Blue Jacket Grille

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Blue Jacket sign

The little building at 745 Bennett Road has been home to a number of food and beverage businesses over the years. It was the original location of Redlight Redlight before that popular beer bar moved to Corrine Drive. I believe there was a barbecue restaurant at one point, and in the 1990s it was a gay bar.

More recently it served as the first location for the Smiling Bison, which opened a second location in Sanford in 2015 then last year made that its only location by leaving Bennett Road.

Four Rebels American Taco Kitchen & Bar

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Four Rebels food with background

I'm just not getting what's so rebellious about about Four Rebels American Taco Kitchen & Bar.

Whatever disruption there was to be made in the taco category has already been done, and to satisfying effect with such tacomongers as Hunger Street, Black Rooster and even Pig Floyd's. The latter two are even within walking distance of Four Rebels, which took over the space vacated two years ago by the short-lived Segafredo. You probably didn't visit Segafredo -- that's one of the reasons it was short-lived -- but that's the building in Mills Park with the rooftop lounge. (The roof was closed on both of my visits to Four Rebels.)

Hemisphere

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Hemisphere preview window

My first critique of the then-new Hemisphere restaurant, in November of 1992, in the just opened Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport had one recurring word: grand.

The restaurant is on the ninth floor of the hotel, but diners entered on the tenth and descended a curved staircase that allowed them to take in the sweeping vista from the dramatic two-story windows. The lighting was golden and the decor posh. And the cuisine, Italian in the early days, was high quality. I encouraged readers to experience this new restaurant even if they had no travel plans (the complimentary valet at the hotel’s entrance made it hassle free).

Economics and changes in customer demands caused the restaurant to evolve over the years. The stairway entrance was scrapped; just take the elevator to the ninth floor and walk in, basically under the stairway. The cuisine focus shifted, as it has at many restaurants in more than 25 years.

Late in 2016 the restaurant underwent another redo. The decor is now cold and austere. There is little to remind you of its sumptuous beginning. Except for the windows overlooking the runway, it looks like the breakfast room you’d find in any hotel. And indeed, one corner of the dining room is set aside for hotel guests to serve themselves cereals and such in the morning.

Most disappointing, the food is inappropriately overpriced and not worth even half the cost.

Market on Magnolia

Written by Scott Joseph on .

MOM pizza room

Despite its name, Market on Magnolia isn't so much a market as it is a food court with a bar.

M.o.M., as it lovingly calls itself, occupies the former Frank & Steins beer and hot doggery at the corner of Magnolia Avenue and East Church Street, so not a huge space. Certainly not on the level of, say, Plant Street Market in Winter Garden. Or East End Market, for that matter.

As I said, a bar is the main focal point, occupying the far back wall. There are, of course, barstools for seating but there are also some high-top tables in front of the bar and essentially in the center of the entire space.

Cork & Fork

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Cork and Fork burger

I recently made a second visit to Cork & Fork, a restaurant in the Belle Isle neighborhood. I made my first visit there two years and three days earlier.

I didn’t write about it then because I found the restaurant, its food and its service to all be equally banal. (The name of the place, too, as long as I’m at it.) Also, it occupied a space that had not been known for keeping tenants very long. I figured it would slink off into obscurity without any help from me.

But it’s stayed on, which is more than Belle Isle Bayou was able to do, though it seems to me the owners of Cork & Fork didn’t feel any need to change the New Orleans centric decor of the previous occupant. So I figured it was time to stop in again and check the place out, to see what has kept it going.

K Restaurant & Wine Bar

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Krestaurant interior

There's always a bit of trepidation whenever a major change occurs at a popular restaurant. At K Restaurant & Wine Bar, of course, the change was a transfer of ownership from founding proprietor and chef Kevin Fonzo to Chad Phelps, a longtime chef with mainly institutional experience. (His resume includes 21 years as a chef in the U.S. Navy aboard a submarine, which probably prepared him for the cramped confines of the K kitchen.)

Fonzo seemed inextricably attached to the popular College Park restaurant; after all, it's his initial that gives the restaurant its name. And the James Beard Award-nominated chef has been a charismatic and visible promoter of the restaurant, regarded as one of the area's top chefs. Surely things would not be the same without Kevin at K.

Kevin who?

Orange County Brewers

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Orange County Brewers tanks

The chrome bumpers of Fiats have given way to stainless steel brewing tanks at the corner of Orange Avenue and Jefferson Street in downtown Orlando.

The storefront space is the new home of Orange County Brewers, which is not affiliated with any government entity. OCB is the latest entry in the burgeoning microbrewery sector.

I'm always impressed by the major hardware involved with setting up an operation like this. The OC's main tanks can be seen from an open garage door (apparently left from the previous tenant) in the back parking lot.

There are also tanks to be seen through the darkened windows behind the many taps behind the bar. Also in view there: kitchen racks and boxes, and jars of hops, all of it rather unkempt looking, but hey, it's a brewery.

It's also a pizzeria. Or I should say, a pizzeria also occupies the space. The food is done by Orlando Pizza & Wing Company, which is not owned by the same people as Orange County Brewers, apparently, as I found out on a recent visit.

Too Much Sauce

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sauce bowl interior

I cringed just a little when I first heard about Too Much Sauce, not because of the name, which is indeed cringeworthy, but because it is yet another in the long line of assemblage restaurants. Maybe it wasn't a cringe; it might have been an eye roll. I definitely sighed.

But I found this new restaurant in the Mills 50 district to be absolutely charming and much less annoying than the average choose-from-each-column concept. And, not incidentally, the food was good.

Even better, there are several preordained bowls that require no hand-wringing order choices. And for those who do wish to call the shots, the bowls are constructed in the back, so you aren't forced to shuffle an assembly line and watch your food being built.

As I approached the counter to place my order, I was greeted by a man who did not say, "Welcome" or "May I take your order?" but rather, "Let's have some good food!"

I was so disarmed that I didn't give the reply that I ordinarily might have given -- I plan to dine alone, thanks -- but instead took a beat and said, "Yes, let's."

Jax Thornton Park

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Jax Interior

Jax Fifth Avenue has returned to downtown Orlando. Except that it's no longer called Jax Fifth Avenue, which is fine because it isn't on Fifth Avenue. But then, it never was on Fifth Avenue, it was on South Court Avenue. But who would name a restaurant Jax South Court Avenue?

The same person who would name the new restaurant Jax Thornton Park, I suppose. That would be Jack Thompson. The original name was meant to be a tongue in cheek play on Saks Fifth Avenue's name. And no, I don't know why the original wasn't Jaks. Ask Thompson.

Those who are old enough to remember the first Jax and who are still able to consume solid food will find that a lot is the same at the new place, which is in the former Baoery/City Fish space on Central Boulevard.

Progressive Dinner at Disney's Wilderness Lodge

Written by Scott Joseph on .

 Wilderness exterior

I think I've found the most pleasant place in all of Walt Disney World Resorts.

Well, I didn't find it, I was invited here, to Geyser Point Bar & Grill, a new venue at Disney's Wilderness Lodge. It's a covered but open-air pavilion next to the lake, and when I visited earlier this month it was on a warm evening, at sundown, with a gentle breeze coming off of the water. I could have spent all evening sitting there.

But it was just a meeting point for a progressive dinner for media, a reintroduction to the dining venues at the resort.

I I was in need of a reintroduction. I had not been to the lodge or its restaurants since they opened in 1994, 23 years ago. With the exception of the starting point -- and the ending point -- not much has changed. Whispering Canyon is still the wild and wacky family dining place it always was, and Artist Point is still a more upscale venue that probably should be considered in the same vein as California Grill, Flying Fish and Citricos. Both serve very good food.