Tutto Caffè

Written by Scott Joseph on .

tutto caffe ext 1

Popped into Tutto Caffè one recent morning for liquid and solid fuel.

Tutto Caffè is an unassuming little coffeeshop in downtown Baldwin Park. It's set up as a sort of gathering space to sit and sip, read or work, perhaps at the stone-topped counter in the center of the room.

I was taking a day off from work and was wandering the neighborhood with my dog. I tied Toby to one of the outside tables and went inside to order, all the while keeping an eye on Tobe, who's still very much a puppy and not used to being tied up outside of strange places.

Selam Ethiopian & Eritrean Cuisine

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Selam interior

If you were looking for further validation that Central Florida's culinary scene is becoming more diverse, consider this: Not only do we have an Ethiopian restaurant, Nile, in its second decade of operation, we now have a second one operating simultaneously. What's more, the new restaurant, Selam, features the cuisines of Ethiopia and Eritrea. (Though that's a fine line; more on that in a moment.)

Like Nile, Selam is situated in the Tourist World part of town. That's a pretty smart choice. Nile was not the first Ethiopian restaurant in the area. Two or three others tried to introduce the foods from the Horn of Africa over the past 25 years or so but never lasted more than a few months. Location, I assumed, had something to do with it. They had opened in a location next to the 33d Street jail and on a sketchy stretch of South Orange Blossom Trail. But an argument could also be made that the dining public wasn't yet quite ready to be more adventurous.

American Kitchen Bar & Grill

Written by Scott Joseph on .

American Kitchen dining room

Magical Dining Month is over for another year, but that doesn't mean there aren't any great dining deals out there. Just look at what American Kitchen Bar & Grill is offering.

They're calling it, maybe just a tad tongue in cheekily, Enchanted Dining Month and offering a $35 three-course prix fixe menu. Sound familiar?

Executive chef Venoy Rogers explained that American Kitchen, which is the signature restaurant at B Resort, missed the cutoff date to sign up for Magical Dining Month. The restaurant didn't want to run a competing offer at the same time, so instead they decided to run it after MagDinMo was over, so you can now consider the entire month of October to be EnDinMo at American Kitchen.

Rogers invited me to come in and sample the menu choices. I had already known there was good culinary talent at the resort. I had experienced Rogers' cuisine in the past, and his sous chef Jacob Rios recently won my Sous Chef Challenge cooking competition at the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Show. So I was pretty sure I was going to like what I tasted, and I did.

Linda's La Cantina

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Cantina sign

This is another in a series of reviews of Central Florida's classic restaurants that have been in operation 25 years or longer.

Linda's La Cantina is the oldest restaurant in Central Florida, and the reason for its longevity and its continued popularity can be attributed to one thing: it serves damn good steaks. It certainly doesn't warrant hour-plus waits based on its ambience or service, but more on that in a moment.

The title of the oldest restaurant comes with an asterisk. There has been a restaurant called La Cantina at 4721 E. Colonial Drive since 1947, but it wasn't always Linda's. We could double-asterisk the title, too, because there was another an Italian restaurant on that spot before Rudy Seng bought it and renamed it Edie and Rudy's La Cantina. Why a steakhouse with an Italian accent had a Spanish name is unknown.

Rudy and Edie had a son named Al who fell in love with a young salad girl named Linda Gilland. They got married. Al took over the restaurant in 1972 after Rudy died and renamed it Al and Linda's La Cantina. Linda bought out Al's share of the business in 1984 and the couple divorced shortly afterwards. Al's name was ripped from the sign and it's been Linda's La Cantina ever since.

Three asterisks: La Cantina's operation has not been continuous. The original restaurant was torn down in 1979 and replaced with a larger building. A fire destroyed that building in December of 1994 and it was replaced with the structure you see today by mid '95.

When I reviewed the risen-from-the-ashes steakhouse in August 1995, I marveled at the phenomenon that is Linda's La Cantina and said, more than once in that same review, "I don't get it."

I still don't.

Leguminati

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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

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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

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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.