Reyes Mezcaleria

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Reyes interior

A major change in a restaurant, especially a popular, well-reviewed one, is reason for a revisit, even if that restaurant is relatively new. Reyes Mezcaleria is relatively new — it was the winner of our Foodster Awards for Independent Restaurants as Best New Restaurant of 2017. But despite its short life, Reyes recently underwent one of those major changes that warrant a rereview, replacing its opening chef, Austin Boyd, with Wendy Lopez.

I returned with little skepticism because Lopez is a known quantity, taking the Reyes position after leading the kitchen at Tapa Toros. (Francisco Galeano is now in charge of Tapa Toros; we’ll look in on how he’s doing soon.)

Lopez’s changes to the menu have been subtle but they arise out of her Mexican heritage. I’ve never been one to suggest that cuisines of a nation or region can only be cooked by people of the same heritage. Nor does having a particular ethnic background guarantee that a cook will turn out authentic recreations of his or her homeland’s traditional dishes.

Cafe Madrid Deli & Bakery

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Cafe Madrid wall

Cafe Madrid is gone; long live Cafe Madrid.

Cafe Madrid, you may recall, was the Cuban restaurant that occupied a corner of a strip mall on Curry Ford Road at Conway Road in Orlando for 28 years. I revisited it in January of this year to do an update review, and a week later it closed. (I swear it was a good review; here, read it yourself.)

In September, a new restaurant moved in, conveniently keeping the Cafe Madrid name but adding Deli & Bakery to it. As you might expect, it’s no longer a full-service restaurant as the old CM was, and selections aren’t as fulsome, either. There are no longer complete dinner entrees, for example. But the food I sampled at the new iteration is good and worth visiting if you’re in the area.

Ford's Garage

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Fords Signature

I suppose it’s a good thing they didn’t call it GM’s Garage.

Ford’s Garage is a burger and beer brand born out of Ft. Myers and now headquartered in Tampa. You’d think Michigan, right? But there is a natural connection to the Sunshine State over the Great Lakes State: Henry Ford had a Winter home in Ft. Myers, less than a mile from where the first Ford’s Garage restaurant opened in 2012 (Henry did not attend).

Nearly all of the locations, just under a dozen so far, are in Florida, though one opened last year in Dearborn, Mich. The Orlando restaurant is in a freestanding building at the Orlando Premium Outlets on Vineland Avenue (it’s on the side with the Saks Off Fifth store).

As you might expect with a garage-themed restaurants, Ford’s is tricked out in a design that might be classified as early grease monkey. But except for the exterior, which like the rest of the mall structures is your basic faux Mediterranean-meets-Florida pale yellow stucco, it isn’t cheesy at all. In fact, there are a lot of nice details.

Christner's Prime Steak & Lobster

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Christners wine glass

One in a series of reviews celebrating Central Florida’s classic restaurants, those open 25 years or longer.

Christner’s Prime Steak & Lobster celebrated its 25th anniversary this year. But just as with Linda’s La Cantina, another independently owned restaurant reviewed recently in this series, the milestone comes with an asterisk.

As those who have lived in the area longer than five years know, Christner’s was originally known as Del Frisco’s Prime Steak & Lobster. It was not part of the Del Frisco’s Double Eagle chain, though both had the same origin. I won’t go into all the details here, but if you want to know more about the backstory, I’ve written about it in this article.

Russ Christner, who made the original deal with Del Frisco’s founder to open a steakhouse with that name in Orlando, chose a building on Lee Road instead of opting for something in the Tourist World part of town. That should have been an early indicator that this was meant to be a place for locals, a restaurant for celebrational splurges for some and for others a steakhouse for a fine piece of meat.

Christner grew the business and expanded the building’s footprint. But even as it got larger, he, along with his wife, Carole, maintained a hands on policy — Carole at the host stand and Russ wandering the dining rooms in his “uniform” of blue work shirt with a well worn and singed terrycloth towel over his shoulder — that kept it a family run business.

Rocco's Italian Grille & Bar

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Roccos bar

Ever since I first reviewed Rocco’s Italian Grille & Bar, in October of 2006, I’ve considered it to be one of the finest Italian restaurants in the area. And since I don’t get the chance to return often enough, I jumped at the invitation to dine there recently to try some of the dishes that owner Rocco Potami rotates through his menu.

Roccos burrata1

Potami started by serving my guest and me an appetizer of Bresaola, the air-cured beef that is a specialty of Northwest Italian, and fresh Burrata, often known as a creamier mozzarella. The cheese was topped with shaved Parmesan and fresh arugula leaves. Potami admonished us not to put any pepper on the burrata, which I probably would have done to perk up the mild cheese. But with the peppery notes of the arugula, nothing else was necessary.

Nona Social Bar + Kitchen

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Nona Social burger

Nona Tap Room is gone and Nona Social Bar + Kitchen has taken its place. Except for the variation of the name, I can’t see a whole lot of difference between the two.

It’s still a neighborhoody place that is more bar than kitchen. Still a bit on the small, cozy side. It still features a menu that is burgercentric. And the kitchen still can’t cook a burger to a medium-rare temperature. Or perhaps just refuses to.

Too bad because the burger I had when I visited recently, the Bacon Bleu, was a good burger that could have been better if it had been cooked properly. The patty was a decent size and had a nice char. It was topped with a smear of blue cheese that was half melted, plus a couple of thick-sliced bacon rashers. The bun was plain but fresh.

Rusty Spoon

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Rusty Spoon interior

In the nearly eight years since she opened her restaurant in downtown Orlando, Kathleen Blake has established it as one of the premier restaurants in Florida and herself as one of the area’s most prestigious chefs.

She was recently presented with the Beacon Award by the Foodservice Council for Women; is a leader in the national organization of Women Chefs and Restaurateurs; and has  been nominated four times for a James Beard Foundation as Best Chef South Region. And on Nov. 9, she will be one of the featured chefs at that organization’s annual gala, a $500-a-ticket dinner held at the swanky Pierre Hotel in New York.

And, like so many in the local culinary community, Blake is a generous contributor to area food events for charities, most recently as one of the chefs serving at Cows ’n Cabs (a delicious smoked mullet on fried cracker was her offering).

Still, with all that activity and civic participation, she, along with her husband, William, manages to keep the quality of the food and service at the Rusty Spoon top notch. And if she’s not at a local charity event or Manhattan fund raiser, you’ll find her, usually in her signature bib overalls, cooking in the kitchen of the Rusty Spoon.

Taste of Chengdu

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Chengdu sign

If you hear people call Taste of Chengdu the hottest restaurant in town, you should probably know that they may not be referring to its popularity, though popular it certainly is.

It’s also serving some of the hottest, as in spiciest, food you’re likely to find in Central Florida.

Geography geeks will recognize Chengdu as the capital of China’s Sichuan province. Culinary nerds will know that Sichuan cuisine (also sometimes spelled Szechuan or Szechwan) is known for its liberal use of fiery hot peppers, particularly the Sichuan pepper, which has an initial taste that is slightly metallic but then spreads like a wildfire through tinder. It does not make your tongue tingle, it makes it throb.

And that leads, I suppose, to its popularity. Yes, there is a certain sector of the dining public with a masochistic tendency to sear their tastebuds. They’d probably lick a branding iron just out of a campfire if it was sprinkled with Sriracha. But we’re also seeing a new appreciation for authentic Asian cuisine in general and Chinese food in particular. The west side of town has become the de facto home to many of the restaurants offering more than Americanized versions of Chinese dishes.

Shiraz Market

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Shiraz counter

The last time I was at Shiraz Market it was Torterilla la Mexicana. The name is different, the cuisine has changed from Mexican to Middle Eastern, but the experience is pretty much the same.

It’s a small storefront that’s mostly store. There are shelves of Middle Eastern canned and dry goods mixed in with everyday essentials.

One one side of the shop is a counter with some refrigerated items. And behind that is a menu board displaying the few items available to order and eat at one of the rustic tables in front. There are the usual kebabs and gyros but there are a couple of more interesting items, such as the Gheymeh that I selected.

Stasio's Italian Deli & Market

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Stasio exterior

I sort of get the impression that Stasio's Italian Deli & Market is a work in progress and that the people doing the work aren't exactly sure themselves what the final product will be.

But for all the tentativeness in the air, the food that I've sampled so far is solidly good.

I dropped in for an order to go because one of the things that is still uncertain is whether Stasio's wants people to dine in. There's a marble ledge at the windows for people to eat at, and a couple of outdoor tables. But it definitely isn't a linger-over-dinner spot.

Stasio interior

The menu is mainly sandwiches, though a couple of hot items, including a baked ziti dish, were pointed out to me at the counter, which is where one places an order. I chose the sandwich named after the place and another called The Package.