Written by Scott Joseph on .

Leguminati exterior

The Hourglass District, the not-yet-officially-designated area radiating from the intersection of Bumby Avenue and Curry Ford Road and named for an eponymous lake that's supposed to look like an egg timer but looks more like the silhouette of another E.T. (The Extra-Terrestrial), is starting to take shape. (But not that shape.)

Hourglass mapCladdagh Cottage was one of the first businesses to open in the area. It came after a pizza joint that had a brief tenure and closed when the owner became ill. That freestanding building is under renovations and will reopen as F&D Wood Fired Italian Kitchen. Over on the northeast corner of the intersection, the gas station and storefronts have undergone the most dramatic upgrading, with an attractive slatted facade and bold white lettering announcing a Foxtail Coffee shop and the Hourglass Social House.

The latter is the designation for the shared space that also includes the coffee shop and eventually other food and beverage vendors. One of them, Leguminati, opened in August and has been seeing brisk business from Hourglassians hungry for its all-vegan menu.

Jamba Juice

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Jamba exterior

Today we welcome Jamba Juice to the flog. Everybody say “Hey, Jamba!”

Jamba Juice, as many of you already know, is a smoothie specialty restaurant. I have to admit that it’s a food sector with which I’m not all that familiar. Or at least I wasn’t until I spent some time with the folks who operate the Jamba Juice stores in Central Florida. It’s clear I’ve been missing out on some pretty tasty — and healthful — options.

Which is not to say that every smoothie operator in town is offering healthful foodstuffs. In fact, knowing that some jack up their shakes with sugars and additives is what prevented me from becoming a fan.

So what impressed me about the folks at Jamba Juice was their dedication to using “simple and honest” ingredients. That simple honesty is also an identifiable characteristic of the operation, from the clean, crisp, vibrant decor of the stores to the friendly, no BS folks who work there.

The Sanctum

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Sanctum table

Anyone who questions whether there is a market for vegetarian restaurants only needs to visit The Sanctum, a new meat-freetery in the Mills 50 district whose slogan is “Real, damn good food” and whose online description calls its menu plant-based. It seems that it is always packed.

Admittedly, it doesn’t take a lot of people to fill the space, which is set back from Colonial Drive at the northeast corner of Fern Creek Avenue. The space is small and narrow, with a bar and communal seating up front and a few tables hugging the wall down the side, across from the kitchen area. But it was clear to me when I lunched with colleagues there recently that more than a few were repeat customers hungry for vegetarian and vegan options.

That may be one of Sanctum’s secrets of success: It isn’t totally vegan but offers several items that can easily be veganized. As long as you’re not concerned about the purity of the kitchen as far as your food commingling with mere vegetarian offerings, you should be just fine.


Written by Scott Joseph on .

Daya interior

A lot of vegans — and plenty of people who just like good, creative food regardless of the central protein — mourned the loss of Cafe 118. Perhaps not enough to have kept the raw-food restaurant in business, but that’s another matter.

If those folks want a second chance to support a vegan restaurant on Park Avenue, or really close to it, they can get behind Daya. Not necessarily a raw food concept (the 118 in the previous name refers to the uppermost degrees Fahrenheit that the food could be rendered), Daya’s menu is totally plant based. So, no dairy, including butter, or anything else that was once part of an animal, living or dead. See an item on the menu that includes “cheese”? It was fabricated using nuts.

But Daya’s menu doesn’t try to sound meat centric as some other vegetarian restaurants might, attaching “chicken” and “beef” to items that contain neither. Instead, it proudly proclaims the vegetable stars that are featured in most of the entrees.

Market On South

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Market on South exterior

I have a new favorite vegan restaurant. Not that I had an old favorite, but there is much to like about Market On South, a new market. On, um, South Street. It’s charming, edgy and as enticing as any meat-centric eatery.

Now, I have to be careful here. I’ve learned from writing about vegan restaurants in the past that many of the people who follow the strict regimen don’t seem to have a sense of humor about it. I call it an irony deficiency. One of my favorite columns I wrote as the Chow Hound was about a vegan restaurant. It was located in a space that was a former (and future, as it turned out) gay bar, so I wrote the review as though vegan were a lifestyle choice. I made myself laugh; I made a lot of vegans angry. My goodness, the hate mail I received. Some of them, paradoxically, were out for blood.

So let me be perfectly straight<ahem>forward: The food I tasted at Market On South was terrific and I recommend you try it.

Ethos Vegan Kitchen

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Ethos logoI keep forgetting to tell you about my lunch at Ethos Vegan Kitchen. Maybe that’s because the lunch was, well, forgettable.

Ethos, of course, is the all-vegan restaurant that started out in 2008 in a small space on Orange Avenue in the Ivanhoe Row district. Earlier this year, Ethos moved to the location of the first Urban Flats restaurant at the corner of New York Avenue and Fairbanks Avenue in Winter Park. Whereas it offered counter service, quick-serve at the original restaurant, Ethos is now a full-service place.

Vegetarian Options Improving for the Meatless Many

Written by Scott Joseph on .

I’ve found over the years that people who describe themselves as vegetarian aren’t always. I’ve also found that people who follow -- or attempt to follow -- a vegetarian diet do so for one of two reasons. 

Some choose to be meatless for health reasons. Animal based protein tends to be higher in cholesterol, and hormones and steroids used to raise the animals to slaughter age may also be cited as reasons to eschew meat. But it often comes out in conversation that someone who identifies as a vegetarian will admit to eating seafood or even chicken, keeping a distance only from red meats. 

Then you’ve got your ovo-lacto vegetarians, who do not eat even seafood but will partake of eggs, milk and other dairy products.

Other vegetarians follow the regimen for humanitarian reasons, choosing not to eat meat because they consider it cruel to do so. I actually know people who claim to be humanitarian vegetarians who still eat seafood, which I find curious. But I don’t judge. 

Strict vegetarians are the ones who say they won’t eat anything that has a face. Or used to.

Bohemian Rhapsody -- Raphsodic Cooperative Company

Written by Scott Joseph on .

raphsodic_exteriorThere’s a new little bakery in the Mills 50 district, one that will gladden the hearts of vegans, if not spelling teachers.

It’s called Raphsodic Cooperative Company, and, yes, that first word is meant to be the adjective form of rhapsody. At least that’s what it says on the shop’s Web site. But it seems the folks involved in this venture have their hearts in the right place, even if the h isn’t.

RCC occupies a small storefront just north of Colonial Drive. The interior looks like an old-timey general store. Indeed, there is general merchandise, such as jewelry and artwork, the products of local artisans who have asked to sell their wares there. That’s the cooperative part.

But the foodies will want to know about the bakery. The display case is filled with an array of cupcakes, cookies and brownies, and the young folks tending the counter are eager to offer samples. All of the baked goods are vegan, which means no animal products are used. So eggs, butter and milk, common to many sweets and pastry recipes, are absent. There are some textural and taste differences, but to people who seek vegan products these are bound to be tasty indeed. (I sampled a chocolate chip cookie that was every bit as good as a conventional one, although a brownie that I bit into had a rather granular texture.)

Besides the baked goods, Raphsodic sells tea and coffee, both certified fair trade. And if you don’t know what that means, stopraphsodic_interior in and ask someone. They’ll be more than happy to tell you about it.

In a description on the Web site about how the cooperative views things, owner Katherine Mosher wrote: “With a firm belief in “green advocacy” Raphsodic is committed to life (of all things), liberty (of all things), and the pursuit of sweet… delicious… tasty… happiness, as long as it’s sustainable, recyclable, healthy, no animals were harmed, no one tripped and fell, and most of all everyone agreed to disagree.”

I like that.

Raphsodic Cooperative Company is at 710 N. Mills Ave., Orlando. The shop is open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The phone number is 407-704-8615. Click here for the Raphsodic Cooperative Company Web site.

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Loving Hut: Vegan Fast Food. Really?

Written by SJO Staff on .

I had been driving west on Colonial, noticing all the closed restaurants along the way and thinking the area most immediately south of Baldwin Park is looking pretty blighted. What's up with that?Loving Hut


Then I got past Bumby Avenue and noticed a new sign: Loving Hut. I thought it was a massage parlor.

Looking closer, expecting to see specials for loofah scrubs or something, I noticed that it is a restaurant. In fact, it's in a space that has held various Asian restaurants over the years.

The last time I was in this building I left without ordering. The place was so unkempt and unclean looking that I just couldn't bring myself to eat there. Sometimes you just have a feeling about a place. My feeling told me to turn around and get out of there.

The owners of Loving Hut have really cleaned the place up. In fact, its interior is so shiny white that it almost glows.


Of course, Loving Hut doesn't give much of a clue as to what to expect in the way of a cuisine, and even once I was inside and looking over the menu I wasn't all that sure. The fare is still Asian influenced, but the menu is entirely vegan. What's more, Loving Hut is a chain restaurant that touts itself as the first vegan fast food restaurant.

Hmmm, my concept of veganism is more in line with slow food than fast. And I was a little surprised when the young woman at the counter, where I placed my order, described one of the entrees as having the taste and texture of chicken. Do vegans really want to have the sensation that they're eating flesh? I doubt it. But that's just me.

This Loving Hut is the first in the eastern part of the U.S. The menu features familiar appetizers, such as spring and summer, and not so familiar, like "large golden tofu" and "New York Steak" (remember that everything served here is plant-based). Other areas of the menu include salad & soup, rice & Noodles and western specialties. The latter a club sandwich, "happy dog" and savory spaghetti. I guess you would call it a spaghetti western menu.

I ordered the fresh spring rolls for an appetizer and something called noble rice for my entree. The spring rolls had a translucent rice paper wrapper filled with greens, noodles and bits of what I assume to be tofu. It was a hefty serving, about six half rolls, served with a peanutty dipping sauce and a bowl of vegetable broth with carrots.

The entree, despite the name noble rice, was the one that was described as resembling chicken, and indeed this tofu was so chickeny that they even were able to make it slightly tough. It was coated with a breding of sorts that made it seem deep-fried, and it had a slight curry flavor, but it was not hot. The white rice had a hint of coconut and was dotted with what I choose to believe were black seeds. (If it had been the previous tenants I might have guessed something else.)

The people running Loving Hut couldn't have been friendlier or more accommodating. After you place your order you're given one of those coaster pagers (which I have never, ever seen used as a coaster, but never mind about that right now). The pager is a bit superfluous because the place is so small that a staffer could whisper your name when your order is ready and you'd hear it.

Tabletops are white and chairs are a tight white leather, a choice I think I would have counseled against -- it's going to difficult to keep those lookiing pristine.

It will be interesting to see how the vegan community embraces this concept. There are a couple of other choices, including Ethos Vegan Kitchen and the more upscale Cafe 118. The latter is not an inexpensive option, so I would think those who strive to keep to a plant-based diet would welcome another restaurant dedicated to them

Those who stop in expecting a massage will be sorely disappointed.

Loving Hut is at 2101 E. Colonial Drive, Orlando. It's open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 3 to 9 p.m. Sunday. The phone number is 407-894-5673.

Update: Entrees are pretty cheap, ranging from $5.75 to $7.95.

Cafe 118

Written by SJO Staff on .

Raw Food, Living Cuisine, Unusually Good.

I had the most unusual lunch earlier this week: I ate an entire meal raw.

No, I mean the food was raw; I was fully dressed.

It wasn't sashimi and it didn't consist of shucked oysters. In fact, there were no meat or animal by-products involved at all.

And yet all the food I had at Cafe 118, a new restaurant in Winter Park, was wonderfully complex and had multiple levels of flavors and textures. I'm sure much of this will sound odd to the uninitiated, but trust me on this one: if you didn't know Cafe 118 served only raw, nonmeat foods, you might never figure it out.

Actually Cafe 118 goes even further -- all the foods here are organic. If you consider veganism to be extreme vegetarianism, think of what Cafe 118 does as severe veganism, although the words vegan or vegetarian appear nowhere on the menu.

The 118 in the restaurant's name refers to the temperature in degrees Fahrenheit that some foods are heated to. I stew myself in temperatures higher than that in the steam room at the Y. Going above that temperature, aficionados of raw cuisine profess, saps foods of their vitamins, enzymes and minerals. Raw foods, they assert, aid in digestibility and cell reconstruction, among other things, according to information on Cafe 118's menu. I can't attest to any of that. But I can tell you that the food I had at Cafe 118 was all quite delicious, and it's presented in a stylish and even (dare I say?) gourmet fashion.

I took along a friend who is a practicing vegan, except he has a sense of humor. He had, of course, known all about Cafe 118 and had tasted everything on the menu. He ordered the beet ravioli for himself and suggested I try the shiitake mushroom "lasagna."

The "lasagna," as you might guess from the quotation marks, had no pasta -- that would have required cooking, as well as an egg or two most likely. Instead, this lasagna was made with strips of thinly sliced zucchini layered with sun-dried tomatoes, herb pesto and a ricotta-cheeselike substance fashioned out of raw macadamia nuts. Assuming the tomatoes had been dried in the sun under 118 degrees, the only thing in the dish that had been so processed was the stack of chewy shiitake mushrooms on top. It was a delicious mix of textures and all quite tasty.

But as much as I enjoyed my lasagna, I liked my friend's ravioli even more. No pasta here either, of course. This time the wrapper was made from pureed and dried beets that formed sheets. The filling was more of the wonderful macadamia ricotta, which was even better with the bright flavor of the beets. A stack of tangy arugula with a pear wine sauce accompanied the dish.

For dessert we had the banana almond butter cup ice cream, which, of course, had no cream. No dairy at all, to be sure. Yet it was as cool and creamy as any Haagen-Dazs concoction.

Juices and "milk" shakes are another specialty at Cafe 118. I had the divine cherry, blended with almond milk and coconut butter. It was good, but not something I think I'd order again.

If your concept of vegan restaurants is all hemp and tie-dyed designs, you'll be surprised at Cafe 118. The decor features polished tile floors and granite tabletops. The restaurant occupies a small but bright and cheery spot on Morse Boulevard, just east of Park Avenue. Its ambience befits its address.

So do the prices. You may be thinking that raw foods would be less expensive than cooked foods. After all, the utility bill should be lower at this place. But as explained by our waiter (who was, by the way, a knowledgeable and helpful guide who answered all of my questions with expertise), the food here takes a great deal of preparation. And there's the organics factor, as well. That's why the entrees range from $13 to $18.

And something else I should mention. I found the food to be quite filling. Several hours after my lunch I was still feeling full and satisfied.

The menu here, by the way, was developed by raw foodist Matthew Kenney, whose name will be familiar to those who follow this type of cuisine and who has had several restaurants, all of which failed, in New York. However, despite what was reported in the Orlando Sentinel earlier this year (and re-reported by New York Magazine), Kenney is not a partner in Cafe 118; he merely consulted on the menu and spent a couple of weeks at the opening training the chefs.

He obviously did a good job. I thoroughly enjoyed my meal here, and I now have a new appreciation for the levels vegan cuisine can achieve.

Cafe 118 is at 153 E. Morse Blvd., Winter Park. It's open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday. The phone number is 407-389-2233. For a full menu, visit Cafe 118's Web site.