Magical Dining Month Restaurant of the Day: los Generales

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Today’s featured Orlando Magical Dining Month restaurant is Los Generales, an authentic Mexican restaurant in South Orlando.

Los Gens has an extensive menu with all your favorite Mexican dishes and a few you may not be familiar with, as well. For Magical Dining Month, the Generals are offering a three-course menu for $20, and there are more options than you’ll find on a lot of other MagDngMo menus.

For a starters you can choose panchos (their version of nachos), queso fundido, the cheesy dip, or guacamole. I’d go for the fundido.

For a main course there’s bisteck al gusto, garlic shrimp, fajitas, or a combination of skirt steak and tamale. Dessert? The ubiquitous (at least for Mexican restaurants) fried ice cream, a delicacy I’ve never quite understood, churros, the little fried donutlike devices, or caramel crepes.

If there were an award for restaurant with the bulkiest furniture, Los Generales would win it hands down. The tables and chairs are massive pieces of wood, each crudely carved with lilies, grape clusters, a horse head or the stereotypical figure of a sleeping Mexican. Whichever is carved on the seatback is matched on the tabletop, inset under glass.

Walls, it must me noted, are nicely painted and don’t have any faux plaster cracks that so many Mexican restaurants have. There are the usual sombreros as well as horseshoes, flags and, on a wall between two seating areas, a large saddle, the stirrups hanging down in each room.

The staff was friendly and accommodating. There is a full bar and it should not go unmentioned that they make a mean Margarita.

If you go -- and I’m recommending you should -- be sure to ask for the Magical Dining Month menu when you’re seated. You can take a look at it here, or view the entire list of participating restaurants by visiting the Orlando Magical Dining Month Web site.

Los Generales is at 12200 Menta St., Orlando (it actually faces John Young Parkway and is just a bit south of the Grand Lakes Resort). The phone number is 407438-2472.

Los Generales

Written by Scott Joseph on .

You may not notice the missive stenciled on Los Generales’ storefront window; it’s long and wordy and is easily overlooked next to all the decorations and signage. And if you were to read it you may not understand it. Something is lost in the translation from Spanish to English and it rambles a bit.
But the gist is unmistakable: you are welcome here. And the statement by the owners also exudes pride and sincerity that says you’re sure to enjoy the food at this Mexican grill. I think you will, too.
The menu is for the most part authentic Mexican. There is an entire selection of fajitas, but that largely Americanized dish has been around so long and is in so many Mexican eateries that the origin has become blurred.
And, if truth be told, the fajitas were pretty good. My guest couldn’t choose from among the various meats so instead decided on the sampler ($14.99), which includes steak, chicken and shrimp, and plenty of all three. The steak was tender and so was the chicken. The shrimp were fine but I’d have preferred someone remove the tails – they crunch too much when wrapped in the warm tortillas.
As good as the steak was in the fajitas, I liked it even more in the tampiquena ($14.99). This featured a skirt steak that was deceptively tender, served with a twice-baked potato, rice, beans and a tamale. The potato didn’t contribute much to the enjoyment of the platter, but everything else was wonderful.
Especially the tamale. It was so good I ordered four ($10.99) from the list of antojitos. The corn husk-wrapped tamales, filled with pork, were served with a tangy guacamole.
Asado de Puerco ($11.99) was an unusual dish of pork chunks in chile de color, a sauce made with anchos chilies that was not too spicy but had depths of flavors and seasoning.
So, too, the mole with the chicken enchiladas ($9.99), The sauce had a wonderful earthy taste from a touch of bitter chocolate, and instead of submerging the rolled enchiladas in the liquid Los Generales uses it more sparingly, as the grace note it should be.
Camerones rancheros ($15.50) was a big plate of tender-firm shrimp sautéed in butter with tomatoes. The butter gave the shrimp a nice richness, but it was the addition of fresh cilantro that gave it spark.
On one visit my guests and I shared a sampler plate of appetizers ($8.99) that included quesadilla, potato skins, guacamole and jalapenos rellenos. Most of it was fairly pedestrian, although the guacamole was perfectly chunky. The stuffed jalapenos were the one stand-out item. They were filled with a bit of cream cheese, breaded and deep-fried. These were not your typical pre-fab “poppers” you see on other menus. These were spicy little morsels that still had lots of the fiery seeds inside.
Sweeter things are available for dessert. The flan cajeta ($4.99) had a rich custard and candylike caramel syrup. Arroz leche ($4.99) was a not too creamy rice pudding with a touch of cinnamon. The bunuelo ($5.50) had a large scoop of ice cream on a sugared fried pastry.
If there were an award for restaurant with the bulkiest furniture, Los Generales would win it hands down. The tables and chairs are massive pieces of wood, each crudely carved with lilies, grape clusters, a horse head or the stereotypical figure of a sleeping Mexican. Whichever is carved on the seatback is matched on the tabletop, inset under glass.
Walls, it must me noted, are nicely painted and don’t have any faux plaster cracks that so many Mexican restaurants have. There are the usual sombreros as well as horseshoes, flags and, on a wall between two seating areas, a large saddle, the stirrups hanging down in each room.
The staff was friendly and accommodating. There is a full bar and it should not go unmentioned that they make a mean Margarita.
There was one disappointment. The menu notes that pozole, the stew made with hominy, and menudo, another traditional soup made with tripe, are served on weekends. But when I inquired about the availability on a Sunday visit I was told they would be available soon.
Having such dishes on the menu, even on restricted days, would set the restaurant apart. Not that the fine food it serves everyday doesn’t do that already.

Magical Dining Month Restaurant of the Day: The Ravenous Pig

Written by Scott Joseph on .

The Orlando Magical Dining Month Restaurant of the Day is The Ravenous Pig, the still-hot little gastropub on Orange Avenue in Winter Park.

Chef/owners James and Julie Petrakis have put together a nice three-course menu for the special MagDngMo price of $30. Even if you go with the least expensive items you’ll still come out saving money.
ravenous pig
Instead of appetizers, two salads are the first-course choices. You can have either the Farmer (regularly $11), with bitter greens, soft-boiled egg, parmesan cheese and a Caesar style vinaigrette; or the Gatherer ($8), with mixed fetal lettuces, avocado, beets, goat cheese and an herb vinaigrette.

For the main, you have three selections: the steak frites ($24), house-made pasta ($22) or the grilled fish of the day (M.P.). The steak frites is one of my favorites, mainly for the truffled frites.

For dessert, which are usually $7, you have the signature pig tails or the seasonal dessert.

And speaking of seasonal, because the Pig’s menu is market driven, the menu is subject to change, although I think the steak frites is a safe bet.

If you’ve been putting off trying this wonderful restaurant, this is a terrific opportunity to get a taste at a great price. But be sure to ask for the Magical Dining Month menu when you're seated.

The Ravenous Pig is at 1234 N. Orange Ave., Winter Park. The phone number is 407-628-2333. You can click here to see the Orlando Magical Dining Month menu or here for the Orlando Magical Dining Month home page.

If you’ve been to the Pig, or if you visit during Orlando Magical Dining Month, be sure to come back and rate the restaurant at its listing on the flog.

The Ravenous Pig on Urbanspoon

Magical Dining Month -- Chatham's Place

Written by Scott Joseph on .

All during Orlando Magical Dining Month, which runs through September, we’ll be taking a look at some of the participating restaurants. Today we look at Chatham’s Place.

Chatham’s Place has been a longtime favorite of mine. Even after the Chatham family sold the operation, it continued to be one of the area’s quiet jewels. Now clumped in with myriad others on Orlando’s Restaurant Row, Chatham’s was one of the earlier residents of the area surrounding Sand Lake Road and Dr. Phillips Boulevard, taking over a rather odd space in an office building.chathams place

That was almost exactly 20 years ago. My first review of Chatham’s Place ran in October of 1989.

CP is rather small and intimate, and it’s one of the few places in town that is quiet; perfect for a romantic dinner.

The Orlando Magical Dining Month menu at Chatham’s offers a three-course meal for $30 with a choice from among three appetizers, four entrees and three desserts. None of the selections on the menu, which can be seen here, is on the regular menu printed at the Chatham’s Place Web site, so it’s difficult to do a comparison. But seeing as how the least expensive entree on the regular menu, besides the vegetable plate, is $28, I think you could easily say three courses for 30 bucks is going to be a good buy.

Updated: And get this for savings: You can bring your own bottle of wine and the restaurant will not charge a corkage fee.

And according to a note on Chatham’s Facebook page today, the chef treated everyone who requested the MagDngMo menu last night, the first night of the special menu, with a little something extra. Can’t promise that will happen every night, but wouldn’t it be nice?

Remember to request the Magical Dining Month menu when you are seated. Some restaurants don’t offer it unless asked for. And the prix fixe does not include tax and gratuity, and beverages, of course.

If you go to Chatham’s, be sure to come back and leave a rating and review at the restaurant’s listing.

Chatham's Place is at 7575 Dr. Phillips Blvd., Orlando. The phone number is 407-345-2992.

Pizzeria Del-Dio takes first place in our search for the Best Pizza in Central Florida

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Pizzeria Del-Dio has won the first Scott Joseph’s Orlando Restaurant Guide search for the Best Pizza in Central pizzaFlorida. With nearly 7,000 votes in the poll, Del-Dio garnered just over 3,000. Pizza Fusion and N.Y.P.D. Pizzeria and Delicatessen took second and third place respectively.

The contest was operated as a poll, with flog readers choosing from among a list of 12 nominees chosen by me. When voting began in late July, Del-Dio was not on the list. Following some campaigning by D-D fans, I dropped the lowest vote getter from the list and added Del Dio.

The contest quickly became a three-way race, with Del-Dio, NYPD and Fusion trading off the lead, hundreds of votes ahead of the fourth-place contender and often separated by fewer than 20 votes. But in the end, Del-Dio pulled out and could not be caught.

The results are not without controversy. Although safeguards are in place to prevent multiple votes, some readers complained about the numbers. And there apparently was some confusion among voters who may have thought they were placing their support with Casa Del-Dio in Fern Park. I could see why there might be confusion.

Before I instituted the Foodie Awards in Florida magazine, I would occasionally conduct “best of” searches as part of my Chow Hound column in the Sentinel’s Calendar section. In 1995, my pizza search featured Casa Del-Dio -- the one in Fern Park -- as one of the best pizzerias in the area. (It actually tied for first place with Boardwalk Pizza in Winter Park).

About five years ago, the original owner of Casa Del-Dio, John Delgardio, sold the business to pursue other ventures, but in early 2008 he returned to pie making, this time  in a small storefront of a strip mall near the corner of Colonial Drive and Maguire Avenue and taking the slightly altered name Pizzeria Del-Dio. (Casa Del-Dio continues to operate in Fern Park under different owners.)

Delgardio’s pizzas are influenced from his roots in the Canarsie neighborhood of Brooklyn, where his family owned a place called Del-Dio (no Casa, no Pizzeria, just Del-Dio). The crust is thin but not too, and there’s a wonderfully slight greasiness to the sauce. Toppings could not be called ample, but they are of good quality. Even with a questionably lopsided vote, I have no qualms with Pizzeria Del-Dio being recognized for its good pies.

I must say I’m surprised that some of the other nominees did not fare better than they did. Brick & Fire, with its new second location in Casselberry, is turning out its consistently good pizzas and garnering more fans. Carlucci’s, a former Foodie Award winner, barely made a blip on the results graph; neither did Alfonso’s in College Park, another multiple Foodie winner.

And perhaps Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza was just too new to the local scene to grab more votes, although it did respectably in fifth place despite its newcomer status.
And in fact, I feel that Anthony’s is so worthy of your attention that I’m awarding it the Critic’s Choice. I’m certain it will do better next time.

Congratulations to both Pizzeria Del-Dio and Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza -- and to all the other contenders. Because, frankly, there wasn’t a clunker in the bunch, which bodes well for the state of the pizza pie in Central Florida.

Dixie's Cafe

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If you work in downtown Orlando, there’s a nice little called Dixie’s Cafe that you may want to check out for dixie's cafebreakfast or lunch. You can go for dinner, too, if you don’t mind eating your evening meal at 3 p.m. But that’s a little early even for the seniors crowd.

You might think from the name Dixie’s that this place specializes in Southern cuisine. But you’d be right only if you guessed south of Florida. The menu is Latin, with such things as pernil asado, chuletos de cerdo and ropa viejo. It’s very inexpensive, and the portions are generous. And it’s all pretty darned good, too.

Highland Manor

Written by Scott Joseph on .

New restaurant in Apopka (yes, Apopka) is a contender for list of Best Restaurants in Central Florida

Tell someone you’re going to Highland Manor and you’ll likely be met with a blank expression. But add, “It’s where Townsend’s Plantation used to be,” and they’ll probably nod in recognition. Of course, that only works on people who have lived in the area more than 12 years. Townsend’s Plantation, which as far as I know was never an actual plantation, has been closed since 1997.Highland manor

A number of businesses have tried to use the sprawling property, including an assisted living facility that was planned but never opened, and other restaurants. The latest was Captain and the Cowboy, the oddly named seafood and steak house whose food was not up to filling the large place.

Now comes Highland Manor, which, in its own way, is just as oddly named. (In fact it sounds more like an assisted living facility.) But it would seem to me that for the first time in a very long time -- possibly ever -- the kitchen of this storied establishment is turning out dishes that not only are worthy of attention from those in the Apopka area but also so creative and expertly prepared that lovers of fine food throughout Central Florida should consider the journey. This is truly a fine restaurant.

Pizza wars go into final stretch

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Our search for the best pizza in Central Florida is coming to a close. Voting ends at midnight August 31. Have you voted for your favorite yet?



Who has the best barbecue in Central Florida?

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Our search for the best pizza in Central Florida is rounding the last turn, and while we wait to see who will wind up with the most votes, it's time to start thinking about our next big search. How about barbecue?

This time I'm asking for nominations. There are 12 slots on our poll, some will be filled by the usual suspects, but I want to hear from you which 'cue joints you want to see included.

Click below to leave a comment (you must be logged in to comment). I'll take all nominations into consideration.

The barbecue search will begin shortly after the pizza war ends. Voting in the pizza search continues through Aug. 31 and I'll announce the winner on Sept. 1.

Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Steak is once again ready for prime time.

It wasn't too long ago that the beef industry was reeling from studies that suggested too much beef in one's diet was not a good thing. Today there are some who say we can eat as much as we like.

That may be why we are surfeited with new steakhouses. They're opening up in the kinds of numbers that Italian restaurants did a few years ago. And even some of those Italian restaurants are retooling menus to offer bisteca and meat chops.

The trouble I had with many of those so-called Italian restaurants was that many of them simply boiled pasta, threw some tomato sauce on top and called it Italiano. It takes people who know Italian food to do it well. And it takes people who know steaks to do them well -- or medium or rare -- for that matter.

Fleming's knows steaks. And if the crowd that crammed the new restaurant in Winter Park on a recent Saturday evening is any indication, Central Florida meat lovers are showing their appreciation.

Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar serves USDA prime corn-fed beef. The quality of the beef is evident with the first taste. But that quality doesn't come cheaply. Fleming's should be classified in the high-end category of steakhouses.

Outback is the corporate parent of Fleming's . But there's not a bloomin' onion on the menu here. And I can't recall the last time I was in a restaurant with this many people and not a child in sight. Which is not to say it's a nice, quiet place to have dinner, but we'll come back to that.

The steaks are, as I mentioned, quite good. On my first visit, I had the bone-in ribeye ($31.95), a 22-ounce steak with a charred crispy outside and the juicy redness of a precise medium-rare inside. On another visit, the bone-in New York strip ($33.95), a 20-ouncer, was cooked just as beautifully. Both steaks showed the classic qualities of the cuts, the ribeye with its mouth-filling fat and the strip with its coarse-yet-tender texture.

There was an argument at my table as to whether the veal chop ($27.95), a 14-ounce beauty, could rival one seared in the memory from Commander's Palace in New Orleans. I'd love to participate in a chop-off, and I might put my money on Fleming's .

But things went sour when I ordered the chef's mixed grill, market priced at $31.95. It featured a small filet as well as a piece of swordfish and crab legs. The steak was fine, but the swordfish was unpleasantly close to raw. And who knew crab legs could be that small? Not only were they puny, the meager amount of meat that could be extracted -- no cracker was provided and they were inadequately split -- was mushy and tasted of salty water. Tiny and briny. Did I mention Fleming's is a steakhouse? If there's a seafood eater in your party, beware.

Side dishes are extra. I liked the creamed spinach ($5) with its parmesan sauce, but the mashed potatoes were not improved by the celery root and horseradish.

Crab cakes ($11.95) were the hit of the appetizer list. They were substantial disks of crab with a slightly crisped crust, served with a delicate sauce of red pepper and lime butter.

"Wicked" Cajun barbecue shrimp ($10.95) were too garlicky, and the sauce had an unpleasant oily quality. Calamari ($8.95) had a Thai flair, deep-fried and drizzled with a sweet chili sauce and accompanied by crispy rice noodles.

I also sampled a salad, the wedge ($6.50), a huge hunk of iceberg lettuce topped with copious amounts of blue cheese.

Two of the desserts, chocolate lava cake ($7.95) and cheesecake ($6.95), were delicious, the former with a richly bitter chocolate sauce and the latter with a slightly crumbly texture. A cheese plate ($9.95) was an unimpressive array of sliced cheeses served too cold.

The newly constructed restaurant features a large main dining room with an overflow room that can be partitioned for private groups. The kitchen is open to the dining room, and the noise from the cooks combines with the cacophony of a roomful of carnivores. The result is a leonine roar that reverberates off the high ceilings and tortoiseshell light fixtures.

I was impressed with the service; when there were problems they were dealt with promptly and with certainty.

Fleming's wine list is impressive and features 100 wines by the glass. Few could be considered cheap.

Indeed a dinner here is a costly evening. But that didn't seem to matter to the hordes that waited as much as an hour -- even with a reservation -- for their chance to pay. Behold the power of good steaks.