Kafe Kalik

Written by SJO Staff on .

Kafe Kalik is unique in a number of ways. First is its location, tucked among myriad retail stores at the Prime Outlets Mall, the only full-service restaurant in the shopping center. Then there’s the restaurant itself, a sprawling space with a lively decor, bright and pleasant and just a bit upscale. There is a large, open kitchen with a long row of seating at a low counter for those who want to watch the cooks in action. Bright orange backlit panels give the place a colorful glow.

Kafe KalikThe main focus of the menu is the Bahamas and the Caribbean Islands, but the kitchen steps out a bit with other worldly tastes, including a version of fajitas, called bahitas, sandwiches, called baninis instead of paninis, some pasta dishes, and sushi.

The sushi, our server told us, was an ideal way for the chef to feature the fresh fish that is central to the Bahamian diet. But while the sushi we sampled was just fine, I preferred some of the other seafood selections in the appetizer platter. I especially liked the cracked calamari, slices of squid steaks that were fleshy and tender. And the grilled shrimp with balanced, even spicing.

For our entree the chef presented us with the pan roasted spiny lobster skillet, an impressive array of a split lobster, tomale intact, splayed over jasmine rice and sauced with roasted mango and pineapple butter.

It was OK, but I think next time I’ll go for the lamb shank curry, or jerk chicken in a bag or herb-crusted whole red snapper.

Our dessert was also unique: a coconut creme brulee served in a big coconut shell. This island version had a thicker texture and was a bit eggy, but we loved the ice cream that accompanied it.

Service was efficient and fast -- also unusual for a Bahamian restaurant -- and everyone greeted us with the trademark friendliness of the islands.

Kafe Kalik is at the Prime Outlets mall, 4969 International Drive, Orlando; 407-248-0889. More information and the menu at KK's Web site.

Nine Dragons

Written by SJO Staff on .

Nine Dragons at Epcot's China pavilion

Nine Dragons I field a lot of questions from people planning vacations to Walt Disney World who want to know about various restaurants. The queries are for restaurants throughout the resort, but it seems the bulk of them are about dining at Epcot. That's not so surprising -- the restaurants in the country pavilions have always been big draws to tourists and locals alike. They offer some of the better dining options on Disney property.

So I see a lot of questions about Les Chefs de France and Bistro de Paris, the Biergarten at Germany, and a stupefying amount of inquiries about Le Cellier, the darkly sequestered steakhouse at Canada.

But no one ever asks about Nine Dragons in the China pavilion.

At first I thought it was an aversion to more exotic cuisines, if Chinese food could be considered exotic. I figure the unadventurous American palate is the reason so many people seek to dine at Le Cellier. But that wouldn't explain the interest in places like Teppan Edo and Tokyo Dining in the Japan pavilion, the herring at Norway's Akershus or the Moroccan Restaurant Marrakesh, of course for the latter many red-blooded American men are willing to give up their red-blooded steaks to watch belly dancers while they dine.

But on a recent visit to check out the newly renovated Nine Dragons dining room and updated menu, it occured to me the reason so few people are interested in eating here. And it was the memory of sitting in another Chinese restaurant two decades earlier that made me think of it.

 That restaurant was Ming Court on International Drive. When it opened near the convention center in 1989 it drew a lot of attention for its elegant design, which featured a wall that resembled the rolling back or a dragon and floor to ceiling windows that looked out on a serene koi pond.

While I sat at Ming Court looking at the menu, I noticed more than a couple of people come in, sit down, look over the menu then get up and leave without ordering.

The reason wasn't because the menu was missing their favorite egg roll or moo goo gai pan, it was because it had something most of them were unfamiliar with: food prices similar to those at other fine dining restaurants. For most people, Chinese restaurants are synonymous with inexpensive meals, food served in large portions at prices that make it an even better bargain. They don't expect Chinese restaurants to have entrees that drift over $20.

I think most people still have that notion, which is why I get so few questions about Nine Dragons, and why it was virtually empty when I visited recently.

Too bad because the food is very good, and the refreshed dining room is comfortable and affords diners a view of people passing by rushing to make their reservation times at Tutto Italia or San Angel Inn.

I popped in for a lunch and started with a bowl of chicken consomme with pork dumplings ($3.98), a golden broth with a rich mouthfeel. It had two big dumplings of chewy dough filled with well-spiced ground pork.

For my entree I had the shrimp with spinach noodles ($17.98), which looked very much like something you'd find served in the Italy pavilion. (But remember that Marco Polo is said to have introduced Italians to pasta after a voyage to China.) The noodles were fettuccinelike and were mixed with red and green sauteed bell peppers and dotted with flecks of hot pepper flakes and topped with cool, fesh coriander.

The shrimp had a thin film of crispiness and peppery spice.

For dessert there was a sponge cake with fruit filling that was slightly dry.

The dining room is a vast space, but for all its expanse it is a tranquil place, at least when not full. A variety of lanters decorates the room. Tabletops are polished wood and set with paper placemat adorned with Chinese figures, both ancient and present-day, with spaces for diners to practice writing the words for mountains, rain, sun and moon. There was one major annoyance: tables are set with a knife and fork; diners must request chopsticks. It should be the other way around.

The staff was friendly though not obsequious. And even though I paid with a credit card, none of the Chinese nationals questioned my ability to repay my debt.

Nine Dragons is in the China pavilion at Epcot. For dinner reservations, call 407-939-3463.

Cantina Laredo

Written by SJO Staff on .

Cantina Laredo on Orlando's Restaurant Row

Cantine Laredo Cantina Laredo is among the latest in an explosion of new eateries that have opened in recent months on Restaurant Row. It joins J. Alexander's, Ocean Prime, Bar Louis, Bento Cafe and, in the same new development, Bravo! There haven't been this many new restaurants on that stretch of Sand Lake Road since early in 2001 when I first started calling the area Orlando's new Restaurant Row.

Cantina Laredo is something of an upscale Mexican restaurant and is a brand of Consolidated Restaurants out of Dallas, although I would equate its upscalishness along the same lines as Seasons 52, another Restaurant Row inhabitant. It's more of an upscale casual atomsphere.

It's an attractive restaurant, with comfortable booths and moody lighting. A fireplace in the dining room on the cool night I first visited added a sense of warmth if not actual heat.Cantine Laredo

The menu isn't exactly authentic Mexican -- the nachos, fajitas and crepes would't be found on many menus south of our border, unless it was a restaurant specializing in Ameri-Mex cuisine.

My guest and I started with the "top shelf guacamole" ($9.49). Actually, we started with margaritas, which were pretty darned tasty. And it's a good thing, too, because we had to wait a ridiculously long time for the guacamole engiineer to bring the guac fixings to the table. I've never quite understood the allure of tableside guacamole presentation -- it's not quite as dramatic as watching someone flambe bananas Foster or even mash anchovies and toss a Caesar salad. I suppose it's done to prove that the ingredients are fresh, but I don't think I would have had a question about that. The avocados were loosely chopped, as they should be, and blended with tomatoes, red onions and a bit of lemon. It could have used some salt to draw out the flavors, but we took care of that by adding our own. I don't think it quite was worth the hefty price tag, but it was darned good guac.

For my entree I chose four: the Cantina laredo platter ($16.29) that had cheese chile relleno, tamale, chicken enchilada and taco al carbon. The chile relleno was the star of the platter, a mildly piquant poblano filled with creamy cheese. But the chicken enchilada was a close second.

My friend had the enchiladas de mole ($12.29), which featured the same delicious chicken enchilada but smothered with a complexly seasoned mole. The Cantine Laredosauce was nicely done.

Service was inexplicably slow and unapologetic about it, too. There didn't seem to be any management types about.

Except for the obscenely overpriced guacamole (labor charges were undoubtedly tacked on) most of the items are fairly priced, with many in the low teens. My platter was a bargain at $16.29.

I would return to Cantina Laredo, maybe even just to have a margarita and some chips and appetizers. I would hope by then they will have improved the service and gained a better sense of timing.

Cantina Laredo is at 8000 Via Dellagio Way, Orlando (one block west of Dr. Phillips Blvd.). The phone number is 407-345-0186.


Cantina Laredo on Urbanspoon

Le Coq Au Vin

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Le Coq Au Vin; Life without Louis

Le Coq Au Vin When Louis Perrotte announced in November that he was taking on Reimund Pitz and his wife, Sandy, as partners in Le Coq Au Vin, one of Orlando's consistently acclaimed restaurants, he admitted that it was with an eye toward eventual retirement for him and his wife, Magdelena. But he said he would still be in the kitchen for a while.

I wondered at the time what "a while" meant. I also wondered how two master French chefs could co-exist in one small kitchen. That old adage "too many cooks spoil the broth" is referring to more than one.

The first question, apparently, has been answered. When I asked my waiter on a recent visit to Le Coq Au Vin who was cooking that night, he replied, "Chef Reimund Pitz." When asked if Perrotte didn't still do some of the cooking, the server smiled and said Chef Louis was concentrating on taking it easy.

So then it would seem we have arrived at the moment that so many Central Florida gourmands have dreaded: the reality of Le Coq Au Vin without the Perrottes, Louis commanding the kitchen and Magdalena the consummate hostess at the front door. Would it ever be the same?

It turns out that Louis Perrotte, besides being an excellent restaurateur, is also a pretty smart cookie. He hand-picked Pitz to take over his pride and joy, the restaurant he has built up since 1976, knowing that Pitz had the same high standards and dedication to quality and tradition.

Are there changes? Well, the place seemed a bit brighter and the main dining room had the appearance of having been spiffed up. And the whimsical rooster bidding guests "Bon appetit, y'all" apparently has been replaced with the more subdued logo seen above.

But beyond that, I doubt even the most frequent visitors will notice much change. The service is still as attentive and skilled, and, most important, the food is the same high quality, and the icon Le Coq Au Vin Dinner Menu (98.41 kB) still has most of the expected favorites.

With Mardi Gras just passed, Le Coq Au Vin was featuring a special menu of New Orleans favorites. My dining companion, who usually orders the onion soup without hesitation, instead opted for the gumbo ($6.50) from the Mardi Gras menu. After I had a sip of the rouxy stew and tasted the spicy andouille, he almost didn't get it back.

But I was perfectly happy with my appetizer of steak tartare ($8.95), a mound of shaved beef blended with a bit of onion, mustard and a touch of Worcestershire sauce, served with crusty bits of toast and sweet cornichons.

I really like that Coq Au Vin offers half portions of most of its entrees. It's a smart thing both nutritionally and, in the current financial climate, economically. And the half portions here are ample enough to satisfy. Even with a favorite like the cassoulet ($16.95), which I had to order before it almost certainly disappears for the summer months. I wasn't disappointed, although I would have enjoyed more beans in the mix. Still, there was plenty of lamb, duck, garlic sausage and pork in the dish, which was sprinkled with duck cracklings and bread crumbs.

My friend had the beef tenderloin ($25.95), sauteed to a perfect medium-rare juciness, topped with a beautiful lobe of duck foie gras, a Port wine sauce the ideal grace note. The meat was tender, and the foie gras filled the mouth with a delightful buttery texture.

The iconic Grand Marnier souffle is still available, but instead we opted for a simple creme brulee ($6), a deftly rendered custard with a solidly creamy texture and a thin crust of burnt sugar on top. We also had the rhubarb tart ($6.50), which was surprisingly mild flavored.

Service was attentive without being fawning, and we were allowed to proceed at our own pace. There was a long lull between courses, but I came to realize it was due to our place in line behind a large party in another room. 

At one point during our meal, Reimund Pitz came out to the dining room and went to each table, greeting his guests and thanking them for coming. Besides having the same skills in French cuisine as Louis Perrotte, and the same passion for integrity in his food, Pitz also knows that it's important to be a gracious host.

Le Coq Au Vin is going to be just fine. Le Coq Au VinLe Coq Au Vin is at 4800 S. Orange Ave., Orlando. The phone number is 407-851-6980. The restaurant is once again serving lunch Tuesday through Friday (Perrotte had dropped noontime service a few years ago). Dinner is served Tuesday thorugh Sunday. More information at Le Coq Au Vin's Web site.

New owners (from left) Sandy and Reimund Pitz with sommelier Peter Burke and Louis and Magdalena Perrotte.

Bar Louie

Written by SJO Staff on .

Bar Louie on Orlando's Restaurant Row

Bar Louie is one of the newer additions to Orlando's Restaurant Row, the stretch of Sand Lake Road west  of International Drive and Interstate 4. It occupies a space in the newly developed Rialto, where J. Alexander's and Ocean Prime also recently opened. Another restaurant, Bento, is now open as well.

Bar Louie is from the same organization that brought Red Star Tavern to Orlando a little more than a year ago. As the name would suggest, Bar Louie focuses mainly on the drinking part of the meal. But it also features a large menu of appetizers, pizzas, sandwiches anBar Louied burgers.

I stopped in on an early Friday evening as part of a party of six. We discovered that it was still happy hour, and therefore we could have anything from the appetizer list at half price. (The drink specials were pretty good too.) We decided to make a feast of appetizers and forgo dinner.
We ordered the Szechwan rib bites (regularly $8.99), chicken nachos ($9.99), cheeseburger sliders, ($8.99), crispy calamari ($9.99) and Buffalo wings ($7.99).

The sliders were quite good, greasy enough to be chic but meaty enough to satisfy. And the nachos were sufficiently glopped with grilled chicken, cheese sauce, beans, guacamole and sour cream.

The rib bites were not spicy at all, as a Szechuan designation would lead us to believe. And they weren't all that tender, either.

The calamari was, however, and the light dusting of flour gave a nice crisp jacket. The wings were just hot enough to satisfy the two wing lovers at our table.

The happy hour deal, which runs until 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, includes $3 drafts, $5 specialty drinks and $4 glasses of wine -- and that's any of the 20 wines that Bar Louie offers by the glass. That's a terrific bargain.

The dining room is dominated by the bar, but there are plenty of tables and booths. And there is a full outside bar for these balmy evenings.Bar Louie

Our server was affable and tried to keep our table manicured even as we kept messing it up by passing plates and platters of food.

We left very happy. And this is part of the reason: The total bill for our party of six, including all the food and drinks, was $95.

Bar Louie's happy hour just may be one of the best deals in town.


Written by SJO Staff on .

Lago Baldwin Park

 Some people just don't get it.
They don't understand that when you're in the restaurant business you're in the people business. It is necessary for you to interact with your guests. And by the way, guest is the preferred word, not customer. A guest is someone you cater to, someone you make feel welcome.

Not at Lago, a gorgeous new restaurant in Baldwin Park. There they convey an attitude that they are annoyed to have people come through the door.

On my visit it started with the dour hostess who showed me and my guests to our table. Never once did she smile. When one of my friends told her that another in our party was celebrating a birthday, she replied, "You can tell your server."

That's the sort of response you expect from an uncaring bureaucrat , not someone in the restaurant business. But hey, she's just a paid employee. It's not like she's the owner.

No, that would be the dour, unsmiling man wearing a white chef's jacket standing next to the open kitchen. All throughout our meal he stood there, occasionally pacing a few steps either direction. And never did he interact with any of his guests, or, as he might refer to them, customers.
The only person he had any contact with was a young man wearing faded jeans and an untucked shirt.
Now, let me tell you something about the way the place looks. It's beautiful and stylish, with a lakeside location. The large dining room has spacious and comfortable booths, most of which have a view of the well-appointed open kitchen where several cooks toil away. At a far end of the room is a bar and lounge where a pianist provided appropriate jazz that could be heard throughout the restaurant. The ceiling is high, but attention to lighting keeps it from feeling like an expanse. It's very comfortable, and it is decidedly upscale. In fact, a surprising number of men dining that night were wearing sport coats.

So back to the guy in dungarees with his shirttail hanging out: he's the manager. And the son of the owner. Why would you build a gorgeous, upscale restaurant and allow your manager to dress like he's going shopping at Home Depot? And for the record, this gentleman did not visit any tables either. Nor did he even deign to grunt an acknowledgment or look a guest in the eye when he passed one.

But you want to know about the food. Most of it was good; none of it was great, certainly not enough to make up for the rudeness.

I was very excited to see ribolilta ($7) on the menu. Ribollita is a Tuscan soup that I fell in love with in Florence. Calling it a soup is a bit of a misnomer because the use of bread in the making all but absorbs the broth. It's traditionally made with day-old bread because it was a way for peasants to reduce waste.

 I've seen it on only one menu in America, in New York. The reason it can't be found in abundance is that it requires black kale, which is hard to come by in the states. Sadly, it can't be found at Lago either. What is served as ribollita here is a brothy stew with beans, carrots, spinach and potatoes. And on top, some croutons. Croutons!

The stuffed meatball ($10) was a more satisfying appetizer, in fact the tomato sauce it sat in was deliciously full-flavored and well seasoned.

Grilled pork loin ($18) was a nice entree. The tender meat was served over mushroom, lardon and ramp risotto and finished with an apple Madeira sauce. Stuffed veal involtini ($21) was also good, the meat filled with a mix of pinenuts, raisins and sausage. Seared snapper ($25) is served with shrimp and crab mixed with arugula, kalamata olives and capers; mozzarella-stuffed chicken breast ($18) is simple but dressed up with prosciuotto and sun-dried tomato sauce.

It should be mentioned that our server was quite pleasant and did her best to make us feel like guests. The kitchen, for all its occupants -- we counted nearly a dozen -- was inexplicably slow in getting the dishes out.

The restaurant was well attended and buzzing with the sort of activity that makes one question whether we're in a recession. But in a recession we most definitely are. People are still going out to eat, but they will be very careful with their dining dollars. Lago has the advantage of being new. Everybody wants to check out the new place. It's getting them to return that is the key to survival.

If I were the owner of Lago, I would be working that room, thanking each and every person for coming to my restaurant, and I'd make certain I did everything to ensure they wanted to come back. 

And if I were the manager I would dress at least as nicely as my customers, whom I would treat as guests.

Lago is at 4979 New Broad St., Orlando. The phone number is 407-331-5246. The menu can be viewed at the restaurant's Web site.

Raglan Road

Written by Scott Joseph on .

St. Patrick's Day -- a Tuesday!? -- I'm predicting a really unproductive Wednesday this week. I'm thinking they should always hold St. Patrick's Day on the same day, so that it's always part of a three-day weekend, just like they do with other holidays. Except instead of a Monday it should be on a Friday every year. Let's work on that. 

To help get myself in the mood for SPD, I attended a media dinner to launch a new cookbook by Raglan Road's chef partner Kevin Dundon titled Great Family Food. Raglan Road is not your typical Irish pub. For one thing, it's huge. You could probably fit the entire village of Bray, Ireland, under its roof. And it's also atypical for its food, which is a bit more stylized than your basic corned beef and cabbage and Irish stew.

For example, for our dinner Dundon started us out with a seared scallop on a mint and pea puree. Just saying the words mint and pea puree will get you thrown out of most pubs in Dublin. But it was tasty, as was the potato and asparagus soup, lighter and smoother than you'd expect.

The next course was shepherd's pie, but as I said before, things aren't done in a traditional way at Raglan Road, and this was certainly the oddest shepherd's pie I've seen. Here, the ground meat mixed with gravy was dolloped onto a large spoon with a little mashed potatoes piped on top. It was a little more than one should shove into one's mouth all at once, but there wasn't quite enough to reallly get a feel for the flavor.

The main course was quite impressive. It was a whole roasted pig complete with an apple in its mouth (a green apple, of course). Dundon sliced the meat off the pig for each guest and we quite literally ate high on the hog. The meat was succulent and the crackling, though not quite crispy, delicious.

The pig was paired with a crown of lamb, two racks of lamb tied together to resemble headgear. And each table had its own platter of root vegetables and roasted potatoes. The potatoes were seriously good -- they must have been soaked with fat. Yum. If an Irish restaurant doesn't have wonderful potatoes there's something wrong.

Dessert was a trifle, which is not to say it was insignificant. It was a preparation of sponge cake with fruits and cream. Dundon served the guests out of two large glass trifle dishes, and more than a few guests did not say no to seconds. (That oink oink noise wasn't coming from the pig on the platter.) The dessert was paired with a shot glass of honeyed mead, a delicious but not too sweet concoction.

And throughout, we were entertained by the house band, which, it should be mentioned, keeps the place raucously rowdy and makes conversation a chore.

At least there's something that's reliably traditional.

Raglan Road is at Downtown Disney. Information at Raglanroadirishpub.com. Phone number is 407-938-0300.

And here's a list of other Irish pubs that also serve food.

Liam Fitzpatrick's -- 951 Market Promenade Ave., Lake Mary; 407-936-3782. This beautiful pub pays more attention to its ales than its food. Best to stop in for a pint or two, then head elsewhere for grub.

Paddy Murphy's -- 4982 New Broad St., Orlando; 407-622-4700. Undoubtedly the rowdiest place in Baldwin Park, Paddy Murphy's often features live bands that crank the voume to the max. But the food, which consists of the basics, such as shepherd's pie and corned beef, is fairly good, and the service is pleasant.

Scruffy Murphy’s -- 2625 Edgewater Drive, Orlando; 407-835-7158.  After leaving its downtown digs, Scruffy’s has taken over the space in College Park that was briefly Adair’s and even brieflier Gio’s. Despite some exterior decorating there isn’t a lot of Irishness in the ambience. (A granite bar? Well la-di-da.) But it has the requisite liquids and does a surprisingly good job with the food. I especially liked the scotch egg, a hard-boiled egg with a jacket of spicy ground sausage and bread crumbs deep-fried. If it was a prepackaged jobbie it sure didn’t taste like one. The shepherd’s pie was also good, with a rich gravy with lots of flavor and mashed potatoes lightly crusted under the broiler. Bartender was friendly and kept the glasses filled. The music when I visited tended toward rap, heavy metal and head-banger; I didn’t hear one tune by the Irish Rovers the whole night.

The Celt -- 25 S. Magnolia Ave., Orlando; 407-481-2928. Go through one door and you’re in the Harp, an Irish restaurant. Go through the other and you’re at the Celt, a pub, and a pleasant one at that. There’s more of a Gaelic vibe in the décor, and little touches like the wood and slate floor and hardwood tables make it seem like it’s been there for decades. When I visited for a recent lunch and asked for a table, a young woman told me I would have to sit at the bar because “all the tables are either full or dirty.” Couldn’t do anything about the people sitting at the other tables but why couldn’t someone clear the others? Turned out fine because the bartender was pleasant enough to make up for the young woman’s rudeness. I had a cup of potato and leek soup, which was a bit over thickened and under seasoned, and the cottage pie, which was an ample serving and a good enough rendition. There’s a nice Irish stew on the menu as well. No Irish music here, either. In fact, there was a VH-1 rock movie on two large televisions the whole time I was there.

Claddagh Cottage -- 4308 Curry Ford Road, Orlando; 407-895-1555. This little hole-in-the-wall near Conway Road just might be one of the most Irish of the area’s Irish pubs. It’s dark and rustic and sports the requisite memorabilia. It’s named for a fishing village near Galway and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the regulars are from there too. It’s more about the drinking here, but there is good food, including cottage pie and Irish stew. 
Fiddler’s Green: 544 Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park; 407-645-2050. situated at the confluence of Orange and Fairbanks Avenues, this big pub started out as the Prince of Wales, which is hardly Irish. But it converted over a decade ago and changed the menu to include all the basics. Pub games are a part of the draw.
No web site.

And for other Irish bar options, check out the Bars & Clubs column from Kelly Fitzpatrick in last Friday's Calendar section of the Orlando Sentinel. Hey, with a name like Kelly Fitzpatrick she has to know where the good Irish parties will be.

B.B. King's Blues Club at Pointe Orlando

Written by SJO Staff on .

Don’t go to B.B. King’s Blues Club expecting to see the music legend on the stage. Chances are he’s off in some other part of the world with Lucille, his famed guitar. But you can still expect to be entertained by some terrific musicians, if not one of the special acts booked at the club throughout the year then by the very able house band, a group of 10 singers and instrumentalists who get the place jumping every night.

And you can expect to chow down on Southern comfort foods, signature items from Memphis, the Mississippi delta and the bayous of Louisiana.

Well, OK, not all of it is authentically Southern, such as the nachos, unless you’re talking south of the border. My guest and I had put ourselves in the hands of the chef who sent out this massive mound of chips and cheese and other accouterments, including pulled pork. The chips were surprisingly crispy, and there were plenty of toppings.

However, I preferred the platter of fried dill pickles, smallish but crisp, and the meaty barbecued ribs with a sweetish sauce.

Better still was the bowl of gumbo ya ya, with smoked chicken, andouille sausage, crawfish and peppers in a roux as dark as the bayou.

For my entree I had the chicken fried chicken, a meaty breast with a jacket of buttermilk breading topped with pan gravy and accompanied by macaroni and cheese.

My friend had the Carolina bbq salmon, grilled and served on corn with shrimp in a creamy sauce, topped with shredded “tobacco” fries.

For dessert there was a decadently dense and rich chocolate brownie and a banana bread pudding with a firm texture that was a lot lighter than it looked.

The club is a huge warehouse like space with a high stage as the focal point. Tabletops are painted in the manner of folk art. The atmosphere is appropriately rustic and downright grungy -- you wouldn’t expect anything else from a blues club.

B.B. King's is at Pointe Orlando, 9101 International Drive; 407-370-4550.

Red Wing Restaurant

Written by SJO Staff on .

Red Wing Restaurant in Groveland

When I first wrote about Red Wing Restaurant, the old-Florida restaurant in Groveland, far west of Orlando, gasoline prices were just starting their skyward surge. So it was a pretty tough sell to recommend that people hop in their SUVs and drive out to Groveland for dinner. Red Wing

But now that gas has gotten a lot more reasonable -- and more people have junked their gas-guzzlers -- it's time to reconsider a visit to this terrific little spot.

This review appeared originally in the Orlando Sentinel.

If you’re looking for “old Florida,” you can’t get much older than Red Wing Restaurant.

For over 60 years the stone building, which at one time was a private home, has served as a meeting place for Lake County growers, farmers, truckers and others. It’s the sort of place where you might find a boothful of grimy construction workers next to a table with a family with children and, not far away, a couple on a date.

And you shouldn’t be surprised to overhear, as I did on one of my visits, a man tell someone else that he was just there biding his time until the vet could come by to geld his horse. Not there at the restaurant.

At least I don’t think so.

But you will find some obscure menu items. It isn’t often that you see Buffalo fried frog legs. Even less frequently will you hear me say they were really good. The appetizer featured three haunches, each with plenty of meat, deep-fried and tossed with a hot sauce, a la Buffalo wings, except there was more meat on the legs than you’ll ever find on a chicken wing.

And if fried frog legs don’t appeal to you, or even if they do, you might want to try the fried dill pickles. Why this delicacy is seen so seldom I don’t know. But usually they’re served as dill chips. Here they’re long spears with enough surface area to hold the light batters and even substance to give a good, salty crunch.

Fried green tomatoes had a crisp breading with firm fruit inside. The ranch dressing was the perfect accompaniment.

If you’re appalled by all the fried food, try the crab cake, which was sautéed. Better yet, don’t. As one might guess from the $6.99 price, little crab meat was involved.

On a dinner visit my guest had the combination duck breast and butterflied quail. The grilled duck was a bit tough, but the quail was moist, although it lacked any gamey characteristics.

I had the special elk chops, which were also a bit bland but more tender than you’d expect elk to be.

On a lunch visit my guest had the fish and chips, which featured big chunks of pure white grouper with a golden crisp jacket. At first I thought it odd the fish was served without sauce, but after a couple of bites I realized none was necessary. The chips were sweet potato fries, which were firm, decidedly ungreasy and thoroughly delicious.

The black and blue burger was less enjoyable. It was cooked a bit beyond the requested medium-rare, and neither the patty nor the blue cheese that topped it offered much in the way of flavor.

For dessert there was an unusual cobbler made with multiple fruit and loaded with sugar. In fact the “cobbler” part of it seemed to be more sugar than anything else, but it wasn’t at all cloying.

Service was casual but not neglectful. The staff was as warm and welcoming to the city folks who stopped in as they were to regulars.

No one would ever confuse Red Wing with a fine dining restaurant. The place shows its age, and so do the various stuffed heads that decorate the dark paneled walls. The occasional beer sign also keeps the ambience from getting too highfalutin.

There is a long bar inside the front door, but it seems more of a lunch counter than a drinking spot. To the left and right are dining rooms, and in the back is a large screened area for private functions.

Anh Hong

Written by SJO Staff on .

Anh Hong Vietnamese restaurant; quality takes a dive

I had the most unpleasant dining experience at Anh Hong the other night. Anh Hong, you may recall, is a past winner of Foodie Awards for best Vietnamese cuisine. There wasn't a thing about my recent visit that I would call positive, not the food, not the service and especially not the atmosphere.

And by atmosphere, I don't mean just the decor, which, to be sure, was dreary and had an unkempt and worn appearance. I also include the loud, head-banger music that was blaring in the restaurant, which apparently was being plaAnh Hongyed merely for the benefit of the server. Perhaps the owner figured that with the server's don't-give-a-damn attitude, playing his music was the only way to keep him there. (I say let him go.)

Even without the heavy metal, the food would not have been acceptable. My guests and I started with the Hanoi crepes, which the menu said included pork. But there was so little meat inside the largely bland pancakes that a vegetarian could have eaten them without guilt. We also had the summer rolls, with a smidgen of shrimp inside. They tasted as though they had been made some time before.

For my entree I had the rice platter with beef marinated in wine. There was little evidence of butter ins the sauce, as promised. One of my guests had the beef noodle soup, which was short on noodles and beef.

And to think I once awarded this place my Foodie Award for best Vietnamese. It's interesting that the plates the food was served on bore the name of Viet Nam Town, the now-closed restaurant across the street. Same owners, someone told me. If the food and service at that restaurant had dropped to the same level as it has at Anh Hong, it's no wonder it has closed.

Anh Hong is at 1124 E. Colonial Drive, Orlando. The phone number is 407-999-2656.