Shakers American Cafe

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Shakers21 ext

Every so often, I like to stop by Shakers American Cafe, the longtime College Park diner, to remind myself what great food it serves. I go in expecting good, basic fare and I’m always impressed that it rises a few levels above that.

That was the case recently when a friend and I stopped in for a between breakfast and lunch meal – we didn’t call it brunch because that sounded inappropriately tony, and we were definitely there for breakfast.

My eyes were drawn immediately to the blackboard outside the restaurant that listed short rib hash as one of the day’s special. I’m a sucker for breakfast hash. If you’re ever sitting in a diner that has hash on its menu and you see me walk in, make a bet with your dining companion on what I’m going to order; you’re almost sure to win.

Boca Winter Park

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Boca21 ext

Whenever there’s a big change in a restaurant I’ve formerly reviewed, I like to return to see if there have been any major differences in the operation, whether it’s the food, the service or the physical surroundings.

I told you recently that Boca, the Park Avenue restaurant that opened in late 2014, had been sold. It was originally owned by a group out of Sarasota, where the original Boca was. (Curiously, there were no Bocas in actual Boca.)

The new owner is Artistry Restaurants, a relatively new group based in Winter Park that also operates Burger U at UCF. It also took ownership of Atlantic Beer and Oyster, the seafood bar in the Hidden Garden off Park Avenue, as well as the original Sarasota location. (A third Boca in Tampa’s Hyde Park had previously closed.)

Ownership changed several months ago, and after verifying that the kitchen had made all of the adjustments it was going to do, I decided to head back and check it out. I can report to you that Boca is virtually the same as it was when I first reviewed it in 2015.

Unfortunately.

Wa Sushi

Written by Scott Joseph on .

wa 3way

Wa Sushi, the popular Casselberry restaurant, was closed for almost exactly a year, from February 2020 to February 2021. The reason for closing was not pandemic related – we didn’t start seeing closures until the following month. Instead, according to a post on the restaurant’s Facebook page at the time, there was an issue with drainage at its original location that forced it to close and look for a place to relocate.

But really, if you had to close your restaurant for a year, 2020 was the perfect choice.

George's Cafe

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Georgecafe ext

The last time I had the sandwich known as the Abigail, it was at George’s Gourmet Cookie’s in a small storefront space at the corner of Lee Road and Orlando Avenue in what was then the Kmart-anchored shopping plaza. The sandwich, a take on a reuben, was revelatory. And even though it was in 2016 that I had it, that sandwich came to mind often – usually anytime I ordered a reuben elsewhere only to be disappointed in comparison.

Sometime during the haze of the pandemic, George’s moved to Park Avenue, taking over the former Brandywine Deli space. Gourmet Cookies was dropped from the name, but not from the menu, and it is now known as George’s Cafe.

Shin Jung

Written by Scott Joseph on .

shinjung21 ext

When I went by Shin Jung on June 27, 2019, a day after a fire had swept through it, I look at the damage and thought, “No way they’ll reopen here.”

Shin Jung has reopened there.

The building, a converted original single-family home, perhaps the only one remaining within miles in either direction on Colonial Drive, has a new look, one that is more open and brighter, thanks to new picture windows on the front and side.

A canopy across the front makes it look less housey. There’s even a new side patio for outdoor dining.

It’s a transformation for the better – the last time I was in the old place I found it dark and dank and in need of tidying.

Willy's Original and Frenchy's Wood-Fired Pizza Bar

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Willys interior

Gatlin Hall Brewing has finally opened on South Orange Avenue and with it two new concepts – Willy’s Original and Frenchy’s Wood-Fired – from the team that owns and operates Big Fin Seafood Kitchen and Russell’s on Lake Ivanhoe. And the new brands couldn’t be more diametric to the existing full-service restaurants.

But their offerings are certainly familiar. Willy’s offers a line of smash burgers and it’s pizzas that are wood fired at Frenchy’s. They are two-thirds of the dining options, along with Da Kine Poke, at the food hall, which is anchored by the brewing facility.

It’s a big boxy space with the food vendors lined up next to each other on one of the short ends looking out at the communal open-seating area and bar on one of the long walls. Those seated at the bar can look past the numerous taps to see the array of polished chrome that is the brewing facility.

On the end opposite from where Willy’s and Frenchy’s operate, a garage-style door opens to an outdoor beer garden space with additional seating and play areas.

The Stubborn Mule

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Stubborn Mule exterior

It had been just over five years since I’d last visited the Stubborn Mule, one of the more durable restaurants to occupy a space in the Sanctuary condominium complex in downtown’s Thornton Park. So when wanted to find a nice outdoor space to dine with friends recently, I thought it might be time to go back. I mean, there was no reason to be stubborn about returning.

The menu has changed over the years, I think for the better. For one thing, it’s been pared down a bit and has gotten rid of extraneous items, such as the flatbreads.

TaConsentida

Written by Scott Joseph on .

taconsentida ext

If I hadn’t visited TaConsentida in September, I might have suspected it was observing October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month because this is one of the pinkest places I’ve seen. Even the tacos were served in pink tortillas.

That’s not the oddest thing, though, there’s also the name: consentida translates to spoiled, which isn’t the best name for a restaurant. In this case, according to my Spanish language advisors, the context is more like a spoiled child than a rancid rellenos. Ta consentida would mean so spoiled, so by eliding the two words – TaConsendita – it plays on the Mexican menu, which is kind of clever.

Primo by Melissa Kelly

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Primo21 ext

Primo, the Melissa Kelly-fronted restaurant at the JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes, has reopened after a planned shutdown for renovations. But this was more than a refresh to change carpeting and touch up the paint – it’s a major redesign of the sprawling and open space, and the result is like a whole new restaurant.

Or it would be if the menu didn’t still feature Kelly’s fine Italian cuisine with its emphasis on hyper-local sourcing. But more on that in a moment.

The redesign, by Brooklyn-based Dutch East Design, is a startling change from the previous decor. When it opened, in 2003, as a second outpost for Kelly’s original restaurant in Rockland, Maine, Primo featured dark wood accents and moody lighting. Wood beams on the ceiling and rustic chandeliers leant, along with the open kitchen, a farmhouse feel.

Brad's Underground

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Brads pizza

For me, pizza has always been a spur-of-the-moment food. It’s what you order when you’re too tired to cook or don’t want all the trappings that come with going out to a full-service restaurant. Most of the pizzas I’ve consumed in a nonprofessional setting have been last-minute orders.

But Brad’s Underground has introduced pizza by appointment only. Want one of Brad’s pies for your dinner tonight? Maybe the day after tomorrow. (Maybe.) And you say you’d like it for dinner? That’s fine, you may eat it whenever you like, but you may have to pick it up at 2 o’clock.

The ability to schedule a pizza is something of an improvement over Brad’s previous business model, which as near as I could tell involved hopeful customers sending him a message via his Instagram page and waiting, sometimes Godot-like, for a response. For some it would take weeks to receive an invitation to place an order; others never did hear back, leaving them to post lamentations on various social media platforms wondering what poor life choices they must have made to render them so karmically unblessed. At least that’s how I read it.

My take? Brad Czerkies – whose nickname is apparently, and perhaps ironically, Flash – is something of a marketing genius. Because the surest way to make people want something is to tell them they can’t have it.