1803 Pizza/Kitchen

Written by Scott Joseph on .

1803 exterior

As coincidence would have it, earlier this week I told you about a guest column I wrote for Orlando Date Night Guide listing many of the area's oldest restaurants. I also noted that I had written a similar article, in 2005, for the Orlando Sentinel. In neither article did I list O! Stromboli.

I mention that because at one time the owner of O! Stromboli advertised that it was the oldest Italian restaurant in town. That was in 2007, and during my 19 years at that point of reviewing restaurants, it had been Ciotti's, Sandroni's and Farinacci's. Also during that time, there were several Italian restaurants that had been operating longer. When I asked the owner about it, he said that there had been an Italian market or restaurant at that address since the 1940s, albeit under different owners. Not exactly truth in that particular advertising.

The address in question is 1803 Winter Park Road, Orlando. The address lends its name to the new tenant, 1803 Pizza/Kitchen. It's Italian, so by some people's standards it's the oldest one in Orlando even though it opened just last week.

Hong Kong Alley's Kitchen

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Hong Kong Alley exterior

I'm sure the staff at Hong Kong Alley's Kitchen were just trying to be nice. They were effusive in their greeting when I walked into the strip mall storefront restaurant on East Colonial Drive. And the young man who took my order had a smile on his face at all times.

But no one could quite believe me when I told them, multiple times, I didn't need the fork they kept trying to place on my table. The chopsticks were fine, I said. Not showing off, I just think Chinese food tastes better when the proper utensils are utilized. And I eat less.

I had stopped in on a whim, noticing as I drove by the banner out front announcing Dim Sum, Roast Duck and Crispy Pork.

Claddagh Cottage

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Claddagh exterior

Was it ever really gone?

Any out-of-towners wandering into Claddagh Cottage Irish Pub in the last few weeks might be surprised to learn that it has been away for close to a year and a half. It thrums with the laughter and chatter of a full house, background to the lilt of traditional music, sometimes recorded, sometimes live. Despite its relative newness, it feels comfortably worn, familiar.

We in-towners know that this is a new location for Claddagh, which was forced out of its small strip mall spot to make way for a new Walgreens. (You can blame us aging Baby Boomers and our need to have a pharmacy close enough get to using a walker.) The original closed its door after a last New Year's Eve celebration Dec. 31, 2016.

Since then, owners Scott Vocca and Vicki Gish searched for a new location that wouldn't leave a loyal customer base behind, struggled with construction and permitting setbacks, and fought to get the taps flowing again.

They may not think it was worth it. I would guess if they could go back to that last New Year's Eve and were given the option to stay they would. But for all the woes and tribulations of moving and restarting, the new Claddagh Cottage, just a hair over a mile from the old spot, is better than the one it replaced.

California Tortilla

Written by Scott Joseph on .

California Tortilla ext

I find the name California Tortilla unmemorable. It's generic. Non descriptive. And the logo for the chain restaurant that opened recently in downtown Orlando isn't very helpful: it's an avocado. Also, the specialty is burritos. Oh, and despite the California designation there don't appear to be any locations in that state.

Then again, there isn't much else about the place that's all that memorable, either. Certainly not the staff, most of whom barely acknowledge a customer's existence.

AJ's Press

Written by Scott Joseph on .

AJs Press sandwich

I knew I was going to like AJ's Press the moment I stepped inside.

That's when I was welcomed, warmly and genuinely, and when, upon hearing that it was my first time there, someone shoved a Jalapeño Bacon Hush Puppy at me.

AJ's Press is, despite the name, which makes it sound like a news organization, a Longwood sandwich shop in a small strip mall near the railroad tracks. The Press part of the name refers to the device that applies heat and pressure to flatten the sandwiches, á la a Cuban sandwich.

Chef Wang's Kitchen

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Chef Wang array

The young man who was waiting to take my order at Chef Wang's Kitchen pointed helpfully (if not a little impatiently) at one of the pictured menu items. "Foreigners seem to like that one," he offered.

To understand the level of authenticity, or at least a level that rises above many westernized Chinese restaurants, you need to know that when he said foreigners he was referring to Americans.

Chef Wang interior

Chef Wang's Kitchen is located in the repurposed yet still worn looking shopping mall now known as Chinatown. The West Colonial Drive restaurant occupies a modest storefront tastefully appointed with stone-look tables and substantial dark wood chairs (sturdy enough for any foreigners who come in).

Rustic Table

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Park Station exterior

Park Station was the name of the restaurant that opened in 2015 at 212 Park Ave. N. in Winter Park. The restaurant that is there now is called Rustic Table. The name is the only real change here.

It's the same owners, same concept. Even the menu is basically the same. So why the name change? I couldn't hazard a guess. Well, I could, but it would just be conjecture based on hearsay. Suffice to say that the owner felt a need to do so.

As with my review of Park Station in October of 2015, my experience at Rustic Station...I mean Table was a mostly pleasant one. The food was good, service was amiable, and the chance to dine at a sidewalk table on Park Avenue added allure.

Wonton Asian Kitchen

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Wonton exterior

Wonton Asian Kitchen has all of the trappings of being a chain restaurant, including the good things that can be, such as a standardized and well-thought-out design and a regimented system for ordering and preparing.

Unfortunately, that can also mean roboticized staffers and lifeless food.

I observed all of the above at the Winter Park restaurant before discovering that it is not a chain. At least not yet. I'd bet just about anything that the owners have visions of multi-unit sales in their dreams.

Ali Baba's Deli

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Ali Baba ext

I'm pretty sure the first puppet show I ever saw, and most likely the first theatrical production of any type, was "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves," performed by a professional traveling troupe that had set up in the gymnasium of Garfield Elementary School in Moline, Ill. I was probably 8 or 9. I think we were told it was the Bil Baird Marionettes, but I doubt that was true.

I don't remember much about it except the Open Sesame line and the horribly gruesome deaths of the thieves who had boiling oil poured over them as they hid in large pottery jars. I still have nightmares. And I'm fairly certain that some of the other grisly plot lines were omitted, such as Ali's brother being quartered and the chunks left outside the thieves' den as a warning. And Ali Baba still gets top billing even though it was the slave girl Morgiana who saved the day; it was she who poured the boiling oil into the jars. (Hey, Disney: next animated princess alert!)

None of this has anything to do with Ali Baba's Deli, but you try coming up with an opening for a review after you've written more than four thousand of them.

Enzo's Hideaway

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Hideaway interior

In terms of splashiness and go-for-the-awe design and decor, Enzo's Hideaway, from Patina Restaurant Group, offers much less than its sister restaurants at Disney Springs. Morimoto Asia has an opulent two-story dining room with elegant chandeliers; The Edison resides in what was supposed to have been an abandoned power producing facility, and Maria & Enzo's has the dramatic effect of a grand old airline terminal with large windows overlooking the lagoon.

Enzo's Hideaway has no windows and no double-height ceilings. It's dark and slightly dank and several of the walls are covered in graffiti. I enjoyed myself here more than at the others.

Which is not to say that I don't like the other restaurants; I do. But I think the absence of splash and distractions allows one to focus more on the food here. And the food here is really quite good.