Jam Hot Chicken

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Jamhot fountain

There are five levels of spiciness for the sandwiches at Jam Hot Chicken, a walkup window eatery in Winter Park’s Hannibal Square. The middle one is hot, which is what I ordered. I cannot imagine the fiery hell of the next level up, which is labeled hotter, let alone the spiciest one, jam. “You’ve been warned” is written next to that one on the menu. Woe to the person who mistakenly thinks jam means sweet jellied preserves.

Hot was plenty hot for me. I had ordered the Sando, which like the other two sandwiches was made with a thick slab of breast meat, breaded and deep fried. This one was dressed with claw and house-made pickles with a proprietary sauce called comeback (probably not a good name for a food item) and served on a buttered bun.

The Wellborn

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Wellborn courtyard below

Whenever I’m asked for a recommendation for a place to get something to eat before a show at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts – or consider a place for myself, as I did recently before attending a concert at the incredible new Steinmetz Hall – I do a mental stroll north along Orange Avenue, maybe turning west on Church Street to consider some of the restaurants along there. I consider walkability a key factor

This time I strolled, for real, south instead, under the 408 overpass to Lucerne Circle to the Wellborn, a hotel, bar and restaurant in the former I.W. Phillips house (so there’s synergy with DPAC right there). Remarkably, it’s a shorter walk than to most of the restaurants in the other direction.

Isan Zaap Thai Cafe

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Isan ext

Isan Zaap Thai Cafe has taken over a space in a small group of businesses Gardens Park Boulvard, which fronts Millenia Boulevard. In fact, it replaced a fast fooder called Thai Express.

Thai Express had the typical layout with a lane along the left wall for arriving customers to approach the ordering station. Isan Zaap is a full service restaurant, so that lane isn’t needed. But instead of removing the barrier, the owners have just blocked it off.

In fact, much of the space is the same, including furniture, wall coverings and overall decor. Only the menu and name have changed.

Isan refers to the northeast of Thailand; zaap is a word that can mean spiciness or sassy.

Chef & I

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Chef and I chef

Last week I told you about Hall on the Yard, the new food market in Ivanhoe Village, and how it’s different from a typical food court because it has full table service and restaurant quality vendors.

One of those restaurants that is helping to make it special is Chef & I, from Nashville, which joins SJO this month as a sponsor.

Chef & I is owned by Chris and Erica Rains – he’s the Chef and she’s the I. C&I is only one of two of the restaurants in the complex with a food counter at its open kitchen. (The plant-based eatery Humbl is the other.)

As Chris Rains explains in the video below, Chef & I intends to take full advantage of the food counter and accentuate the ability of the diners to communicate directly with the chefs cooking in front of them. People sitting at Chef & I’s (Chef & My?) counter can technically order from any of the restaurants in the hall, but Rains said it’s his goal to make them want to order from him.

Hall on the Yard

Written by Scott Joseph on .

HOTY ext

“So, what’s up with all these food halls, Scott, aren’t they just like food courts without the mall attached?”

I’ve been getting asked that a lot lately since food halls and markets have been trending. At first glance, some of them do resemble a mall food court, with various stalls of food vendors with walkup counters where you place your order, pay for it, then carry it on a tray to a table, if you can find one.

The biggest difference with food halls and markets is that the food stalls are more likely to be operated by independent chefs and restaurateurs – you’re not likely to find an Auntie Ann’s Pretzel or Orange Julius – and offer a more complete dining experience of appetizers, entrees and desserts.

Now, the recently-opened Hall on the Yard in Ivanhoe Village takes the food hall concept to a different level. Like other food halls, HOTY features a variety of restaurant concepts and cuisines and also has two large bars, one inside and one outside. But it operates more like a conventional restaurant, including host seating, with waiter service and customers ordering from as many of the vendors as they wish from one spot. You can even make a reservation.

There were a couple of things I found surprising on my three visits. First, the place is huge. The food stalls – nine of them – are strewn throughout the first level; there is ample private function space upstairs. You may be seated at a freestanding table, one of the bars or at the food counter of one of two open kitchens – Humbl, the plant-based concept, or the Chef & I (I’ll have a focus on Chef & I Tuesday). Wherever you sit, a server will greet you to explain things and to take your orders, even if you select items that are from two or more far-flung vendors. This operation model allows the chefs to cook without having to worry about the “front of the house,” even when the front of the house is surrounding them.

But the most surprising thing of all was that it seemed to work.

F&D Cantina Thornton Park

Written by Scott Joseph on .

FandD CantinaTP ext

F&D, the food and drink restaurant group, has opened its second, or maybe third, Mexican/Tex-Mex brand, F&D Cantina, in Thornton Park. The restaurant moved in to the space that was Jax Thornton Park since 2017. Prior to that in was Baoery and more famously Cityfish. It began its life, in the early 2000s, as Central City Market when the mixed-use building was new.

I reviewed the other existing F&D Cantina, in Lake Mary, in 2018 and liked it. If there was some surprise in my tone it was because the original Cantina, in Waterford Lakes, was a jumbled mess. It no longer exists because apparently there is a god. At least one who rules over Mexican restaurants.

1921 Mount Dora

Written by Scott Joseph on .

1921MD ext

The Mount Dora Art Festival seemed like a good time to take a road trip and check out how 1920 Mount Dora is doing.

I hadn’t visited the restaurant since it was known as 1921 by Norman Van Aken. Van Aken, the popular award-winning chef based in South Florida, was instrumental in developing and opening the restaurant in 2016. He ended his involvement in 2018 and the restaurant was renamed 1921 Mount Dora.

In the ensuing years, I missed a couple of chefs who took up residency there, figuratively more than literally, including Josh Oakley, who cooked there between his Smiling Bison days and his current position as executive chef at The Monroe in downtown Orlando’s Creative Village.

Now in the executive chef chair at 1921 is Chris Edwards, who previously held that position at King + Duke in Atlanta.

Financier Bistro & Bar

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Financier interior

Is it Financier or Financier? That is, should we pronounce the name of Financier Bistro & Bar in Winter Park fih-nan-see-AY or fih-nan-SEER? The former is the French word for a classic almond cake that is shaped sort of like a gold bar. The latter is, um, a French word with an American pronunciation that means someone who manages money (and may be of various shapes).

Actually, it can be either or both, according to the restaurant’s website. The name was chosen as a double entendre (doo-bluh ahn-TAHN-druh) for a patisserie that opened in 2002 in Manhattan’s Financial District (usual pronunciation) and is now permanently closed.

I took refuge at the Park Avenue cafe, which was previously home to Rustic Table, Park Station and, coincidentally, a place called Frenchy’s, on a recent evening when my original destination proved too crowded. I took a small table on the sidewalk and felt like I was once again sitting at a cafe in Paris. The host even seemed insulted when I tried to order a glass of wine from him instead of waiting for my actual server, so it felt even more authentic.


Written by Scott Joseph on .

Hemisphere22 overhead

It seems inconceivable that Hemisphere, the restaurant at the top of the Hyatt Regency hotel in the main terminal of Orlando International Airport, is nearly 30 years old. My first review ran in the Orlando Sentinel’s Florida magazine in November of 1992 shortly after it opened.

Three decades later, I still remember the impression of stepping off the elevator on the 10th floor and taking in the expansive view from the two-story high windows as I descended a curving stairway to the dining room below. It was quite grand.

It still is, though there have been changes over the years, most notably in 2016 when the space underwent a three million dollar renovation. But even before that the restaurant had gone through evolutions. For one thing, the elevator stop had changed from the 10th floor to the ninth, eliminating the Scarlett O’Hara at Tara entrance. (Then, as now, accessing the restaurant does not require stepping foot inside the airport’s terminal; more on that in a moment.)

Four Flamingos: A Richard Blais Florida Kitchen

Written by Scott Joseph on .

fourflamingos sign

There was a time when the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress was a dining destination for special occasions. La Coquina was one of the top fine dining restaurants in the area with an incomparable Sunday brunch. Hemingway’s had a casual elegance that made guests feel as though they were dining in an elite Key West house.

La Coquina regularly took a summer hiatus, but in the fall of 2012 it simply did not reopen, a casualty of changing dining preferences; the gorgeous space now used for special events. Hemingway’s closed at the beginning of the pandemic shortly after it underwent a remodel. But it didn’t reopen either, though it wasn’t missed much – its panache had paled in its last years.

Now the hotel has opened a new restaurant in the Hemingway’s space called Four Flamingos. And the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress may once again see locals booking tables.