How do you know a restaurant is safe to eat at? Look for the sign.

Written by Scott Joseph on .

safe eats logo

Visitors to New York are used to seeing placards in the front windows or on the doors of restaurants with a letter grade issued by the department of health. If the restaurant doesn’t have a large, blue A, many diners will simply pass it by. A B or lower (higher?) is considered a failing grade. (And most won’t consider a “grade pending” notice on an established restaurant because that usually means it has failed an inspection and is awaiting a do-over.

Now, a group of restaurateurs has initiated a program that would put a new sign in the window, one that attests that the establishment is following stringent sanitation and distancing guidelines.

Those standards are set up by the nonprofit’s organizers and, they say, offer clearer standards than what the government lays out.

Safe Eats is the name of the organization and it what is displayed on the sign, in white and blue that is similar to the letter grade’s color.

The organization, according to a story in the New York Times, charges restaurants $69 a month to join and provides the owners with advice, training and updates on regulations. The owners sign a Safe Eats pledge to follow all the rules the organization sets out.

The only problem: Unlike the letter grade from the health department, compliance of the guidelines is not backed up with inspections. Certification is a goal, one organizer said, but for now the consumers just have to trust the restaurant staff to follow the rules.

Safe Eats is currently only in New York City restaurants but the organizers hope to expand it to other cities.

Would a Safe Eats sign in a Central Florida restaurant’s window put you at ease?

Newsy Nuggets: "Tastes of" Festivals and Other Stuff

Written by Scott Joseph on .


So apparently there’s a semblance of the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival going on right now. It’s being called Taste of Epcot International Food & Wine Festival and is a mere slip of the usual culinary extravaganza that occurs each fall. Still, there are 20 marketplaces socially distanced throughout the park and some inside the ginormous World Showplace, which allows for social distancing galore.

France is one of the marketplaces, even though the restaurants in the pavilion haven’t reopened yet. Canada’s kiosk is available, too, which means another year of that cheddar cheese soup that is so mysteriously popular.

This is the 25th year of the festival and probably isn't the way Disney would like to have celebrated, I’m sure. There’s talk that the full festival can be up and running later – it usually doesn’t kick off until the end of August anyway – but I’m even surer that won’t happen.

By the way, you can’t just pop out to the park and take in the Taste of... You’ll need to purchase an admission ticket in advance – no walkup windows – and have a reservation to attend. You can get details at the Epcot website.

Clifford Pleau, Original Chef at California Grill, Returns to Orlando

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Pleau headshot

Clifford Pleau, the chef who along with general manager George Miliotes made Disney’s California Grill such a popular restaurant that Darden wooed them away as a team to develop Seasons 52, has returned to the Orlando area after six years as a vice president for Bloomin’ Brands.

Pleau started with the Tampa-based company’s Bonefish Grill brand, switching it from frozen fish to fresh, then moved through some of the other restaurants, including steakhouses Fleming’s and Outback, running their research and development.

For his next act, Pleau has a three-prong business approach – after taking some time off and getting settled back in the area. He plans to do product development and endorsement; high-end catering (anyone need a chef for a six-night cruise on a private yacht in the Aegean Sea?); and restaurant intelligence, which he describes as a consultancy to help restaurateurs fix an ailing business or get started on a new one.

“Time to get back to health and wellness in my cooking for some fulfillment in the legacy years,” Pleau told me. I’m guessing that means the guests on that yacht in the Aegean won’t be served any deep-fried bloomin’ onions.

Pulapaka Steps Away from Cress Operations with Minority Ownership

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Pulapaka portrait

Hari Pulapaka, who along with his wife, Jenneffer, built his DeLand restaurant, Cress, into a destination for Central Florida food fans, has stepped away from day-to-day operations and is no longer listed as the restaurant’s chef.

The new majority owner is Tom Brandt; the Pulapakas are still listed as co-owners and Jenneffer continues to run Cress’s wine program.

Brandt quietly bought a majority of the restaurant last summer with the understanding that Pulapaka would eventually step away fully. In a message, Brandt wrote, “Was a little sooner than expected but Hari is focussing on a new cookbook and other ventures...”

In a phone conversation Wednesday, Pulapaka said he had remained involved as chef at Cress when it reopened as a full-time restaurant last August after a time as a special events venue. He stayed on for about nine months. “Up until just before Covid hit, I was running the kitchen,” he said. “When we were hit with this calamity,” Pulapaka said referring to the pandemic and the forced shutdown of restaurants, “I helped them in reorganizing.”

But he saw the downtime as a chance to work on his next cookbook, “Sinfully Vegetarian,” a sequel to his first book, “Dreaming in Spice.”

BrandtTom BrandtThe Cress kitchen is currently staffed by sous chef Phil Pierce and Sam Bove, both of whom were trained by Pulapaka. “As far as I know,” Pulapaka said, they’re “still practicing scratch cooking and sourcing their ingredients from local producers.” He said the cooks, and Brandt, consult with him from time to time.

“My stamp is still on the menu, if you read it,” he said, but noted that it may go “in more French directions.”

When it reopened in August, Cress celebrated its 12th year in business. During that time, Pulapaka has gained national recognition as a chef with multiple nominations for a regional James Beard Foundation Award, and the restaurant has won numerous awards, including two Foodster Awards for Independent Restaurants.

In addition to completing his cookbook, Pulapaka will return to his other full-time job as a math professor at Stetson University in the fall.