Meza

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Meza interior

Meza isn't anything like Cafe Annie, but it's that late lamented eatery from downtown Orlando that gave rise to this Baldwin Park mediterranean newcomer.

In fact, although there is still a Facebook page for Cafe Annie, the address it gives is the one for Meza in Baldwin Park.

You remember Cafe Annie, don't you? If you worked in downtown Orlando over tha past three decades it was probably one of your reliable lunch spots. If you partied there, you may have included a stop at Annie for sustenance to carry on. It occupied a space on North Orange Ave. for nearly 29 years before closing in the final days of 2016. (It wasn't a continuous run; Annie closed for a time when the building on the corner was renovated for a car dealership. That's where Orange County Brewers is now.)

Lease issues, not to mention the announcement that Hubbly Bubbly, a falafel franchise, would be moving in next door, prompted owner Nabil Sebaali to look elsewhere.

He found a space on Jake Street just off the main thoroughfare of New Broad Street. Why he named it Meza instead of Cafe Annie is not known. (If you want to dive deeper into the history, Sebaali bought a restaurant called Cafe Fareed and renamed it Cafe Annie. Ironically, Cafe Fareed served American food. Sebaali named the restaurant after his wife figuring it would make her want to come in and help out. "It didn't work," he told me.)

Meza is bigger and brighter than the old place, and the menu is more ambitious. And it's all wonderfully delicious.

Watch a video of this review here.

Citricos

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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.

Baba’s Orlando Mediterranean Grill

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Baba platter

Baba’s Orlando Mediterranean Grill has opened in downtown Orlando in the space that had been occupied by WhiteWood Mediterranean Grill and continues the serving of such things as shawarmas and kababs (though one hopes with better pest control than was detailed in this article from The Daily City).

Baba’s is an ideal spot for a quick bite of something beyond the basic sandwiches and burgers. (Hey, all you people standing in line down the block for a Wahlburger! You have options.)

Merguez

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Merguez tagine

The Uzbeks have ceded to the Moroccans. At least in south Orlando on what in this case is the aptly named International Drive.

The last time I visited this space it was a full-service restaurant called Atlas House, which specialized in the cuisine of Uzbekistan. Atlas closed, one presumes with a shrug. Now it is a fast casual restaurant called Merguez, with foods of Moroccan descent.

I was delighted to see that Merguez (big M) specializes in tagine cooking and that merguez (little m) was one of the choices. A tagine gets its name from the dish it is cooked in, which is a round plate topped with a dome that chimneys the heat and smoke while the food is cooking. Merguez (here meant to be a small m but it’s starting off the sentence so its big) is a type of sausage that is common in North African cooking. Merguez (merguezes?) are small, almost smoky link-like.

Taboon Bistro

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taboon decor

I'd been in this space before, five years ago when it was known as Wa Restaurant. Then, I spent a goodly amount of the first part of the review of Wa discussing the hidden location in a corporate sort of building on the west side of the Universal Orlando campus. I mentioned the beautiful decor of the restaurant and the very good, upscale Asian food, but also noted that most of the rest of the spaces in the building appeared to be unoccupied. I concluded that it was a hidden gem that was worth looking for. Not enough did, or succeeded in finding it, and Wa went away.

Little seems to have changed with the physical aspects of this address. If any of the other spaces in the building are occupied it was not evident in the early evening when my guest and I arrived to visit Taboon Bistro, the current culinary tenant. As with Wa, the decor of the restaurant is lovely, an upscale, modern Mediterranean design with moody lighting (and inappropriate and inappropriately loud music). As with Wa before it, Taboon is hidden, but a gem? No.

Shish.Co Mezze & Grill

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Shishco exterior

Here's a cute little restaurant that makes me think of a food truck without wheels. It's a pop-up restaurant in the sense that it looks like it just popped up in the middle of the parking lot at the corner of Orlando Avenue and Lake Avenue in Maitland.

It's called Shish.Co Mezze & Grill, a Mediterranean eatery with a compact but comprehensive menu of such favorites as gyros, shish kebobs, falafels, and even lamb chops.

Oasis Grill

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Oasis exteriorWith the recent news of a closing (Iza) and cutting back of hours (Cafe Red), I thought I should mention that it's not all doom and gloom in downtown Orlando. There's actually a new restaurant to report on.

Oasis Grill is a small, Mediterranean eatery on the relatively quiet Magnolia Avenue. Despite what its website says, it is not fine dining (I might also take exception with the contemporary description, but I'll not niggle). It's actually a fast-casual operation — order your food at the counter then take a seat and wait for its delivery.

Oasis kabobCan you see $12.99 worth of food on the plate?

OG serves three meals a day but I stopped in for lunch. I ordered the beef kabob with rice and salad (fries are another option but I was trying to be good). It was all just fine, neither extraordinary nor unacceptable. The meat was well seasoned, the rice was unremarkable, the salad an accompaniment, not a stand-alone item. I question whether what I was served was worth the nearly $13 fee. I'd have been more comfortable with, say, eight bucks or so.

The quality of the food was enhanced just a bit by the friendliness of the servers, who stopped occasionally to ask if everything was OK or if I would like to order anything else, and they thanked me for coming when I left. That's always nice.

By the way, don't confuse Oasis Grill with Oasis Cuban Cafe, Oasis Tiki Bar, Oasis Smoke House Grill & Sports, Sandwich Oasis, Oasis Saloon or Oasis Palms Cafe. Those are all different, except for, you know, the Oasis part.

Oasis Grill is at 231 N. Magnolia Ave., Orlando, across from the old post office. (There's a Lymmo stop right out front, so it's easy access for downtowners.) It is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily, until 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The phone number is 407-648-1050.

Oasis counterOne of the clues that it isn't a fine dining restaurant.

Spice Road Table

Written by Scott Joseph on .

spice road shrimp

Spice Road Table is the newest restaurant to open at Epcot, part of the Morocco pavilion in the World Showcase. Not inside the pavilion, mind you, outside, in front of it, on the shore of the lagoon. It’s a setup much like what opened last year at the Mexico pavilion.

And a bit different, too. At Mexico’s La Hacienda, there’s a full-service side (inside) and a counter service window on the open patio. Also, the full-service side isn’t open for lunch (although diners are welcome to take their food purchased from the counter inside to eat at one of the tables in the air-conditioned room).

At Spice Road Table, the same menu is available for both lunch and dinner, and full service is offered inside and out.

Carmel Cafe Introduces Fall Menu

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Sponsored Post

Carmel interior

I stopped by Carmel Cafe and Wine Bar the other evening for a peek at some of the new fall menu items, and, not incidentally, a preview of what the Supper Club menu will offer on Tuesday. I enjoyed it, and I know you will, too.

I also had a chance to chat with Brian Waggoner, operating partner for the Winter Park restaurant. As I’ve mentioned before, Carmel Cafe is out of Tampa and has only six locations, just one outside of Florida (in Wayne, PA). With so few locations, and the attention of separate operating partners, Carmel Cafe is able to maintain a certain individuality. 

The chef at the Winter Park Carmel Cafe is Adam DuCharme, a recent graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, so that should tell you something about how serious CC is about its food. 

Carmel Arancini copy

We started our dinner with arancini paired with a not-too-sweet prosecco from Enza, a winemaker in Veneto, Italy. The rice balls had parmesan, fontina and asiago cheeses blended in. Delicious little two-bite appetizers.

Carmel Cafe and Wine Bar

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Carmel cafe interior

There’s another casually upscale (or is that upscaley casual?) restaurant open along Orlando Avenue in Winter Park. Of course, Rocco’s and El Bodegon have had Orlando Ave. addresses for several years, and Houston’s, too, before it became Hillstone in a flash of marketing brilliance. Italio -- more fast casual (or casually fast?) -- opened recently, and others, including Marlow’s Tavern, are poised to go online soon.

Carmel Cafe is the newest, a modern Mediterranean restaurant out of Tampa. It has sprung up in a former office building space that has been converted into a beautiful and comfortable eatery, with splashes of colorful art and dramatic lighting. It's an immediately likable ambience, comfortable and inviting. 

Carmel is also the latest to attempt to move the restaurant industry into the 21st Century with technology at the table, specifically the iPad as menu enhancement. I'm not opposed to the idea, and I like having information available to me, whether that comes from a live waiter or a device. Others have tried, including Terrace 390 in downtown Orlando, and the recently departed Truffles Grill, but both had limited success.