Menagerie Eatery & Bar

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Menagerie interior

I’m not exactly sure what Menagerie Eatery & Bar wants to be, and I’m not sure the people running it know either.

The Menagerie is the latest occupant of the corner spot on South Eola Drive and East Pine Street. It replaced Muddy Waters, which replaced Mucho. Perhaps there’s something in the deed that stipulates any business occupying the space must begin with the letter M.

The owners of Menagerie are Jonathan Canonaco and Brian Buttner, who also own Teak Neighborhood Grill, RusTeak College Park and, more pertinently, the Stubborn Mule, directly across the street.

The menu is a mishmash of cuisines, styles and food genres, which I suppose befits a place called Menagerie. The restaurant’s Facebook page says it is “chef driven,” but nowhere could I find the name of a chef. Or a driver, for that matter.

UberEats: The gig economy delivers restaurant food to your front door

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Sponsored

ubereats outpost

Editor's note: UberEats is an advertiser on the flog.

Restaurants have been delivering food for eons, even before civilization entered the Internet Age.

But it was the internet that made it more plausible.

But now an even more recent development than the internet is changing the meal delivery game again: the gig economy.

And gig giant Uber is leading the pack with its UberEats service.

Roque Pub

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Roque bar

Pub food is hard to do right. Most pubs recognize the need to offer some food, some sustenance beyond chips or peanuts and an olive garnish to prevent patrons from sloshing out of the bar. Food can act as a (temporary) sponge.

But most pubs don’t have a proper kitchen or the necessary equipment to do more than a rudimentary menu. And that’s fine. Sandwiches with big doughy buns are appropriate fare. But when a bar tries to overreach and offer more than it’s capable of delivering, the results are usually disappointing.

That seems to be the issue with Roque Pub, an otherwise fun neighborhood bar in the emerging Curry Ford West district.

City Pub

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Citypub interior

City Pub is the new restaurant and bar that replaced North Quarter Tavern. The bones of the place are the same, with the central bar and surrounding dining tables. But some decorating touches have been added — royal blue paint, wood wainscoting over a tufted banquette along the back wall — that give it a traditional pub mien.

And the food is still above average, though not as creative as when NQT first opened. But then, in retrospect, that menu was probably too ambitious (and costly).

Yet there’s something about City Pub that just doesn’t seem to congeal. It lacks focus, and the staff don’t seem to have guidance to help them in finding the center. On both of my visits, I felt like everyone there would rather be somewhere else.

Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill

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Puck exterior

Wolfgang Puck is back in town after a very long absence.

And by that I mean a lot longer than just the closing of the former Wolfgang Puck Cafe. That was the big, two-story restaurant that opened in 1996 in Downtown Disney’s then-called West Side, about the same time as House of Blues and Bongos. Puck was one of the first celebrity chefs to have a presence in Central Florida, and the first iteration of his cafe was quite good, especially the dining room on the second level that was supposed to be an approximation of his Beverly Hills hangout Spago, although it couldn’t be called that because of licensing restrictions.

Oh, here’s a fun bit of trivia: When the Ritz-Carlton was in development to open at Grande Lakes, it approached Puck to open a restaurant there. But because of a noncompete clause in his agreement with Walt Disney World Resort he was unable to consider it. So instead, the Ritz pursued a Miami chef who had recently won a James Beard Award to recreate his popular Coconut Grove restaurant. Norman Van Aken accepted, and that’s how Norman’s at the Ritz-Carlton came to be. (The Coconut Grove restaurant closed many years ago.)

At the height of Puck’s popularity, he sold the cafe concept to Chicago’s Levy Restaurants, and the quality of the Disney restaurant plummeted dramatically. After I wrote an updated and largely negative review of Wolfgang Puck Cafe in 2004, I had occasion to speak to Puck by phone on another topic, but I brought up the quality of the local restaurant. He was aware of it and told me that at one point he considered asking the owners to remove his name.

Which brings us now to Disney Springs, the dining, entertainment and retail project that subsumed Downtown Disney, Pleasure Island, Disney Village and the former West Side, and one of the newest restaurants to open there, Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill. It does not stand on the old site — scorched earth, perhaps — and it’s removed in another substantial way: The food and ambiance are as good and enjoyable as when his old restaurant first opened in ’96.

Victoria & Albert's

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vanda19 kitchen

Over the past 30 years and on several occasions I’ve had the pleasure — and it was always a pleasure — of dining at Victoria & Albert’s, the ultra fine dining restaurant at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. Sometimes I’ve been in the sumptuous dining room and other times I’ve been at the chef’s table, overlooking the kitchen. Over the years I’ve seen some changes (including the hotel’s name, which was originally the Grand Floridian Beach Resort).

One of the first big changes was to correct a design flaw that allowed guests sitting under a central dome in the dining room to hear intimate conversations of other guests sitting across the room.

There have been operational changes, moving from two seatings a night to just one every evening; adding Queen Victoria’s Room, which offered a degustation menu, with most courses served from a gueridon, in a more intimate room; doing away with that room’s separate menu, and the gueridons; and at least one major renovation of the chef’s table alcove, one of the most sought-after dining experiences in the Southeastern United States.

Oh, and the best change of all: Allowing the serving staff to wear tags with their given names rather than Victoria or Albert (gender specific).

But through all of my visits there remained one welcome constant: Scott Hunnel was always at the helm in the kitchen. My most recent visit, a return to the chef’s table, marked the first time in my three decades of dining there that Hunnel was not in the kitchen.

To be sure, Hunnel is still there and technically still in charge — he’s still listed as the executive chef on the printed menu — but he also has a higher helm. He now is the executive chef for all of the hotel’s restaurants, which include Citricos, Narcoossee’s and various other venues.

Pisces Rising

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Pisces patio

Apparently, I haven’t dined at Pisces Rising in Mount Dora since the middle of 2004. At least that’s the date on a yellowed framed copy of a review I wrote in June of that year. Since then, I’ve learned, there have been at least a couple of ownership changes, so I figured it was time to check it out again.

Not only ownership changes, the concept is different, too. Originally a seafood centric restaurant — Pisces, after all — its menu is decidedly less fishy in its current iteration.

Actually, I’d be hard pressed to put my finger on a central menu theme. Dishes jump from region to region and even to different countries. But a general goal, it seems, is to Floridate them with a local twist using ingredients from nearby farms.

Wine Bar George Revisited

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Wine Bar George Ext

Now that Wine Bar George has been open for seven months or so, I thought it would be interesting to revisit and see how it is settling in to the Disney Springs community.

Actually, there was another reason to make another trip there. A Wine Bar George dining experience with me was offered as a silent auction item at this year’s gala for Orlando Shakes in Partnership with UCF. The dinner, donated by Rick Schell, was for two people to join me and Schell for an updated review. After a fierce bidding war in which two parties battled for the two seats, Schell graciously expanded the invitation to both couples.

Joining us for the evening were John and Rita Lowndes, Dr. Ann McGee and Chuck Kovaleski.

Winebargeorge digby

Owner George Miliotes greeted us with an interesting sparkling wine, Digby Fine English, from Sussex. I know what you’re thinking: English wine? And a sparkling wine at that? This was a delightful surprise. The nonvintaged blended wine — pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier — could hold its own next to many Champagnes. And why was there even a question: It’s been clear since the beginning that Miliotes doesn’t stock swill in his joint. (The Digby goes for $88 on the wine list, so that’s another indicator that it isn’t a second-rate wine.)

Fairbanks Restaurant

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Fairbanks exterior

It isn’t quite old enough to qualify for our ongoing series of the area’s classic restaurants, those 25 years or older, but Fairbanks Restaurant can boast of exceptional longevity in its 23 years of service.

Its name is Fairbanks Restaurant but I always think of it as Fairbanks Diner because it has all the trappings of one. The interior is a little worn. The booths, with cushions covered in plastic, are a bit creaky. One of the freestanding tables has metal folding chairs pulled up to it. Some tabletops have ad-splashed mats with menu items and the message that there are “No fancy napkins here, just good home style cooking.”

And that’s likely the reason for its longevity.

Bloodhound Brew

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Bloodhound exterior

I don’t think I’ve ever been served Tartar Sauce Soup before. No, let me amend that. I definitely have never been served Tartar Sauce Soup before.

But that’s the only description for what came with the Fish & Chips I ordered at Bloodhound Brew Pub & Eatery in South Orlando. Seriously, you could have drunk this stuff with a straw.

I’ve also never been served cold Mushy Peas. They’re always served at least warm if not hot. This ice cream-scoop shaped mound seemed to have come right out of the cooler.