Luma on Park

Written by Scott Joseph on .

luma on park

As part of the annual gala celebrating the opening season of Orlando Shakespeare Theater in Partnership with UCF, I offered myself as an auction item. Well, not really myself -- after all, the idea here was to raise more than a few nickels and dimes for the organization.

So I offered dinner with me at Luma on Park, the trendy restaurant that first opened on Park Avenue four years ago. But more than just dinner, I offered to let the winning bidder help me write an updated review. The bidding didn’t take long. In fact, it was stopped cold shortly after the first guests began to arrive when one of them, Bobby Mandell, founder and former CEO of Greater Homes Inc., stepped up to execute the option to buy the silent auction item outright. (Two other groups also expressed interest in buying another dinner; I’ll be telling you about those soon.)

The dinner was arranged through the largesse of Luma’s manager, Tim Noelke, who agreed to the terms that my dinner guests’ comments would not be censored. Joining us was Mandell’s fiance, Julie Walker. I was pleased to be having dinner with such enjoyable companions who know good food and don’t mind expressing an opinion.

Porkie's wins readers' poll for best barbecue

Written by Scott Joseph on .

porkies bbq

Porkie’s Original BBQ has been voted the best barbecue in Central Florida by readers of Scott Joseph’s Orlando Restaurant Guide. The Apopka eatery received a majority of votes in our most recent poll.

The critic’s award goes to Blackwater Bar-b-q, which also was the second highest vote getter in the poll. Blackwater has two locations in Orlando, the original at 4718 S. Orange Ave. (407-888-2033), and a second location at 3405 Edgewater Drive (407-447-9511).

Porkie’s is at 256 Main St., Apopka. The phone number is 407-880-3351.

Epcot International Food & Wine Festival's Party for the Senses

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Click the image above to see a video of the party!

The Party for the Senses has always been a favorite part of the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. The Saturday night events offer a festive cocktail-party sort of atmosphere with food and wine stations manned by visiting chefs and wineries as well as various chefs from restaurants throughout Disney property.

This year there were a couple of changes. The major change was the addition of themed nights. The festival started with a Spanish theme and then moved on to “comfort foods with a twist.” I visited last weekend for the South American party, and what a great party it was.

The food seemed better than in the past, and there wasn't as much crowding. Some might attribute that to the way the room was set up. (Did I say room? The World Showplace is so large it has its own ecosystem.) In previous years, the entertainment stage dominated the middle of the room; this year it was off to the side.

Tommy Bahama

Written by Scott Joseph on .

The first time I reviewed Tommy Bahama’s Restaurant and Bar, back in January 2007, the culinary arm of the island themed clothier had just opened at Pointe Orlando. (It also was called Tommy Bahama Tropical Cafe, but apparently that name has been dropped.)tommy bahama restaurant

I recall being impressed with the service, and in particular the way the wait staff and management deftly and quickly dealt with problems produced in the kitchen. The thing was, there were too many of those problems and my review was less than positive. I felt the company should apply the same standards of high quality to its restaurant that it does to its clothing line.

So when I saw that Tommy B was participating in Orlando Magical Dining Month, the September-long promotion that had restaurants all over town offering three-course dinners for $30. I saw it as an opportunity to go back and check up on the restaurant as it approaches its three-year anniversary. And having been gifted with a certificate made it a no-brainer.

The Capital Grille

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capital grille logoWas there a convention in town? I wondered. The Capital Grille was packed on the Saturday night, and I know the Pointe Orlando steakery is a favorite among meat-mad meeting attendees. So crowded was the CG that the 8 o’clock reservation hour had come and gone and my guest and I were still relegated to the bar, along with scores of others waiting for tables.

But there was no convention, at least not one that brings thousands of hungry conventioneers to the streets of Orlando. This, our server told us when we were eventually seated, was the result of Orlando Magical Dining Month. And seeing as how it was the last weekend of the September-long event, lots of diners were there to take advantage. That was understandable: it’s why I was there, too.

Fiorella's shows improvements all around

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The last time I wrote about Fiorella’s, someone got fired. Unfortunately it wasn’t the people who should have fiorellasbeen.

I had previously visited Fiorella’s, which is in the Westin Imagine hotel behind the Orange County Convention Center, in November when I was invited to a media dinner. My review didn’t find as much fault with the food -- although there were some aspects to it that needed improving -- as I did with the service. And I found that odd given that Westin is part of the Starwood hotel group, which is known for its fine service. But that evening was riddled with service faux pas, many of them committed by a manager who attempted to help out.

Following my accounting of the evening, the manager of the hotel, so I was told later, contacted the person who had invited me to the dinner, a contract worker, and terminated the contract. “You never should have invited him,” the manager allegedly said. Apparently, only people who would not give an honest appraisal of the dinner should have been on the invitation list.

And by the way, when I’ve related this story to others who were at the same dinner they’ve all had the same reaction: “Oh, it was dreadful.”

My headline on the previous review was “Imagine it getting better.”

It has.

Funky Monkey opens at Pointe Orlando

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Funky Monkey, the surprisingly good cafe in the Mills 50 district, has opened a second location at Pointe Orlando, and it’s quite a departure from the original.
funky monkey
For starters, parking is not an issue. Pointe Orlando has a large parking structure for self-parking, and the complex has valet service available. The downtown location is mainly a catch as catch can situation, although valet service has been used in the past.

The other big difference is that the new spot is as inviting on the outside as it is on the inside. (The original is a bit, well, funky looking to anyone driving by, although the interior is pleasant and comfortable.)

Norman's participates in Orlando Magical Dining Month

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I'm exhausted after the Orlando Home Show last weekend. Thanks to everyone who came by my booth and who watched the chefs demonstrate their dishes on the Cooking Stage.

I didn't want the day to go by without a recommendation for Orlando Magical Dining Month. I'm already on the record as a fan of Norman's at the Ritz-Carlton, so I'm calling on my new friends Kyle and Stacey, the 67 Days of Smiles couple, to tell you about their experience with Norman's MagDngMo menu.

Kouzzina by Cat Cora

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Although it has been open not so quietly for the past three and a half weeks, Kouzzina by Cat Cora had its grand opening Thursday with a noontime celebration attended by Cora and several members of her family. It was her way of demonstrating that the new restaurant, which replaced Spoodles on Disney’s BoardWalk, is a place for families to eat, drink and make merry together. What better way to prove that than with a shot of ouzo to toast the opening?

Kouzzina is Greek for kitchen, and the recipes here have been passed down through Cora’s family. There may be some slight alterations here and there as the recipes made their way from Greece to Disney via Cora’s native Mississippi, but there is a sincere attempt for authenticity, and most of what I tasted at the opening was quite delicious and worth recommending.

Juliana's -- do the math before making your selection

Written by Scott Joseph on .

With most of the restaurants participating in Orlando Magical Dining Month, the grouping of three courses into a juliana logoprix fixe menu where the prix is either $30 or $20 represents a savings. It’s sort of like the Rooms To Go concept that you’ll pay more if you buy the items separately. Buy the room -- or in this case the meal -- and you’ll save money. (Delivery charges are extra.)

But at Juliana’s, the mostly Italian restaurant in College Park, if you don’t order wisely you may be better off just choosing from the regular menu. Here’s why:

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