Leguminati

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Leguminati exterior

The Hourglass District, the not-yet-officially-designated area radiating from the intersection of Bumby Avenue and Curry Ford Road and named for an eponymous lake that's supposed to look like an egg timer but looks more like the silhouette of another E.T. (The Extra-Terrestrial), is starting to take shape. (But not that shape.)

Hourglass mapCladdagh Cottage was one of the first businesses to open in the area. It came after a pizza joint that had a brief tenure and closed when the owner became ill. That freestanding building is under renovations and will reopen as F&D Wood Fired Italian Kitchen. Over on the northeast corner of the intersection, the gas station and storefronts have undergone the most dramatic upgrading, with an attractive slatted facade and bold white lettering announcing a Foxtail Coffee shop and the Hourglass Social House.

The latter is the designation for the shared space that also includes the coffee shop and eventually other food and beverage vendors. One of them, Leguminati, opened in August and has been seeing brisk business from Hourglassians hungry for its all-vegan menu.

Yellow Dog Eats

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Yellow Dog extPhoto: Yellow Dog Eats

It had been years since I first visited Yellow Dog Eats, longtime favorite sandwicherie and recent silver winner of our Foodster Award for Best Outdoor Dining. So I called up a friend who lives in Gotha and we made a lunch date.

There's also a location in New Smyrna Beach. But do you remember that the first YDE was in the Hidden Gardens off Park Avenue in Winter Park? It opened there in 1996, and I wrote my first review of it almost exactly 22 years ago, on Sept. 5, 1996, appropriately enough in my Chow Hound column in the Sentinel's separate Calendar section. Do you remember when the Sentinel had a separate Calendar section? Do you remember the Sentinel?

It moved to Gotha in 1999 (Yellow Dog Eats, not the newspaper) to a historic structure called the Brockman House, circa 1910. It was originally a residence but was converted to a store called Hamm's Grocery.

It's now owned by the Morgan family, and it's their son, Fish, who started Yellow Dog Eats in Winter Park and moved it to Gotha.

Meza

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Meza interior

Meza isn't anything like Cafe Annie, but it's that late lamented eatery from downtown Orlando that gave rise to this Baldwin Park mediterranean newcomer.

In fact, although there is still a Facebook page for Cafe Annie, the address it gives is the one for Meza in Baldwin Park.

You remember Cafe Annie, don't you? If you worked in downtown Orlando over tha past three decades it was probably one of your reliable lunch spots. If you partied there, you may have included a stop at Annie for sustenance to carry on. It occupied a space on North Orange Ave. for nearly 29 years before closing in the final days of 2016. (It wasn't a continuous run; Annie closed for a time when the building on the corner was renovated for a car dealership. That's where Orange County Brewers is now.)

Lease issues, not to mention the announcement that Hubbly Bubbly, a falafel franchise, would be moving in next door, prompted owner Nabil Sebaali to look elsewhere.

He found a space on Jake Street just off the main thoroughfare of New Broad Street. Why he named it Meza instead of Cafe Annie is not known. (If you want to dive deeper into the history, Sebaali bought a restaurant called Cafe Fareed and renamed it Cafe Annie. Ironically, Cafe Fareed served American food. Sebaali named the restaurant after his wife figuring it would make her want to come in and help out. "It didn't work," he told me.)

Meza is bigger and brighter than the old place, and the menu is more ambitious. And it's all wonderfully delicious.

Watch a video of this review here.

deep blu seafood grille

Written by Scott Joseph on .

deep blu mussels

One of the best things about Visit Orlando's Magical Dining Month -- at least it was when it was first instituted -- is that it allows you to experience a restaurant that perhaps might be beyond your financial comfort zone. At some of the featured restaurants, you couldn't even afford an appetizer from the regular menu let alone a full three-course meal.

Magical Dining Month made those restaurants -- Ruth's Chris, Eddie V's and Morton's among them -- approachable. The smart restaurants knew that it was an opportunity to woo new customers, even if it was just for special occasion dining, by showcasing the best of their regular menus on the specially priced three-course Magical menu

Then some restaurants started changing what they would offer. In many cases today, the MagDinMo menu doesn't feature any items from the regular menu. What's the point of that? Others make subtle changes, such as offering smaller portions of changing the ingredients used in a dish.

When I put together my "How to Do Magical Dining Month" video last year, which emphasizes comparing the MagDinMo menu to the restaurant's regular menu, found on most of their websites, I dinged deep blu seafood grille for changing the makeup of its Bouillabaisse (the regular menu had lobster, the Magical menu did not). I had previously dinged it for its inability to use capital letters and misspellings.

So I made a point of checking deep blu's Magical menu this year, and boy howdy, is it a bargain. At least on paper -- the three entrees on the MagDinMo menu range from $35 to $42. And since the three course special menu is $35, there's no need to pull out a calculator.

The Noble Smokesman

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Noble ext

This is certainly an unusual location for any restaurant let alone a barbecue joint. The Noble Smokesman occupies a space in a compound of offices and nonfood businesses on Lake Ellenor Drive, about a block off of South Orange Blossom Trail. (The street name sounded familiar to me and it wasn't until I found the smokehouse that I realized it was across from the former Darden Restaurants headquarters.) The complex looks more like a place you'd find an accountant's office or maybe a dentist.

Also unlike other barbecue restaurants, Noble has a polished and spiffy look inside, but that's probably more because of its newness. It has clean wood-look floors and a white subway-tile wall in the area behind the counter. For some reason there are logs on some of the tables.

Tin & Taco SoDo

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Tin and Taco case

When it opened in downtown Orlando, in early 2017, Tin & Taco did little to elevate the "things in a tortilla" category. I wasn't overwhelmed by what I tasted; I wasn't underwhelmed, either. I was just whelmed.

So I was a bit bemused to learn that T&T would be opening a second location, in the SoDo district less than three miles away. What could they possibly have learned in a short time to warrant a second location?

A lot, it would seem.

DoveCote Revisited

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Dovecote 2018 flatware

It doesn't quite seem possible that DoveCote, the postmodern French brasserie in downtown Orlando, has been open just over two years. It started out well enough, though a few faux pas warranted a more cautious recommendation.

All caution is hereby removed. I returned to DoveCote one evening last month and found that the restaurant has settled into a quiet thrum of efficiency, and the kitchen, still under the direction of chef and co-owner Clay Miller, is producing more reliably fine recreations of French classics. And, not incidentally, at a price point that is reasonable and affordable.

Kai Asian Street Fare

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Kai ext

Today we visit Kai Asian Street Fare in Winter Park.

Oh goodie, another "street fare" restaurant. How did eating foods sold on the street become the hot trend for off-street restaurants? And, more importantly, when will it finally fizzle?

I suppose it won't as long as there are restaurants that do the street thing as well as Kai does.

Terralina Crafted Italian

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Terralina exterior

When we talk about the top chefs in the Central Florida culinary community, the name Justin Plank rarely comes up, and I don't know why. I may be as much to blame as anyone.

It's not that he hasn't been around a long time or that his cooking hasn't been critically received. And it isn't that his name hasn't been bandied about. You may recall that in the early 2000s, Park Plaza Gardens actually changed its name to Chef Justin's Park Plaza Gardens to celebrate the hiring of Plank as its new head chef.

Following a stint at Lake Port Square in Leesburg, Plank joined the Levy Restaurants team as the executive chef at Disney Springs' Portobello, handpicked for the position by Tony Mantuano, the Chicago chef who advises and directs the Disney restaurant. Portobello then promptly closed so that it could be remodeled and rebranded.

It's now Terralina Crafted Italian and Plank has stayed on at the helm. While much of the menu was initially developed by Mantuano, Plank says that his suggestions for changes have all been given the go ahead. I stopped in to sample some of the menu recently and to see how the restaurant has developed. Everything I tasted -- some of which was offered to me and my guest to try -- was really quite good.

Watch the video version of this review:

The Hangry Bison

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Hangry Bison exterior

Hangry Bison, the new non-Italian restaurant from longtime pizzeria owner Joe Liguori, is doing a lot of things right with its burgers, bourbon and beer, the items that it lists as its specialties under that name.

That name.

Hangry is a portmanteau of the words hungry and angry and represents a condition wherein the need for food without any food foreseeable can cause a precipitous change in mood. It's a real thing. I myself am among the sufferers. We don't have a telethon.

But we have Hangry Bison to alleviate the symptoms.

Click below to see a video version of this review