Aurora at the Celeste

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Aurora Celeste

A new hotel, The Celeste, opened last fall on the edge of the UCF campus. And as is often the case, with the new hotel came a new restaurant, Aurora at the Celeste.

If you were just passing through Aurora, perhaps on your way to a function on the tailored event space lawn just off the restaurant’s patio, you might dismiss it as little more than a perfunctory coffee shop, there only to serve basic fare to weary guests; the decor does little to dissuade that notion.

Doshibox Korean Kitchen

Written by Scott Joseph on .

doshi topbox

Collab Kitchens is one of the area’s many new ghost kitchens – also known as virtual kitchens, dark kitchens, virtual restaurants and other monikers. This one, started by the owners of Bento Asian Kitchen, Jimmy and Johnny Tung. Their term for the type of business that offers kitchen space to multiple entities for takeout and delivery only is collaborative cooking, hence the name of this operation.

One of the new tenants cooking collaboratively there is Doshibox Korean Kitchen, specializing in doshirak, a sort of lunchbox meal with multiple items served in trays, sometimes stacked. They’re known in Japan, not so coincidentally, as bento boxes.

Doshibox’s doshirak meal is served on an aluminum tray with seven separated compartments. Kind of like a larger version of a frozen tv dinner, except the food is fresh and it’s all more than edible. In fact, I enjoyed the food I fetched from Doshibox so much that I could see myself indulging in a craving for its japchae noodles, Korean fried chicken or even one of its rice bowls. Although immediate gratification of such a craving might be problematic. But more about that in a moment.

Mamak Asian Street Food UCF

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Mamakucf ext

You can’t tell it, though you’d know if you could see the smudged keys on my computer, but I just finished the leftovers of the food I got last night at Mamak Asian Street Food UCF, an east side version of the Mills 50 Malaysian restaurant. And every little bite of noodle, rice and meat and every little drop of sauce and broth were just as delicious today.

When the downtown Mamak opened in 2014, most people, including me, assumed it was trying to profit off of the popularity of Hawkers, which had opened three years earlier (right about this time 10 years ago; seems like it’s been around longer, no?). Both restaurants’ concepts are based on the premise of Asian street fare and, technically, both names mean the same thing. Mamak is the word for food stalls or the people who hawk the food from them.

But Mamak gained its own following with the quality of its food, and based on my just-finished meal from the new location, it may just out hawk Hawkers.

Big Fin Seafood Kitchen

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Bigfin2021 exterior

For the first time since it opened in late 2009, Big Fin Seafood Kitchen has a new chef.

His name is Eric Enrique – we share the burden of having two first names – and he moved to Big Fin from Eddie V’s, just down the the Restaurant Row road. I’ve always considered seafood to be Eddie V’s forte, so I was anxious to see what Enrique would bring to Big Fin.

Tap Room at Dubsdread

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Taproom interior

I’ve been a fan of the Tap Room at Dubsdread since it opened nearly 19 years ago. I first fell in love with its burger – and awarded it the Critic’s Choice Foodie Award for many years – then became a fan of its weekends-only prime rib. It was nice to have a place to go for good prime rib without having to put up with the arrogance of Hillstone’s management. (Seriously, do they go through special training to learn how to act superior?)

And then Tap Room upped its game on high-quality steaks and seafood making it a more well-rounded restaurant. And I’m not the only one who noticed the consistency in quality. Besides accolades from most other local publications, Tap Room at Dubsdread has received national recognition, including TripAdvisor’s Certificate of Excellence, OpenTable’s Diners’ Choice Award, and, in 2019, it was on Kayak and OpenTables list of the 25 Restaurants in the World Worth Traveling For in their "Will Fly for Food" compilation.

But...

Shantell's Just Until

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Shantells sign

During February, Scott Joseph's Orlando Restaurant Guide is featuring restaurants that are Black-owned or that have Black chefs in observance of Black History Month.

It seems fitting to end our monthlong focus on Black-owned restaurants with Shantell’s Just Until because of its location in Sanford’s Georgetown neighborhood. The area was established by the city’s Black business owners during in the 1880s during the Jim Crow era. Last year, Georgetown was named to the National Register of Historic Places.

Despite the impermanence of its name, Shantell’s Just Until feels like an anchor of the neighborhood. At least it did when I visited on a balmy evening recently when when the owner, Shantell Williams, herself was seated at a table outside. My dining companion, dog and I took a table next to a large brick planter filled with colorful flowers. Nearby in a tall tree, an osprey stood watching over the restaurant.

The menu is a bit more Caribbean than it is Southern soul. My guest chose the jerk chicken and rice for an entree and I selected the fish & chips. I had a choice of tilapia or catfish but that’s really not an option – catfish is the only appropriate answer in this setting.

Grandma's BBQ

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Grandmas ext

During February, Scott Joseph's Orlando Restaurant Guide is featuring restaurants that are Black-owned or that have Black chefs in observance of Black History Month.

I like this story.

The food truck known as Grandma’s BBQ was started by an actual grandma, Marcia Owens Ballard. Ballard was employed by the Orange County Public School System and also worked in daycare.

According to the website, Ballard would also prepare food for the families she worked for, and after getting so many requests to cater events, she decided to buy a food truck and go into business. (This is not terribly different from how 4Rivers Smokehouse came to be.)

That was 14 years ago and Ballard is no longer with us. But her grandson, Deodrick Ballard, continues to run the business and keeps the truck moving around to spread Grandma’s joy.

Boku Sushi & Grill

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Boku sign

During February, Scott Joseph's Orlando Restaurant Guide is featuring restaurants that are Black-owned or that have Black chefs in observance of Black History Month.

Albert Eugene DeSue, formerly chef at the now defunct Yuki Hana, has taken over kitchen duties at Boku Sushi & Grill, one of several restaurants at the new Maitland City Centre.

Maitland City Centre (which I’m pretty sure is pronounced SAHN-tray, is a big new multi-use complex that is now the hamlet’s de facto downtown. The Centre’s website reads, “You might feel as though you’ve been transported to a dynamic, open-air plaza straight out of your favorite European escape.”

Um, no.

But you might feel like you’re not in Maitland anymore.

Seana's

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Seanas ext

During February, Scott Joseph's Orlando Restaurant Guide is featuring restaurants that are Black-owned or that have Black chefs in observance of Black History Month.

The most interesting thing I learned about Seana’s, a Caribbean and soul food restaurant in West Orlando, is that there is no Seana. Owner Joshua Johnson said that it was just “a name I’ve always loved; it just feels like a warm embrace.” That’s a pretty good description of the restaurant itself.

Seana’s occupies a small space in a little strip mall at the corner of Good Homes Road and Colonial Drive. A counter-service operation with the menu hand-written on a white board that also serves as a screen to the kitchen area, Seana’s gained some renown when it was chosen as one of the local restaurants to serve members of the National Basketball Association during its stay in a pandemic “bubble” at Walt Disney World Resort last season.

The teams ate well.

Viet-Nomz Downtown

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Vietnomzghost ext

February 11 is Lunar New Year Eve, the celebration by Asian countries of the beginning of another calendar cycle and the beginning of spring. Each year of the Asian calendar is represented by an animal. This year is the year of the ox, or buffalo.

Last year, by the way, was the year of the rat, which so sums up 2020.

In Vietnam, the New Year celebration is called Tet, so I thought it might be a good time to try out Viet-Nomz’s new ghost kitchen operation west of downtown Orlando.

Actually, I came to visit the new operation circuitously. I was looking for another restaurant that had a West Pine Street address, but when I got there, no restaurant could be seen. Talk about a ghost kitchen. As I circled the block to head back home, I passed Dollins Avenue. That sounded familiar, so I pulled over and soon found that I’d seen the address in a post by Viet-Nomz.

I pulled into the parking lot at 18 N. Dollins Ave., searched for Viet-Nomz on my phone and placed my order online. It was simple, intutitve, I was able to prepay, with a tip, and when I finalized the order I received a text message saying it had been received and telling me to stay in my car until it was ready. It’s like they knew I was sitting right outside. Eerie.