Bao's Castle

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Castle Bao exterior

We’ve had King Bao for about four years. Now we have Bao’s Castle. You’d think they might have some royal connection, but despite the monarchial monikers they are unrelated.

Bao’s Castle reigns over the SoDo Shopping Center. (Who am I kidding? Target is the imperial ruler here.) It occupies a humble storefront next to the complex’s Gator’s Dockside.

The menu is succinct, just eight baos and a few ancillary options.

I made my selections through the restaurant’s online ordering form, which is intuitive and easy to use, with options for pickup, including contactless curbside, or delivery through a third party.

Takeout from Hook & Reel

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Hookreeltogo crabbox

One of the signature items at Hook & Reel, the Cajun seafood bar in West Orlando, is the seafood boil that comes to the table in a big poofed-up plastic bag. Inside is a mess – a wonderful mess – of seafood that you selected in a sauce of your choice. To eat it, you roll the sides of the bag down and start digging in with your hands.

I was pretty sure that experience couldn’t be duplicated in a takeout experience, so I was surprised to see the seafood boils as an option on the online ordering form. So I had to give it a try.

Takeout from Kadence

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Kadencetogo plated

When I reviewed Kadence, nearly a year ago, I said that the omakase sushi bar was perhaps one of the best restaurants in Orlando, even though – or maybe because – it did not match the criteria for what we consider a restaurant to be.

One doesn’t make a reservation but rather purchases a (nonrefundable) ticket for a specified time to sit at one of nine seats. There is no menu; customers are served what the chef prepares, all receiving each dish at the same time.

But the experience itself was unique, and the quality of the food exceptional.

One particular thing that made the meal so enjoyable was watching the chefs work, especially Mark Berdin and his skillful one-hand method of shaping the pads of rice for the nigirizushi.

That, of course, can’t be experienced when getting takeout from Kadence, which currently is all that is being offered. But the quality of the sushi and other selections is unquestionably the same. And for once you can make your own selections.

City Works Eatery and Pour House

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Cityworks ext 1

Note: All photos were taken before the coronavirus lockdown; masks and social distancing had not yet been mandated.

Here’s a little insight into the world of restaurant reviewing. Sometimes a restaurant gets visited and the review is written right away. It’s technically possible to write and publish a review before the credit card check slip is signed. That’s an advantage of the internet age.

A disadvantage, too. Sometimes it’s best to put some time between a visit and sitting down to write the review. Rumination can be a good thing. Plus, being the product of the print age, I had to plan which restaurants I would review weeks and sometimes months in advance. I still try to work ahead and visit restaurants that I won’t write about immediately.

That was the case when I ate at City Works Eatery and Pour House, a then-new restaurant and beer bar at Disney Springs, in early March. I remember having a conversation with my dining companions about this virus we were hearing about in the news. The U.S. had just seen its first case, but we had no inkling how things would quickly spiral downward. Two weeks later, businesses were closing, first voluntarily and then under orders. City Works went dark along with the rest of Disney Springs.

The Osprey

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Osprey ext

The word Tavern is still on the outside of the building in Baldwin Park, and it still appears on the charge slip, but the owners of what originally was known as the Osprey Tavern would like you now to just call it the Osprey. And when you think of it, think of it as more of a seafood restaurant.

The owners are Jason and Sue Chin, whose restaurants are now under the auspices of Good Salt Restaurant Group. (Why not Best Salt or even Better Salt? I don’t know, but I like the name.) The disparate brands include Seito Sushi, just across the street from the erstwhile tavern, and Reyes Mezcalaria in the North Quarter. Reyes’ executive chef, the talented Wendy Lopez, is serving as culinary director at the Osprey, with Anthony Watler as its chef de cuisine. Elek Kovacs, who had been executive chef, left with the tavern.

Takeout from the Aardvark

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Aardvark exterior

For as many years as I can remember, there was a sketchy looking business on Ferncreek Road just north of Michigan Street called Aardvark Beverages. It seemed to specialize in cold beer, especially those sold in hand keg sizes. It was undoubtedly of an age where a business’s position at the top of the Yellow Pages (ask your grandparents) was paramount. Now the most important thing is the algorithmic ranking (ask your grandkids). Although I probably drove past it thousands of times, I never felt the need to go inside.

Then, a couple of years ago, it started to change from a package beverage store to a boutique cafe (that also served packaged beer and still had kegs to go, because tradition). When I first visited the reimagined business, now called simply The Aardvark, I found it a charming place to have a bite to eat and a glass of wine or beer (both now on tap), but it didn’t seem fully baked.

The reason, I discovered, was that there wasn’t a real commercial kitchen, such as one with a certified fire hood, in the back, so the menu was limited to items that mostly could be cooked offsite and then assembled in the back. Sandwiches, flatbreads, yawn. I decided to wait a while to return.

Apparently it’s time because the new menu has more ambitious items, including some that couldn’t be pulled off from commissary cooking and onsite reheating.

Takeout from Rocco's Italian Grille & Bar

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Roccos exter

I’ve always considered Rocco’s Italian Grille & Bar to be one of the area’s finest Italian restaurants, and I’m pleased to say Rocco Potami’s excellent food travels nicely.

I recently ordered some food to go from the full menu posted on Rocco’s website.

CFS Coffee

Written by Scott Joseph on .

CFS ext

It was a whim stop. Driving through Winter Park’s Hannibal Square, my companion and I spotted an isolated table outside Café Frustos Selectos, more commonly known as CFS Coffee. It was brunchtime, Sunday, and we were weary of takeout. So we took a chance on dining onsite.

But there being no table service, we did have to go inside to order our food (which we preselected from a paper menu outside the front door.

Vanbarry's Public House

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Vanbarry taco cu

Vanbarry’s Public House, on a hill above Orange Avenue overlooking Lake Jennie Jewel, has always been a pleasant place to sit, especially with its beachy atmosphere. And it might be a good choice for those looking to transition to onsite dining – it has lots of outside seating and the indoor dining area feels like it’s outside, thanks to open walls that give good circulation.

But if you’re like me and still hesitant about venturing out, the food is takeout worthy; you just have to provide your own beachside mien.

Keke's Breakfast Cafe

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Kekes ext

My but Keke’s Breakfast Cafe certainly has grown.

In just a little over 10 years it has grown from two Central Florida locations – first near the Mall at Millenia then on Fairbanks Avenue in Winter Park – to a franchise with nearly 50 restaurants throughout the state.

It didn’t start out as Keke’s, you may remember. That first restaurant on Conroy Road was originally called Florida Waffle House, and that opened more like circa 2007. But of course that name was eventually challenged. So the owners, brothers Keith and Kevin Mahen, took their shared first two initials and cobbled them into Keke’s.

I hadn’t visited a Keke’s since 2010 when I reviewed the one on Fairbanks Avenue (which had previously been Bakely’s). So when I decided recently that I wanted a big breakfast, including pancakes, but not the cleanup (or the trouble), I gave a call to the location at Conway Avenue and Curry Ford Road in Orlando.