American Social

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Amso exterior

American Social Bar & Kitchen has set up shop in the former Bar Louis space at the Rialto plaza on Sand Lake Road. Amso, as it would like you to call it (though I think Ameri-Sosh has a nicer ring), is out of south Florida where it has two locations, the original, on Las Olas Boulevard in Ft. Lauderdale, and in Miami overlooking the Miami River. There is another location in Tampa.

Amso – why does that make me think of cleaning products? – is a sports bar with a boisterous atmosphere. Think loud. No, louder. It features an “all-American” menu, so of course you’ll find hummus, Ropa Vieja Tacos and Steak Frites. That the Steak Frites is topped with chimichurri only makes it all the more American.

Notes on Magical Dining: Soco Thornton Park

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Soco magdine sign

As I mentioned the other day, Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining restaurant promotion that was to end on Sept. 30 has been extended a week, through Oct. 7. The extension was ostensibly to make up for lost momentum – and revenue – from the threat of hurricane Dorian.

So quick, before Humberto becomes a thing, get out and dine magically some more.

One restaurant you may want to consider is Soco in downtown’s Thornton Park.

I stopped in to try chef Greg Richie’s Magical Dining menu and enjoyed what I tasted.

The Steer

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Steer exterior

Take a look at the menu offered at the Steer, a new steakhouse on South Orange Avenue, and you’ll realize this is not a restaurant gunning after the likes of Christner’s, Ruth’s Chris or even Linda’s La Cantina. When you can get a 12 ounce New York strip for $15, you’re probably not in the realm of fine dining.

The restaurant’s subtitle – Pioneer Steakhouse – might lend a clue, as well. Pioneers weren't historically known for refinement. The Steer occupies a former Pizza Hut hut that most recently, and for decades, was home to Bauern-Stube, a German restaurant noted for its eclectic and cluttered decor. Perhaps the best that can be said for the Steer is that its owner successfully un-Stubed the place.

But go back to the price point and you’ll find it easier to find other kind words.

The Hammered Lamb

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Hammered logo

For more than six and a half years, the Hammered Lamb has occupied a space on North Orange Avenue across from Lake Ivanhoe. Previous occupants included Ethos, the vegan restaurant that moved to Winter Park, and various gay bars.

Most people who patronize the business today are arguably there to mimic the lamb, that is, get hammered. In other words, most people still think of it primarily as a bar.

But in recent months, HL has been striving to up its food game, offering a variety of appetizers and sandwiches. So I stopped by with a colleague to check out the menu. And, not incidentally, have a drink.

The Attic Door

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Attic Door counter top

I just returned from New Orleans and I don’t think I had a bowl of gumbo there any better than the one I had at the Attic Door in Winter Garden just before I left.

But I’m not surprised, given that the Attic Door’s menu is under the direction of Kevin Tarter, the talent behind Chef’s Table at the Edgewater and the adjacent Tasting Room. Now Tarter and his wife, Laurie, have taken over JR’s Attic Door, a wine bar and music room on the main downtown strip, upping its food game along with tweaking the decor.

Dexter's of Thornton Park

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Dexterstp interior

Note: This article has been updated to clarify the status of the Winter Park Dexter's.

You’re probably a bit confused about what’s going on with Dexter’s, aren’t you? I’ll admit it’s all a bit confusing, but let’s see if we can suss this out.

As background, and for those new to the area, Dexter’s started out as a popular wine bar and retail spot in Winter Park. It expanded, changed locations once or twice, went full liquor and lost the retail wine shop part of the business and expanded its food offerings to become more of a full restaurant. Along the way, it added a second location, in Thornton Park, and then Lake Mary and Windermere. Each became known by its address: Dexter’s of Winter Park, Dexter’s of Thornton Park, and so on.

Then, for a variety of reasons, all four were put up for sale last year. And, for the most part, each was obtained by separate entities. The Windermere location started flagging almost immediately following the sale and closed this summer. But the other three remain, although Dexter’s of Winter Park is planning an imminent move from its Hannibal Square location to the former TR Fire Grill space in the Ravaudage complex. Still Winter Park, so the name shouldn’t change, although there is a chance the new restaurant will be rebranded altogether; more on that soon.

But none of that explains what’s going on with Dexter’s. As it was characterized to me, each location still has some things in common with the other two – menu focus, for example, although that may change because none is contractually bound to present the same menu – but each also has something different. Winter Park, for example, is more music focused and regularly features live bands. Lake Mary’s vibe is more laid back to match its suburban (do we still call them bedroom communities?) locale.

But Thornton Park’s seems different from the other two. For one thing, it’s nestled in the well-established neighborhood and occupies a free-standing structure that was originally a Publix market. The Lake Mary and Winter Park restaurants are in newer developments, as was Windermere’s. Indeed, although it was the second Dexter’s, the Thornton Park location is the oldest, observing its twenty-fifth anniversary. It just has a homier feel.

And it also seems to focus more on its food than its estranged cousins.

Humbl

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Humbl exterior

The chicken was good enough to fool us; the burger not so much.

I was dining with a colleague at Humbl, a new restaurant next to Windermere High School on Winter Garden Vineland Road. It’s a fast fooder that looks like many other quick-bite eateries but for one major twist, spelled out on the sign out front just below the misspelled name: plant based eats.

That means that it’s entirely meat free. So the chicken that my lunch companion chose as an add-on to the Humbl Bowl of rice, cauliflower and crushed pistachios, should have been listed as “chicken” on the menu. Or it could have been spelled chickun, you know, like sushi bars spell krab when it’s really surimi.

Magical Dining Preview: Big Fin Seafood Kitchen

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Big Fin dining room

Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining promotion begins Friday, Aug. 23, but I stopped by Big Fin Seafood Kitchen for a sneak preview.

Big Fin always offers quality seafood at price commensurate with its quality, but its MagDine menu represents a real bargain.

For the uninitiated, restaurants participating in Magical Dining (formerly known as Magical Dining Month, or MagDinMo) offer special three-course, prix fixe menus for $35, excluding tax, gratuity and beverages. One dollar from each meal sold goes to local charities. (As of publication or this article, this year’s charities had not yet been announced.)

Some restaurants, shall we say, cheat a bit. They sign up to participate – restaurants pay a fee to Visit Orlando to be a part of the promotion – but instead of offering dishes that are representative of their regular menus, they feature items that aren’t even on their menus, presumably dishes with lower food costs so they don’t lose money on the $35 charge. Or $34, since the restaurants have to send in the dollar-per-sale collections. Others might present regular menu items but in smaller portions.

Ming's Bistro

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Mings interior

Some new friends, new to town, invited us to join them for Chinese food, but, naturally, asked me to select the restaurant. Based on its location, and the fact that it had been years since I reviewed it, favorably, I chose Ming’s Bistro in the Mills 50 district.

Why, right there on the front window was a banner with a quote and my name. As we passed it on our way inside, I thought my new friends must think I really know what I’m talking about.

By the end of the dinner they were probably thinking I don’t know a thing. The meal was largely a disappointment.

Kadence

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Kadence Painting

I would say that Kadence is one of the best restaurants in Central Florida but I’m not sure that it is. A restaurant, I mean.

Sure, it meets most of the criteria: It prepares and serves food for which customers pay; beverages are available; full service is provided.

But those components are applied in such a way as to produce something unique.

For starters, you don’t so much as make a reservation to dine here as you do buy a ticket. You essentially pay for your meal in advance and your purchase is nonrefundable, just as it would be if you were buying a ticket to a performance, which in a way you are. The policy helps to cut down on the number of no-shows and lessens the pain if a booked seat goes empty.

Because there are only nine seats in the place.