The Attic Door

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Attic Door counter top

I just returned from New Orleans and I don’t think I had a bowl of gumbo there any better than the one I had at the Attic Door in Winter Garden just before I left.

But I’m not surprised, given that the Attic Door’s menu is under the direction of Kevin Tarter, the talent behind Chef’s Table at the Edgewater and the adjacent Tasting Room. Now Tarter and his wife, Laurie, have taken over JR’s Attic Door, a wine bar and music room on the main downtown strip, upping its food game along with tweaking the decor.

Dexter's of Thornton Park

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Dexterstp interior

Note: This article has been updated to clarify the status of the Winter Park Dexter's.

You’re probably a bit confused about what’s going on with Dexter’s, aren’t you? I’ll admit it’s all a bit confusing, but let’s see if we can suss this out.

As background, and for those new to the area, Dexter’s started out as a popular wine bar and retail spot in Winter Park. It expanded, changed locations once or twice, went full liquor and lost the retail wine shop part of the business and expanded its food offerings to become more of a full restaurant. Along the way, it added a second location, in Thornton Park, and then Lake Mary and Windermere. Each became known by its address: Dexter’s of Winter Park, Dexter’s of Thornton Park, and so on.

Then, for a variety of reasons, all four were put up for sale last year. And, for the most part, each was obtained by separate entities. The Windermere location started flagging almost immediately following the sale and closed this summer. But the other three remain, although Dexter’s of Winter Park is planning an imminent move from its Hannibal Square location to the former TR Fire Grill space in the Ravaudage complex. Still Winter Park, so the name shouldn’t change, although there is a chance the new restaurant will be rebranded altogether; more on that soon.

But none of that explains what’s going on with Dexter’s. As it was characterized to me, each location still has some things in common with the other two – menu focus, for example, although that may change because none is contractually bound to present the same menu – but each also has something different. Winter Park, for example, is more music focused and regularly features live bands. Lake Mary’s vibe is more laid back to match its suburban (do we still call them bedroom communities?) locale.

But Thornton Park’s seems different from the other two. For one thing, it’s nestled in the well-established neighborhood and occupies a free-standing structure that was originally a Publix market. The Lake Mary and Winter Park restaurants are in newer developments, as was Windermere’s. Indeed, although it was the second Dexter’s, the Thornton Park location is the oldest, observing its twenty-fifth anniversary. It just has a homier feel.

And it also seems to focus more on its food than its estranged cousins.


Written by Scott Joseph on .

Humbl exterior

The chicken was good enough to fool us; the burger not so much.

I was dining with a colleague at Humbl, a new restaurant next to Windermere High School on Winter Garden Vineland Road. It’s a fast fooder that looks like many other quick-bite eateries but for one major twist, spelled out on the sign out front just below the misspelled name: plant based eats.

That means that it’s entirely meat free. So the chicken that my lunch companion chose as an add-on to the Humbl Bowl of rice, cauliflower and crushed pistachios, should have been listed as “chicken” on the menu. Or it could have been spelled chickun, you know, like sushi bars spell krab when it’s really surimi.

Magical Dining Preview: Big Fin Seafood Kitchen

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Big Fin dining room

Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining promotion begins Friday, Aug. 23, but I stopped by Big Fin Seafood Kitchen for a sneak preview.

Big Fin always offers quality seafood at price commensurate with its quality, but its MagDine menu represents a real bargain.

For the uninitiated, restaurants participating in Magical Dining (formerly known as Magical Dining Month, or MagDinMo) offer special three-course, prix fixe menus for $35, excluding tax, gratuity and beverages. One dollar from each meal sold goes to local charities. (As of publication or this article, this year’s charities had not yet been announced.)

Some restaurants, shall we say, cheat a bit. They sign up to participate – restaurants pay a fee to Visit Orlando to be a part of the promotion – but instead of offering dishes that are representative of their regular menus, they feature items that aren’t even on their menus, presumably dishes with lower food costs so they don’t lose money on the $35 charge. Or $34, since the restaurants have to send in the dollar-per-sale collections. Others might present regular menu items but in smaller portions.

Ming's Bistro

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Mings interior

Some new friends, new to town, invited us to join them for Chinese food, but, naturally, asked me to select the restaurant. Based on its location, and the fact that it had been years since I reviewed it, favorably, I chose Ming’s Bistro in the Mills 50 district.

Why, right there on the front window was a banner with a quote and my name. As we passed it on our way inside, I thought my new friends must think I really know what I’m talking about.

By the end of the dinner they were probably thinking I don’t know a thing. The meal was largely a disappointment.


Written by Scott Joseph on .

Kadence Painting

I would say that Kadence is one of the best restaurants in Central Florida but I’m not sure that it is. A restaurant, I mean.

Sure, it meets most of the criteria: It prepares and serves food for which customers pay; beverages are available; full service is provided.

But those components are applied in such a way as to produce something unique.

For starters, you don’t so much as make a reservation to dine here as you do buy a ticket. You essentially pay for your meal in advance and your purchase is nonrefundable, just as it would be if you were buying a ticket to a performance, which in a way you are. The policy helps to cut down on the number of no-shows and lessens the pain if a booked seat goes empty.

Because there are only nine seats in the place.

903 Mills Market

Written by Scott Joseph on .

903 front

I first wrote about 903 Mills Market in 2003 when original owners Jim Ellis and Nick Massoni took over what had previously been known as Max’s Market and made it a Lake Davis neighborhood hangout.

Since then, I’ve conservatively driven past the corner cafe more than 2000 times — I live nearby, but given the vagaries of a restaurant critic’s life, casual, nonprofessional meals are something of a rarity.

But on a recent Sunday morning, not wanting to make breakfast or drive far away, I grabbed the other half and the dog (the other quarter?) and we took a stroll to the corner of Mills Avenue and Gore Street.

Tasting Notes: 2014 Mad Violets Mantis Reserve Pinot Noir

Written by Brittney Coutts on .

Mad Violets label

Tasting Notes for 2014 Mad Violets Mantis Reserve Pinot Noir.

Mad Violets was started by Sterling Fox and Kelly Kidneigh in Oregon. They are a family team, Sterling grows the grapes, and Kelly makes the wine. They have created these wines that are so illustrious of Oregon. They created Mantis reserve using their favorite barrels from vintage selection and bled them together. 2014 was a six barrel blend, and those six barrels came from two vineyard sites. They used Buttonfield vineyard Pinot Noir (which is one they own) and Trout Lilly Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir. All Pinot Noir used in the blends are two types of clones the first being Pommard clones, and the second being 777 clones. The wine is blended and made to age.

How I have been taught to taste wine is as follows:

Bull & Bear

Written by Scott Joseph on .

BullandBear dining room

While so many fine dining restaurants and high-end steakhouses are pulling back and reconfiguring themselves to be more casual — Shula’s Steakhouse at the Dolphin comes to mind — Bull & Bear maintains its commitment to elegance and high quality. It’s one of the reasons it was voted Best Restaurant Overall in our 2018 Foodster Awards for Independent Restaurants.

The restaurant opened almost exactly 10 years ago, in September 2009, in what was then the first Waldorf Astoria outside of Manhattan, and it was named for the iconic steakhouse located inside the original hotel. Other Waldorf Astorias have opened since, but none has a restaurant called Bull & Bear. And with the original Waldorf Astoria closed for renovations, the restaurants along with it, Orlando’s is now the only Bull & Bear. Word is that when the New York Waldorf reopens as a combination hotel and condominium complex, Bull & Bear may not reopen with it. So the Orlando restaurant truly does offer a unique dining experience.

Z Asian Vietnamese Kitchen

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Zasian pho cu 2

Z Aisan Vietnamese Kitchen is one of the latest to join the Mills 50 lineup of eateries in what is historically the center of the city’s Asian community. For a long time, each new Vietnamese restaurant that opened in the area seemed no different than those that had come before. The menus were the same, which is to say voluminous and repetitive, and even the decors seemed cookie cutter and stereotypical.

But that’s started to change in the past few years. Menus are more thoughtful and aren’t intent on presenting every possible combination of ingredients. And even the restaurants themselves seem more modern and up to date.

One restaurant that I thought did a nice job of modernizing the Vietnamese dining experience was Mai Bistro, which opened in late 2017 and unfortunately closed in early 2018.

Now Z Asian has moved into the same space and it, too, offers a more modernistic approach to the Vietnamese dining experience while still paying homage to the traditional recipes.