Bull & Bear

Written by Scott Joseph on .

BullandBear dining room

While so many fine dining restaurants and high-end steakhouses are pulling back and reconfiguring themselves to be more casual — Shula’s Steakhouse at the Dolphin comes to mind — Bull & Bear maintains its commitment to elegance and high quality. It’s one of the reasons it was voted Best Restaurant Overall in our 2018 Foodster Awards for Independent Restaurants.

The restaurant opened almost exactly 10 years ago, in September 2009, in what was then the first Waldorf Astoria outside of Manhattan, and it was named for the iconic steakhouse located inside the original hotel. Other Waldorf Astorias have opened since, but none has a restaurant called Bull & Bear. And with the original Waldorf Astoria closed for renovations, the restaurants along with it, Orlando’s is now the only Bull & Bear. Word is that when the New York Waldorf reopens as a combination hotel and condominium complex, Bull & Bear may not reopen with it. So the Orlando restaurant truly does offer a unique dining experience.

Supper Club Redux: Christner's Prime Steak & Lobster and Chalk Hill Estate Wines

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Christners sc steak and mush

Scott Joseph’s Supper Club convened recently at Christner’s Prime Steak & Lobster for a sold-out evening of fine food, stellar service and exceptional wines from Chalk Hill Estate.

Supper Clubbers were greeted by Alice Christner, who curated the seating chart for the tables in our private dining room. Christner was giddy about leaving the following day on a vacation — the first that she and her husband, David, had taken, she said, since they joined David’s mother, Carol, in running the restaurant following Russ Christner’s death in 2005. (Those of you who are thinking about owning a restaurant, take note of the committment.)

Shula's Steak House

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Shula room

Shula’s Steak House made quite an impression when it first opened at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in late 1995. High-end steakhouses featuring huge hunks of USDA prime meat were, um, rare. Christner’s Prime Steak & Lobster, which was originally known as Del Frisco’s, was a couple of years old. But Morton’s — then called Morton’s of Chicago — wouldn’t open an Orlando location until 1996, and Ruth’s Chris Steak House didn’t enter the area until 2000.

I liked Shula’s immediately. It was classy, service was first rate, and the food, though pricey, was excellent. In 2000, I even awarded it my Critic’s Choice Foodie Award for Best Restaurant Overall.

The upscale brand was founded, of course, by Don Shula, the legendary coach of the Miami Dolphins. (It has always been easy to remember which hotel the steakhouse is in because why would anyone put Shula’s into the Swan hotel?)

The first Shula’s was in Miami Lakes and the second, if I remember correctly, opened in Tampa. Orlando’s was third. Even after all these years, the company, Shula’s Restaurant Group, has only eight steakhouses, though it also operates other more casual brands, including Shula’s 347 Grill, which has a location in Lake Mary.

The company, now based in Ft. Lauderdale, has a new CEO, Bill Freeman, who previously ran the MINA Group of restaurants. So it may be that the brand is ready to take on the Ruths and Dels and Mortons of the world. Perhaps that’s the reason Shula’s Steak Houses are undergoing a brand-wide overhaul with a refreshed decor and a revamped menu from new corporate culinary director, Demetrio Zavala.

Orlando’s Shula’s is the first to be redesigned. I was invited to a media opening and then was asked to join a small group to have dinner with Don Shula and his wife, Mary Anne, who was the previous CEO and is the current chair of the board.

The H Cuisine

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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

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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.