Soco Brunch

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Soco Brunch cocktail

Brunch isn't new. The concept of something in between breakfast and lunch has been around a long time. The craze of making the meal an all-day affair is newer, but even that has been going on for years now. It almost seems inconceivable that a restaurant could open today and not offer a Sunday brunch. They've become so popular, especially among the younger set, that it's becoming common to see brunch offered on Saturdays and Sundays. In New York, I've seen some restaurants with weekday brunch menus.

Soco, the Thornton Park Southern contemporary restaurant, did not offer a Sunday brunch when it first opened more than three and a half years ago. But it soon joined the list of restaurants offering Saturday and Sunday brunch menus, and both days have become wildly popular.

And why not, with so many inventive things on the menu? I finally stopped in to try brunch (on a Sunday; I'm old school) and enjoyed my food very much.

Enjoyed my drink even more. There seem to be a lot of special brunch drinks and even pitchers of cocktails and bottomless mimosa options that... Ohhhhhhhh, now I get why brunches are so popular.

Willie's Pinchos

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Willies exterior

You would expect the pinchos at a place called Willie's Pinchos to be good. And they are. The barbecue skewers are impressively large, even before you consider the ridiculously reasonable three dollar charge. And the pork version that I had had a nice smoky flavor and a bit of sweetness from the barbecue sauce coating.

Willies pincho

It was rather plainly presented -- just the skewer of meat and some toasted Cuban bread. Apparently one is meant to either gnaw the meat off the skewer or pull it off using a slice of bread as a sort of potholder.

The pincho was good, but the Jibarito I also had was so much better, at least once I was able to find a way to eat it.

Garp & Fuss

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Garp Fuss door

I don't know what Garp & Fuss is. I don't mean the name. Well, yes, I do mean the name, too. But I also mean that I don't know how to classify it as a restaurant.

The menu is kind of all over the place. There's a pasta dish right next to a schnitzel. Tacos, natch. Burgers, of course. A Cuban sandwich right above a Vietnamese Bahn Mi (though it's spelled on an online menu as bahni mi, which I thought might be a clever play on the French term bon ami, but apparently was just a misspelling because it is correct on the in-house menu).

There is a sandwich called Fuss that features fried chicken and another called Garp with Italian beef. Maybe I'm just overanalyzing it but I don't know what it all means.

Tiffins

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Tiffins ext

When I think about the top tier restaurants at Walt Disney World Resorts I usually think of Flying Fish, Citricos and California Grill, though the latter has declined somewhat in terms of experience. After a recent visit to Jiko - The Cooking Place, I'm prepared to include that Animal Kingdom Lodge restaurant in the upper echelon, too. (Victoria & Albert's is in a higher tier all by itself.)

What all of those restaurants have in common is that they are accessible without the requirement to purchase a ticket to one of the theme parks. Which is not to say there aren't good restaurants inside the parks. Certainly Hollywood Brown Derby at Disney's Hollywood Studios and Monsieur Paul at Epcot's France pavilion offer a higher standard than a basic meal.

In that category of restaurants I now include Tiffins, a surprisingly adventurous and slightly upscale restaurant appropriately located inside Animal Kingdom. I was invited recently to dine with some WDW executives, so my experience wasn't the same as an everyday visitor, but I liked what I tasted, and what I saw going on at nearby tables.

Pannullo's Italian Restaurant

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Pannullo interior

This seems to be the year of milestones, at least for area restaurants. Beefy King, of course, is getting a lot of attention, as it should, for hitting the half century mark. And Christner's Prime Steak & Lobsters has been touted for its 25 year anniversary, even though the first 20 were as Del Frisco's Prime Steak & Lobsters.

Quietly, Pannullo's Italian Restaurant is also celebrating its silver anniversary at its Park Avenue address. It's not the oldest along the avenue -- Cafe de France and Briarpatch outdate it -- but its 25-year achievement is worth noting.

Also worth noting: It may have been 25 years since I last dined there, or pretty close. I'm not entirely sure why that is, but knowing of the anniversary and needing a place to meet a friend for lunch, I decided to stop in.

Stir Restaurant & Bar

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Stir sign

My most recent visit to the restaurant at the corner of Orange Avenue and Virginia Drive, just across from Lake Ivanhoe, had me thinking that the name should be Still instead of Stir. It was very quiet and largely unattended.

Actually, I think we're meant to present the restaurant's name as STIR. According to the About Us page on its website, the name is an acronym for Sip, Taste, Indulge and Relax. And you may do all those things at this restaurant and bar, which is located in the space that most recently was Nova (whose name was a syllabic abbreviation of North of Virginia). Whether you'll want to is another question.

The first time I went to Stir I did not intend for it to be a reviewing visit. I was meeting a colleague to discuss a business venture and the just-opened restaurant seemed like a convenient place to meet for drinks. As I often do, I ordered a negroni, the cocktail made with equal parts gin, Campari and sweet vermouth. What I was served tasted nothing like any negroni I've had before. And in fact when I mentioned this to someone, I was told that the bar did not stock Campari, so something was substituted.

Dear bartenders and beverage managers: You are not required to stock every bit of liquor, liqueur or mixer known to every drinking man or woman. And given your proclivity towards creativity, I understand your desire to play variations on a tippling theme. But for crying out loud, if you don't have the ingredients for a classic cocktail or your presentation strays from the original recipe, you might want to mention it to your customer ahead of time. "I don't have the ingredients for a negroni," you might say, "but I have something you might like instead." With that information at hand, I can either choose something else or go with your creative juices, so to speak.

Bulgogi House

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Bulgogi House exterior

I'm not really big on places where the customers are expected to cook their own meals. I call that home. When I go out to eat, I want someone else to do the cooking.

I'm apparently in the minority with this thought. At least I was the first time I visited Bulgogi House, a Korean restaurant on West Colonial Drive between downtown and College Park. Each table has a grill set into it, and most of the tables were occupied with people happily turning over meats and vegetables as they sizzled in front of them. My friend and I looked at each other and thought, Nah, not tonight. (We headed up to Tap Room at Dubsdread and had a wonderful prime rib dinner, all of it prepared in the kitchen; didn't even have to do dishes.)

I returned to Bulgogi House at lunch time when most of the grills are left cold and more of the guests order off the menu.

Cafe 906

Written by Scott Joseph on .

cafe 906 interior

Exactly one month from today I will step off a plane in Paris, beginning a week of food, wine and more food and wine as part of a tour I'm co-leading with Kevin Fonzo and Art in Voyage - Beyond Travel. I can't wait -- it's been almost five months since my last visit to Paris. Luckily, I'll only have to wait three months after this trip to return.

I sort of like Paris.

One of the great comforts of Paris is waking up and strolling to one of the neighborhood boulangeries for freshly baked croissants, sitting in the flat on the balcony as the sun streams in, sipping coffee and nibbling on the croissant with just a smear of butter or jam.

I don't know why it should be so difficult to find suitable croissants stateside. But I found a pretty good one at Cafe 906 in Baldwin Park. In fact, with the exception of the atmosphere, which is a little too industrial, Cafe 906 is a very nice French cafe.

1803 Pizza/Kitchen

Written by Scott Joseph on .

1803 exterior

As coincidence would have it, earlier this week I told you about a guest column I wrote for Orlando Date Night Guide listing many of the area's oldest restaurants. I also noted that I had written a similar article, in 2005, for the Orlando Sentinel. In neither article did I list O! Stromboli.

I mention that because at one time the owner of O! Stromboli advertised that it was the oldest Italian restaurant in town. That was in 2007, and during my 19 years at that point of reviewing restaurants, it had been Ciotti's, Sandroni's and Farinacci's. Also during that time, there were several Italian restaurants that had been operating longer. When I asked the owner about it, he said that there had been an Italian market or restaurant at that address since the 1940s, albeit under different owners. Not exactly truth in that particular advertising.

The address in question is 1803 Winter Park Road, Orlando. The address lends its name to the new tenant, 1803 Pizza/Kitchen. It's Italian, so by some people's standards it's the oldest one in Orlando even though it opened just last week.

Hong Kong Alley's Kitchen

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Hong Kong Alley exterior

I'm sure the staff at Hong Kong Alley's Kitchen were just trying to be nice. They were effusive in their greeting when I walked into the strip mall storefront restaurant on East Colonial Drive. And the young man who took my order had a smile on his face at all times.

But no one could quite believe me when I told them, multiple times, I didn't need the fork they kept trying to place on my table. The chopsticks were fine, I said. Not showing off, I just think Chinese food tastes better when the proper utensils are utilized. And I eat less.

I had stopped in on a whim, noticing as I drove by the banner out front announcing Dim Sum, Roast Duck and Crispy Pork.