Ghost Kitchen Orlando

Written by Scott Joseph on .

GhostKitchen ext

Ghosts tend to set their own schedules. It’s difficult pinning them to show up on a whim, unless, perhaps, you happen to be a spiritual medium. But even then, imagine trying to contact ghosts and getting a message through your Ouija board that they can fit you in tomorrow.

That’s sort of how I felt when I set out to order food from Ghost Kitchen Orlando, a new virtual restaurant operation working out of an industrial park in south Orlando offering pickup and delivery service only. I had already discovered from a previous attempt that the hours of operation were limited – Monday through Friday with pickup between 1 and 5 p.m. But it wasn’t until a few weeks later on my second try after making all my selections on the online ordering site and proceeding to checkout that I learned I would not be clicking to confirm purchase and hopping in my car to fetch the food. That’s because the soonest one can schedule pickup or delivery of food from GKO is for the next day. So much for immediate gratification. (There's an exception, which I'll explain below.)

Vinzo's Italian Grill & Pizzeria

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Vinzos Vinny

Right about this time a year ago, I had plans to host a reception and plaque presentation ceremony for the winners of the 2019 Foodster Awards for Independent Restaurants.

That, of course, never happened. And with closings, openings, readjusting of schedules and everything else that occurred with local restaurants, the plaques sat waiting for an opportunity to be delivered to the recipients.

So I’ve been making the delivery rounds lately. And last week I dropped off the platinum award for Best Pizza to Vinzo’s Italian Grill & Pizzeria in Casselberry. And since I hadn’t been before, I decided to stop in for a quick lunch to see why the readers voted it their favorite.

First Watch Winter Park

Written by Scott Joseph on .

FW2020 peacock

I finally had a chance to experience the newest First Watch, the current flagship and prototype restaurant for the Florida based daytime cafe, and to taste the dishes added to the spring menu.

As you know, First Watch closed its longtime Maitland location and moved that operation down Orlando Avenue to the former Cinco Tacos + Tequila and Carmel Kitchen building in Winter Park. The new location had been long planned, but the circumstances of the pandemic and the changes it made to the way we dined caused the First Watch team to change the design.

For example, because takeout and delivery became so important to us, First Watch created a separate entry for customers and delivery drivers to pickup orders to go. What’s more, it reengineered the kitchen area to provide a separate cook line for those takeout orders. That allows for an efficiency of output, with to-go meals packaged apart from where dine-in orders are “plated.” But it also allows better spacing for the kitchen staff.

That’s important: When we hear about social distancing in restaurants we think about the spacing between tables, we seldom think about the often-cramped conditions in the kitchen where cooks regularly work elbow to elbow. And plexiglass partitions aren’t going to help back there.

But changes were also made to facilitate better spacing for diners, too, including an expanded patio area, which is where I sat when I was invited to sample the spring menu items.

Orlando Meats

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Orlandomeats ext

Even when Orlando Meats was in its original location, on Virginia Drive in Orlando proper, I wondered if it knew what it wanted to be, a butcher shop or a cafe. It even sold doughnuts originally. I liked it – well not the doughnut – I just found its concept confusing.

That was in 2017, and there have been a few times over the years that I’ve stopped in in search of a good steak to cook at home. But the inventory was always limited, which isn’t surprising for a boutique butcher. Prepared foods were at a minimum, too, and the space was cramped.

Now the business has moved to Winter Park (Orlando improper?) to a spacious space in the Ravaudage plaza. Curiously, despite the larger digs the butcher shop offerings don’t seem to have grown and is still limited, though it does have some things you wouldn’t find at most other local butchers, such as duck beef tallow and ghee.

Most of the space is occupied by bare-top tables with lots of chairs for seating. And the menu is expanded, too. So is Orlando Meats leaning toward being more of a restaurant than a butcher’s market?

And if so, what kind of restaurant does it want to be?

Tornatore's celebrates 12th anniversary

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Tornatore12 interior

And just like that, I found myself back at a restaurant, sitting at an inside table, a mere 381 days from the last time.

It’s not like I’ve been shirking for the past 54 weeks. Throughout the pandemic I’ve maintained an out put of an average of two restaurant reviews each week (about double that of any other local publication, I might add). But just as restaurants shifted to takeout and delivery service, I, too, adjusted my reviews to focus on the new way we dined out, which meant dining in. But now, nearly 10 weeks past my second vaccination, I think I’m ready to get back in there.

Please note, I’m not yet advocating for a full return, at least not for everyone. Those who are not vaccinated are a risk to others, especially to restaurant servers, who tend to be younger and who therefore have not yet been eligible to receive a vaccine. That will change in early April when the state of Florida lowers the age of eligibility to age 16 beginning April 5. But even so, it will take weeks for the newly eligible to schedule the first shot, and then to schedule the second dose approximately four weeks later, unless they’re taking the one-shot vaccine from Johnson & Johnson. Then, a two-week wait for the vaccine to have full effect. In other words, we’re still a couple of months or more away from optimum coverage, but it is finally feeling like it is possible.

So it was a treat to have a preview of what may be to come. And for my first outing, I couldn’t have done better than the 12th anniversary celebration at Tornatore’s Cafe & Pizzeria.

The Hampton Social

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Hamptonsoc entrance

It might be enough for the Hampton Social, a new restaurant at Pointe Orlando, to be all atmospherics. Its mien is a coastal yacht club with a stressful casualness, a yacht club whose members wear unscuffed boat shoes.

It’s about lounging. It’s about sipping. It’s about schmoozing, seeing and being seen. And after a year of not seeing or being seen except through a computer screen, that might be plenty.

That Hampton Social also serves some pretty decent food makes it all the more enjoyable.

Outpost Kitchen, Bar & Provisions

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Outpostk ext

Outpost Neighborhood Kitchen opened in the neighborhood of College Park in early 2015 – hardly seems that long ago.

It closed in June, earlier than it wanted to prior to a planned move to another location. The dining restrictions imposed because of the pandemic were cited at the time as the reason for the premature closing while the new location was in the early stages of construction. I’m sure the fingers of its fans were crossed in hopes that it would indeed reopen.

It has.

Aurora at the Celeste

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Aurora Celeste

A new hotel, The Celeste, opened last fall on the edge of the UCF campus. And as is often the case, with the new hotel came a new restaurant, Aurora at the Celeste.

If you were just passing through Aurora, perhaps on your way to a function on the tailored event space lawn just off the restaurant’s patio, you might dismiss it as little more than a perfunctory coffee shop, there only to serve basic fare to weary guests; the decor does little to dissuade that notion.

Doshibox Korean Kitchen

Written by Scott Joseph on .

doshi topbox

Collab Kitchens is one of the area’s many new ghost kitchens – also known as virtual kitchens, dark kitchens, virtual restaurants and other monikers. This one, started by the owners of Bento Asian Kitchen, Jimmy and Johnny Tung. Their term for the type of business that offers kitchen space to multiple entities for takeout and delivery only is collaborative cooking, hence the name of this operation.

One of the new tenants cooking collaboratively there is Doshibox Korean Kitchen, specializing in doshirak, a sort of lunchbox meal with multiple items served in trays, sometimes stacked. They’re known in Japan, not so coincidentally, as bento boxes.

Doshibox’s doshirak meal is served on an aluminum tray with seven separated compartments. Kind of like a larger version of a frozen tv dinner, except the food is fresh and it’s all more than edible. In fact, I enjoyed the food I fetched from Doshibox so much that I could see myself indulging in a craving for its japchae noodles, Korean fried chicken or even one of its rice bowls. Although immediate gratification of such a craving might be problematic. But more about that in a moment.

Mamak Asian Street Food UCF

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Mamakucf ext

You can’t tell it, though you’d know if you could see the smudged keys on my computer, but I just finished the leftovers of the food I got last night at Mamak Asian Street Food UCF, an east side version of the Mills 50 Malaysian restaurant. And every little bite of noodle, rice and meat and every little drop of sauce and broth were just as delicious today.

When the downtown Mamak opened in 2014, most people, including me, assumed it was trying to profit off of the popularity of Hawkers, which had opened three years earlier (right about this time 10 years ago; seems like it’s been around longer, no?). Both restaurants’ concepts are based on the premise of Asian street fare and, technically, both names mean the same thing. Mamak is the word for food stalls or the people who hawk the food from them.

But Mamak gained its own following with the quality of its food, and based on my just-finished meal from the new location, it may just out hawk Hawkers.