Pianos Will Duel Again on Church Street at Baby Grands

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Folks may remember when Howl at the Moon was a mainstay at Church Street Market, until that complex was demolished to make way for the much-anticipated (and now mostly empty) 55 West condominium tower. Howl at the Moon was a dueling piano bar where two pianists would get the crowd rolling and singing along. Now comes word that a dueling piano bar called Baby Grands has signed a lease for space at 55 West.

Aaron Gray, associate at Grubb & Ellis|Commercial Florida, who negotiated the transaction for the landlord, FFWO LLC of Amsterdam, said in a statement, “Howl at the Moon was very successful in this center prior to the 55 West tower being built, and we feel that this type of performance based entertainment venue is right in line with the spirit of Church Street moving forward."

When finished -- and no details were given regarding that -- Baby Grands will occupy 6600 square feet and accommodate 300 patrons.

It had previously been announced that a restaurant called Blend had also signed a lease. That report gave the impression that the owner of Pranna, a New York restaurant, would be one of the operators of Blend. In fact, the owner of Pranna is not involved -- some former associates will be the owners -- and was rather surprised to read that he would be opening a new restaurant in Orlando. He will not.

Blend is the restaurant that plans to use high-tech tables, which reportedly will cost in the neighborhood of $10K each, that will allow guests to order food and drink interactively through a computerized interface. We used to call them waiters.

New York Restaurants to Begin Posting Health Inspection Grades

Written by Scott Joseph on .

At the end of July, restaurants in New York City must begin posting their health inspection grades -- A, B or C. I guess we're to assume that a D or F rating will get the place closed, so there's no reason to bother putting one of those grades out front. And besides, who would choose to eat in a restaurant that receives a failing health inspection?

Which of course is the point of having the restaurant post even the average and above ratings. The thought is that if a restaurant has to be upfront about its rating, it will strive to acheive the highest grade possible. Here's a story from Food Safety News with more details.

I'm of two minds on this (there's a surprise, huh?). On one hand, I like the idea of transparency. And an informed diner can make choices based on all the information available.

But there's also the issue, at least with Florida restaurants, of the grading system itself. In Florida, the violations are categorized as critical and noncritical. The very word "critical" implies a crisis. But an example of a noncritical violation is not displaying a sign in the restroom that employees must wash hands. I think a missing sign is noncritical. Employees not washing their hands after using the restroom? Now that's a critical violation.

Would it harm a restaurant if it had to display a notice that they've received a critical violation, even if that violation isn't so critical? But on the other hand (two minds, remember?), wouldn't that make the restaurant strive to do a better job, even if it's something as mundane as posting a new sign?

Have a thought? Join me in the SJO Forum where I've started a discussion thread.

Mitchell's Fish Market is Open; Some Vow Never to Return

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Mitchell’s Fish House officially opened today, June 14, at Winter Park Village, but some diners have already been left with a bad taste in their mouths.

The seafood restaurant, which is owned by the Ruth’s Chris corporation, conducted a couple of nights of VIP invitation-only dinners over the weekend. That’s a standard practice, especially among corporate brands of higher quality restaurants. The guest list for the Friday and Saturday evening dinners included many of the area’s political and social leaders (which is probably why I wasn’t invited!).

I got an earful from one of them today. And it should be noted that the people who were invited to Mitchell’s opening are seasoned veterans of these dinners. That makes sense: if you’re a new restaurant in town, these are the people you want to impress from the get-go. You want them telling their other influential friends what a great time they had. You want them to come back - often - and bring business associates to entertain. Standard procedure for these dinners, which are also used as practice sessions -- dress rehearsals, if you will -- for the kitchen and serving crews, is to comp the meals. The VIPs get a free meal and the restaurant gets free publicity via word of mouth. Most of the people attending these dinners know that they are expected to leave a gratuity for the servers.

But my source, who asked that I not use her name, tells me she doesn’t know of any party of four that got out for under $100.

Here’s what happened.

Bogard's is Closed

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Bogard’s, the International Drive restaurant that opened a couple of years ago in the former Darrel’s space, has closed. Someone who answered the phone at Salt Island, sister restaurant to Bogard’s, said the closing was a business decision. I’m thinking the bright orange tax lien sticker on the front door may have had something to do with it, as well.

I never officially reviewed Bogard’s. My first visit was mediocre or slightly lower, and I just never got around to going back. It served a menu not easily classified that wandered from oyster bar to seafood restaurant to steakhouse. Its motto was, “The restaurant your mother warned you about.” The servers, almost all women, wore torn fishnet stockings. I think the place was going for a biker bar sort of aura. I don’t know why that would mean their stockings had to be torn, but I wasn’t involved in the branding decision. The centerpiece of the dining room was a clear plexiglass shute that ran from the roof down through the two-story room. Every few minutes a load of ice cubes would shoosh noisily down the chute to the bar.

Although Bogard’s is closed, Salt Island remains open.