Vinito Tuscan Tavern

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Vinito Tuscan Tavern

Restaurant Review

I was invited recently to join some friends for dinner at Vinito Tuscan Tavern, a new restaurant in the Prime Outlets Mall on International Drive. The last time I had dinner at the mall was at Kafe Kalik next door, which was marginal at best. I had concluded that with the outlets being a big tourist attraction the restaurants there figured they didn’t have to try very hard.

So, I wasn’t expecting much from Vinito, just a good excuse to get together with friends. But it turns out that Vinito isn’t just interested in the tourist trade, they seem genuinely interested in doing genuinely good Italian food.

Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Restaurant Review

Our search for the Best Pizza in Central Florida is heating up. As I write this, there is a three-way fight for the top prize among NYPD Pizzeria, Pizza Fusion and Del Dio. You can see the current tally here. You can see that the totals drop off dramatically after third place.

Frankly, I’m surprised Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza hasn’t received more votes. It may be because the small chain, which started in Ft. Lauderdale in 2002, only recently moved into town. But pizza lovers really ought to take note.

Anthony’s is in the Whole Foods center at the corner of Sand Lake Road and Turkey Lake Road, next to Seito Sushi. Since I live in downtown Orlando, I phoned my order in and headed down I-4 to pick it up. When I finally got to the restaurant -- it takes longer to exit the interstate and get around the corner onto Turkey Lake Road than the actual drive from Orlando -- I was sorry I wasn’t dining in. The place had a dark but modern tavernlike moodiness and was bustling with a good sized crowd.

Houlihan's

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Orlando has somewhat of a reputation for having more than its fair share of chain restaurants. I’m not here to dispute that (although I do), but I do think that when people Houlihan's colonial Orlandoconsider the topic of chain restaurants they need to look at them in categories.

There are what we might call upscale chains. These are your Houston’s, J. Alexander’s, Timpanos, Samba Rooms, Capital Grilles (yes, that’s a chain) and Seasons 52s.

Then you’ve got your downscale chains. This is where the Denny’s, Waffle Houses and such are grouped.

In the middle are the Olive Gardens, Applebee’s, TGI Fridays and their ilk. This is the group I always considered Houlihan’s to be in. But Fred Karimipour, who holds the franchise licenses for the Central Florida Houlihan’s, is doing what he can to raise them, if not into the upper tier than at least at the top of the middle.

Pesca

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New restaurant occupies former Lee's Lakeside site

Pesca LakesodeAfter more than four years of lying fallow, the space that once held Lee’s Lakeside has finally been renovated and reopened as Pesca Lakeside, a new concept from local restaurateur Manny Tato (Spice Modern). Lee’s Lakeside was, for decades, one of Orlando’s premier dining spots, a favorite choice for special occasion celebrations for its choice location overlooking Lake Eola and Orlando’s skyline beyond.

Following the death of owner Lee Rose in January of 2003, Lee’s Lakeside began to decline. It finally closed for good in 2005.

I lost count of how many deals were proposed and even signed for the space over the past several years. Construction to redesign the interior had even begun when one of the deals fell through.

Paradiso 37

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Paradiso 37

 

I finally made it down to check out Paradiso 37, the newest restaurant in Downtown Disney in the area formerly known as Pleasure Island. This project is from E-Brands, the  Orlando company that also owns Timpano and Samba Room on Restaurant Row Orlando and Salsa at Florida Mall as well as other restaurants in Las Vegas and elsewhere.

Paradiso 37 is billed as serving “street foods of the Americas,” which conjures up an image of food carts roaming through the restaurant like an urbanized version of dim sum. Not so. It’s a full-service restaurant, no carts involved, although the menu does list from the collection of North American specialties the Street Cart Dog. Other choices are burgers, burritos, enchiladas and my favorite of all street foods, surf and turf.

E-Brands has a spotty history with its restaurants. Sometimes they’re very good, sometimes they’re not. My take on Paradiso 37 falls somewhere between the two extremes. The food was OK, so was the service, though neither was anything to rave about. The ambience? Well, we’ll come back to that.


 

Tavern on the Lake

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People who live and work in MetroWest are always complaining that they have a dearth of good restaurants in the area. Whenever they complain directly to me, I rattle off a few names of places I’ve enjoyed in the past. At the top of the list is Tavern on the Lake.

Johnny's Other Side

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I was sitting at the bar at Johnny's Other Side, the expansion of the hugely popular Johnny's Fillin' Station that opened up on the "other side" of the parkingJohnny's other side lot, when a couple of guys came through the door and started looking around the small space. Someone eventually asked if they were looking for the restroom. No, one of them replied, we're looking for the restaurant.

This is it, he was told.

Del Frisco's

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I finally had a chance to stop by Del Frisco’s to check out the renovations the high-end steakhouse underwent last year.del friscos

Basically, the two separate entities -- the main dining room and the lounge and piano bar next door -- were joined together as one with the addition of a cathedral-like foyer and main entrance. Walk through the front door and go to the right for the old dining room (the original entrance is blocked and the hallway is being used as storage) or go to the left to reach the bar and lounge. The night I visited more people were choosing the lounge than the dining room. But the nice thing is that the entire menu is available at the bar -- something that was not always possible when the piano bar was first added.

The other nice thing is that the food is still first rate.

Del Frisco’s has now been around for 16 years. When it first opened on Lee Road in mid 1993 it became an instant favorite, not only of mine but of Central Foridians who love great steak. When Florida magazine conducted its first annual Foodie Awards in 1998 it earned the award for best high-end steakhouse from both the readers and the critic. And it remained a favorite for several years even as competition in the high-priced meat market grew. We were willing to pay premium prices for Del Frisco’s steaks because the quality was unquestionable, they were cooked with precision expertise and the service was among the most professional in town. Dinner here was a special indulgence.

Nonno's Ristorante

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Update: Nonno's has closed.

What’s that phrase about not hiding your light under a bushel? I think Nonno’s Ristorante Italiano might be a case in point.Pizza

Nonno’s, a restaurant in the Hunter’s Creek section of South Orlando, features a fairly familiar list of Italian dinners, or at least Americanized versions of Italian dinners. Down at the bottom of the menu is a very small section labeled pizza. Consider the pizza Nonno’s light and the main menu the bushel.

Stone's Throw Bistro

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Don’t you find it a little strange that there are two restaurants in Sanford that once were homes to a newspaper publisher? Stone's Throw Bistrow

One of those restaurants is Two Blondes and a Shrimp, which once held the offices of the Sanford Herald. But the original home for that newspaper is just a stone’s throw away. Fittingly enough, that’s where you’ll find Stone’s Throw Bistro.

It isn’t hard to imagine that this structure is the oldest in town or that its initial purpose was other than as a restaurant. Its interior is rustic and rough, and some of the infrastructure appears jury-rigged. The tile floor is an obvious update, but the tin ceiling appears to be original.

My guest and I started our dinner with a bowl of the soup of the day ($4) , fashioned out of smoked yellow tomatoes with corn and crab, a thick and bisquey broth that had both smokey and spicy notes. Very nice.