Felipe Rodriguez Tequila House + Kitchen

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Felipe door

Of all the restaurants that have occupied the space at the corner of Washington Street and Hyer Avenue in downtown’s Thornton Park, Felipe Rodriguez Tequila House + Kitchen feels the most permanent.

That may be because for the first time the main dining part of the restaurant has an actual hard roof. Before that it had an elaborate tent-like structure to keep out the elements, and before that it had nothing. The elements were everywhere.

But there’s more to the commitment of a real roof and all the other cosmetic and structural redesigns inside. It shows a dedication to this concept. Even more, the people involved in the restaurant seem to understand that the food needs to be more than an afterthought. On my two visits to the restaurant, I was surprised to find the food as good as it was.

I don’t mean for that to be a backhanded compliment. But let’s face it: Any place in downtown Orlando that calls itself a tequila house isn’t a place you’d expect to spend much time on food. Fortunately, that’s not the case here.

Pop in at Pizza Ponte

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Ponte pop

I was at Disney Springs one recent sweltering day — I know, that doesn’t narrow it down much — so I decided to pop in to Pizza Ponte for a pop.

I’d say I stopped in for a popsicle, but Popsicle® is actually a brandname. The generic term is ice pop, though I’ve never heard anyone say, “Hey, I could sure go for an ice pop right about now.” But the brand became so identified with the genre that they’re interchangeable. Sort of like, “Hand me a Kleenex®, would you? This Popsicle® is running down my arm.”

But in any event, I stopped eating popsicles a long time ago. Ice pops, too.

But a frozen device on a wooden stick fashioned out of sangria can certainly get my attention. So that’s what I was at Pizza Ponte to try.

Negril Jamaican Restaurant

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Negril exterior

I had originally gone to the west side of town for a completely non-eating reason — it happens every now and then — but when I saw Negril Jamaican Restaurant I immediately changed course.

Negril is a fast-casual restaurant, more casual than it is fast and it’s pretty fast: most of the food is already prepared and in a steam table set behind glass.

The menu has Oxtail, Brown Stews, Jerked dishes and Jamaican Fried Chicken. But every menu listing for a curried dish — available in goat, chicken and shrimp — included the line “Best Curry in Town.” How could I not go with that?

Chefs de France

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Chefs de France placesetting

I took advantage of a complimentary day at Epcot recently to pay a return visit to Chefs de France, the big brasserie on the first level of the France pavilion. True, the upstairs bistro, Monsieur Paul, offers a more sedate dining experience, at least relatively so, but Chefs de France can be as equally enjoyable, as was the case on my latest visit.

My companion ducked into the restaurant just ahead of a massive downpour and were shown to a table by the window where we could watch the crowds scurry.

Shula's Steak House

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Shula room

Shula’s Steak House made quite an impression when it first opened at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in late 1995. High-end steakhouses featuring huge hunks of USDA prime meat were, um, rare. Christner’s Prime Steak & Lobster, which was originally known as Del Frisco’s, was a couple of years old. But Morton’s — then called Morton’s of Chicago — wouldn’t open an Orlando location until 1996, and Ruth’s Chris Steak House didn’t enter the area until 2000.

I liked Shula’s immediately. It was classy, service was first rate, and the food, though pricey, was excellent. In 2000, I even awarded it my Critic’s Choice Foodie Award for Best Restaurant Overall.

The upscale brand was founded, of course, by Don Shula, the legendary coach of the Miami Dolphins. (It has always been easy to remember which hotel the steakhouse is in because why would anyone put Shula’s into the Swan hotel?)

The first Shula’s was in Miami Lakes and the second, if I remember correctly, opened in Tampa. Orlando’s was third. Even after all these years, the company, Shula’s Restaurant Group, has only eight steakhouses, though it also operates other more casual brands, including Shula’s 347 Grill, which has a location in Lake Mary.

The company, now based in Ft. Lauderdale, has a new CEO, Bill Freeman, who previously ran the MINA Group of restaurants. So it may be that the brand is ready to take on the Ruths and Dels and Mortons of the world. Perhaps that’s the reason Shula’s Steak Houses are undergoing a brand-wide overhaul with a refreshed decor and a revamped menu from new corporate culinary director, Demetrio Zavala.

Orlando’s Shula’s is the first to be redesigned. I was invited to a media opening and then was asked to join a small group to have dinner with Don Shula and his wife, Mary Anne, who was the previous CEO and is the current chair of the board.

Eola General

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Eola General exterior

Eola General sounds like it should be the title of a soap opera, doesn’t it?

Instead, it is the name of a business in a residential area of downtown Orlando that is part restaurant and part market. It opened in April, so you may find it confusing, as did I, that the logo states, “Est. 1938.” That apparently is the provenance of the building it occupies. By that reasoning I should be able to state that I was born the year that my house was built. Unfortunately it only shaves two years off my age, but I might consider moving to one of those condos that were built 20 years ago.

The previous tenant of Eola General’s building was Handy Pantry, which would be a lousy name for a soap opera. It closed in Sept. 2018.

Burntwood Tavern

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Burntwood exterior

Things looked promising at the beginning of my visit to Burntwood Tavern, the Ohio based mini chain that recently opened in Orlando (though you’d be hard pressed to discern that immediately from the company’s website, but more on that in a moment).

Burntwood peppers

My dinner companion and I stopped in to the rustically decorated restaurant, which occupies the former site of the similarly named Stonewood Grill & Tavern in the Dr. Phillips area. We started with an appetizer of Stuffed Jalapeños and were impressed with the quality. The plump peppers, deep-fried in summer-weight jackets, were stuffed with smoky cheddar cheese and pimentos that oozes out when we bit into them. They had a delightful spicy kick. Perhaps the cilantro cream dipping sauce was meant to be a cooling counterpoint to the heat, but it was ineffectual and unnecessary. Good poppers.

Unfortunately, everything that followed did not have the same quality.

Lotte Plaza Market

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Lotte Market exterior 1

Every now and then you need to break up your routine, step outside of your comfort zone and look beyond your narrow horizon.

I recommend you follow this advice the next time you go grocery shopping. Instead of automatically going to, say, Publix, try something different. And I don’t mean Winn-Dixie or Lucky’s. I mean something like Lotte Plaza Market.

Lotte is a small chain of 10 Asian markets out of Maryland and Virginia, of all places. Earlier this year an Orlando location, the first in Florida, opened near the corner of John Young Parkway and West Colonial Drive.

Sette

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Sette exterior

Tasting Table is a collaboration between Scott Joseph’s Orlando Restaurant Guide and WFTV-Channel 9’s Inside Central Florida.

Sette, one of the year’s most anticipated restaurants, has opened in Ivanhoe Village. The reason for the excitement is that it is the first full-service restaurant from Trina Gregory-Propst and Va Propst, owners of the popular Se7en Bites bakery. It took over the space that was previously Stir Restaurant & Bar, NOVA and Elliott’s Public House. All of those were startlingly short lived, so most people still thing of it as the location of Brian’s, a popular greasy spoon.

Little has changed with the decor from the previous tenant, which is fine — it’s a pleasant and comfortable atmosphere. The bar area seems a bit more accommodating, and the open kitchen allows guests to see the food being prepared.

And what good food it is.

Artisan's Table

Written by Scott Joseph on .

 

Artisan table exterior

Artisan’s Table has moved about a block and a half to Church Street from its original location on Pine Street in downtown Orlando. The five-year-old restaurant gained visibility with its move to a space on the ground floor of the 55 West apartment building across the courtyard from Rusty Spoon.

I wish now that it could regain some of the artisanality one would expect from its name. Instead, it offers a fairly unexciting menu of safe options. The food I sampled was all good; it just wasn’t what I would call artisanal.