The Pie College Park

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Thepie interior

It’s been nearly two years since we first visted The Pie, the plainly named pizza seller in College Park, and nearly one year since word came that the original owner was closing and a new owner was taking over. I’m not sure when the new management moved in — recently a young fellow working there said it had only been a few months — but it still has the feel of a place that hasn’t quite found its niche.

And I don’t know why that should be because the food is actually quite good, though the pies of The Pie might not be the pizzas most people imagine when the topic comes up.

The Ramen

Written by Scott Joseph on .

The Ramen ramen

 Why do I think of Edgar Allen Poe every time I hear that name?

Quoth The Ramen “Never pho.”

It wasn’t quite a midnight dreary that I walked downtown blocks so dreary. Though it definitely was in bleak December. And I had to walk past the even bleaker desolation of the deserted Orlando Sentinel parking lot. But The Ramen is anything but a dark and musty chamber. It’s actually quite bright and pristine.

The new restaurant sits on the corner of North Orange Avenue and Amelia Street. Something new in the wave of ramen restaurants that we’ve seen lately, The Ramen is quick-serve: Place your order and pay for it at the counter then take a number stand to a table of your choice. Someone will bring your food to you when it’s ready.

After considering the menu that one of the cheerful greeters gave me, I selected the Shoyu Ramen, which had Shoyu broth, chashu, aji tamago, naruto, menma, green onions and nori.

Translation:

Wine Bar George Revisited

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Wine Bar George Ext

Now that Wine Bar George has been open for seven months or so, I thought it would be interesting to revisit and see how it is settling in to the Disney Springs community.

Actually, there was another reason to make another trip there. A Wine Bar George dining experience with me was offered as a silent auction item at this year’s gala for Orlando Shakes in Partnership with UCF. The dinner, donated by Rick Schell, was for two people to join me and Schell for an updated review. After a fierce bidding war in which two parties battled for the two seats, Schell graciously expanded the invitation to both couples.

Joining us for the evening were John and Rita Lowndes, Dr. Ann McGee and Chuck Kovaleski.

Winebargeorge digby

Owner George Miliotes greeted us with an interesting sparkling wine, Digby Fine English, from Sussex. I know what you’re thinking: English wine? And a sparkling wine at that? This was a delightful surprise. The nonvintaged blended wine — pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier — could hold its own next to many Champagnes. And why was there even a question: It’s been clear since the beginning that Miliotes doesn’t stock swill in his joint. (The Digby goes for $88 on the wine list, so that’s another indicator that it isn’t a second-rate wine.)

F&D Woodfired Italian Kitchen

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FD Italian bar

I counted myself among the skeptics when it was announced that a developer planned to revitalize the area at Curry Ford Road and Bumby Avenue with new restaurants, brewpubs and other boutique businesses, unofficially dubbing it the Hourglass District. There was encouragement when Claddagh Cottage relocated the popular Irish Pub to one of the blocks. And a Foxtail Coffee bar moved into a small strip mall, but heck, Foxtail seems to be following a Starbuckian business model with plans to put them everywhere.

And there were initial signs of hope when a pizza restaurant, Peppino’s Organic Italian Pizzeria & Kitchen moved into a freestanding building that had been home to a long line of short-lived culinary concepts, most of them Latin American focused, that couldn’t make the inexpensive menu and low number of seats a successful combination. A pizzeria made sense because it supplement its dine-in business with takeout or even delivery.

But Peppino’s closed faster than many of those Latin restaurants — less than six months — due, I’m told, to the owner’s health (though mediocre food and stunningly dismissive service didn’t bode well for its longevity).

Then the people at F&D Kitchen in Lake Mary announced they would take it over, also with a pizza concept. I was skeptical again. My experiences with F&D have been mixed. The original F&D Kitchen brought only a shrug. I had a wholly unpleasant experience at its Mexican concept, F&D Cantina, when it first opened in Waterford Lakes, but then quite enjoyed the food, service and surroundings of its second location, also in Lake Mary. (The original Cantina closed.)

So what would I find at F&D Woodfired Italian Kitchen? A cozy atmosphere, an exuberant staff, and a well-thought-out Italian menu that goes beyond basic pizza with pastas and even full entrees.

Fairbanks Restaurant

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Fairbanks exterior

It isn’t quite old enough to qualify for our ongoing series of the area’s classic restaurants, those 25 years or older, but Fairbanks Restaurant can boast of exceptional longevity in its 23 years of service.

Its name is Fairbanks Restaurant but I always think of it as Fairbanks Diner because it has all the trappings of one. The interior is a little worn. The booths, with cushions covered in plastic, are a bit creaky. One of the freestanding tables has metal folding chairs pulled up to it. Some tabletops have ad-splashed mats with menu items and the message that there are “No fancy napkins here, just good home style cooking.”

And that’s likely the reason for its longevity.

Bloodhound Brew

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Bloodhound exterior

I don’t think I’ve ever been served Tartar Sauce Soup before. No, let me amend that. I definitely have never been served Tartar Sauce Soup before.

But that’s the only description for what came with the Fish & Chips I ordered at Bloodhound Brew Pub & Eatery in South Orlando. Seriously, you could have drunk this stuff with a straw.

I’ve also never been served cold Mushy Peas. They’re always served at least warm if not hot. This ice cream-scoop shaped mound seemed to have come right out of the cooler.

Reyes Mezcaleria

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Reyes interior

A major change in a restaurant, especially a popular, well-reviewed one, is reason for a revisit, even if that restaurant is relatively new. Reyes Mezcaleria is relatively new — it was the winner of our Foodster Awards for Independent Restaurants as Best New Restaurant of 2017. But despite its short life, Reyes recently underwent one of those major changes that warrant a rereview, replacing its opening chef, Austin Boyd, with Wendy Lopez.

I returned with little skepticism because Lopez is a known quantity, taking the Reyes position after leading the kitchen at Tapa Toros. (Francisco Galeano is now in charge of Tapa Toros; we’ll look in on how he’s doing soon.)

Lopez’s changes to the menu have been subtle but they arise out of her Mexican heritage. I’ve never been one to suggest that cuisines of a nation or region can only be cooked by people of the same heritage. Nor does having a particular ethnic background guarantee that a cook will turn out authentic recreations of his or her homeland’s traditional dishes.

Cafe Madrid Deli & Bakery

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Cafe Madrid wall

Cafe Madrid is gone; long live Cafe Madrid.

Cafe Madrid, you may recall, was the Cuban restaurant that occupied a corner of a strip mall on Curry Ford Road at Conway Road in Orlando for 28 years. I revisited it in January of this year to do an update review, and a week later it closed. (I swear it was a good review; here, read it yourself.)

In September, a new restaurant moved in, conveniently keeping the Cafe Madrid name but adding Deli & Bakery to it. As you might expect, it’s no longer a full-service restaurant as the old CM was, and selections aren’t as fulsome, either. There are no longer complete dinner entrees, for example. But the food I sampled at the new iteration is good and worth visiting if you’re in the area.

Ford's Garage

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Fords Signature

I suppose it’s a good thing they didn’t call it GM’s Garage.

Ford’s Garage is a burger and beer brand born out of Ft. Myers and now headquartered in Tampa. You’d think Michigan, right? But there is a natural connection to the Sunshine State over the Great Lakes State: Henry Ford had a Winter home in Ft. Myers, less than a mile from where the first Ford’s Garage restaurant opened in 2012 (Henry did not attend).

Nearly all of the locations, just under a dozen so far, are in Florida, though one opened last year in Dearborn, Mich. The Orlando restaurant is in a freestanding building at the Orlando Premium Outlets on Vineland Avenue (it’s on the side with the Saks Off Fifth store).

As you might expect with a garage-themed restaurants, Ford’s is tricked out in a design that might be classified as early grease monkey. But except for the exterior, which like the rest of the mall structures is your basic faux Mediterranean-meets-Florida pale yellow stucco, it isn’t cheesy at all. In fact, there are a lot of nice details.

Christner's Prime Steak & Lobster

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Christners wine glass

One in a series of reviews celebrating Central Florida’s classic restaurants, those open 25 years or longer.

Christner’s Prime Steak & Lobster celebrated its 25th anniversary this year. But just as with Linda’s La Cantina, another independently owned restaurant reviewed recently in this series, the milestone comes with an asterisk.

As those who have lived in the area longer than five years know, Christner’s was originally known as Del Frisco’s Prime Steak & Lobster. It was not part of the Del Frisco’s Double Eagle chain, though both had the same origin. I won’t go into all the details here, but if you want to know more about the backstory, I’ve written about it in this article.

Russ Christner, who made the original deal with Del Frisco’s founder to open a steakhouse with that name in Orlando, chose a building on Lee Road instead of opting for something in the Tourist World part of town. That should have been an early indicator that this was meant to be a place for locals, a restaurant for celebrational splurges for some and for others a steakhouse for a fine piece of meat.

Christner grew the business and expanded the building’s footprint. But even as it got larger, he, along with his wife, Carole, maintained a hands on policy — Carole at the host stand and Russ wandering the dining rooms in his “uniform” of blue work shirt with a well worn and singed terrycloth towel over his shoulder — that kept it a family run business.