Fig's Prime

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Figsprime interior

When I first reviewed Fig’s Prime, in November of 2017, when it was still new, I had a few issues but concluded that if the staff would pay more attention to details it could become a premier dining destination for the Altamonte Springs and Longwood community.

Attention has been paid.

On a return visit, I found the food and service had risen to match the lovely surroundings, and my dining companions and I had a very nice meal.

Hinckley's Fancy Meats

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Hinckley stand

I fancied a meat sandwich the other evening, so I stopped in at Hinckley’s Fancy Meats, a snout-to-tail butcherie at East End Market.

Matt Hinckley is the eponymous owner of the small stand. According to his bio on the website, he has spent a considerable amount of time traveling the world cooking in an array of kitchens, from a beachside cafe in Nicaragua to a Michelin-starred restaurant in New York City. It was in Nicaragua, he writes, that he witnessed a man slaughter and butcher a cow on Christmas Eve and then distribute all of it to local residents to use in their Christmas meals. He says he was impressed that the butcher left nothing behind. That “zero waste” philosophy guides him in his meat market.

The menu is larger than the kiosk space should accommodate. There are charcuterie, sausages, smoked meats and bone broths.

And most of the products are available in sandwiches. Well, not the bone broths; the breads get too soggy.

Soco of Thornton Park Celebrates 5 Years with Collaborative Dinner

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Soco5 teamFrom left, Venoy Rogers III, Stuart Whitfield, Patrick Montana, and Greg Richie in the kitchen at Soco.

Soco, the Thornton Park Southern contemporary restaurant, recently celebrated its fifth anniversary with a collaborative dinner. Chef/partner Greg Richie invited Venoy Rogers III of American Kitchen, Patrick Tramontana of Antonio’s Maitland, and Stuart Whitfield of the Glass Knife to join him in the kitchen, and the result was a special dinner of great food and wine.

And cocktails, too. PJ Smerechansky of the Nomad Lounge in Animal Kingdom offered guests a choice of welcome drinks: Tea Time with Prudence, Sipsmith VJOP Gin, Earl Grey Tea, King’s Ginger Liquor, honey and rosemary; or Bootlegger’s Basil, Basil Hayden Bourbon, fresh blackberry, basil, Angostura Bitters, and orange peel. I managed to taste both of them and decided I liked the Bootlegger’s Basil best, even though I prefer gin to bourbon.

Nile Ethiopian Restaurant

Written by Scott Joseph on .

nile platter

I had the opportunity recently to join some people for a dinner at Nile Ethiopian Restaurant and found it to be just as wonderful as before.

I was also pleased to find it still doing well after 13 years.

We had other Ethiopian restaurants open in Central Florida before Nile, but for some reason they never lasted more than a year. I always assumed it was the location – one of the early Ethiopian restaurants was in a motel at 33d Street and I-4 and another was in a strip mall on South Orange Blossom Trail. Nile was smarter in choosing International Drive where a diverse clientele could find it.

It was even smarter to serve excellent food.

Paris Bahn Mi

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Paris bahn exterior

Paris Banh Mi Cafe Bakery has opened in a spacious corner spot in the Mills 50 District. And as its name suggests, it’s a combination French patisserie and Vietnamese eatery.

It was a banh mi – the distinctly Vietnamese sandwich – that brought me to the little shop. But it was the display of pastries that made the first impression.

The Boathouse

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Boathouse exterior

I don’t think I’d fully appreciated what a beautiful and elaborate space the Boathouse of Disney Springs is. From its expansive bar, the multiple dining rooms and the satellite open-air lounge that sits over the lagoon, it is a well-polished collection of woods, brass and early-nautical decor – even a full-size vintage Chris Craft boat – with the white tableclothed elegance of a yacht club.

I wish the food rose to the same level.

Vinia Wine Bar

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Vinia bar

We restaurant critics love to talk about our “finds” – new or obscure, out of the way restaurants that haven’t been touted but deserve to be.

I’m not sure a place that has been open for more than a year and is in the heart of Winter Park’s Hannibal Square qualifies as new or out of the way, but I sure was happy to find Vinia Wine Bar.

It’s actually easy to miss, even if you frequent the stretch of New England Avenue where it is located. The other restaurants – Armando’s, Pepe’s Cantina, Chez Vincent, Hannibal’s – are more visible and grab the attention of passersby.

Vinia is on the other side of the street from those businesses and at the top of a stoop in a building that doesn’t look like it holds a wine bar and restaurant. Indeed, until Fabio and Paula Gamba took it over last year the space was a shoe store. (Actually, from the outside it doesn’t look like a shoe store, either.)

Thai Express

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Thai Express exterior

The little outparcel building in front of the Costco in the Millenia area is becoming quite the United Nations of fast fooders. There’s a Tijuana Flats representing Mexico (and the U.S. via Texas), a Sus Hi Eatstation for Japan, and now a Thai Express, representing Canada.

Well, yes, Thailand, too. But Thai Express is a Canadian-born franchise, which you might deduce from the Quebecois company’s Facebook page, which is in Frenchand the Millenia location is its first in Florida.

When I first walked into the compact space I was a bit concerned that this was going to be a Thai version of an assemblage restaurant. But it’s not. It simply offers basic Thai dishes quickly, just as the name suggests.

Don Julio's Mexican Kitchen and Tequila Bar (and Ceviche Bar)

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Don Julio dining room

It would seem that the place to be on a Friday night if you live in the area of Chickasaw Trail and Lake Underhill Road is Don Julio’s Mexican Kitchen and Tequila Bar. At least it seemed that way the Friday evening my companion and I stopped in. The restaurant in the aptly named Rio Pina Plaza was jumping like veritable frijoles saltarines.

It was so crowded that people waiting for tables were standing around on the sidewalk outside the strip plaza storefront. The only seats available, the young woman at the host stand told us, were at either of the bars, the tequila bar in the title or the ceviche bar on the other side of the room.

That suited us just fine because it was the ceviche bar that drew my attention to this particular D. Julio’s over the one in Lake Mary or the other location in Waterford Lakes. That’s because the ceviche bar is under the direction of chef Roberto Treviño, a former contestant on variations of the Iron Chef cooking competitions who previously owned El Buda, the Latin and Asian fusion restaurant in an ill-fated (and well hidden) Church Street Station space.

But even with Treviño’s credentials, his association with the Mexican restaurant is not touted very highly. In fact, I didn’t spot his name anywhere on the multipage menu.

Alex's Fresh Kitchen

Written by Scott Joseph on .

alexs top

Stopped by a pleasant little breakfast and lunch spot in Casselberry the other day called Alex’s Fresh Kitchen.

The Alex of Alex’s Fresh Kitchen is Alexander Diaz. His restaurant is a small storefront in the same compact group of businesses that also holds Palma Maria Italian restaurant and Aladdin’s Middle Eastern Cuisine.

The menu, like the restaurant, isn’t large but has an even balance of morning and noon items, including pancakes, granola and egg croissant for the former and salads and sandwiches for the latter.