The Tennessee Truffle

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Tennessee interior

Within just a couple of minutes of my arrival, I learned that the chef at Tennessee Truffle is a culinary genius.

It wasn’t because of anything I’d eaten or tasted. It was because my server told me so after I said it was my first time there.

I’m not sure Mensa has a special test just for chefs. Or if Nat Russell would qualify. But I do know that some very clever choices have been made with the menu.

Graffiti Junktion Thornton Park

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graffiti thornton

I popped in to the new Thornton Park location of Graffiti Junktion the other day — just ahead of an afternoon downpour — to check out the newest location for the oldest store in the GJ chain.

And it is officially a chain. Franchises available, even. And to think it all just started a little over eight years ago. And two blocks away.

It was December 2008 when I wrote about driving by the corner of Washington Street and Hyer Avenue and noticing a new eatery about to open. This was the space that had been Midnight Blue, Rocco’s, La Fontanella di Nino and Thornton Park Cafe. I may have forgotten one or two.

Anyway, the new eatery turned out to be a place called Graffiti Junktion. It was unapologetically grunge in its manner, with a decor that matched its name and with raucous noise provided by the sound system and the customers. But it served big, fat juicy burgers, so everything was OK.

Today there are 10 Graffiti Junktions, including the original, which moved down the block recently to take over the former Wildfire barbecue restaurant.

It was a good move, literally and figuratively. There’s more space, bigger, even multiple bars, and a corner spot that affords diners a better view of one of downtown’s livelier neighborhoods.


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Citricos appetizers

This has always been one of the more troubling restaurant spaces at Walt Disney World. Not that Citricos hasn’t offered good (sometimes very good) food in the past. On the contrary, the quality of the food here has always been fine. And over its 20 years in existence, it has been served by some excellent chefs, including Roland Muller, Gray Byrum and Phillip Ponticelli. After Ponticelli left, in 2015, to take over the kitchen at Golden Oak, Dominque Filoni was hired as the restaurant’s fourth chef de cuisine.

(Full disclosure: In 2015, Scott Joseph Company’s consulting division was hired by WDW to perform a guest experience analysis. Those findings are not included in this review.)

What has made this a troubling restaurant is its relative lack of proper identity. Considering that most restaurants at Walt Disney World, especially those we see opening at Disney Springs, come with a legend or backstory that explain their existence, Citricos has no such history.

Long-timers will recall that the restaurant was originally called Flagler’s when the Grand Floridian Resort originally opened, in 1988. Although it had the name of a historical Floridian figure, it was an Italian restaurant, which didn’t make much sense.

And when it was rebranded, in 1997, as Citricos, it kept a Mediterranean mien.

That apparently isn’t going to change. But if the restaurant itself doesn’t have focus, Filoni certainly does. I can tell you that the quality of the food has never been better than it is now.

The Waterfront

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Waterfront stage

If you were worried that the sale of Julie’s Waterfront and the excision of her name from the business would mean that the South Orange Avenue venue would lose some of its grunge, you can rest easy. The Waterfront, under new owners, still has its delightfully divey demeanor.

If you were hoping that new ownership might usher in better food and service, well, that might be a little more hit and miss.

Bad As's Sandwich

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Bad Ass soup and sandwich

Had I been asked, I might have counseled for a different name.

Not that I’m a prude; anything but. However, there’s something slightly intimidating about walking up to someone at a food counter and saying, “I’ll have the Bad As’s sandwich.” Besides using a word that many people find slightly offensive, the spelling, which includes that odd apostrophe, makes one wonder just how it should be pronounced.

Then there’s the issue of the logo with a demonic looking figure about to bite into a sandwich with a disturbing set of teeth.

With all that going against it, a restaurant had damn well better have a good product.

Yemeni Kitchen

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Yemeni Kitchen table

Ramadan mubarak.

It seemed fitting to plan a visit to Yemeni Kitchen, a Middle Eastern restaurant in Kissimmee, during Ramadan, the holy month observed by Muslims worldwide. The Republic of Yemen is the second largest country in the Arabian Peninsula, and a restaurant in Central Florida dedicated to its food was a worthwhile trek.

It might seem odd to plan a visit to a Middle Eastern restaurant during Ramadan, during which one of the more well-known observances involves fasting. But that’s only from sunrise to sundown.

And that explains the handwritten note on the front door of Yemeni Kitchen announcing the start of the evening’s buffet: precisely at 8:19, the official time of sunset. And not a moment sooner.

Big Kahuna's Island Style Bowls

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Big Kahuna bowl

Things started out really well at Big Kahuna’s Island Style Bowls. And let me hasten to say that things ended nicely, too.

The middle part was frustrating.

Let’s start with the beginning. I entered the small storefront on Tuskawilla Road and was greeted by a man sitting in a large comfy chair just inside the front door. I’ll assume he was the owner — Mr. Kahuna, perhaps — and I thought is was nice that he said hello — if he had wanted to he could have pretended to just be another customer.

And I was also greeted quite genuinely by a young man behind the counter, who bade me welcome and said something along the lines of, “What can I start building for you today?”

That’s when things started to get frustrating.

Shakers American Cafe

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Shakers Grandas

I stopped by Shakers American Cafe the other day to present the Foodster Award for Best Breakfast to owners Greg and Terry Granda. They won the platinum award, as voted on my readers of ScottJosephOrlando.

While I was there, I figured I’d have a little breakfast myself. And I have to agree with the majority: this is a darned fine breakfast.

Shakers full breakfast

I had the Mexican Omelet, which had big chunks of sausage with green chilies and black beans, served with some salsa on the side. It came with hash brown potatoes, nicely crisped, and I requested a biscuit, which was fried to give it a little extra butteryness.

As long as I had the biscuit, I thought I should get some gravy to go with it. Sufficiently thick and unctuous, a fine accompaniment.

Reyes Mescaleria

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Reyes exterior

That space that for many years was Citrus Restaurant, long before the neighborhood it sits in became known as the North Quarter District, has been transformed into Reyes Mezcaleria, a Mexican restaurant that brings street food inside to a fun and comfortable atmosphere.

You’d be hard pressed to find any of the old Citrus in the place. As reimagined by Sue Chin, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Jason, the space is more open, especially the bar area, thanks in part to a clever move of the restaurant’s main entrance, which also netted some additional patio seating.

String lights give the impression of outdoor dining inside, and small touches like faded frond stencils on worn and cracked terrazzo give an impression that the building is older than it is. I knew I would like the decor because Chin also designed the likable Osprey Tavern’s interior.

Dinner Party Redux: TR Fire Grill in Air-Controlled Comfort

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TR dinner party menu

When we first started planning our Dinner Party at TR Fire Grill, back at the beginning of the year, and settled on May 11 for the date, we thought, “Tra la, it’s May, we’ll just take over the patio.”

The temperature on that Thursday was in the 90s before noon. The patio wasn’t going to work. And TRFG doesn’t have a private indoor space. Where were we going to seat 34 people?

TR dinner party table

But the TRFG crew went into action and essentially turned the front dining space into a banquet room just for us, with a semicircular table arrangement directly across from the kitchen, where we had a good view of chef and managing partner Jared Campbell and his crew as they prepared the meal. It was just right.