Cantina Catrina

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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I could make this real quick and simply say that I don’t currently recommend Cantina Catrina, the Mexican restaurant from Miami that recently opened its second location, at Florida Mall. I could tell you that there was not one aspect of my experience that I found positive or redeeming, but I feel I need to be more specific.

The restaurant’s Facebook page states, “When you first step through the door you become part of the atmosphere.” Inasmuch as the atmosphere is predominantly influenced by the skeletal images associated with the Day of the Dead, I should have been warned.

Hangry Bison Winter Garden

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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After more than a year’s delay, a second outpost of Hangry Bison, the popular Winter Park Village restaurant, has finally opened, bringing its award-winning burgers and creative cocktails to downtown Winter Garden.

Set in a newly constructed building fronting Plant Street, it’s a bigger restaurant than the original, with more outdoor seating and a large, expansive space indoors with a large bar the main focus. And even the indoor dining room has an al fresco vibe thanks to garage-door walls that open the space up. (It’s one of the new realities that air-flow is a concern in restaurant design.)

Daana Pani

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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For me, a hallmark of a good meatless menu, whether it’s merely vegetarian or fully vegan, is the absence of meat. What I mean is, the menu doesn’t try to replace actual meat with fake meat, processed products that emulate the tastes and textures of chicken, beef and seafood. I’m more impressed with restaurants that achieve vegetarian results organically (whether or not the ingredients are actually organic; don’t get me started on that).

Consider the food at Daana Pani, an Indian restaurant specializing in the cuisine of Gujarat in the west. Nearly 90 percent of Gujaratis follow a form of Hinduism that adheres to a vegetarian diet, even despite its seacoast location. Perhaps that is why you’ll find the word Gujarati on Daana Pani’s menu but not the word vegetarian – it’s assumed.

Jam Hot Chicken

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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There are five levels of spiciness for the sandwiches at Jam Hot Chicken, a walkup window eatery in Winter Park’s Hannibal Square. The middle one is hot, which is what I ordered. I cannot imagine the fiery hell of the next level up, which is labeled hotter, let alone the spiciest one, jam. “You’ve been warned” is written next to that one on the menu. Woe to the person who mistakenly thinks jam means sweet jellied preserves.

Hot was plenty hot for me. I had ordered the Sando, which like the other two sandwiches was made with a thick slab of breast meat, breaded and deep fried. This one was dressed with claw and house-made pickles with a proprietary sauce called comeback (probably not a good name for a food item) and served on a buttered bun.

The Wellborn

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Wellborn courtyard below

Whenever I’m asked for a recommendation for a place to get something to eat before a show at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts – or consider a place for myself, as I did recently before attending a concert at the incredible new Steinmetz Hall – I do a mental stroll north along Orange Avenue, maybe turning west on Church Street to consider some of the restaurants along there. I consider walkability a key factor

This time I strolled, for real, south instead, under the 408 overpass to Lucerne Circle to the Wellborn, a hotel, bar and restaurant in the former I.W. Phillips house (so there’s synergy with DPAC right there). Remarkably, it’s a shorter walk than to most of the restaurants in the other direction.

Isan Zaap Thai Cafe

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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Isan Zaap Thai Cafe has taken over a space in a small group of businesses Gardens Park Boulvard, which fronts Millenia Boulevard. In fact, it replaced a fast fooder called Thai Express.

Thai Express had the typical layout with a lane along the left wall for arriving customers to approach the ordering station. Isan Zaap is a full service restaurant, so that lane isn’t needed. But instead of removing the barrier, the owners have just blocked it off.

In fact, much of the space is the same, including furniture, wall coverings and overall decor. Only the menu and name have changed.

Isan refers to the northeast of Thailand; zaap is a word that can mean spiciness or sassy.

Chef & I

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Last week I told you about Hall on the Yard, the new food market in Ivanhoe Village, and how it’s different from a typical food court because it has full table service and restaurant quality vendors.

One of those restaurants that is helping to make it special is Chef & I, from Nashville, which joins SJO this month as a sponsor.

Chef & I is owned by Chris and Erica Rains – he’s the Chef and she’s the I. C&I is only one of two of the restaurants in the complex with a food counter at its open kitchen. (The plant-based eatery Humbl is the other.)

As Chris Rains explains in the video below, Chef & I intends to take full advantage of the food counter and accentuate the ability of the diners to communicate directly with the chefs cooking in front of them. People sitting at Chef & I’s (Chef & My?) counter can technically order from any of the restaurants in the hall, but Rains said it’s his goal to make them want to order from him.

Hall on the Yard

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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“So, what’s up with all these food halls, Scott, aren’t they just like food courts without the mall attached?”

I’ve been getting asked that a lot lately since food halls and markets have been trending. At first glance, some of them do resemble a mall food court, with various stalls of food vendors with walkup counters where you place your order, pay for it, then carry it on a tray to a table, if you can find one.

The biggest difference with food halls and markets is that the food stalls are more likely to be operated by independent chefs and restaurateurs – you’re not likely to find an Auntie Ann’s Pretzel or Orange Julius – and offer a more complete dining experience of appetizers, entrees and desserts.

Now, the recently-opened Hall on the Yard in Ivanhoe Village takes the food hall concept to a different level. Like other food halls, HOTY features a variety of restaurant concepts and cuisines and also has two large bars, one inside and one outside. But it operates more like a conventional restaurant, including host seating, with waiter service and customers ordering from as many of the vendors as they wish from one spot. You can even make a reservation.

There were a couple of things I found surprising on my three visits. First, the place is huge. The food stalls – nine of them – are strewn throughout the first level; there is ample private function space upstairs. You may be seated at a freestanding table, one of the bars or at the food counter of one of two open kitchens – Humbl, the plant-based concept, or the Chef & I (I’ll have a focus on Chef & I Tuesday). Wherever you sit, a server will greet you to explain things and to take your orders, even if you select items that are from two or more far-flung vendors. This operation model allows the chefs to cook without having to worry about the “front of the house,” even when the front of the house is surrounding them.

But the most surprising thing of all was that it seemed to work.

F&D Cantina Thornton Park

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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F&D, the food and drink restaurant group, has opened its second, or maybe third, Mexican/Tex-Mex brand, F&D Cantina, in Thornton Park. The restaurant moved in to the space that was Jax Thornton Park since 2017. Prior to that in was Baoery and more famously Cityfish. It began its life, in the early 2000s, as Central City Market when the mixed-use building was new.

I reviewed the other existing F&D Cantina, in Lake Mary, in 2018 and liked it. If there was some surprise in my tone it was because the original Cantina, in Waterford Lakes, was a jumbled mess. It no longer exists because apparently there is a god. At least one who rules over Mexican restaurants.

1921 Mount Dora

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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The Mount Dora Art Festival seemed like a good time to take a road trip and check out how 1920 Mount Dora is doing.

I hadn’t visited the restaurant since it was known as 1921 by Norman Van Aken. Van Aken, the popular award-winning chef based in South Florida, was instrumental in developing and opening the restaurant in 2016. He ended his involvement in 2018 and the restaurant was renamed 1921 Mount Dora.

In the ensuing years, I missed a couple of chefs who took up residency there, figuratively more than literally, including Josh Oakley, who cooked there between his Smiling Bison days and his current position as executive chef at The Monroe in downtown Orlando’s Creative Village.

Now in the executive chef chair at 1921 is Chris Edwards, who previously held that position at King + Duke in Atlanta.