The H Cuisine

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Hcuisine exterior

If you name your restaurant The H Cuisine, wouldn’t you expect people to wonder what the h the H stands for?

That’s the name of a beautiful restaurant in the Dr. Phillips district. It’s primarily a steakhouse and there are Turkish touches on the menu — Turkish and tulum salads, kafes (rack of lamb) — so might the initial be for halal, the designation for meats prepared by Muslim law?

No.

Maybe it refers to the space, the former Stefano’s Grill, which has been so completely transformed into an upscale and posh dining room that it’s absolutely heavenly? Or for the prices, which are high?

No and no.

The owners all have last names that begin with the letter H. That’s it. As I’ve said before, naming a restaurant is really Hard (with a capital H).

Christner's Prime Steak & Lobster

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Christners wine glass

One in a series of reviews celebrating Central Florida’s classic restaurants, those open 25 years or longer.

Christner’s Prime Steak & Lobster celebrated its 25th anniversary this year. But just as with Linda’s La Cantina, another independently owned restaurant reviewed recently in this series, the milestone comes with an asterisk.

As those who have lived in the area longer than five years know, Christner’s was originally known as Del Frisco’s Prime Steak & Lobster. It was not part of the Del Frisco’s Double Eagle chain, though both had the same origin. I won’t go into all the details here, but if you want to know more about the backstory, I’ve written about it in this article.

Russ Christner, who made the original deal with Del Frisco’s founder to open a steakhouse with that name in Orlando, chose a building on Lee Road instead of opting for something in the Tourist World part of town. That should have been an early indicator that this was meant to be a place for locals, a restaurant for celebrational splurges for some and for others a steakhouse for a fine piece of meat.

Christner grew the business and expanded the building’s footprint. But even as it got larger, he, along with his wife, Carole, maintained a hands on policy — Carole at the host stand and Russ wandering the dining rooms in his “uniform” of blue work shirt with a well worn and singed terrycloth towel over his shoulder — that kept it a family run business.

Linda's La Cantina

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Cantina sign

This is another in a series of reviews of Central Florida's classic restaurants that have been in operation 25 years or longer.

Linda's La Cantina is the oldest restaurant in Central Florida, and the reason for its longevity and its continued popularity can be attributed to one thing: it serves damn good steaks. It certainly doesn't warrant hour-plus waits based on its ambience or service, but more on that in a moment.

The title of the oldest restaurant comes with an asterisk. There has been a restaurant called La Cantina at 4721 E. Colonial Drive since 1947, but it wasn't always Linda's. We could double-asterisk the title, too, because there was another an Italian restaurant on that spot before Rudy Seng bought it and renamed it Edie and Rudy's La Cantina. Why a steakhouse with an Italian accent had a Spanish name is unknown.

Rudy and Edie had a son named Al who fell in love with a young salad girl named Linda Gilland. They got married. Al took over the restaurant in 1972 after Rudy died and renamed it Al and Linda's La Cantina. Linda bought out Al's share of the business in 1984 and the couple divorced shortly afterwards. Al's name was ripped from the sign and it's been Linda's La Cantina ever since.

Three asterisks: La Cantina's operation has not been continuous. The original restaurant was torn down in 1979 and replaced with a larger building. A fire destroyed that building in December of 1994 and it was replaced with the structure you see today by mid '95.

When I reviewed the risen-from-the-ashes steakhouse in August 1995, I marveled at the phenomenon that is Linda's La Cantina and said, more than once in that same review, "I don't get it."

I still don't.

Manny's Original Chophouse

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Mannys ext

Manny's Original Chophouse was not what I was expecting. I'm not sure it was what Baldwin Park was expecting, either.

Manny's is a franchise operation that originated in Haines City. And before we go any further, it's necessary to mention that the Manny in the name is Nikolaidis, not Garcia. Nor Tato, for that matter, even though the latter at one time had a place called Manny's Chophouse on Markham Woods Road in Longwood. That was in 2006. According to the website for the new chophouse in Baldwin Park, Nikolaidis opened his first one in 2004, so apparently he has legitimate claim to the Original designation.

But back to expectations. I was expecting classy, I was expecting serene, both befitting the lakefront location in the upscale development.

Back Room Steakhouse

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Backroom sign

Considering the name of the restaurant is the Back Room Steakhouse, I shouldn't be completely surprised that even after having dined there I'm still not at all sure where it is or exactly how I got there. (Thanks, for the directions, Siri.)

What isn't surprising is that it is located in a strip mall, nestled between a Beef O'Brady's and a Little Caesars pizza.

Once inside the ambience is a little more, um un-strippy, with a clubhouse decor that includes red leather tufted banquettes and wood floors. It's slightly more barlike than upscale. And by the way, despite the name, the restaurant is right up front.

The average check total is decidedly higher than the neighbors'. O'Brady regulars who might wander in and decide to try Back Room's beef might gasp at the $31 fee for a 14-ounce New York Strip. But folks who appreciate good steaks and know that a good quality cut, aged four weeks, costs a bit more will understand the cost once they take a bite.

Fig's Prime

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Figs int

I don't know if it's Figs or Fig's. I just know that the word Prime is also part of the name of this splashy, contemporary new restaurant in Altamonte Springs.

The restaurant's logo has a leaf -- let's assume it's a fig leaf -- where an apostrophe would be if the name is meant to be Fig's. This would be a rare case of a fig leaf revealing something rather than obscuring. But in postings on its Facebook page the restaurant refers to itself as Figs Prime, indicating more than one fig is involved. So I'm confused.

You probably think this is all just a niggle, but it's part of my job to pay attention to details. And if the people behind, um, FP paid more attention to that and other details, this could become a major player among restaurants in north Orlando.

Kres Chophouse

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Kres interiorPhoto: Kres Chophouse

I was walking around downtown Orlando with a friend recently when we passed Kres Chophouse. It occurred to me that it had been a long time since I’d dined there, so we popped in for dinner. I’m glad we did.

I don’t know why, but Kres hardly pops into my mind when I’m asked about recommendations for downtown dining. Maybe it’s because the last couple of times I had dined there I found it to be only so-so. But sitting at the bar on the other night, I was reminded about the long history of this space.

Well, a short history in the grand scheme of the location’s timeline. It occupies space in the Kress building and was originally part of the S.H. Kress chain of five-and-dime stores. I first dined in the space when Bailey’s, a popular islands-themed restaurant on Fairbanks Avenue in Winter Park opened Bailey’s Cityside there.

Jack's Place with Guest Critics

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Jacs Place interior

We have a couple of guest critics for today’s review. John and Rita Lowndes were the successful bidders on a silent auction item to have dinner with me and to contribute to the review. The dinner was provided by the generous folks at Rosen Plaza and Jack’s Place, with chef Michael McMullen, and benefitted Orlando Shakespeare Theater in Partnership with UCF.

Since the last time we reviewed Jack’s Place, the intimate dining room has undergone a sprucing up. The dozens of celebrity caricatures, drawn by hotelier Harris Rosen’s father, Jack, when he was employed by the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan, are still the main decor element.

But the room now seems somewhat softer, more elegant. It’s a lovely oasis in the large convention hotel, a quiet escape for a pleasant meal.

Eleven

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Eleven deck

Things are looking up for area restaurants, at least in a physical sense.

There seems to be a renewed interest for top-floor dining. Recently, Hemisphere returned to the top of the Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport. At the Four Seasons Resort at Walt Disney World Resort Capa, um, resorted to the highest space. They join California Grill at the Contemporary Resort, and sometime next year, Circo will open on the top deck of an International Drive parking garage.

And there’s the subject of today’s review, Eleven, the restaurant at the Reunion Grande whose name indicates its position at the 11-story hotel.

STK

Written by Scott Joseph on .

STK sign

I had visited STK at Disney Springs prior to it opening, and I was at the rather frantic grand opening event. But I was delighted to be invited back recently to experience it as a full, working restaurant.

Turns out it isn’t a lot less frantic on an average day. Your first clue to what the sound level will be is the DJ booth, which sits prominently, raised like a pulpit, at the entrance to the main first-floor dining room. Let’s just get this out of the way, folks: This isn’t a place for quiet conversation.

But the food is quite good, and the menu, under the direction of chef James O’Donnell, thoughtfully goes beyond the meat that the vowelless name would suggest.