Loading...Gastrobrunch Dinner

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Loading interior

It doesn’t sound like a place called Loading...Gastrobrunch would be a place for dinner. And when the downtown St. Cloud restaurant first opened it served only breakfast and lunch.

But now dinner hours have been added, and new dinner items to the menu, too. So a friend and I were invited to stop in and sample.

I was at Loading last year for a lunchtime visit but at that time I was confining my dining to outdoor tables. So it was nice to experience the interior this time. It’s rustic, befitting its location in the historic Hunter Arms Hotel. Horizontal wood planks on one wall, a brick wall behind the bar and a fieldstone fireplace at the far end give the room a cabinlike feel. A mishmash of gewgaws give the decor an eclectic feel.

The Pinery

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pinery exterior

“What’s new and exciting?”

That’s the question I get asked most these days, more so than usual. I suppose it’s because over the past year or more we’ve been focused primarily on the businesses that succumbed during the pandemic rather than the ones that opened. To be honest, we lost a lot fewer restaurants than I expected us to. And we had a surprisingly healthy number open, several that I would include in the new and exciting category.

We had Russell’s on Lake Ivanhoe and the Monroe in downtown Orlando. In Winter Park, BoVine gloriously reimagined the former Park Plaza Gardens space just as Knife & Spoon did with the old Norman’s at the Ritz. Recently, Illume brought high-end Japanese cuisine to the high-up rooftop of the JW Marriott Bonnet Creek, just upstairs from Sear + Sea, which also debuted mere months ago.

Now to the list of new and exciting add The Pinery, which opened last month in the newly constructed Lake House Apartments high rise. Like its neighbor Russell’s, it shares a view of Lake Ivanhoe and pays homage in its name and logo to the area’s past as a pineapple grove. (The western strip of lakefront was once known as Russell’s Point.)

AC Sky Bar

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ACSky negroni

AC Sky Bar is not a restaurant. That should be clear from the name, otherwise it might be AC Sky Cafe or AC Sky Bistro, which would make it sound more like an in-flight food option.

It’s not quite at cruising level, but it does sit higher than an aerie, on the 18th floor of the newly constructed SunTrust Plaza building at Garland Avenue and South Street. The bank occupies the lower floors; the hotel has the topmost eight floors. The 18th level serves as the hotel’s lobby and also has a breakfast nook, lounge and the aforementioned Sky Bar. Two-story windows and balcony seating offer unfettered views that confirm Florida’s flatness. One can see all the way to the attractions and beyond. Just below is a top-down view of the Amway Center.

Jaber Lebanese Cuisine

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Jaber ext

Video screens inside Jaber Lebanese Cuisine in College Park were flashing photos of menu items, a helpful aid to people unfamiliar with labnehs, kibbehs and kaftas. But then the screens showed the restaurant’s name and logo, and underneath that “Since 1952.”

Hmmm, I thought. If Jaber’s been around since 1952 it hasn’t been in this space. Most recently this was the home of Peppy Bistro and before that, Paxia.

Junior's Diner & Mexican Grill

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juniors exterior

I was thinking that Junior’s Diner, a breakfast and lunch place in Audubon Park, had been there forever. But I was reminded that it has only been Junior’s since late 2006. Before that it was Roger’s Diner. Roger who, I couldn’t say, but then I never knew who Junior was, either.

Now there’s been another change at the small storefront space on Corrine Drive at Winter Park Avenue. It’s still called Junior’s Diner but “& Mexican Grill” has been added to the sign out front. And it’s not just a breakfast and lunch spot anymore, it serves dinner as well. And, as you can probably guess, Mexican dishes have been added to the menu.

Russell's on Lake Ivanhoe

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Russellbrunch dining

I finally got a chance to dine inside Russell’s on Lake Ivanhoe and to experience its Sunday brunch, and both experiences were as satisfying as I had hoped them to be.

As you’ll recall, Russell’s was one of the venturesome restaurants to open in the middle of the pandemic. During that time, I chose to limit my reviews to takeout offerings. And when I reviewed Russell’s, in October, I mentioned that it was one of the restaurants I would definitely return to once it was safe to do so.

Thank you, Moderna, for giving me the opportunity to fully experience Russell’s on Lake Ivanhoe and the cuisine of chef/partner Emmanuel Clement.

A few friends and I visited on a recent Sunday and snagged a table at the front window with a great view of the lake. To be fair, there are good views of the lake throughout the restaurant, sort of like Hillstone’s but not as big and with a friendlier management staff.

Da Sun Ramen

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Dasun ramen

Perhaps it’s telling that the best thing I had at Da Sun Ramen, a Japanese restaurant that took over the Chinatown space previously held by Sapporo, was not ramen.

That’s not to denigrate the ramen in any way. The broth in the tonkotsu ramen was luscious and full, with tender slices of pork, mushrooms, peppers, scallions and of course noodles. It was a fine ramen.

Illume

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Illume orchid view

The nightly fireworks shows return to Walt Disney World on July 1, but if you can’t witness them at one of the parks, you should definitely try to see them at Illume, the gorgeous new rooftop venue at the JW Marriott Bonnet Creek. From the moment you step off the express elevator to the ninth-level restaurant and lounge, everything is a WOW.

Illume deck

Beginning with the view. Step out on the terrace and you can start identifying the Disney landmarks. Walk to the far end and you’ll have a full 180-degree vantage, east to north to west.

The wowness doesn’t end with the view; it’s extended through the inventive cocktails and Asian-inspired menu overseen by chef Myra Buerkle. David Tsan, formerly with Kabooki, is the sushi chef.

First Watch Summer Menu Specials

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FWsummer cooler

Summer doesn’t officially begin until next week, but it’s already summer-hot, so we may as well say it’s here.

Which is just fine because First Watch’s summer menu specials are also available now. And as I do every three months, I headed to First Watch to have a sample, humming a little Vivaldi along the way.

I started by sipping the Watermelon Wake-up, a cool and refreshing drink that also had pineapple and lime juice and a fragrant sprig of mint.

Grato of Winter Park

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Grato ext

(Sung to the tune of “Liza with a Z”)

It’s Grato with a G not Prato with a P ‘cause Prato with a P goes prah not grah...

There’s bound to be confusion for people strolling along Park Avenue starting at Aloma Avenue and heading north past Morse Boulevard. “Didn’t we just see this restaurant a few blocks ago?” Besides the similar name, both are Italian. But comparability must end there.