903 Mills Market

Written by Scott Joseph on .

903 front

I first wrote about 903 Mills Market in 2003 when original owners Jim Ellis and Nick Massoni took over what had previously been known as Max’s Market and made it a Lake Davis neighborhood hangout.

Since then, I’ve conservatively driven past the corner cafe more than 2000 times — I live nearby, but given the vagaries of a restaurant critic’s life, casual, nonprofessional meals are something of a rarity.

But on a recent Sunday morning, not wanting to make breakfast or drive far away, I grabbed the other half and the dog (the other quarter?) and we took a stroll to the corner of Mills Avenue and Gore Street.

First Watch

Written by Scott Joseph on .

First Watch dining

Until last week, I couldn’t tell you the last time I was in a First Watch, but I could tell you the first time.

That was in 1988, in Phoenix, and my erstwhile colleagues at the newspaper I had recently been laid off from wanted to take me out to a goodbye lunch before I headed to Orlando and a new job. One of my friends suggested we go to a place that had opened near the newspaper’s offices. It was new to town, open only for breakfast and lunch and was called First Watch.

Inasmuch as that was 31 years ago, I can’t remember a whole lot about the experience. But I can tell you a lot about the brunch I had recently at the First Watch in the Waterford Lakes area. I was invited to join FW’s regional marketing manager to see what’s new at First Watch, both in the restaurant’s ambiance and its menu. And to try something unique to this Central Florida location: alcohol.

The Waterford Lakes location is among the first to experiment with adding a bar, something you might not expect in a restaurant that’s open only until 2:30 p.m. daily. But when you consider the popularity of brunch cocktails — and this location’s proximity to UCF — it makes sense.

And you should know that this is not a name-your-drink bar; there isn’t even a bartender. Instead, First Watch features an array of premixed cocktails made with juices juiced in house daily.

Soco 2019

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Soco Patio

It hardly seems possible that Soco Thornton Park is approaching its fifth anniversary. The upscale casual restaurant, whose name means Southern contemporary, opened in fall of 2014 in the space that for many years had been Hue restaurant.

Much has happened with restaurants in the Thornton Park area in those years. Soco opened under the aegis of the then newly formed Thornton Park Restaurant Group, which had incorporated its existing Cityfish a few doors down into the group. In that time, Cityfish closed, TPRG opened and closed Baoery in that space, and Jax Thornton Park has moved in.

Around the corner, the Tijuana Flats became Verde Cantina and is now Jinya Ramen Bar. A block away, Mucho Tequila and Tacos became Muddy Waters and is now Menagerie. That’s a lot of change and turnover in a relatively short amount of time.

But Soco has remained a constant.

Orlando Classic: Shakers American Cafe

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Shakers wide soup

It’s official: Shakers American Cafe is a bonafide Orlando Classic. The College Park breakfast and lunch diner will celebrate its 26th anniversary next month.

But there’s more to Shakers than just longevity; it’s become a local institution for being a go-to place for friends and business associates to meet, but with a more casual agenda in mind.

What’s the opposite of a power lunch? It certainly isn’t powerless. Look around the room during a busy lunch hour (which is to say just about daily) and you’ll spot community and business leaders at several tables.

But here the agenda is less about the deal and more about the meal.

Eola General

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Eola General exterior

Eola General sounds like it should be the title of a soap opera, doesn’t it?

Instead, it is the name of a business in a residential area of downtown Orlando that is part restaurant and part market. It opened in April, so you may find it confusing, as did I, that the logo states, “Est. 1938.” That apparently is the provenance of the building it occupies. By that reasoning I should be able to state that I was born the year that my house was built. Unfortunately it only shaves two years off my age, but I might consider moving to one of those condos that were built 20 years ago.

The previous tenant of Eola General’s building was Handy Pantry, which would be a lousy name for a soap opera. It closed in Sept. 2018.

Burntwood Tavern

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Burntwood exterior

Things looked promising at the beginning of my visit to Burntwood Tavern, the Ohio based mini chain that recently opened in Orlando (though you’d be hard pressed to discern that immediately from the company’s website, but more on that in a moment).

Burntwood peppers

My dinner companion and I stopped in to the rustically decorated restaurant, which occupies the former site of the similarly named Stonewood Grill & Tavern in the Dr. Phillips area. We started with an appetizer of Stuffed Jalapeños and were impressed with the quality. The plump peppers, deep-fried in summer-weight jackets, were stuffed with smoky cheddar cheese and pimentos that oozes out when we bit into them. They had a delightful spicy kick. Perhaps the cilantro cream dipping sauce was meant to be a cooling counterpoint to the heat, but it was ineffectual and unnecessary. Good poppers.

Unfortunately, everything that followed did not have the same quality.

Artisan's Table

Written by Scott Joseph on .

 

Artisan table exterior

Artisan’s Table has moved about a block and a half to Church Street from its original location on Pine Street in downtown Orlando. The five-year-old restaurant gained visibility with its move to a space on the ground floor of the 55 West apartment building across the courtyard from Rusty Spoon.

I wish now that it could regain some of the artisanality one would expect from its name. Instead, it offers a fairly unexciting menu of safe options. The food I sampled was all good; it just wasn’t what I would call artisanal.

American Kitchen Bar & Grill 2019

Written by Scott Joseph on .

 Am kitchen couch

I could begin this review of American Kitchen Bar & Grill by telling you what I think of the chef and restaurant at the B Resort — after all, that’s what you pay me for (cough).

But instead, let me share what Greg Richie, chef/partner of Soco Thornton Park, recently wrote on his Facebook page:

“There are plenty of restaurants and chefs in town (Orlando) that get their fair share of buzz and hype. You know who’s not getting their share? Chef Venoy Rogers III at American Kitchen Bar and Grill. This guy and his crew (sous Jacob Rios) are doing great things! Don’t sleep on this, folks. Go check it out. (Note- the dining room and atmosphere don’t do justice to the level of food. No disrespect intended.)”

My thoughts exactly. But let me go into some specifics.

Sideward Brewing

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Sideward exterior

Have you noticed that there are a lot of microbreweries popping up lately? Just in the downtown area there’s Orlando Brewing, which is sort of the granddaddy of local beer makers at this point, newcomer Rockpit Brewing in Sodo, Ocean Sun Brewing on Curry Ford West, where Hourglass Brewing will soon open, Ten10 Brewing Company in Mills 50, and downtown’s Orange County Brewers, which can’t seem to hold on to a partner food provider.

Now comes Sideward Brewing to the Milk District, taking over the backend of the building at the corner of Bumby Avenue and Robinson Street that also holds Stasio’s Italian Deli & Market. Sideward is not the biggest local brewer when compared with some of the others mentioned above. But it has two things the others don’t.

One is a license to produce cider on the property as well as beer. (Cider production requires a winemaking license, for some reason.)

The other thing Sideward has to its advantage is some pretty good food to go along with the beers.

Old Jailhouse

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Old Jailhouse extrior

Today we’re visiting the Old Jailhouse in Sanford, the area’s current hotbed of new and innovative restaurants and craft bars. But before we get started with the review, I want to make this pledge: I will not be making any puns about incarceration, and the only references to sentences will be the ones written here. Besides, most of the puns have already been made by the restaurant itself (see staff t-shirts that read “I serve more than thyme”).

Although I must say I’m surprised that, given the current craze for the Hawaiian dish of raw chopped fish, there isn’t an item on the menu called Pokey. And how could the bar not have a drink called the Hoosegow Hooch?