Nikki's Place

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Nikkis stew room

Nikki's Place is back and everything is just as it was before.

Before meaning prior to the fire that forced the business to close in March 2015. After two and a half years -- and thanks in part to a $25,500 grant from the city -- the family owned restaurant is back serving its homestyle Southern and soul cuisine.

The menu is peppered with such things as Chitterlings, Ox Tails, Pig Tails (or the ears, if you prefer), Turkey Necks, and Pork Neck Bones. You'll also find less "exotic" Meat Loaf, Fried Pork Chops and Catfish.

Polite Pig

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Polite pig exterior

The Polite Pig has opened at Disney Springs, bringing a much-needed local voice to the assembled chorus of celebrity-owned restaurants and national chains.

The Polite Pig, of course, is the latest from the Swine Empire ruled over by pigtators James and Julie Petrakis, whose other restaurants include the Ravenous Pig and Cask & Larder. (Interesting to see DoveCote, the downtown French brasserie, also listed as a sister restaurant on PP’s website.)

The Polite Pig is something new from the Petrakises, not so much in the type of food as in the delivery. The restaurant, in a plum position at the foot of the escalators of the Lime parking garage, is set up primarily as a quick-serve operation. Customers queue up and order their food at a counter, pay, then take an electronic tracking device to a table. A server will bring the food to you when ready and also offer to help with any additional ordering or condiment needs.

Cask & Larder MCO

Written by Scott Joseph on .

CL interiorPhoto: Gary Bogdon

A recent trip had me flying out of Terminal 2 at Orlando International Airport, so I made a point of leaving a little earlier so I could check out the Cask & Larder that opened there a couple of months ago.

All I can say is that if this was the Cask & Larder that opened in Winter Park four years ago, the Ravenous Pig wouldn’t be opening there today.

Chef Art Smith's Homecoming

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Homecoming interior

If it had been a regular night, I might have dinged the staff at Chef Art Smith’s Homecoming for sloppy service. The bar, for example, was strewn with the plates and glasses of previous diners, and we had to ask for a bar rag so we could wipe down the counter in front of us ourselves.

But it wasn’t a regular night. It was Friday, after Hurricane Matthew had blown through and left the area. Its impact was less than we had feared, but most restaurants had made the decision — a wise one, I thought — to suspend service until Saturday. That’s an expensive choice to make. Any time a restaurant is closed it’s not making money. But restaurants run on people, and entreating their staffs to stay home and out of harms way was the right thing to do.

I also thought it was the right thing that some restaurants scrambled to open for dinner Friday.

Homecoming Kitchen was one that did. But because the staff had originally been told not to report to work until at least Saturday — who knew if even then there would be power, supplies, a building left standing? — those who came to work did so on a voluntary basis. And because many of the businesses at Disney Springs remained shuttered, those that were open were slammed. The wait for a two-top, I was told at the host stand, would be three and a half to four hours.

Highball & Harvest Highballs Along Under New Chef

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Hardin croppedI recently revisited Highball & Harvest, the Southern styled restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes to see how it is faring under its new chef de cuisine.

As I’d previously reported, opening chef Mark Jeffers, who transferred to a company-owned property in California, was replaced in July by Nathan Hardin. In a departure from recent personnel changes, the folks at Grande Lakes went outside the company to hire Hardin, a Tampa native, who most recently had been executive sous chef at Yardbird Southern Table & Bar in Miami Beach. I thought I should stop back in and check out the state of Highball & Harvest and to see if Hardin was continuing to offer the same fine quality of food.

The answer is yes.

Chef Eddie's Breakfast

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ChefEddie dining room

Considering it is little more than 10 years old, the restaurant space in the City View apartments building on West Church Street in downtown Orlando has certainly had a lot of tenants. First was Uncle Henry’s Country Kitchen, the popular Johnson’s Diner, which moved from a cramped free-standing hut on Washington in summer of 2006. When it closed, Fish ’n’ Loaves took over. Then McKnight’s.

Now say hello to Chef Eddie’s. Or good morning, as I did recently when looking for a downtown breakfast spot.

The downtown address is a relocation for Chef Eddie’s. We visited the original restaurant last year when it was on the corner of Orange Center Boulevard and Goldwyn Avenue in west Orlando. The City View location brings Chef Eddie’s good food closer to the center of commerce, so I was surprised that just a little after 8 o’clock on a weekday morning that I was the only diner in the restaurant and would remain alone during my entire breakfast.

Shantell's Cafe

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Shantell ext

If you were to just show up at somebody's house and ask to be fed, you probably wouldn't be surprised to be made to wait while something was thrown together for you. Even if you showed up during what might be considered a normal meal time, you might have to cool your heels while your friend found something to cook for you. Assuming you pulled this stunt at a friend's house and not a strangers, because then you might find yourself arrested.

Even if you were to show up at a restaurant on an off hour you may experience a longer than ideal wait time. Kitchens tend to put foods away and break down service stations. If guests come in before or after that process, it may take a while to get things resituated.

But when you show up at a restaurant at 1 p.m., which to most people is still the heart of lunchtime, you sort of expect more prompt service. Especially when only two other tables — a total of three people — are occupied and waiting for food.

I waited over 45 minutes for my food to arrive at Shantell's Cafe, a well-regarded restaurant in Sanford that recently moved to a new location not far from its original home. It's not like I ordered something out of the ordinary. I selected the chicken and waffles, a dish considered to be so much a signature that it's written in the front window.

Soco

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soco ext

The latest buzz generator in downtown Orlando restaurants is Soco, the first "from scratch" restaurant from Thornton Park Restaurant Group. TPRG also has Cityfish, which it acquired from Urban Life Restaurant Group. Soco — the name means Southern contemporary — is also the first restaurant where Greg Richie can claim top billing. Richie is a partner in TPRG and is also Soco's executive chef (Cityfish's, too, but more about that another time). Previously, he was leading the kitchen at Emeril's Tchoup Chop for celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse, and before that he opened the Restaurant Row Roy's, named for Roy Yamaguchi.

Although both of those restaurants might be called chef driven, Soco is the first where Richie is clearly behind the wheel.

But let me stop here. As I've mentioned in previous articles about Soco, TPRG is a client of Scott Joseph Company's consulting services, and therefore it would be inappropriate for me to offer a review. So here's what I've done instead: At the annual gala for the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, I was auctioned off to the highest bidder. Actually, dinner with me was the auction item. And there were three bidders who matched the "buy it now" price. For its part, Soco donated the dinners.

My dinner companions on the first visit were Arlen and Diane Chase, archeologists with UCF. On the second visit I was joined by John and Rita Lowndes and Mike and Marian Peters. John, of course, is the Lowndes of Lowndes, Drosdick, Doster, Kantor and Reed; Rita is the force of nature behind Orlando Shakes. Mike is the Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist who draws the Mother Goose and Grimm strip. I recorded their comments through the dinners.