The Wilson

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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Meliá Hotels International is a big hospitality chain – seventeenth largest in the world – and yet the Spain-headquartered hotelier has only two properties in the United States: Innside by Meliá New York Nomad, in Chelsea; and, just recently opened, Meliá Orlando Celebration.

Both stateside hotels feature a seafood centric restaurant called The Wilson. Both restaurants have a similar designed (I stopped in to the Manhattan location in October), with plenty of white subway tile on the walls, comfortable blue barstools at the counter, and bare wood tabletops.

Mu Restaurant & Grill

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When I drove to New Smyrna Beach, in 2002, to check out a new restaurant I’d heard about called Spanish River Grill, I pulled up in front of the place and almost didn’t go inside. It was in a corner of a nondescript strip mall and nothing about the outside made me want to go inside. But go inside I did – it was a long drive back to Orlando – and of course I ended up eating at one of Central Florida’s best restaurant, one where the chef would eventually be nominated for a James Beard Foundation award multiple times.

I was reminded about all this recently when I visited Mu Restaurant & Grill in Kissimmee. Its location and exterior might also cause you to raise an eyebrow. It shares a building with a Shell gas station and its mini mart, occupying a space accessed at the rear. Don’t turn around, don’t drive away, because inside you’ll find charming surroundings and a most gracious and welcoming staff.

You’ll also find some pretty excellent food.

Salsas Cocina Oviedo

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Took a trip out to Oviedo one recent very rainy evening and took refuge in Salsas Cocina Mexicana & Cantina, a popular Eastside restaurant.

It’s a lively place with a colorful interior that features bright paintings and Mexican star light fixtures hanging over the tables and booths.

In the American tradition of Tex-Mex restaurants, a bowl of tortilla chips and dish of salsa was offered when my guest and I were seated. I sipped on the house margarita, which was flavorful with its Gran Gala, triple sec and orange juice but did not affect my ability to drive after.

Naan Stopp

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As an ardent aficionado of the art of restaurant naming, I appreciate the multi entendre’d Naan Stopp, the extraneous extra p notwithstanding.

It’s whimsical, pun-ish, and instantly communicates that this is an Indian restaurant. It could only be more appropriate if it were a 24-hour cafe. And while the name might convey whimsy, the food is seriously good.

Naan Stopp occupies the small space in the shops of Windermere Village that was originally home to Humbl, the plant-based fast food concept that didn’t quite, um, take root. The structure of the brightly lit room is the same, though it sports new wall coverings and art. The long counter that was part of the fast food concept is still there, even though NS is a full-service restaurant, with, not incidentally, a very attentive staff. And three televisions on the wall behind the counter that were once menu displays now show loops of Bollywood dance extravaganzas.

P&D Soulfood Kitchen

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I would have been upset that I got practically nothing of what I ordered from P&D Soulfood Kitchen if what I ended up with hadn’t been so darn good.

P&D is mainly a takeout restaurant in the Village Square complex on Goldwyn Avenue in Orlando. The building doesn’t look like it would be home to a restaurant – it’s more office-like – and P&D occupies a small space inside a door accessed down a hallway on the first level. Finding it was considerably easier than finding a website and way to order online.

In fact, it doesn’t seem that P&D has a website, and an order portal could only be accessed via a Google search. There you can find a menu and place an order for delivery or pickup through a third-party. (Even if you plan to pick up your order, as I did, you have to go through DoorDash, UberEats or one of the others.)

But I found my way to the online form, made my selections, including side dishes, and clicked the button to complete the order. About two minutes later I received a call from the restaurant telling me nearly everything I had ordered – including the side dishes – was not available. That sort of thing happens when dining at a restaurant, too, but it’s easier to open up the menu again and choose something else. Not so easy when you’ve already shut your computer down.

Soco Thornton Park unveils new menu items

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For the first time since it opened just over eight years ago, Soco, the Thornton Park anchor restaurant “where Southern meets Contemporary,” has a revamped menu. It’s a major redo – chef/partner Greg Richie tells me there are about 20 new items.

I was happy to see one of my favorites, the Soco Style “Chicken and Dumplings,” still on the menu (one of the few original items to remain). But after I was invited to sample many of the added items, I think I’m going to have some new favorites. And many, like the chicken and dumplings before them, capture the very essence of what Soco was meant to be.

Grilled Cheezus

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When a restaurant has a name like Grilled Cheezus you can expect some creativity in menu names as well.

Grilled Cheezus, of course, is a grilled cheese sandwich specialty restaurant with two locations, one at the downtown UCF campus and another on Mills Avenue in the former Funky Monkey/Bites & Bubbles space, which is the one I visited. The Mills 50 location was also home, for a brief time, to Restaurant Ash, which also specialized in sandwiches. I think it’s fair to say that if it had served sandwiches the caliber of the ones at Grilled Cheezus, Restaurant Ash would still be there.

But let’s get back to the menu.

Tous Les Jours

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That freestanding building at 1230 W. Fairbanks Ave., just west of Orlando Avenue, in Winter Park has been home to a few concepts, including Bread & Co., Nakada’s Kitchen, which was inside Bread & Co., and Wonton Asian Kitchen. Before it housed restaurants it was a beauty salon and day spa.

The current tenant is Tous Les Jours, which opened a year ago. Like B&C, its pastry line is French-Asian. Unlike it, it is part of an international franchise based in South Korea. According to its website, “Since its launch in the United States in 2004, Tous les Jours has developed into a reputable bakery & café franchise,” which makes you wonder what sort of ill repute it started out with.

Portillo's

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Not too long ago I told you about my experience visiting the Orlando White Castle and how baffling I found its popularity.

But on the same evening I trekked across the parking lot to another Central Florida newcomer, Portillo’s, the Chicago-style beef and hot doggerie. And I liked it a lot.

Portillo’s began in 1963 when Dick Portillo opened a wiener stand called The Dog House in Villa Park, Ill., in metropolitan Chicago. Eventually he slapped his own name on it and soon after a chain was born. There are now more than 70 locations, most still in Illinois. Besides Orlando, there are Florida Portillo’s in Brandon, Tampa and St. Petersburg.

John & John's

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SoDo seems to be becoming Orlando’s pizza district. It was already home to Brick & Fire and Cornerstone on the eastern edge of the district. In the last year or so we’ve seen the opening of Buttercrust, Frenchy’s Wood-Fired and SoDough Square, which opened just a few months ago.

If you stood in front of SoDough you could throw a ball of mozzarella down Michigan Street and hit the newest pie maker, John & John’s.

The Johns of the name are Markaj and Cavallini (only they know which is the first John and which is the second). They are also the owners of Cavo’s Bar & Kitchen in Thornton Park. John & John’s – subtitled A Pizza Shop – took over the space that was formerly Mediterranean Blue.