Shula's Steak House

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Shula room

Shula’s Steak House made quite an impression when it first opened at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in late 1995. High-end steakhouses featuring huge hunks of USDA prime meat were, um, rare. Christner’s Prime Steak & Lobster, which was originally known as Del Frisco’s, was a couple of years old. But Morton’s — then called Morton’s of Chicago — wouldn’t open an Orlando location until 1996, and Ruth’s Chris Steak House didn’t enter the area until 2000.

I liked Shula’s immediately. It was classy, service was first rate, and the food, though pricey, was excellent. In 2000, I even awarded it my Critic’s Choice Foodie Award for Best Restaurant Overall.

The upscale brand was founded, of course, by Don Shula, the legendary coach of the Miami Dolphins. (It has always been easy to remember which hotel the steakhouse is in because why would anyone put Shula’s into the Swan hotel?)

The first Shula’s was in Miami Lakes and the second, if I remember correctly, opened in Tampa. Orlando’s was third. Even after all these years, the company, Shula’s Restaurant Group, has only eight steakhouses, though it also operates other more casual brands, including Shula’s 347 Grill, which has a location in Lake Mary.

The company, now based in Ft. Lauderdale, has a new CEO, Bill Freeman, who previously ran the MINA Group of restaurants. So it may be that the brand is ready to take on the Ruths and Dels and Mortons of the world. Perhaps that’s the reason Shula’s Steak Houses are undergoing a brand-wide overhaul with a refreshed decor and a revamped menu from new corporate culinary director, Demetrio Zavala.

Orlando’s Shula’s is the first to be redesigned. I was invited to a media opening and then was asked to join a small group to have dinner with Don Shula and his wife, Mary Anne, who was the previous CEO and is the current chair of the board.

Eola General

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Eola General exterior

Eola General sounds like it should be the title of a soap opera, doesn’t it?

Instead, it is the name of a business in a residential area of downtown Orlando that is part restaurant and part market. It opened in April, so you may find it confusing, as did I, that the logo states, “Est. 1938.” That apparently is the provenance of the building it occupies. By that reasoning I should be able to state that I was born the year that my house was built. Unfortunately it only shaves two years off my age, but I might consider moving to one of those condos that were built 20 years ago.

The previous tenant of Eola General’s building was Handy Pantry, which would be a lousy name for a soap opera. It closed in Sept. 2018.

Burntwood Tavern

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Burntwood exterior

Things looked promising at the beginning of my visit to Burntwood Tavern, the Ohio based mini chain that recently opened in Orlando (though you’d be hard pressed to discern that immediately from the company’s website, but more on that in a moment).

Burntwood peppers

My dinner companion and I stopped in to the rustically decorated restaurant, which occupies the former site of the similarly named Stonewood Grill & Tavern in the Dr. Phillips area. We started with an appetizer of Stuffed Jalapeños and were impressed with the quality. The plump peppers, deep-fried in summer-weight jackets, were stuffed with smoky cheddar cheese and pimentos that oozes out when we bit into them. They had a delightful spicy kick. Perhaps the cilantro cream dipping sauce was meant to be a cooling counterpoint to the heat, but it was ineffectual and unnecessary. Good poppers.

Unfortunately, everything that followed did not have the same quality.

Lotte Plaza Market

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Lotte Market exterior 1

Every now and then you need to break up your routine, step outside of your comfort zone and look beyond your narrow horizon.

I recommend you follow this advice the next time you go grocery shopping. Instead of automatically going to, say, Publix, try something different. And I don’t mean Winn-Dixie or Lucky’s. I mean something like Lotte Plaza Market.

Lotte is a small chain of 10 Asian markets out of Maryland and Virginia, of all places. Earlier this year an Orlando location, the first in Florida, opened near the corner of John Young Parkway and West Colonial Drive.

Sette

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Sette exterior

Tasting Table is a collaboration between Scott Joseph’s Orlando Restaurant Guide and WFTV-Channel 9’s Inside Central Florida.

Sette, one of the year’s most anticipated restaurants, has opened in Ivanhoe Village. The reason for the excitement is that it is the first full-service restaurant from Trina Gregory-Propst and Va Propst, owners of the popular Se7en Bites bakery. It took over the space that was previously Stir Restaurant & Bar, NOVA and Elliott’s Public House. All of those were startlingly short lived, so most people still thing of it as the location of Brian’s, a popular greasy spoon.

Little has changed with the decor from the previous tenant, which is fine — it’s a pleasant and comfortable atmosphere. The bar area seems a bit more accommodating, and the open kitchen allows guests to see the food being prepared.

And what good food it is.

Artisan's Table

Written by Scott Joseph on .

 

Artisan table exterior

Artisan’s Table has moved about a block and a half to Church Street from its original location on Pine Street in downtown Orlando. The five-year-old restaurant gained visibility with its move to a space on the ground floor of the 55 West apartment building across the courtyard from Rusty Spoon.

I wish now that it could regain some of the artisanality one would expect from its name. Instead, it offers a fairly unexciting menu of safe options. The food I sampled was all good; it just wasn’t what I would call artisanal.

My 5th Element

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Fifth Element exterior

As I write this I’m in London, which, I’m told, has more Indian restaurants than Mumbai. I don’t know if that’s true, and frankly, I’d be more impressed if Mumbai has more fish and chips joints than London.

I do know that every time I’ve visited London in the past, I’ve been disappointed with the Indian restaurants here. I suppose that’s because my concept of what good Indian food should be has been shaped by the restaurants I’ve experienced in the U.S. What I know to be good and not so good Indian food is from domestic eating. And based on that, I think 5thElement, a restaurant in Sanford, is good.

Tamale Co.

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TamaleTamale co top

It’s really impressive how much a restaurant’s serving staff can affect the overall experience. It’s a point I make repeatedly in my online Server’s Training Course.

Of course it doesn’t hurt if the restaurant has good food to go along with a pleasant serving staff.

Tamale Co. has both. And now the popular food truck purveyor of fine Mexican fare has a nonwheeled location in Orlando’s unofficially designated Hourglass District.

Orlando Classic: Lee & Rick's Oyster Bar

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Orlando Classics is an occasional look at Central Florida restaurants that have been in business for at least 25 years.

LeeRicks exterior

Whenever anyone asked about Orlando dives — and you’d be surprised how often people ask — there were always two immediate answers: Wally’s and Lee & Rick’s Oyster Bar.

Wally’s, as those still in mourning know, closed last year. And while it is scheduled to reopen soon with a new owner, its diveyness will have to be determined.

LeeRicks boat

But Lee & Rick’s, now in its sixty-ninth year, is still around and just as unrefined as always. From the cheesy boat facade to the concrete bar with big hunks chipped away from years of shuckers banging their knives on it to pry open oyster shells, this Orlando institution is a delight for the senses.

Mykonos

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Mykonos exterior

I finally made it up to the new Mykonos. Well, it was new 10 months ago when it started serving its popular Greek food again. Technically, it’s not new at all.

I first reviewed Mykonos back in 2000 when it first opened in the Springs Plaza in Longwood. Then it was called Mayerion Mykonos and it instantly served some of the best Greek food in town. Granted, there were only a few Greek restaurants in town back then. I remember that I liked the food, and I especially liked the lima beans. I think I even published the recipe.

But in 2016, the restaurant’s landlord informed the owner, Tina Karoutsos, that the lease would not be renewed. A medical clinic next door was expanding and needed the space. Instead of trying to find an existing restaurant that she could take over, Karoutsos signed for a new spot in the same plaza, directly behind where the original restaurant stood.

But the storefront had never been a restaurant, so it had to be retrofitted with all the equipment that goes into a new professional kitchen. You think your kitchen remodel took a long time? Mykonos was closed for over 18 months.