Stasio's Italian Deli

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Stasio exterior

When I first reviewed Stasio’s Italian Deli & Market, exactly two years and one day ago, I mused that the then-new business was still a work in progress and that the people behind might not be sure exactly what they wanted the place to be. It wasn’t exactly a restaurant and the market wasn’t very amply stocked.

Both those observations are true today. What’s more, Stasio’s doesn’t do a very good job of marketing. It still doesn’t have a website, and its Facebook page lacks basic information like hours of operation and a menu.

But damn does it make good food.

Uncommon Catering & Eatery

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Uncommon plated

When Uncommon Catering, a culinary service that started in 2015 using the incubator kitchen at East End Market, decided earlier this year to relocate to a storefront on Curry Ford Road, it added the words & Eatery to its name. The idea of owners Tara Vernau and Travis Smith was to offer a small dine-in space as well as foods to go while continuing to operate a catering business out of their very own kitchen.

Just as that vision was coming into focus, in late February, 2020 happened.

Russell's on Lake Ivanhoe

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Russells exterior

It’s going to be a while, I’m afraid, before I return to indoor restaurant dining. But when I do, I’m heading directly to Russell’s on Lake Ivanhoe.

Although I didn’t dine in, I did step inside the front door to pick up my order, and I was able to see that the former Mesa 21 and Gargi’s Lakeside space has been transformed into a beautiful two-tiered space with a three-sided bar at the entry level and a step-down dining room with windows overlooking the lake. It’s casual but with that touch of elegance that tablecloths can provide. Comfortable, welcoming.

Hamburger Mary's

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I felt the need to visit Hamburger Mary’s, the bar and burger grill in downtown Orlando, recently. The reason was the death of Sam Singhaus, a local entertainer and popular personality who regularly entertained at Mary’s as his alter ego Miss Sammy. Sam, who was a friend and one-time neighbor of mine, died Oct. 12 after a recent diagnosis of an inoperable brain tumor. He was 60.

Sam grew up in Orlando but moved to New York to break into show business. And did he ever. He landed a part in the original Broadway cast of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” a 1982 stage version of the 1954 film musical that played 15 previews and five performances before closing. (Considering the story line involves the titular siblings abducting young women to cook and do the housework for them in their backwoods home, it isn’t likely we’ll ever see a revival.)

But the following year, Sam was cast as one of Les Cagelles in the original Broadway production of “La Cage aux Folles.” (Search YouTube for the La Cage performance on the Tony Awards broadcast and you’ll see a closeup of Sam about 37 seconds in.)

Sear + Sea Woodfire Grill

Written by Scott Joseph on .

SearSea verandah

Seemingly out of nowhere, a big new JW Marriott has appeared and along with it a pretty darned good restaurant, Sear + Sea Woodfire Grill.

The hotel is a new neighbor of other large hotels like the Waldorf Astoria, Hilton and Wyndham in the area known as Bonnet Creek. In fact, if you sit on the restaurant’s comfortably spacious veranda, as I did on my recent visit, you’ll have a view of the actual creek and its woody banks just below.

As you might deduce from the clever name, Sear + Sea is a steak and seafood restaurant, which might sound a bit ho-hum at first. But the menu, under the direction of chef de cuisine Alex Pyser, is creative and appealing.

Cavo's Kitchen & Bar

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Cavo’s Bar & Kitchen was another of those restaurants I had visited just before the shutdown in March and was waiting for things to calm down before telling you about. In mid March, we were expecting a lockdown of maybe a few weeks. Seven months later, I’m clearing out the files and figured I’d go ahead and give you my impressions from those early days.

Which were generally positive, I should mention. Cavo’s doesn’t pretend to be any more than it is, which is basically a bar with a food menu – something alcohol-only bars have recently been struggling to become, even though the governor has given the go-ahead for bars to reopen, regardless of food menus. (Just a thought here, but if you’re a bar owner who decided to drop the idea of serving food once Phase 3 was announced, you may want to reconsider; winter is coming.)

Knife & Spoon

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Knife & Spoon, the much anticipated restaurant that replaced the estimable Norman’s at the Ritz-Carlton, opened on Wednesday. Not surprisingly, its delayed debut was not caused by construction slowdowns but rather the pandemic that has affected so many restaurants. The upside, if pandemics are allowed to have an upside, is that the developers were able to engineer the space to meet safety protocols rather than having to retool, as so many other restaurants have done.

KnifeSpoon sambonet

The knife of the name is an actual knife, a rather impressive Sambonet in this case, and signifies the steak specialty of the menu. Given the quality of the meat, however, an instrument with such a honed blade might be considered – you should pardon the expression – overkill. But we’ll come back to that.

The spoon of the name is not a spoon, or at least not a spoon found on polite tables. Instead, it references a fishing lure known as a spoon, which then leads to the seafood offerings. (More ancient mariners would tell you to look for largemouth bass, salmon or trout on a list of spoon-caught fish, but I saw none; it’s a clever name nonetheless.)

The Knife is also a nod to John Tesar, the Dallas chef and restaurateur, who owns Knife-named restaurants there. His accomplishments, as listed on the Knife & Spoon webpage, include being the pseudonymous Jimmy Sears in Anthony Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential”; appearances on the Today Show and Top Chef; and being “famously entangled in a feud with Dallas food critic Leslie Brenner.” That feud, which included a negative review from Brenner and Tesar’s two-word response, happened in 2014, so maybe it’s time to let it go.

JJ's Fresh from Scratch

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JJ’s Fresh from Scratch is celebrating its sixth anniversary. But technically it’s only been JJ’s Fresh from Scratch for a fraction of that time, three or four months. When it opened, in 2014, it was JJ’s Grille. And when, in 2017, it won a Best Tex-Mex Foodster Award, it was going by the name JJ’s Fusion Grille.

The mainstay has been JJ – full name JJ Paredes – who started the quick-serve assemblage concept on Curry Ford Road at the age of 24. The quick popularity of the restaurant prompted Paredes to open two other locations, but they have closed. So Paredes said that he decided to go ahead with the rebranding, which had been planned before the pandemic, and focus on the Curry Ford West flagship.

Also a constant, as I wrote in my original review in Dec. 2014: ‘The people are friendly because they want to be, and the food is better than average.”

Estefan Kitchen

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Beat the drums, this ain’t Bongos.

Estefan Kitchen has opened its first location outside of Miami, one of several restaurants at the new Promenade at Sunset Walk near Walt Disney World.

Gloria and Emilio are the Estefans of the name, she the renowned Cuban-American singer who along with Miami Sound Machine gave us the effervescently zingy “Conga” and other classics.

The couple were also the owners of Bongos, the Cuban restaurant that opened in 1997 at what was then known as Downtown Disney West Side, now Disney Springs. It was in a distinctive pineapple-shaped building and served food that, well, let’s just say that when it was announced Bongos would close and the structure would be razed to make room for something else, I offered to push the plunger to detonate the explosives. No one returned my calls.

And so it was with hesitancy that I visited Estefan Kitchen, an offshoot of their Miami Design District restaurant, which remains closed at this time. (The Estefans also own Larios on the Beach on Ocean Drive in South Beach.)

Mynt Fine Indian Cuisine

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I always gravitate to the same dishes when I order from an Indian restaurant. Part of it is the comfort of familiarity and knowing that it’s something I’ll probably enjoy. It’s also partly to have a benchmark that allows for comparisons.

But when I ordered recently from Mynt Fine Indian Cuisine in Winter Park, I decided to focus on dishes I haven’t had before.