggets: Food journalist org. disbands, Beard Awards on hiatus, and a little bit of New Orleans comes to DeLand

Written by Scott Joseph on .


AFJ, the Association of Food Journalists, announced this week that it was dissolving the organization. AFJ was founded in 1974 when its members consisted mostly of newspaper food page editors and writers. It expanded to include restaurant critics – I was a proud member for decades – and, in more recent years, it embraced freelancers and bloggers.

The organization was a tremendous resource for collaboration among journalists covering food, setting ethical standards for writers and critics and encouraging standardization. I still refer to my crude stapled paper copy of Foodspell, published by the group before such things were available online (actually before there was a line to be on) for preferred spellings and food terms. (Food writers will generally go with the recommended Szechuan even though the Associated Press prefers Sichuan. And muffuletta instead of muffaletta.)

AFJ also hosted an annual convention with educations forums and ceremonies honoring best food sections, writing and reviews. In the salad days of newspapers, employers routinely paid the annual dues, contest entrance fees and even travel costs to attend the conventions. Those days are gone, and with fewer food journalists willing or able to foot the bill themselves – also, fewer food journalists overall – the revenues to continue as a viable organization are not there.

A letter signed by members of AFJ’s board said it had paid off its debts. But, “(W)e firmly believe it is ethically incumbent upon the organization to cease operations at this point rather than take on new debts without any assurance we can do right by our creditors.”

AFJ plans to serve current members through the rest of the year with educational webinars. Another sad marker of the diminution of traditional journalism.


  • Speaking of contests (it’s up there somewhere), a New Orleans chef will not win a James Beard Foundation Award next year. Or this year, for that matter. The New York based organization has announced that it will not announce the remaining winners of the 2020 contest, which includes most of the restaurant and chef categories, as it had planned to do during a virtual ceremony on Sept. 25. Instead, that program, to be broadcast live on Twitter, will honor the previously announced winners, including lifetime achievement and humanitarian of the year.

Even more notable, JBF is cancelling the competition for 2021 completely, saying in a statement on its website that it would instead conduct a yearlong initiative to overhaul the awards processes “with intent to remove any systemic bias.” What biases, you ask? I detailed some of them for you in my article Dissassociation: Breaking with Beard.

Some Magical Dining participants will offer a takeout option

Written by Scott Joseph on .


Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining, one of the year’s most anticipated culinary promotions, will go on as scheduled this year, beginning Aug. 28 and running through Oct. 3. This year, restaurants may offer a takeout option for people who don’t feel comfortable dining on site. Others will promote the availability of outdoor dining.

And the choice of this year’s charity to receive $1 from every meal sold is inspired: Feed the Need Florida, an initiative started by 4Roots in March to provide meals to people who are struggling financially due to the Covid-19 crisis.

Magical Dining – originally known as Magical Dining Month and limited to September – began 15 years ago by Visit Orlando as a way to help restaurants during the area’s off-season. Restaurants pay a fee to participate and promise to offer a three-course menu for a set price, this year $35. Often, the prix fixe menu represents a significant savings over the regular menu’s a la carte pricing. That’s one of the reasons that the annual promotion has become so popular with the dining public. And restaurants are eager to participate because it is a chance to attract new diners.

But notably, there are fewer restaurants participating this year. In 2019, more than 120 restaurants had signed up. This year fewer than half that – 53 as of Wednesday – were signed up and present on the Visit Orlando Magical Dining website.

Dandelion owner makes indefinite closing definite

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Dandelion ext

As I reported last week, Dandelion Community Cafe had closed “until further notice” after a dispute with the owner caused staff members to attempt to form a union. Now, the owner, Chris Blanc, has announced that the closing is permanent.

“Due to a variety of factors outside of our control, including the heavy impact of COVID-19, Dandelion Community Cafe is permanently closed,” Blanc posted on the restaurant’s web page.

Dandelion – originally Dandelion Communitea Cafe – opened in March of 2006 by Blanc and then-partner Julie Norris. It was an early adopter of plant-based and vegan cuisine and was a local proponent of the slow food movement popular at the time.

The two business partners had a rather messy falling out in 2014 that ended, following mediation, with Blanc taking ownership.

The restaurant, on Thornton Avenue south of Colonial Drive, occupied a small bungalow that was built in 1925. The building was painted a bright green, perhaps as a nod to being named, in 2007, a “certified green business” by Co-op America (now Green America), a Washington, D.C., based nonprofit group that recognized businesses that “operate in ways that solve, rather than cause, both environmental and social problems."