The 1 Cantina

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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Do you want to know what I like about The 1 Cantina, a new Mexican restaurant in Avalon Park? Everything.

I like the comfortable and attractive space. I like the knowledgeable and charming staff, led by the gracious owners, Giovanni Rodriguez and Marigel Haaz.

And I especially like the food. This is true Mexican cuisine. It’s not Tex-Mex or a Floridian’s idea of what Mexican food should be. There isn’t a burrito or fajita on the menu; no sides of rice or refried beans, either. I didn’t even see one flour tortilla. As Rodriguez explains, he wanted to present foods of Mexico City he remembers from cantina tours with his father. I sampled a number of items from the menu and there wasn’t a thing I wouldn’t order again.

SoDough Square

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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Pizza comes in regional varieties that make opening a restaurant specializing in it a fraught proposition in places like Florida, which has no claim to a variety of its own. Barbecue has the same issue. I can think of only one other food item that has more versions, but so far no one has tried to open a potato salad restaurant.

With pizza, you have New York style, New Haven style (not to be confused with New England style), California and Chicago’s deep-dish, which someone recently described as essentially a casserole. St. Louis, Colorado, Rhode Island and the Ohio Valley all have their variations. Even the place I grew up, the Quad Cities of Illinois and Iowa on the Mississippi River, has its own distinct style, both in the ingredients that comprise the crust and toppings and in its signature way of cutting the pie in strips instead of wedges.

In Central Florida, the New York style dominates, and many Florida transplants have adopted it in lieu of their hometown styles. But now Detroiters can have a taste of home courtesy of SoDough Square.

Winter Park Biscuit Co.

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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I smiled when I first walked into East End Market and up to Winter Park Biscuit Co. Yes, East End Market is in Orlando, not Winter Park, but if we niggle about that we’ll also have to bring up WP-based Orlando Meats and we just don’t have enough time.

Anyway, on the wall over the counter of this quick-serve operation is a banner that reads: “To Order: Line Starts Outside” and includes a pointing finger just in case you can’t see where the door is.

What made me smile was that several years ago, John Rivers told me that when he opened his first restaurant that would lead the way to his 4 Rivers Smokehouse empire, in the free-standing building on Fairbanks Avenue where Hunger Street Tacos now resides, he engineered the space so that there would always be a line outside, even if there were just a few customers waiting to order.

Sloppy Joe's Orlando

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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I wonder what Papa would make of it all.

As legend has it, Ernest Hemingway was a regular of a Key West bar that would eventually become known as Sloppy Joe’s. According to the website of the newest Sloppy Joe’s, at Orlando’s Icon Park on International Drive, it was actually Hemingway who suggested the name. And today he is very much a part of the brand image, with his likeness on cocktail glasses, annual look-alike contests and, here, his quote above the bar (which has a large mirror with “Papa’s Pilar Rum” on it) that reads, “I drink to make other people more interesting.” (The quote has his signature but I don’t think he really signed it.)

Ava MediterrAgean

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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It’s certainly the most atmospheric restaurant around.

Ava MediterrAegean, the new Park Avenue restaurant from Miami’s Mila Group, didn’t just take over the Luma On Park space, it transformed it. The design, by Olya Volkova of OV & Co., features massive archways of sunwashed Venetian plaster, geometric wall sculptures, wood slats over the still-open kitchen, and upholstered furniture and table lamps that invoke a homey feeling.

Tartini Pizza & Spaghetteria

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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Tartini, the “Pizza & Spaghetteria” in the unofficially designated SoSoDo district, near Belle Isle on South Orange Avenue, has gone through several changes in its nine years, including ownership and, at one point in 2016, a closing.

But today, Tartini is back and serving some of the best Italian food around, and not just in this culinarily starved part of town but in all of Orlando.

The Pizza & Spaghetteria part of its name doesn’t quite give a full accounting of the menu here, though pizza is still a forte, as it always was, thanks to its unique oven that rotates and lifts the pies through the wood-fired heat to create a perfect pizza in under two minutes.

Häos

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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Recently, I attended the opening night of Orlando Ballet’s elaborate production of “The Great Gatsby” in the Walt Disney Theater at Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. Next door, in the new world-class Steinmetz Hall, world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma was playing to a sold-out audience. The night before that, Elton John returned to Amway Center for another stop on his “I really mean it this time” farewell tour. And two nights later I was at the old Cheyenne Saloon on Church Street for a riveting production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Assassins.”

The arts and entertainment are back in force and bringing audiences to downtown Orlando.

So where should we eat?

Chronic Tacos

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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Tacos and Tuesdays have become ingrained in our alliterative psyche. You might say it’s a chronic condition. So it’s fitting that on this Tuesday I tell you about Chronic Tacos, a franchise with locations across the U.S. as well as Canada and, for some reason, Japan.

In Orlando, Chronic Tacos are slung from a location on Sand Lake Road’s Restaurant Row, an area that also has several Japanese restaurants but none from Canada, as far as I know.

It’s a fairly simple experience and the food I sampled was good, though nothing stood out.

Takumi Ramen

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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I wonder if the landlord of the building at 486 N. Orange Ave. in downtown Orlando has a stipulation in the lease that the corner unit must be occupied by a ramen shop. Previously, it was the home of not just a ramen restaurant but The Ramen.

And now is it Takumi Ramen, which opened only a few weeks ago but is already serving delicious food even while finishing touches to the decor continue. Even more impressive than the food was the warm and gracious greeting the staff gave me when I walked in to place an order. Granted, there were no other customers in sight so they may have just been delighted to see anyone.

Three Birds Cafe

Written by Scott Joseph on .

 

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I arrived in Winter Garden 45 minutes ahead of my appointment, so I thought I would stop by Three Birds Cafe for a quick bite. I was almost late for my meeting.

Three Birds is an attractive eatery in the heart of Winter Garden’s downtown district. Its corner location allows for lots of window light and the interior is rustic exposed brick, hardwood floors and touches of foliage, including vines that hang from the walls behind the counter and the video monitors that display the menu. (Interesting side note: Despite its name, Three Birds does not seem to have a Twitter account.)