Negril Jamaican Restaurant

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Negril exterior

I had originally gone to the west side of town for a completely non-eating reason — it happens every now and then — but when I saw Negril Jamaican Restaurant I immediately changed course.

Negril is a fast-casual restaurant, more casual than it is fast and it’s pretty fast: most of the food is already prepared and in a steam table set behind glass.

The menu has Oxtail, Brown Stews, Jerked dishes and Jamaican Fried Chicken. But every menu listing for a curried dish — available in goat, chicken and shrimp — included the line “Best Curry in Town.” How could I not go with that?

Valisa Bakery

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Valisa sandwich

Now that’s a sandwich.

I hadn’t expected much when I pulled off of Semoran Boulevard into the newly developed strip of businesses about a half mile north of Colonial Drive. We’d stopped at this address before to sample Paradiso Pizza — which was also quite good. Back then, Valisa Bakery was still under construction, so when I saw the neon Open sign, I figured I’d give it a try.

Valisa is a Puerto Rican bakery, deli and restaurant. Its front display case is filled with scrumptious looking pastries, pies and cakes. I was looking for something savory, so I started perusing the menu board on the wall behind the counter. But it was a video display that changed frequently, often just as I was about to read a sandwich’s description. The young woman anticipated by frustration and handed me a printed menu.

Amatista Cookhouse

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Amatista dining room

I took avail of its participation in Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining Month to visit Amatista Cookhouse at Sapphire Falls, the new Loews resort at Universal Orlando.

The hotel’s website says that it “transports guests to a paradise in the heart of the tropics.” But with its austere and cold decor and vast, open dining room, I thought more about the icy Fortress of Solitude from “ Superman” than anything equatorial. (It might be more solitary than than the operators would like, given the low number of guests on the evening I dined.)

The menu is ostensibly Caribbean but the food is presented in a creative and stylistic way.

Kreyol Kafe & Bakery

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Kreyol interior

I’ve written in the past that restaurant critics, over time, developed an innate sixth sense. But instead of seeing dead people we see dead restaurants. Or at least restaurants that are about to be dead. There’s just something about the look and feel of a place that tells us without even tasting the food that this visit isn’t going to turn out well.

But the opposite can also be true — call it a seventh sense — that when we enter a new restaurant, especially one we’ve never heard of before, we immediately know this is going to be good.

That’s what I felt when I walked into Kreyol Kafe & Bakery, a Haitian eatery in East Orlando. Despite the liberties taken with the spelling of its name, I immediately knew this was going to be a find. And I wasn’t disappointed.

Golden Krust

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Golden Krust interior

Golden Krust sure doesn’t sound like the name of a Caribbean eatery. Maybe a bread shop or a fictitious business on The Simpsons.

Actually, its origin was as a bakery, in St. Andrew, Jamaica, where the crusts, or Krusts, if you will, that were meant to be golden were the patties and other baked goods that are staples of a Jamaican menu.

Golden Krust also didn’t scream franchise to me as I approached the restaurant in Waterford Lakes, but I figured it out once I was inside. The menu board over the counter, where a steam table holds the day’s offerings, has a space next to each item’s name where the dish’s calories can be listed. Restaurants in Florida are not required to list nutritional information — yet — so the spaces were blank. But I realized that only a menu board provided by a franchisor would have the unnecessary calorie spaces. And I also correctly deduced that this was a franchise out of New York, where chains and fast food joints are required to list nutritional information. (Here in the Sunshine State such information is available on request from most chains, but otherwise kept in the dark.)

Mark's Caribbean Cuisine

Written by Scott Joseph on .

I guess those people who stand out on the street corner and spin signs really work. I might not have known Mark’s Caribbean Cuisine even existed if I hadn’t spotted someone waving a sign on University Boulevard near Dean Road recently. I pulled in to the little corner strip mall with a sudden craving for goat.


The cheerful young woman at the counter, where guests order their food to have delivered to a table, waited patiently while I looked over the menu. Curried goat would fill the goat urge, but I wanted something extra, so I settled on a salt fish fritter figuring it would serve as an appetizer.


However, the entree was delivered well before the fritter, so that didn’t work out the way I’d planned. Never mind, I liked everything I tasted, including the tardy salt fish. The goat stew had a wonderfully rich gravy with layers of seasoning. The meat was tender, at least the pieces without bone still attached. Having had lots of Caribbean-style goat, I knew to chew with caution because the meat is generally cleavered on the bone. But I wonder how many dentists have gotten rich from curry novices.


The plate included a large mound of rice and peas, plus some braised cabbage and some fried plantains. It was an ample serving, though I thought there could have been more meat in the curry.


The salt fish fritter was a large, shapeless hunk of fried batter. The fish was more evident by taste than by site, and true to its name, it had a wonderful salty note.


Mark’s dining room is dark but neat. The space features a large mural of a Caribbean coastline, which I’m pretty sure is a required decoration in every Jamaican restaurant.


Mark’s Caribbean Cuisine is at 10034 University Blvd. Orlando. It’s open for lunch and dinner daily. Most entrees are under $10. Here’s a link to Mark’ The phone number is 407-699-8800.



Mama Millie's

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When he found out I would be meeting some people for lunch at Mama Millie’s, a friend who had already lunched there warned me not to get the oxtail soup. “It has bits of tail in it,” he said. “What part of oxtail did you not understand when you ordered it?” I asked.

Actually, I had already been to Mama Millie’s, many years ago, but not in its current location. And, it wasn’t called Mama Millie’s at the time. Does this even count as the same restaurant? The last time I had this food, in August of 2001, it was at a place known only as Millie’s, on Colonial Drive just east of SR 417. It was kind of an out of the way location, but people who appreciated good Caribbean food found their way.

Now Millie and her newfound Mama moniker have found there way to a new location, across the street from the University of Central Florida. I have to think this is a better place to be. With 53 gazillion hungry students in proximity, Mama Millie’s should do well.

The students -- and others -- will eat well, too. The menu features all the Caribbean classics, including curry goat, stew beef and jerk chicken. (Unlike oxtail, which has real tail of ox, jerk dishes do not actually contain jackasses.)

I had the curry chicken on my recent lunch date. Even though I ordered the smaller portion, it was an ample enough serving to fill me up, plus have some more for later. It came with a choice of white rice or rice and peas, plus a side dish. Most of the “small” portions are $7 to $8.50; the larger portions are $2 more.

Mama Millie’s is at 12273 University Blvd., Orlando, on the corner of Alafaya Trail. It’s open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday. The phone number is 407-382-3570. Here’s a link to Mama’s Web site.

Tommy Bahama

Written by Scott Joseph on .

The first time I reviewed Tommy Bahama’s Restaurant and Bar, back in January 2007, the culinary arm of the island themed clothier had just opened at Pointe Orlando. (It also was called Tommy Bahama Tropical Cafe, but apparently that name has been dropped.)tommy bahama restaurant

I recall being impressed with the service, and in particular the way the wait staff and management deftly and quickly dealt with problems produced in the kitchen. The thing was, there were too many of those problems and my review was less than positive. I felt the company should apply the same standards of high quality to its restaurant that it does to its clothing line.

So when I saw that Tommy B was participating in Orlando Magical Dining Month, the September-long promotion that had restaurants all over town offering three-course dinners for $30. I saw it as an opportunity to go back and check up on the restaurant as it approaches its three-year anniversary. And having been gifted with a certificate made it a no-brainer.