F&D Woodfired Italian Kitchen

Written by Scott Joseph on .

FD Italian bar

I counted myself among the skeptics when it was announced that a developer planned to revitalize the area at Curry Ford Road and Bumby Avenue with new restaurants, brewpubs and other boutique businesses, unofficially dubbing it the Hourglass District. There was encouragement when Claddagh Cottage relocated the popular Irish Pub to one of the blocks. And a Foxtail Coffee bar moved into a small strip mall, but heck, Foxtail seems to be following a Starbuckian business model with plans to put them everywhere.

And there were initial signs of hope when a pizza restaurant, Peppino’s Organic Italian Pizzeria & Kitchen moved into a freestanding building that had been home to a long line of short-lived culinary concepts, most of them Latin American focused, that couldn’t make the inexpensive menu and low number of seats a successful combination. A pizzeria made sense because it supplement its dine-in business with takeout or even delivery.

But Peppino’s closed faster than many of those Latin restaurants — less than six months — due, I’m told, to the owner’s health (though mediocre food and stunningly dismissive service didn’t bode well for its longevity).

Then the people at F&D Kitchen in Lake Mary announced they would take it over, also with a pizza concept. I was skeptical again. My experiences with F&D have been mixed. The original F&D Kitchen brought only a shrug. I had a wholly unpleasant experience at its Mexican concept, F&D Cantina, when it first opened in Waterford Lakes, but then quite enjoyed the food, service and surroundings of its second location, also in Lake Mary. (The original Cantina closed.)

So what would I find at F&D Woodfired Italian Kitchen? A cozy atmosphere, an exuberant staff, and a well-thought-out Italian menu that goes beyond basic pizza with pastas and even full entrees.

Fairbanks Restaurant

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Fairbanks exterior

It isn’t quite old enough to qualify for our ongoing series of the area’s classic restaurants, those 25 years or older, but Fairbanks Restaurant can boast of exceptional longevity in its 23 years of service.

Its name is Fairbanks Restaurant but I always think of it as Fairbanks Diner because it has all the trappings of one. The interior is a little worn. The booths, with cushions covered in plastic, are a bit creaky. One of the freestanding tables has metal folding chairs pulled up to it. Some tabletops have ad-splashed mats with menu items and the message that there are “No fancy napkins here, just good home style cooking.”

And that’s likely the reason for its longevity.

Bloodhound Brew

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Bloodhound exterior

I don’t think I’ve ever been served Tartar Sauce Soup before. No, let me amend that. I definitely have never been served Tartar Sauce Soup before.

But that’s the only description for what came with the Fish & Chips I ordered at Bloodhound Brew Pub & Eatery in South Orlando. Seriously, you could have drunk this stuff with a straw.

I’ve also never been served cold Mushy Peas. They’re always served at least warm if not hot. This ice cream-scoop shaped mound seemed to have come right out of the cooler.

Reyes Mezcaleria

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Reyes interior

A major change in a restaurant, especially a popular, well-reviewed one, is reason for a revisit, even if that restaurant is relatively new. Reyes Mezcaleria is relatively new — it was the winner of our Foodster Awards for Independent Restaurants as Best New Restaurant of 2017. But despite its short life, Reyes recently underwent one of those major changes that warrant a rereview, replacing its opening chef, Austin Boyd, with Wendy Lopez.

I returned with little skepticism because Lopez is a known quantity, taking the Reyes position after leading the kitchen at Tapa Toros. (Francisco Galeano is now in charge of Tapa Toros; we’ll look in on how he’s doing soon.)

Lopez’s changes to the menu have been subtle but they arise out of her Mexican heritage. I’ve never been one to suggest that cuisines of a nation or region can only be cooked by people of the same heritage. Nor does having a particular ethnic background guarantee that a cook will turn out authentic recreations of his or her homeland’s traditional dishes.

Cafe Madrid Deli & Bakery

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Cafe Madrid wall

Cafe Madrid is gone; long live Cafe Madrid.

Cafe Madrid, you may recall, was the Cuban restaurant that occupied a corner of a strip mall on Curry Ford Road at Conway Road in Orlando for 28 years. I revisited it in January of this year to do an update review, and a week later it closed. (I swear it was a good review; here, read it yourself.)

In September, a new restaurant moved in, conveniently keeping the Cafe Madrid name but adding Deli & Bakery to it. As you might expect, it’s no longer a full-service restaurant as the old CM was, and selections aren’t as fulsome, either. There are no longer complete dinner entrees, for example. But the food I sampled at the new iteration is good and worth visiting if you’re in the area.

Ford's Garage

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Fords Signature

I suppose it’s a good thing they didn’t call it GM’s Garage.

Ford’s Garage is a burger and beer brand born out of Ft. Myers and now headquartered in Tampa. You’d think Michigan, right? But there is a natural connection to the Sunshine State over the Great Lakes State: Henry Ford had a Winter home in Ft. Myers, less than a mile from where the first Ford’s Garage restaurant opened in 2012 (Henry did not attend).

Nearly all of the locations, just under a dozen so far, are in Florida, though one opened last year in Dearborn, Mich. The Orlando restaurant is in a freestanding building at the Orlando Premium Outlets on Vineland Avenue (it’s on the side with the Saks Off Fifth store).

As you might expect with a garage-themed restaurants, Ford’s is tricked out in a design that might be classified as early grease monkey. But except for the exterior, which like the rest of the mall structures is your basic faux Mediterranean-meets-Florida pale yellow stucco, it isn’t cheesy at all. In fact, there are a lot of nice details.

Christner's Prime Steak & Lobster

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Christners wine glass

One in a series of reviews celebrating Central Florida’s classic restaurants, those open 25 years or longer.

Christner’s Prime Steak & Lobster celebrated its 25th anniversary this year. But just as with Linda’s La Cantina, another independently owned restaurant reviewed recently in this series, the milestone comes with an asterisk.

As those who have lived in the area longer than five years know, Christner’s was originally known as Del Frisco’s Prime Steak & Lobster. It was not part of the Del Frisco’s Double Eagle chain, though both had the same origin. I won’t go into all the details here, but if you want to know more about the backstory, I’ve written about it in this article.

Russ Christner, who made the original deal with Del Frisco’s founder to open a steakhouse with that name in Orlando, chose a building on Lee Road instead of opting for something in the Tourist World part of town. That should have been an early indicator that this was meant to be a place for locals, a restaurant for celebrational splurges for some and for others a steakhouse for a fine piece of meat.

Christner grew the business and expanded the building’s footprint. But even as it got larger, he, along with his wife, Carole, maintained a hands on policy — Carole at the host stand and Russ wandering the dining rooms in his “uniform” of blue work shirt with a well worn and singed terrycloth towel over his shoulder — that kept it a family run business.

Rocco's Italian Grille & Bar

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Roccos bar

Ever since I first reviewed Rocco’s Italian Grille & Bar, in October of 2006, I’ve considered it to be one of the finest Italian restaurants in the area. And since I don’t get the chance to return often enough, I jumped at the invitation to dine there recently to try some of the dishes that owner Rocco Potami rotates through his menu.

Roccos burrata1

Potami started by serving my guest and me an appetizer of Bresaola, the air-cured beef that is a specialty of Northwest Italian, and fresh Burrata, often known as a creamier mozzarella. The cheese was topped with shaved Parmesan and fresh arugula leaves. Potami admonished us not to put any pepper on the burrata, which I probably would have done to perk up the mild cheese. But with the peppery notes of the arugula, nothing else was necessary.

Nona Social Bar + Kitchen

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Nona Social burger

Nona Tap Room is gone and Nona Social Bar + Kitchen has taken its place. Except for the variation of the name, I can’t see a whole lot of difference between the two.

It’s still a neighborhoody place that is more bar than kitchen. Still a bit on the small, cozy side. It still features a menu that is burgercentric. And the kitchen still can’t cook a burger to a medium-rare temperature. Or perhaps just refuses to.

Too bad because the burger I had when I visited recently, the Bacon Bleu, was a good burger that could have been better if it had been cooked properly. The patty was a decent size and had a nice char. It was topped with a smear of blue cheese that was half melted, plus a couple of thick-sliced bacon rashers. The bun was plain but fresh.

Rusty Spoon

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Rusty Spoon interior

In the nearly eight years since she opened her restaurant in downtown Orlando, Kathleen Blake has established it as one of the premier restaurants in Florida and herself as one of the area’s most prestigious chefs.

She was recently presented with the Beacon Award by the Foodservice Council for Women; is a leader in the national organization of Women Chefs and Restaurateurs; and has  been nominated four times for a James Beard Foundation as Best Chef South Region. And on Nov. 9, she will be one of the featured chefs at that organization’s annual gala, a $500-a-ticket dinner held at the swanky Pierre Hotel in New York.

And, like so many in the local culinary community, Blake is a generous contributor to area food events for charities, most recently as one of the chefs serving at Cows ’n Cabs (a delicious smoked mullet on fried cracker was her offering).

Still, with all that activity and civic participation, she, along with her husband, William, manages to keep the quality of the food and service at the Rusty Spoon top notch. And if she’s not at a local charity event or Manhattan fund raiser, you’ll find her, usually in her signature bib overalls, cooking in the kitchen of the Rusty Spoon.