AJ's Press

Written by Scott Joseph on .

AJs Press sandwich

I knew I was going to like AJ's Press the moment I stepped inside.

That's when I was welcomed, warmly and genuinely, and when, upon hearing that it was my first time there, someone shoved a Jalapeño Bacon Hush Puppy at me.

AJ's Press is, despite the name, which makes it sound like a news organization, a Longwood sandwich shop in a small strip mall near the railroad tracks. The Press part of the name refers to the device that applies heat and pressure to flatten the sandwiches, á la a Cuban sandwich.

Chef Wang's Kitchen

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Chef Wang array

The young man who was waiting to take my order at Chef Wang's Kitchen pointed helpfully (if not a little impatiently) at one of the pictured menu items. "Foreigners seem to like that one," he offered.

To understand the level of authenticity, or at least a level that rises above many westernized Chinese restaurants, you need to know that when he said foreigners he was referring to Americans.

Chef Wang interior

Chef Wang's Kitchen is located in the repurposed yet still worn looking shopping mall now known as Chinatown. The West Colonial Drive restaurant occupies a modest storefront tastefully appointed with stone-look tables and substantial dark wood chairs (sturdy enough for any foreigners who come in).

Rustic Table

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Park Station exterior

Park Station was the name of the restaurant that opened in 2015 at 212 Park Ave. N. in Winter Park. The restaurant that is there now is called Rustic Table. The name is the only real change here.

It's the same owners, same concept. Even the menu is basically the same. So why the name change? I couldn't hazard a guess. Well, I could, but it would just be conjecture based on hearsay. Suffice to say that the owner felt a need to do so.

As with my review of Park Station in October of 2015, my experience at Rustic Station...I mean Table was a mostly pleasant one. The food was good, service was amiable, and the chance to dine at a sidewalk table on Park Avenue added allure.

Wonton Asian Kitchen

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Wonton exterior

Wonton Asian Kitchen has all of the trappings of being a chain restaurant, including the good things that can be, such as a standardized and well-thought-out design and a regimented system for ordering and preparing.

Unfortunately, that can also mean roboticized staffers and lifeless food.

I observed all of the above at the Winter Park restaurant before discovering that it is not a chain. At least not yet. I'd bet just about anything that the owners have visions of multi-unit sales in their dreams.

Ali Baba's Deli

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Ali Baba ext

I'm pretty sure the first puppet show I ever saw, and most likely the first theatrical production of any type, was "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves," performed by a professional traveling troupe that had set up in the gymnasium of Garfield Elementary School in Moline, Ill. I was probably 8 or 9. I think we were told it was the Bil Baird Marionettes, but I doubt that was true.

I don't remember much about it except the Open Sesame line and the horribly gruesome deaths of the thieves who had boiling oil poured over them as they hid in large pottery jars. I still have nightmares. And I'm fairly certain that some of the other grisly plot lines were omitted, such as Ali's brother being quartered and the chunks left outside the thieves' den as a warning. And Ali Baba still gets top billing even though it was the slave girl Morgiana who saved the day; it was she who poured the boiling oil into the jars. (Hey, Disney: next animated princess alert!)

None of this has anything to do with Ali Baba's Deli, but you try coming up with an opening for a review after you've written more than four thousand of them.

Enzo's Hideaway

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Hideaway interior

In terms of splashiness and go-for-the-awe design and decor, Enzo's Hideaway, from Patina Restaurant Group, offers much less than its sister restaurants at Disney Springs. Morimoto Asia has an opulent two-story dining room with elegant chandeliers; The Edison resides in what was supposed to have been an abandoned power producing facility, and Maria & Enzo's has the dramatic effect of a grand old airline terminal with large windows overlooking the lagoon.

Enzo's Hideaway has no windows and no double-height ceilings. It's dark and slightly dank and several of the walls are covered in graffiti. I enjoyed myself here more than at the others.

Which is not to say that I don't like the other restaurants; I do. But I think the absence of splash and distractions allows one to focus more on the food here. And the food here is really quite good.

Tartine

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Tartine interior

How could I not order something called a Tallow Candle? Tallow is a more lyrical name for lard, and the very thought of it whisked me back to a bar in Firenze that listed lardo as one its bar snacks. And it was just what it promised: little chunks of lard to put on a cracker or slice of bread. With each bite it was like saying, "Here it comes, arteries; deal with it."

Tartine tallow

A Tallow Candle, as presented at Tartine in College Park, sounded like a more inventive presentation. And it was. Essentially, the tallow was in the form of a tea candle with a lighted wick that was to melt the lard into a spreadable goo. Unfortunately, unless you're willing to wait a long time, the flame is insufficient to melt the lard. And it wasn't really worth the wait. But I appreciated the effort.

Maria & Enzo's

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Maria and Enzos balcony still

Grand is a word that might come to mind when you enter Maria & Enzo's Ristorante, one of a few new dining venues that opened recently at Disney Springs.

Although guests enter the building from street level (or walkway level, as the case may be), they walk past the host stand to discover themselves standing on a mezzanine overlooking the vast dining room below, accessed by a sweeping staircase. The far wall is comprised of two-story floor to ceiling windows with a commanding view of the lagoon outside. It reminds me a little of the opulence of La Coquina, the late lamented fine dining venue at Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress, but on a larger scale. It's among the most impressive dining venues in Central Florida.

Bugambilias

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Bugambilias birria

Bugambilias isn't the sort of place you'd just wander into, not unless you live in the vicinity of Lancaster Road between Orange Avenue and South Orange Blossom Trail. If you do live in the area, you know there are myriad Mexican restaurants, many as authentic as you're likely to find in the area, to choose from. Bugambilas would be a good choice.

Though it isn't a guarantee of authenticity, it's a pretty good indication of it when one has to ask if a menu is available in English. (One was.)

While I was still trying to navigate through the Spanish version, I was drawn to the Pozole, a favorite of mine. But when I failed to notice it was available only on Saturdays and Sundays, I figured I'd better switch to my first language. (Not that there's a second one, mind you.)

Instead I chose the Birria, shown at top, which is available todos los dias. Birria is basically a beef stew and is a traditional dish from the Jalisco region, which is home to Guadalajara. This isn't a stew like American versions -- there are no carrots or potatoes or peas. But on the other hand, it isn't made with goat or mutton, as it might be in Mexico.

Iron Cow Cafe

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Iron Cow ext

Where else would you expect to find a place called Iron Cow Cafe other than in the Milk District? Well, OK, maybe in the Rust Belt, but we're not there.

Iron Cow is rather a large place that in early evening hours (it opens most days at 6 p.m.) it looks like a big empty warehouse with a bar and kitchen set up on one side. Indeed, the business' own description calls it "a modern industrial warehouse merging food, beverage and music..." (Nothing comes after the ellipses, so I don't know what we're to infer from them.)

Only the food and beverage were evident when I stopped in. Although Iron Cow Cafe opened in December, it was still offering a "soft opening menu" in late March. You'd think a place with a name like this could harden that opening menu by now.