It doesn't quite seem possible that DoveCote, the postmodern French brasserie in downtown Orlando, has been open just over two years. It started out well enough, though a few faux pas warranted a more cautious recommendation.
All caution is hereby removed. I returned to DoveCote one evening last month and found that the restaurant has settled into a quiet thrum of efficiency, and the kitchen, still under the direction of chef and co-owner Clay Miller, is producing more reliably fine recreations of French classics. And, not incidentally, at a price point that is reasonable and affordable.
When we talk about the top chefs in the Central Florida culinary community, the name Justin Plank rarely comes up, and I don't know why. I may be as much to blame as anyone.
It's not that he hasn't been around a long time or that his cooking hasn't been critically received. And it isn't that his name hasn't been bandied about. You may recall that in the early 2000s, Park Plaza Gardens actually changed its name to Chef Justin's Park Plaza Gardens to celebrate the hiring of Plank as its new head chef.
Following a stint at Lake Port Square in Leesburg, Plank joined the Levy Restaurants team as the executive chef at Disney Springs' Portobello, handpicked for the position by Tony Mantuano, the Chicago chef who advises and directs the Disney restaurant. Portobello then promptly closed so that it could be remodeled and rebranded.
It's now Terralina Crafted Italian and Plank has stayed on at the helm. While much of the menu was initially developed by Mantuano, Plank says that his suggestions for changes have all been given the go ahead. I stopped in to sample some of the menu recently and to see how the restaurant has developed. Everything I tasted -- some of which was offered to me and my guest to try -- was really quite good.
Hangry Bison, the new non-Italian restaurant from longtime pizzeria owner Joe Liguori, is doing a lot of things right with its burgers, bourbon and beer, the items that it lists as its specialties under that name.
Hangry is a portmanteau of the words hungry and angry and represents a condition wherein the need for food without any food foreseeable can cause a precipitous change in mood. It's a real thing. I myself am among the sufferers. We don't have a telethon.
But we have Hangry Bison to alleviate the symptoms.
Our first meeting of Scott Joseph's Supper Club/Brunch Branch convened on Sunday, Aug. 5, at the estimable Ravenous Pig in Winter Park. Our group took over the bar and lounge in tables, booths and hightops under the old Cask & Larder sign. (You'll recall that C&L occupied this part of the building briefly before that restaurant moved to Orlando International Airport, but the brewing facility that remains is still technically under the Cask & Larder brandage.)
Chef de cuisine Nick Sierputowski greeted us and gave a rundown of the food and beverages that were to come. Some of the clubbers opted for the cocktail pairings with a different concoction with each course. Others were satisfied to sip their welcome drink of Broker's Gin, coconut tea, orange-lemon oleo and milk wash.
I like Agave Azul in Winter Park. And if I sound slightly surprised when I say that, it's only because I never cared very much for the original in Orlando.
Then again it's been over seven years since I visited the Kirkman Road location. And I rather liked its sister restaurant, Saint Anejo Mexican Kitchen + Tequileria when it opened a year and a half ago in Winter Springs.
Like Saint Anejo, the newer Agave leans a tad more to the Mexico side of the border in the Tex or Mex question, though a full section of Fajitas, an American invention, has it straddling the wall.
But everything I tasted was good. Though in the case of the Taco Shooters it was good taste in an odd presentation. But how could I pass up something called Taco Shooters?
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I suppose it wasn’t very sporting of me to visit a pizzeria that claims to serve New York style pizzas on the day I was scheduled to fly to New York.
Actually, it was my second visit to Kings Pizza on Curry Ford Road, a second location for the business, which also operates a restaurant on International Drive. The first time I visited the Curry Ford location was back in June and I remembered thinking they didn’t really seem completely set up yet.
It was quiet, no noise from the two people in the open kitchen area and certainly none from diners, because there were none. The black wall across from the cooking and ordering station was painted black and had graffiti-like scrawls in chalk that looked temporary. And there was a refrigerated counter, the type you might expect to have grab-and-go selections that need to be cooled but also want to be nicely displayed, that was empty and unplugged.
The pizza on that visit was just OK. The pepperoni slice had good coverage but the Meat Lovers was pathetically topped with scrawny bits of tiny ham cubes and half moons of thinly sliced sausage as well as a few of the same pepperoni. Not really a meat lovers pizza, more of a platonic pie.
Do you know the wines of Franciacorta? It's not a winery or the name of a winemaker. It's not even the name of a vineyard.
It's a sparkling wine from Italy in the region of Lombardy.
Usually when you hear the words "sparkling wine" and "Italy" together you immediately think Prosecco. And if you're like me, you turn your nose up. I find most Proseccos to be too sweet and ultimately inferior to Champagnes, a comparison that is inevitable, seeing as how Champagne is to sparkling wine as Kleenex is to facial tissue (speaking of turning one's nose up).
There are some big differences between Proseccos and Champagnes, one being that Proseccos are made only with a grape known as glera. Another is the way the second fermentation -- the one that causes the bubbles -- is achieved. For Champagne, it's a process called méthode champenoise, which has the second fermentation occurring in the same bottle you will pop open for your next celebration.
I hadn't visited the Winter Park Fish Company since it opened more than eight and a half years ago. Opening chef George Vogelbacher left the business a few years ago to cook at Maxine's on Shine. There have been lots of other changes, here and around the neighborhood (who remembers that O'boys was just up the block in the building where Ravenous Pig is now -- and where Vogelbacher's Le Cordon Bleu restaurant was for many years?).
I figured it was time to go back and check it out.
It seems to be something of a mini trend for bars to partner with nearby or even next-door restaurants. Most bar owners seem to want to focus on the alcohol and not have to worry about all the problems associated with serving food. Yet they recognize that their customers might want something to eat while they drink. And generally speaking, it's probably a good idea for the drinkers to have something in their stomachs.
Ocean Sun Brewing announced that it would allow customers to order food from La Fiesta Mexican restaurant when the two became neighbors on Curry Ford Road. And Hourglass Brewing in Longwood has an open-door policy with Wako Taco -- literally; there is a door from the bar to the restaurant so people can order without going outside. And when the food is ready, someone from Wako will find them in the bar to deliver it.
That's the setup at Big Time Street Food Co. in Thornton Park. There is a doorway from the nascent food operator into Burton's Bar, the longtime dive that has been a fixture of Thornton Park before it was Thornton Park. Order some food at the takeout-only Big Time and you can walk through the doorway to Burton's and wait for it at the bar. You can eat it there, too, if you like.