Junior Colombian Burger

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Junior_interiorBack in the old days of restaurant reviewing -- you know, three or four years ago -- we had to work hard at finding new and interesting places to write about. I used to keep a digital recorder handy in my car, and whenever I would spot something of interest -- signs of a just-closed eatery, a new restaurant opening -- I would make a quick audio note to myself. Then, back at my desk, I would make some calls to track down more info. A restaurant critic has to do more sleuthing than tv, movie, theater or book critics. Writers on those beats would receive press releases about scheduled openings or premieres. Restaurants rarely hire pr firms -- and they frequently didn’t want the restaurant critic to know about their place right away.

I still have the digital notetaker, now built into my iPhone, but I haven’t used it in the same way in ages. Now, I find out about new restaurants the way most everyone else does: I spot notices on Facebook and Urbanspoon and Yelp. And every now and then you see an unlikely candidate start to “trend,” with lots of extra buzz and attention.

That was the case with Junior Colombian Burger. It showed up in the top ten “Talk of the Town” list on Urbanspoon, and at least one other critic had written about it. It’s the sort of place I probably wouldn’t have noticed even if I drove past it and never would have found if it hadn’t been for the online attention.

I don’t feel I would have missed anything.

The Crooked Spoon

Written by Scott Joseph on .

crooked_spoonIn preparation for the next big TheDailyCity.Com Orlando Food Truck Bazaar, which is Sunday, May 1, I set off the other day to visit one of one of the participants in its usual daytime parking spot.

The Crooked Spoon isn’t technically a truck but it’s attached to one. The large trailer is outfitted with the basics kitchen equipment to produce a panoply of dishes. However, when I found TCS at the corner of Fern Creek Avenue and Colonial Drive, its white menu board outside had only three items listed. The young woman in the window in the side of the vehicle immediately apologized for the dearth of dishes. One of the available items was the Crooked Spoon burger, which, as it turns out, was just what I was hungry for. I’d like to suggest now that Crooked Spoon erase the other two items from the menu board. This burger is all they will need.

Pine 22

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Pine_burgerThe order process at Pine 22, the new burger bar on Pine Avenue in downtown Orlando, is daunting. Guests upon entering the restaurant, which occupies the space of the failed Black Olive and Blue Smoke, another burger bar, are presented with a clipboard with a menu that features a create-your-own burger scheme. Here are some of the choices you must make:

  • The type of patty you’d like (beef, turkey or black bean; chicken breast and pulled pork are options but then we’re not really talking burger)
  • What size patty (5 oz. or 8 oz.)
  • Whether you want it on a bun or in a bowl
  • Your preferred cheese (from among 10)
  • Your choice of four toppings (from among 19)
  • Optional “premium toppings” (guacamole, fried egg, seven others)
  • A sauce (22 available)
  • Choice of bun (six to choose from; negated if “bowl” was selected above)

I don’t know about you, but I find it rather unnerving to be faced with the prospect of ruining my own meal. I mean, if I choose dried cranberries, charred pineapple, sliced pepperoncinis and green olives in step three will they all work together? What if I add the peanut sauce when I get to step four?

It’s lunchtime and I’m supposed to relax for an hour, but instead I’m anguishing over whether I should have Greek feta or pepper jack cheese.

Moat Sports Grille

Written by Scott Joseph on .

moat_interiorThe area surrounding the University of Central Florida is going to need some more sports bars. With the football team having a winning season, capped by winning its first bowl game, and the basketball team currently at 13-0 and playing its first conference game of the season tonight against Marshall, people might actually start to take interest in their hometown teams. And both teams nationally rated. Heck, I go to UCF football and basketball games occasionally, and I went to school in Illinois.

Of course, I like to go to the games so that I can go to a sports bar before or after, or, in some cases, during the match. There’s nothing like the mutual camaraderie of everyone rooting for the same team. And having a few beers.

And it’s all the better if you can have some good food, too, something that too many sports bars shrug off. But the Moat Sports Grille serves some pretty decent fare, and it’s close enough to the campus that you can enjoy a pre-game meal and still be in your seat for kick-off or tip-off or whatever the sport offs.

You’re thinking Moat? What kind of food do they serve, Moatian? You see, that’s what I’m talking about right there. You don’t know enough about your hometown team to know that they’re called the Knights. As in Round Table. As in castles. And what goes surrounds a castle? Well, yes, Huns, I suppose. But what keeps them from scaling the walls? That’s right, a moat. That’s what we’re talking about here.

Graffiti Junktion College Park

Written by Scott Joseph on .

The newest Graffiti Junktion has been open for a few weeks now. I stopped in one afternoon with a friend to check it out. This GJ, as reported previously, took over the space evacuated earlier this year by K Restaurant Wine Bar in College Park. Those familiar with the original Junktion in Thornton Park know that it is a loud place, both aurally and visually. The name is a pretty good clue as to the genre of its decor. Most of the seating is at rustic picnic tables, So we’re talking some not too subtle changes from the way K looked.

My guest and I chose to sit outside, partly because it was quite crowded inside and partly because my friend couldn’t easily pull her mobility scooter up to the picnic tables; a smaller, conventional table outside was more accessible.

The menu is basically the same as the one in Thornton Park. Because Graffiti Junktion bills itself as an American Burger Bar, that’s what I wanted. I selected the specialty burger called the Lone Star, which has bacon, barbecue sauce and cheddar cheese.

Hamburger Mary's Wins Best Burger in Central Florida Search

Written by SJO Staff on .

ch_award_logoHamburger Mary’s is the winner of Scott Joseph’s Chow Hound Search for Best Burger in Central Florida. The Church Street restaurant took 40 percent of the vote to lead the other 11 candidates. Graffiti Junktion, Ravenous Pig and Bananas Diner were runners-up.

Mary’s, it shouldn’t surprise, is known for burgers. Big, sloppy burgers, cooked just the way you order them and available with a variety of toppings. (My favorite is the blue boy with blue cheese.)

Hamburger Mary’s is at 110 W. Church St, Orlando. They’re open every day for lunch and dinner, and you can get burgered up through midnight Thursday through Saturday. The phone number is 321-319-0600.

Congratulations to Mary and her crew.

Blue Smoke Burger Bar - First Look is a Fail

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Update: Blue Smoke Burger Bar has closed.

The legendary Bob Snow once told me one of his leadership secrets. Snow, of course, was the man behind the once-great Church Street Station and its dining and entertainment venues that were must-visits for tourists (and locals) before CityWalk and Downtown Disney came along to keep the tourists on property.

Snow told me that if one of his restaurants wasn’t performing the way he thought it should, he would go to the manager’s office and remove the chairs. With no place to sit, he surmised, the manager would have to spend more time out on the floor of the restaurant doing what a manager is supposed to do: manage.

Of course that would assume that the manager understands those duties. I’m not sure the person who appeared to be in charge at Blue Smoke Burger Bar in downtown Orlando knows what to do.

Graffiti Junktion

Written by Scott Joseph on .

I stopped in at Graffiti Junktion the other night and had a really good burger. I wish I could say the experience was as good as the burger, but it was rather unpleasant. However, it wasn’t the restaurant’s fault, at least not totally.graffiti_junktion

Graffiti Junktion is a funky little eatery in the funky little space that has occupied the corner of Washington Street and Hyer Avenue in downtown’s Thornton Park for a very long time. It has, over the years, been restaurants named Midnight Blue, Rocco’s, La Fontanella da Nino and Thornton Park Cafe, the latter under different owners. But it started its life as a service station (inviting the obvious references to gas in its foodie days). For many of its early years, the space was mainly an outdoor venue -- the interior is very small and much of it is dedicated to the kitchen and operations. Someone along the way -- I forget who -- put a more permanent awning over the open-air patio, providing a more sheltered dining experience while remaining largely al fresco.

Fancy steakhouses lure cash-strapped customers with high-quality burgers

Written by Scott Joseph on .

fleming's burgerHigh-end steakhouses are finding that fewer people are willing to shell out $30 to $40 for their slabs of marbled meat these days. The recession has provided variations on the “Champagne tastes on a beer budget” theme.

But people still go out to eat, and they still prefer meat. So what do you do if you’re a Fleming’s or a Ruth’s Chris or a Morton’s? You can’t buy a lesser grade of meat and expect to maintain your reputation for high-quality beef; and you can’t reduce your prices drastically enough to attract more business, at least not with the expectation that once the recession is over you can blithely raise them again.

But you can add something to your menu, something people love, something that will satisfy carnivorous cravings. And something you don’t have to charge and arm and a hindquarter for.

So that’s why the steakeries mentioned above -- and a few other restaurants -- have added burgers to their repertoires.

Hamburger -- it’s the new steak.

Great burgers of Central Florida

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Here's my list of places that serve a terrific burger:

The Tap Room at Dubsdread was a winner of the critic’s award for best burger when I was handing out the Foodies and it still does a terrific job.

The Ravenous Pig was the winner of the first SJO vote for best burger. It’s a good version, too, though a lot of people get it just so they can have the truffled fries, which are indeed quite tasty.

Hue Restaurant, the trendy Thornton Park hot spot, serves a surprisingly good burger, one that is good enough to be a contender for any burger award out there. I'm not kidding!

I’ve had an on-again, off-again love affair for the burger at Johnny’s Fillin’ Station for a number of years. Currently it’s on-again. This bar at the corner of Michigan Street and Fern Creek Avenue cooks up a big, fat juicy burger that is perfect -- until one day I go in and it’s not. Catch them on a good day and it’s still an award winner.

The Pit is another neighborhood kind of bar that has its sites set on toppling Johnny’s burger. The Pit has one that includes a fried egg (and by the way, Johnny’s Fillin' Station's newest entity, Johnny's Other Side, recently added such a burger to its repertoire).

And of course there’s Hamburger Mary’s, the happy little spot on Church Street that is all burgers all the time. Hard to go wrong there.

And a fairly new addition to the Thornton Park neighborhood, Graffiti Junktion, also manages a good-sized burger in a decidedly wild atmosphere that is more bar than restaurant.

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