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Food & Drink - Staff Picks 

click to enlarge Beet & green apple juice from Café 118º
  • Beet & green apple juice from Café 118º

Best attention-grabber beverage

Beet & green apple juice from Café 118º
153 E. Morse Blvd., Winter Park
407-389-2233, cafe118.com

Nope, it's not Tru Blood – "cow's blood mixed with goat milk" is our usual deadpan response when startled Park Avenue pedestrians stop to ask what we're drinking. In truth, the not-so-petrifying potable is a blend of beets, carrots and green apples courtesy of Café 118º's juice mixologists, but the synthesis of ingredients takes on the look of a different deep-red, clotted fluid – the kind appetizing to vampires – when seen through a plastic go-cup or in a glass. The juice will set you back $5, but the look on people's faces? Priceless.

 

Best food-related law

Cottage food operation
Florida statute 500.80(5)

Last year, entrepreneurs who dreamed of launching a small food operation saw a huge cost barrier removed. In July 2011 the state of Florida made it legal, with certain restrictions, for small business owners to make some food products in home kitchens rather than requiring them to rent time in a licensed commercial facility. Passage of House Bill 7209 brought Orlando one step closer to artisanal Brooklyn; now we're just waiting for the explosion of small-batch bitters, shrub vinegars, pickled ramps and pretzel rolls.

Best restaurant in which to relive a recent Roman repast

Peperoncino Cucina
7988 Via Dellagio Way
407-440-2856
peperoncinocucina.com

Those who've sojourned in Italy know full well that sinking feeling upon returning home, occasioned by the prospect of dining at Italian restaurants nowhere near the caliber of those found in the Old World. But there is a cure for the post-Roman Holiday withdrawal: a meal at Barbara Alfano's Peperoncino. Her daily changing menu spotlights dishes evocative of the rustic and contemporary meals we've enjoyed in il bel paese, while the intimate environs (elbow-to-elbow seating isn't out of the question here) can quickly make amici out of strangers.

 

Best restaurant for Jews cheating on their spouses

Flame Kabob
7536 Dr. Phillips Blvd.
407-248-2280

We confess: This category is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but no offense is meant. After seeing the hilariously inappropriate "Palestinian Chicken" episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, the thought occurred to us that Palestinian-run Flame Kabob (like "Al Abbas Original Best Chicken," the eatery in said episode) would be, to paraphrase Larry David, "a fantastic place for Jews who are cheating on their spouses to come to. You'd never get caught, because no self-respecting Jew would come here!" In addition to being an ideal hideaway for philandering MOTs, the place serves up some of the finest kebabs this side of the West Bank. Hey, if treaties, accords and saber-rattling won't solve the Middle East crisis, maybe good sex and delicious kafta will.

 

Best bacon

C&S Brisket Bus, brisketbus.com, Twitter: @CSBrisketBus

Bacon may have jumped the shark for many gastronomes, but at C&S Brisket Bus, it's still revered and respected alongside their other smoked, cured and corned meats. We're talking more than just maple-sugared here. How about pastrami-style? Or sweet tea-cured? More than just a gimmick, C&S's sweet tea-cured bacon has both sugary sweetness and serious black-tea notes going on.

Best non-bacon bacon

Turkey bacon at Keke's Breakfast Café
345 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park
407-629-1400, kekesbreakfastcafe.com

Yeah, some of you may think that writing about the virtues of turkey bacon amounts to a complete waste of ink, but we gave the turkey bacon at Keke's Breakfast Café in Winter Park a go, and this imposter deserves special mention. Lower in fat, calories and guilt, Keke's turkey bacon – crisp, meaty and smoky – is not just a godsend for those with a muffin top or a bay-windowed frame, it's go-to meat candy for anyone catching flak from their rabbi or cardiologist.

 

Best croissant

Les Petits Pleasures
2120 Edgewater Drive
407-422-4702, lespetitspleasures.com

Pretty much everything in Les Petits Pleasures screams Paris – from the gray damask covering the walls to the French-language satellite radio playing softly in the background. But nothing recalls l'Île de France more than their perfect croissants. That's not an overstatement, either: They're beautifully browned, fantastically crisp and flaky on the outside, and ultra-buttery inside. Digging into one first thing in the morning is about as idyllic as it gets on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

 

Best cookie

Chocolate chunk cookie at the Flour Shop
1480 Lee Road, Winter Park
321-557-8427, flourshop.net

Some like their cookies chewy, some crispy – but the best chocolate chip cookie in Orlando is neither. This thick, gargantuan cookie is more biscuit-like: all at once sweet, salty, crumbly and buttery. Generous hunks of chocolate render this cookie more than a mere indulgence; it's a cookie-cravings annihilator.

 

Best panini

Dylan's Deli
1198 N. Orange Ave., Winter Park
407-622-7578, dylansdeli.net

Their combined years spent in France and Spain grant owners Arnaud and Noemi Dupont unusual sandwich expertise. Yes, panini are Italian, not French or Spanish, but the French know bread and cheese better than anyone, and the Spanish genius for tapas, those tasty little preserved bites (oil-packed tuna, marinated baby octopi, roasted peppers and tomatoes), makes for brilliant sandwich filling combos. Highly recommended.

 

Best mint tea this side of Marrakech

Pasha Taverna & Lounge
4104 Millenia Blvd.
407-730-3222, pashaorlando.com

Mint tea is part of any Moroccan feast, and its preparation has been elevated to an art form in Mediterranean North Africa. Here in Central Florida, no one does it better than Pasha Taverna & Lounge. Ornately designed teapots hold the elixir fashioned from sugar, gunpowder tea and fresh mint sprigs, a beverage that's at once smooth, refreshing and very sweet. The sugary quaff has put off a few local patrons and owner Simo Soaf has capitulated by scaling back the sweetness, but if you ask for your tea to be prepared (and poured) in the traditional manner – tooth-singingly sweet and poured into tiny cups from a pot held dangerously high above the table – he will gladly oblige.

 

Best latte

Barnie's CoffeeKitchen
118 S. Park Ave., Winter Park
407-854-6626, barniescoffeekitchen.com

The proliferation of frou-frou coffee drinks may have gotten a little out of hand, but at Barnie's CoffeeKitchen, they've elevated the art of espresso drinks to sheer sophistication. This ain't no ordinary double shot. Barnie's lattes come with the kind of practiced, sleight-of-hand latte art one sees in Milan, topped with a foam so thick and creamy, it's practically dessert on its own.

 

Best morning deal

Java Girls
910 Lee Road, 407-622-0601
javagirlsorlando.com

Get past the objectification. Those girls press a mean breakfast panini and use a real espresso maker complete with milk frother, both death-defying feats while wearing a bikini – and all for under $5.

 

Best way to widen your dining horizons for cheap

Orlando Restaurant Week
orlandorestaurantweek.com

Each year, usually in May, Orlando Weekly releases its dining guide, BITE. And each year, to celebrate this utterly stellar collection of condensed critics' reviews, dozens of Orlando restaurants offer three-course prix fixe meals for between $10 and $35, giving locals a low-risk, high-reward impetus to try a new dish, a new restaurant, a new part of town. Go eat!

Best Asian market

Woo Sung Market
5079 Edgewater Drive
407-295-4077

Whether you're raiding the ready-to-eat banchan (the bevy of condiments/garnishes/side dishes that accompany Korean meals), stocking up on house-made kimchi or furrowing your brow over unrecognizable vegetables, there's always something to take a chance on (and love!) at Woo Sung Market. Even if you have no idea what the packages say, it's cool. Chances are, it'll be an eye-opener.

 

Best shawarma

Middle East Market & Deli
8100 S. Orange Blossom Trail
407-855-6555
middleeastdeli.com

If the sight of a rotating, dripping, juicy spit of mystery meat makes you weak in the knees, Middle East Market's version of shawarma, a Persian specialty sandwich, could cause an Arab Spring in your mouth. Choose from chicken or lamb; pile on the bright pink pickled turnips, hummus, cucumber and tomato; and let the warm pita take you away to a petroleum-rich food paradise far, far away.

 

Best messy meal

Melissa's Chicken & Waffles
facebook.com/melissaswaffletruck

The enormous waffle creations served from Melissa's bright-orange school bus can be a bit daunting. To enjoy, you must get over the realization that 1) some part of this meal will definitely trickle down your face and possibly onto your clothes; and 2) each of your bites will make you faintly resemble a velociraptor. Grab a few extra napkins and don't let it stop you – the sweet-and-salty, crisp-and-spicy, warm-and-hearty goodness that emanates from this food truck will make the slop factor worth it.

 

Best summer cocktail

Cetriolo at Prato
124 N. Park Ave., Winter Park
407-262-0050
prato-wp.com

We hate to give away secret recipes (this one is actually printed on Prato's cocktail menu, we swear), but to appreciate this, you've got to hear the ingredients. The cetriolo combines organic cucumber vodka, agave nectar, lime, white cranberry juice and basil to create a refreshing, simple craft cocktail that'll offer a much-needed reprieve from the hot-and-sticky air outside. When sipped at Prato's rustically swank bartop, you'll feel refreshed and decadent.

 

Best nonalcoholic beer

Butterbeer at Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure

Harry and his classmates were merely tweens at the start of J.K. Rowling's series, so real booze was out of the question for them. But butterbeer, in all of its sugary-
sweet glory, was a suitably intoxicating alternative. Universal Orlando has concocted its own butterbeer, a sweet, frothy, frosty beverage with hints of butterscotch and cream soda. Dozens of recipe variants can be found on the Internet, some of which include real butter, but why bother with that when the stuff sold at Universal's Islands of Adventure is pretty much exactly what you would have imagined the drink described in the books to be?

 

Best Weed Eater

Deane Jordan
eattheweeds.com

Food is everywhere in Orlando – in parks, in backyards, even in ditches – but the thing is, you need someone to teach you what to eat and what to avoid. Orlando's urban and suburban landscapes boast more delicious edible wild plants than some entire states do, and forager Deane Jordan, aka Green Deane, can help you find them. If you're a health nut, you'll love foraging because wild plants have a higher nutritional content than many veggies (both conventional and organic) found at the grocery store or co-op. If you're a dumpster-diving freegan, you'll love the nonexistent cost. And if you're a foodie, you'll find yourself squarely in the middle of the foraged-food trend made popular by restaurants such as Noma in Copenhagen. While we don't suggest you eat any old weed you come upon (see "Backyard buffet," March 22), we know once you try your first safely prepared meal from a ditch, you'll be hooked.

Best place to get a taste of World War I

Anzac biscuits at Drunken Monkey Coffee Bar
444 N. Bumby Ave.
407-893-4994
drunkenmonkeycoffee.com

ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, and the biscuit of the same name was popularized in Australia during World War I, presumably because simple ingredients like rolled oats, flour and desiccated coconut could stay relatively tasty after a long transit. Selling Anzac biscuits takes verve, though, since Australian law protects the name and original recipe. In 2008 Subway restaurants abandoned plans to sell their own version of the cookie, since they were prohibited from using cheap substitute ingredients. Drunken Monkey Coffee Bar, always up for a challenge, began offering an original-recipe version ($1.50) a little over two years ago. Recently they began including flavored varieties like peanut butter, lemon ginger and a gluten-free version (all for $2 each). The soft, not-too-sweet cookies may not make you nostalgic for the days of trench warfare, but the taste will leave you shell-shocked.

 

Best place to drink from a boot

Hollerbach's Willow Tree Café
205 E. First St., Sanford
407-321-2204
willowtreecafe.com

Proffering real German gemütlichkeit (bless you), which is basically a sense of euphoric and drunken camaraderie, Hollerbach's brings the sleepy downtown Sanford strip to raucous life nightly in a way that stands in stark relief to what Sanford has now unfortunately become known for. All sorts of meaty German fare is offered in a family-style, long-bench setting as the lederhosen, yodeling and folk instruments come out periodically to send the assembled masses – the place gets packed – into a "schunkeling" mess of arm-locked, swaying (so as not to fall over) audience participation. At the dinner service's peak, a giant plastic boot of beer is passed around a table, with each participant basically forced to swig the joyful backwash of their nearest neighbor. It's German! It's fun! It's totally not what you expect in Sanford.

Best foodie trend to hit Orlando last

Le Macaron
216 N. Park Ave., Winter Park

Just another foodie trend that's gone yawningly mainstream in bigger cities before it pops up here (or eye-rollingly "ugh so OVER" to the real cool kids), macarons are nevertheless so freaking pretty and sweet and delicious and delicate that they get a wide-spectrum late pass from us. (Le Macaron's gelato is also pretty good.) They may be 2012's cupcake, but given the choice between a cupcake and a macaron, we say bring on the macaron truck.

Best popsicle

Chocolate-banana-sea salt pop
Yum-Yum Pops
yumyumpops.net

We love most of Yum-Yum's flavors – blueberry-hibiscus is a close runner-up – but this particular pop is a frozen chunk of joy. It's packed with deep, rich, creamy cocoa; the banana taste/texture is present in a backgroundy way, like a hint of tropicalia; the salt is barely perceptible except for the way it sharpens the other flavors. ■

(Sorry, no information is currently available for other years in this same award category.)

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