Local restaurateurs and popular sushi chef among Beard Award semifinalists

Written by Scott Joseph on .

MosoHenry Moso is a semifinalist for Best Chef: South in the 2023 James Beard Foundation Awards. Photo via Kabooki Sushi

The James Beard Foundation has announced the semi-finalists for its 2023 restaurant and chef awards. In what has become a near annual equivalent of Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown, some Central Floridians are on the list.

Brothers Johnny and Jimmy Tung, who built the Bento empire, are on the long list for Outstanding Restaurateur, a national category. They are up against 19 other semifinalists, including Mohamed Ali Alkassar and Niven Patel of Alpareno Restaurant Group (Ghee Indian Kitchen, Orno, and Mamey) in Miami. Besides the Bento Asian Kitchen + Sushi restaurants, the Tungs also have Doshi and Camille, the latter a popup restaurant that will move to a permanent location this year.

Henry Moso, chef/owner of Orlando’s Kabooki Sushi, has again been nominated in the Best Chef category for the South region. Although in years past the semifinalist list often included multiple chefs from Central Florida among the 20 names, Moso is the sole nominee from the area. There are other Florida chef nominees, but most are from South Florida. You can see the list of all semifinalists in each category here.

Newsy Nuggets: Late happy hour at Tornatore's; Central Florida chefs at SOBEWFF; more chains and non-chains

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Tornatore hh

Tornatore’s, the popular College Park Italian restaurant and pizzeria, is trying something different with a sort of later-in-the-evening happy hour concept. While many restaurants will offer special pricing earlier, say, 6 to 7 p.m., Tornatore’s is doing it from 8 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9 to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. They’re offering BOGO deals on pizzas for takeout or delivery, and BOGO on wines for people dining in. Also, they’re promising special secret menu items. What might those be? I don’t know, it’s a secret.

  • You know BOGO means buy one get one, right?
  • When the 2023 South Beach Wine & Food Festival kicks off next month, Central Florida will be represented by Alexia and Rhys Gawlak, owners of Swine & Sons. They’ll be participating in an event called Chicken Coupe, hosted by Michelle Bernstein in Miami’s Design District, Sat. Feb 25. And on Sunday, Ryan Whaley of the pop-up bakery Parlor Kitchen will be part of the Grand Tasting Village.

Meet the new owner of Enzo's on the Lake

Written by Scott Joseph on .

KhalilJohn Khalil, new owner of Enzo's on the Lake, next to the Longwood restaurant's popular antipasto bar.

When Jo Anne Perlini, who with her then-husband Enzo opened Enzo’s on the Lake in 1980, announced in October that she had sold the Longwood restaurant, many of the longtime customers were worried that it would change.

John Khalil, the Orlando dentist who bought it, wants to assure you that he intends to keep Enzo’s Enzo’s. “This place is kind of an institution,” said Khalil. “I love the atmosphere, the feel and obviously the food.” And in the two months that he’s owned it he’s stayed the proven course. Most of the staff, including the servers, cooks and the chef, Brandon Parran, have stayed on. Only one longtime server decided to leave, “But he made that decision before he met us,” said Khalil.

Of course Jo Anne Perlini, too, is no longer associated with the restaurant. But you can also thank her that Enzo’s will stay the same. According to Khalil, who purchased the restaurant with his business partner Logan Berkowitz for $3.2 million, there was another bidder for the business – offering more, he believes – but that person did not want to keep it Enzo’s. Perlini chose Khalil and Berkowitz’s offer because they assured her they wanted to keep things the way they were. “We had to save Enzo’s,” Khalil said.

Owners of Enzo's and Soseki collaborating on new waterfront restaurant

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Riverside Johnnys extDiesel's Bar & Grill, via Google Maps

John Khalil, the Orlando dentist who recently bought the storied Enzo’s on the Lake in Longwood, has acquired another waterfront property – the former Diesel’s Bar & Grill in Daytona Beach – and has tapped celebrated local chef Michael Collantes to develop the menu.

Khalil, who goes by Johnny, said his first choice for a name was already taken so for now the restaurant will be called Riverside Johnny’s. He’s hoping to have it open in time for Daytona’s Bike Week in March but said, “If it isn’t ready, we won’t launch.”

Collantes, whose omakase restaurant Soseki was awarded a star in last year’s inaugural Florida Michelin Guide, said in an interview Friday morning that he didn’t want to describe the cuisine of the new restaurant as “beach food” but that it would be more elevated. “It will be things you want to eat with a margarita in your hand.” He mentioned items such as calamari and fish tacos, smash burgers and a Viet-style crawfish boil. Collantes, who also owned the now-closed Taglish Filipino-American restaurant, added, “We want to bring some of the Pacific to the Atlantic.” (Kirk Mayer, the chef from Taglish, will move to the Daytona Beach kitchen.)