The Noble Smokesman

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Noble ext

This is certainly an unusual location for any restaurant let alone a barbecue joint. The Noble Smokesman occupies a space in a compound of offices and nonfood businesses on Lake Ellenor Drive, about a block off of South Orange Blossom Trail. (The street name sounded familiar to me and it wasn't until I found the smokehouse that I realized it was across from the former Darden Restaurants headquarters.) The complex looks more like a place you'd find an accountant's office or maybe a dentist.

Also unlike other barbecue restaurants, Noble has a polished and spiffy look inside, but that's probably more because of its newness. It has clean wood-look floors and a white subway-tile wall in the area behind the counter. For some reason there are logs on some of the tables.

Southern Smoke Fish & Ribs

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Southern Smoke plate

A little place called Southern Smoke Fish & Ribs quietly opened on West Colonial Drive about four months ago. It’s in the same spot that held Italian Beefstro, which quietly closed some time before that.

SSF&R is a neat and tidy place. Guests order their food at the counter and then have a seat at one of the (not very comfy) booths in the compact dining area or at a picnic table outside.

Because of the restaurant’s name, I chose the combo platter that would get me both ribs and fish. For the fish, I had my choice of catfish, tilapia or smelt, and because you don’t often see smelt on a menu, I went with that.

American Q

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AmericanQ meat

American Q, the restaurant at the recently rebranded B Resort, is a sort of American version of the Brazilian churrascaria, a barbecuscaria, if you will. And it makes perfect sense.

A Latin American churrascaria, of course, features spit-roasted meats sliced tableside by gauchos in a never ending rotation. Think Texas de Brazil, Fogo de Chao and several others.

But gaucho essentially means cowboy, and what's more American than a cowboy? Barbecue, maybe. So put the two together and you have a great concept. Especially when you consider another thing that is distinctly American: Eating way too much food at one sitting.

Pig Floyd's Urban Barbakoa

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Pig Floyd patio

There's a lot to like about Pig Floyd's, the self described Urban Barbakoa, beginning with the whimsical name. I also like what they've done to the place. The tiny freestanding building at 1326 N. Mills Ave. has never looked better. It was essentially gutted and bears little resemblence to the restaurant that used to be home to Atilla's Steak & Salad (simply Steak & Salad before that), Friends Restaurant, and Kim Long.

Pig Floyd interior

The decor befits the urban designation, with whitewashed brick walls, bare floor, metal chairs and whirligig light fixtures. An open kitchen and a bar to sit and eat at were nice touches, too. And although some of the previous tenants had tables outside, they didn't have the built-out patio that Floyd's owners installed, adding a wall to shield some of the unattractive traffic from Mills Avenue.

Southern Moon

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southernmoon nachos

I think I may have found the first nachos that would be approved by Dr. Atkins. That is, if he wasn't dead.

They're the nachos featured at the new Southern Moon Smokehouse, which took over the space previously held by the troubled Holy Smoke BBQ on Curry Ford Road in Orlando, a converted Eckerd's drug store next to a Winn-Dixie. The nachos, a creation of chef and owner Bryce Balluff, are made with crispy pork skins instead of the more highly carbohydrated tortilla chips in a traditional nacho platter. A ladle of brisket chili, some cheese, a dollop of sour cream and some spicy jalapeno slices and you've got yourself a tasty appetizer that can keep you on your low-carb Atkins Diet (avoid the beans in the chili).

If you're a follower of the food truck culture you've heard of Balluff. He also has the Fork in the Road food truck, which features a more gourmet style of food truck food, such as escargot, pork belly and sweetbreads.


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BonfiresBonfires is a rustic place in Oviedo that touts itself as a burger and barbecue specialist. That makes it difficult to order when you’re dining alone. Do you go with a burger or opt for the ‘cue?

Luckily I didn’t have to settle. Instead I chose the Rowdy Texas burger, which comes topped with beef brisket. And better yet, the young woman who took my order didn’t even blink when I asked for it medium-rare.

But unfortunately, it came well overcooked. And while it looked like it would be an excellent burger, it was merely OK. The actual patty was better than the brisket, which was a tad dry. The cheese, however, was perfectly melted, and the tomato was as red and juicy as you’re likely to find on a sandwich.

The baked beans I had as a side dish could have been marketed as a dish of molasses. Too sweet.

The restaurant, which occupies a space that was once a Woody’s Bar-b-q, certainly has the sports bar vibe, with plenty of televisions hung about.

On the website, the servers are referred to as “the girls,” which I find a bit demeaning. (Don’t know how they feel about it.) And it seems that with the bare-midriff outfits that the place fancies itself as its own private Hootersville. Whatever.

 On one hand, I’m glad to see Oviedo getting more independently owned restaurants. On the other, I wish they would concentrate more on presenting a quality product. Little steps, I suppose.

Bonfires is at 1340 Alafaya Trail, Oviedo. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. Here’s that website link. The phone number is 407-366-4073.

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Red Eye Bar & Grill

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red eye interiorRob Nelson has decided to stay in one place. Nelson, the former owner of Red Eye BBQ food truck, and his wife, Angie, have traded in the truck to open Red Eye Bar and Grill, a small family-friendly restaurant on Maguire Road in Ocoee. Nelson has taken the barbecue that made his food truck a favorite to follow and expanded it with steaks, seafood and all the other things you’d expect from a full-service restaurant. There wasn’t a thing that I tried that I didn’t like.

I started with the crab & corn chowder, a thick and creamy soup with rich bits of crabmeat and lots of fresh corn kernels. This chowder could easily be served in the toniest restaurants in town.

Follow the Food Truck Trend on WUCF TV, or Break Away from the Convoy

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TKs bbqTune in tonight to Metro Center Outlook  on WUCF TV for an episode about Central Florida's food truck scene. Host Diane Trees interviews Mark Baratelli of and producer of the Food Truck Bazaars, and I give her a tour of one of the food truck gatherings -- her first taste of food from a truck. 

The episode will air again Thursday at 10 p.m., and it will be available at UCF's YouTube page sometime tomorrow.

Orlando's food truck trend continues apace after it kicked into high gear just a little over a year and a half ago when Baratelli hosted the first Bazaar. Of course, food trucks aren't all that new. Entrepreneurs have been serving food from trucks and mobile carts for decades. What is new is the focus on a finer quality of foodstuff served from the trucks. Also new is the concept of rallying the trucks in gatherings, such as the Food Truck Bazaar, like big, open-air mobile food courts.

But not all the people who serve food from trucks follow the crowd. Some are content to sit on a street corner, alone, and wait for the world to find them. And a lot of them also serve some pretty tasty food.

T.K.'s BBQ is one of those, and it predates the food truck trend. T.K.'s truck -- not the prettiest thing on the road, but quite functional -- can be found Fridays and Saturdays at the corner of Church Street and Parramore Avenue, just west of downtown Orlando. T.K. is a retired postal service worker who got bored. He had always dabbled in barbecue, usually preparing for friends or special occasions. He told me that his wife encouraged him to give the food truck a try -- six years ago.

New Sandwich from 4Rivers Smokehouse Benefits Beard Scholarship Fund

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To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the James Beard Foundation, the New York based culinary organization has established the James Beard Foundation Silver Anniversary Scholarship Drive. Restaurants around the country are offering special selections on their menus through September 3, 2012 and will donate one dollar from the sale of each of the special items to the scholarship fund. Scott is sampling the dishes from all of the local participating restaurants:K restaurant, Cress, Spanish River Grill, Taverna Opa, 4Rivers Smokehouse, Mi Tomatina and the Rusty Spoon. In this issue: 4Rivers Smokehouse.

4Rivers sandwichYou know, just because we’re talking about a fundraiser for the prestigious James Beard Foundation, it doesn’t necessarily mean all the food has to be fancy-schmancy. So it’s just fine that the entry from 4Rivers Smokehouse is a pork cutlet sandwich.

But even though there is no requirement that the cuisine be haute, it does have to be good. We’d expect no less from 4Rivers, the continuing success story started a few years ago by John Rivers.

The sandwich features what the smokehouse calls a breaded porklet, served on a simple white bun with chipotle aioli, dill pickles and arugula. The meat was tender and had some good juiciness in each bite. The aioli had a bit of spicy heat that was turned up a bit with the peppery tasting arugula. (Are we seeing a trend with more arugula being included in more dishes? Because if it is a trend, I approve.)

I enjoyed the sandwich on the patio of the original location on Fairbanks Avenue in Winter Park. As you’ve no doubt heard, Rivers is building a larger restaurant a few blocks east and across the road. It looks like things are moving along nicely with the new place -- look for them to move at the end of July, I’m told -- so if you want to experience the rusticity of the original place with its tiny, gravel parking lot, you’d better hurry. (The new place has a paved parking lot, and lots of spaces, so you may decide it just isn’t the same.) 

If you do stop by, try something different this time, like the breaded pork cutlet sandwich. It’s good, and it’s for a good cause.

Here’s a link to for hours and location information.


Bubbaque's and a Return to Holy Smoke

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BubbaquesIf you ever want to start an argument in a bar without using sports or politics, just announce to everyone around you what your favorite barbecue joint is, then sit back and listen as they all quarrel with each other over who’s right.

There are few foods that are enjoyed by a large number of people yet so diverse in their definition as barbecue. Or barbeque. Or bar-b-que. Or bbq. get the idea.

What you consider barbecue (the approved spelling of the Association of Food Journalists) depends on where you grew up. In various regions of the country, barbecue has very distinct requirements.

I grew up in the Midwest, in Illinois, and barbecue was not only a noun but also a verb. We called anything cooked outside on a grill barbecue. And we would say, let’s barbecue some burgers tonight.

But of course the barbecue we refer to today usually means smoked meats. But what meats and what type of smoke is where things start to get sketchy. If you’re from Alabama, Georgia or Tennessee, you’re probably talking mostly pork. But in Kansas City, they’ll smoke just about anything, you should pardon the expression.