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    Local grass-fed beef and a "farm-to-table" approach is the hook, which seems to be working. The bison rules, but be sure to order it "pink". The No. 6, with an infernal coat of ghost-eppper cheese, is a hellaciously good choice. Sides could use some work, but craft beers on tap and house-made desserts make for very happy endings.

    B&S Daily Market is a combination coffee stop, newsstand, convenience store and gift shop that would not be out of place in any urban center. I first went in lured by the promise of sandwiches from Lola's Gourmet to Go, but I found out you've got to be quick: They go fast. Still, not having to drive across town for some of Laurie Samulonis' fabulous cooking is worth setting an a.m. reminder. Aside from those goodies, B&S carries a little of everything: cold drinks; magazines and newspapers; Cuban fruit pops; sundries like Advil, gum, condoms and cough syrup; and fresh snacks like fruit salad and hummus (adorably labeled with 'Hello, my name isâ?� stickers). The house coffee is Volcanoes, a locally roasted bean with a lot of fans. Best of all, if the need for a last-minute office gift strikes, B&S carries a selection of hip objets. It's all housed in an extremely stylish setting.

    Quick – think of the words "franchise" and "food" at the same time. Not very appealing, is it? Now consider "cafeteria" and "Vietnamese food," add "French patisserie," throw out all your preconceptions, and you have Ba Le.

    The franchise was started by Vietnamese immigrant Thanh Quoc Lam in 1984 in Oahu, Hawaii. There are now more than 20 Ba Le outlets: in Chicago, Austin and Philadelphia, among other cities.

    The franchise was started by Vietnamese immigrant Thanh Quoc Lam in 1984 in Oahu, Hawaii. There are now more than 20 Ba Le outlets: in Chicago, Austin and Philadelphia, among other cities.

    It is said that the chain, along with its wholesale bakery, sells 50,000 croissants a day. But there are no shortcuts or fast-food qualities at Ba Le. The couple who manages the Orlando Ba Le, Tom Ha and Kim Nguyen, take personal pride in the restaurant. All food is cooked on premises, except for the desserts, which come from the kitchen of Bruno Ponsot, whom I last encountered as the chef at Bistro Cappuccino under its previous owner. They do bake their own baguettes, however, with thin, crispy crusts that are used to serve sandwiches hoagie-style.

    It is said that the chain, along with its wholesale bakery, sells 50,000 croissants a day. But there are no shortcuts or fast-food qualities at Ba Le. The couple who manages the Orlando Ba Le, Tom Ha and Kim Nguyen, take personal pride in the restaurant. All food is cooked on premises, except for the desserts, which come from the kitchen of Bruno Ponsot, whom I last encountered as the chef at Bistro Cappuccino under its previous owner. They do bake their own baguettes, however, with thin, crispy crusts that are used to serve sandwiches hoagie-style.

    The sandwiches come with all sorts of fillings, both familiar and exotic. Shredded chicken or barbecue pork, meatballs (actually more like a paste than Italian fare), pickled ham with lemon sauce, and a combination of shrimp cakes and egg. The "vegi" listed as an ingredient is a wonderful combination of daikon, carrot, cucumbers and onion. Pick up your order and head for a table, where you'll find a jar of jalapeño peppers as a condiment. The most amazing part of these large sandwiches is that they cost $2.50 to $4; if you order six, you only pay for five.

    The sandwiches come with all sorts of fillings, both familiar and exotic. Shredded chicken or barbecue pork, meatballs (actually more like a paste than Italian fare), pickled ham with lemon sauce, and a combination of shrimp cakes and egg. The "vegi" listed as an ingredient is a wonderful combination of daikon, carrot, cucumbers and onion. Pick up your order and head for a table, where you'll find a jar of jalapeño peppers as a condiment. The most amazing part of these large sandwiches is that they cost $2.50 to $4; if you order six, you only pay for five.

    Summer rolls with layers of shrimp, pork and rice noodles, and veggie rolls with shredded tofu and potato, as much art as food, line the counter waiting to be taken home. Unlike some of the other franchises, Ba Le of Orlando serves hot food, like rice bowls and soups, and quite wonderful food it is. Even the buffet breaks rules – no dry rice and unidentifiable bird parts. Big hunks of barbecued chicken thigh, pork roasted with whole hard-boiled eggs, and grilled squares of tofu in a sweet tomato and onion sauce all await the prefix "let me have the ... ."

    Summer rolls with layers of shrimp, pork and rice noodles, and veggie rolls with shredded tofu and potato, as much art as food, line the counter waiting to be taken home. Unlike some of the other franchises, Ba Le of Orlando serves hot food, like rice bowls and soups, and quite wonderful food it is. Even the buffet breaks rules – no dry rice and unidentifiable bird parts. Big hunks of barbecued chicken thigh, pork roasted with whole hard-boiled eggs, and grilled squares of tofu in a sweet tomato and onion sauce all await the prefix "let me have the ... ."

    The French connection with Vietnamese food is apparent here, and not just from the Eiffel Tower on the menu. The base of the noodle soups is actually a consommé, while the soft pork sausage is called pâté. This international melange makes the food different than other Asian cuisines, but the quality makes Ba Le uniquely unchainlike.

    What do you get when you cross Starbucks with Ron Jon's Surf Shop? A coffeehouse with a faux molten volcano, 3-D surf wave, saltwater aquarium and brews with an attitude, aka Bad Ass Coffee Company.

    The fantastical decor of this Hawaiian-rooted chain fits right into its I-Drive location, south of Sand Lake Boulevard – so much so that owners Tom and Linda Clark haven't heard so much as a boo about the Bad Ass name (even though there was a bit of a "brewhaha" over the Tampa store), since they opened their family business in February. The Ass reference pays homage to the donkeys used to transport the harvested beans out of the mountains. They're not just talking dirty.

    Being good parents, the friendly Clark couple invested in the store so that daughter Jennifer, a fresh Florida State University graduate with a master's degree in tax accounting, could follow her dream to open a coffeehouse, because she didn't really like numbers, after all. And it's the only Bad Ass in town.

    This is the place to purchase genuine Kona beans – the only coffee grown in the United States. If you're late to the Kona controversy, there's been much to-do about the sale of fake or blended varieties, even by heavyweights such as Starbucks. The hoopla comes from the fact that Kona beans only grow on a 20-square-mile area on the island of Hawaii. The constant cloud cover and rich soil generate the distinctive low-acid, full-bodied beans that claim top dollar around the world.

    Bad Ass carries a variety of 100 percent Kona roasts, from lightweight American to robust French. The ultimate delicacy in the store is the "Peaberry medium-dark roast" – $22.95 for a half-pound bag, which is a totally reasonable price. Most coffee beans have two halves, but the pea berry has a single core – a natural anomaly – and they are handpicked out of the processing line. A fresh crop won't be in until February, so there's little Kona (much less pea berry) to be found anywhere, except at Bad Ass, which stocked up for the holidays.

    The store carries a lighthearted line of Bad Ass-branded mugs, T-shirts, calendars, even thong underwear. There's a limited menu of "Donkey Feeds" that includes pastries, sandwiches and ice cream served seven days a week.

    The website (www.badasscoffeeorlando.com) is ready for mail orders and shipping is free until Dec. 15.

    No one should have to make up their mind about lunch while listening to Pat Benatar belt out "Hit Me With Your Best Shot." But we gave it a try at the new Baja Burrito Kitchen at Colonial Marketplace. Standing in the "place your order here" spot by the counter, our attention ricocheted between burritos, enchiladas, soft tacos and quesadillas. And we hadn't even gotten to the salsa bar yet.

    Looking past the neon lighting, beach-scene murals and picture windows overlooking the parking lot, we wanted to imagine ourselves on the rugged Pacific coastline. That's where the cuisine takes its cue, from the deadly-hot chilis that grow wild in the desert and the seafood that's plucked from the surf. The menu is not that rustic but has more of a "Cal-Mex" spin: Soft tacos are stuffed with fish, burritos are packed with healthy grilled meats, and beans are stewed, not refried.

    Looking past the neon lighting, beach-scene murals and picture windows overlooking the parking lot, we wanted to imagine ourselves on the rugged Pacific coastline. That's where the cuisine takes its cue, from the deadly-hot chilis that grow wild in the desert and the seafood that's plucked from the surf. The menu is not that rustic but has more of a "Cal-Mex" spin: Soft tacos are stuffed with fish, burritos are packed with healthy grilled meats, and beans are stewed, not refried.

    After placing our orders, we chose seats and waited just a few minutes for delivery. The "Baja burrito" ($4.95) is a popular item, and it's a chunk of a meal – a steamed flour tortilla wrapped around a juicy conglomeration of char-grilled steak, black beans, onions, cilantro, cheese and sour cream. It was even better after a trip to the salsa bar, which features six ways to pack heat. Our favorite was the "fire roasted chipotle" salsa, a medium-strength version with blackened Roma tomatoes. Do heed the warnings on the labels. The formidable "habañero" salsa glows orange, and one drop is all it takes.

    After placing our orders, we chose seats and waited just a few minutes for delivery. The "Baja burrito" ($4.95) is a popular item, and it's a chunk of a meal – a steamed flour tortilla wrapped around a juicy conglomeration of char-grilled steak, black beans, onions, cilantro, cheese and sour cream. It was even better after a trip to the salsa bar, which features six ways to pack heat. Our favorite was the "fire roasted chipotle" salsa, a medium-strength version with blackened Roma tomatoes. Do heed the warnings on the labels. The formidable "habañero" salsa glows orange, and one drop is all it takes.

    We loved the grilled soft tacos so much that we plan on getting to know each and every one. The best on this day was the "fish taco Baja style" ($2.75), a grilled soft flour tortilla crimped around a fried fillet of cod, topped with shredded cabbage and drizzled with creamy cilantro-lime sauce. Running a close second, "spicy steamed shrimp" ($2.75) were mildly seasoned and fresh.

    We loved the grilled soft tacos so much that we plan on getting to know each and every one. The best on this day was the "fish taco Baja style" ($2.75), a grilled soft flour tortilla crimped around a fried fillet of cod, topped with shredded cabbage and drizzled with creamy cilantro-lime sauce. Running a close second, "spicy steamed shrimp" ($2.75) were mildly seasoned and fresh.

    Unfortunately, the "Baja Kitchen combo" ($6.25) was having a bad day – the grilled chicken strips were dry and uninspired. Had they not been overcooked, they would have set off the rest of the dish, which was a hot and flavorful collection of stewed black beans, seasoned rice and soft flour tortillas.

    Unfortunately, the "Baja Kitchen combo" ($6.25) was having a bad day – the grilled chicken strips were dry and uninspired. Had they not been overcooked, they would have set off the rest of the dish, which was a hot and flavorful collection of stewed black beans, seasoned rice and soft flour tortillas.

    While Baja Burrito Kitchen's cooking is formulaic, its freshness is without question. Everything is cooked to order. The restaurant is a welcome addition to the Colonial-Bumby area, whether for a quick pit stop after shopping or for takeout.

    After all the hyperbolic, vitriolic, sometimes alcoholic words we had heard and read about Bananas (the diner, not the Woody Allen flick or the fruit), we were justifiably frightened but fired up to experience all this Mills Avenue joint had to offer. Would we find parking? Would we be served by a petulant trannie? Would the kitchen make us wait 45 minutes for chicken and waffles? After two separate visits, one for breakfast and one for dinner, all those burning questions were ultimately answered.

    Eddie Nickell and Nick Oliveri, the owners of the Funky Monkey Wine Co., are the pair behind Bananas. The building's yellow facade reveals an interior awash in reds and blacks, mainly in the form of pleather and padded vinyl, from the comfy booths to the kitchen doors to the colorful ceiling. Photographs of icons Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and local drag-queen diva Danielle Hunter play into the diner's 'modern Americanâ?� appellation, and their classic diner fare offers enough twists to keep things interesting.

    Sufficiently tart goat cheese ($8.95), for example, is crusted with panko and almonds, though we didn't really find the dollop of sun-dried tomato jam to be particularly necessary. Burgers are done 17 ways here; our choice, a perfectly cooked Caprese burger ($9.95), wowed us. It's certainly one of the better burgers to be had in the city, and we indulged in every bite of the Angus beef patty crowned with tomato, a sizable disc of mozzarella and basil-pesto mayo. On the side, onion rings ($1 extra) upstage soggy crinkle fries by virtue of their impressive circumference and cracklin' crisp coating. A beanless-chili-laden 'loaded dogâ?� ($5.90) was satisfactory, but didn't hold a candle to the one served by John Liotine ' the guy who, until recently, sold hot dogs from his wiener-shaped vehicle parked on Colonial Drive and Ferncreek Avenue.

    No, our consummately courteous and polite waiter wasn't a cross-dresser, but he did inform us that the chicken and waffles ($12.95) would take awhile to prepare. Yes, 45 minutes, but we had nowhere else to go. What we got was a superbly crispy breast and thigh lathered in white sausage gravy, and a quartet of waffles done just right. We would've preferred the chicken to be seasoned a bit more, but if you're ever craving a plateful of awesome late-night drunk food, this is your dish. Bananas is open 24 hours on Fridays and Saturdays, and hungry revelers have been known to pop in after 2 a.m.

    For breakfast, too much cream cheese and not enough strawberry filling had us regretting the order of stuffed French toast ($5.99); but a thin hollandaise sauce was the only fault in an otherwise decent eggs Benedict ($8.99), served with Canadian bacon and diced home fries.

    For the most part, desserts come in liquid or cake form: Hand-spun milkshakes ($6.99), like the 'Happy Daysâ?� with cookie dough ice cream and chocolate chip cookies, are an overly decadent way to end any breakfast, lunch or dinner. I was disheartened at the complete lack of pies in the display case, but the coconut cake tangy with Key lime ($4.99) was a conciliating crustless capper.

    And the parking? For a diner that prides itself on being decidedly quirky and queer, it's no surprise that finding a spot here can be a drag.

    It's a Friday night and Bar Louie is packed with an oddball mix of middle-aged golfers, nuclear families and metrosexual man-cougars on the prowl. Its walls are lined with photographs evocative of jewelry adverts, accentuated with the eyes and teeth of models reflecting a bourgeois ideal steadfastly preserved by this raucous joint. It being happy hour lent to an increased decibel level, primarily centered in the periphery of the sizable rectangular bar where said patrons gaped at plasma screens and sloshed down draft beer ($3), wine ($4) and cocktails ($5) at happy-hour prices. Others sat in the patio overlooking the Rialto's scenic parking lot while some, like my guest and I, opted for a table in the center of the airy dining room in which to enjoy the array of half-priced small plates.

    Bar Louie's reputation for serving above-average food certainly preceded it ' the eatery is run by Restaurants America, a Chicago-area-based consulting group operating more than 60 upscale restaurants covering 10 different concepts around the country. (The only other local representative is the Red Star Tavern at Orlando Fashion Square mall.) Given the chain's credentials, I wanted to believe the hype, but the dishes we sampled were for the most part ordinary and fell well short of inspiring.

    As avenues to sobriety, however, the dishes exceed expectations, particularly the doughy Bavarian pretzel sticks ($3.50) with cinnamon butter, queso and honey-mustard dips, which even lucid diners will enjoy. As avenues to drunkenness, several libations can help facilitate the condition ' we sampled a smooth and sweet 'kokomojitoâ?� ($5), splashed with pineapple rum, and a more offensive, lime-heavy caipirinha ($5) served on the rocks. Cocktails are taken quite seriously here, and bibulous barflies can opt for a variety of signature drinks, martinis, margaritas, cosmopolitans and mojitos. Bruschetta ($3.50), served in an obnoxiously large martini glass, acts as a booze sponge with grilled country bread surrounding a mound of chunky pomodoro. But the cup of New Orleans chicken gumbo ($1.50) was an insipid mush, and the macaroni and cheese ($9.99) could've been replicated by college kids with some Velveeta and bread crumbs. The congealed, gluey consistency of the four-cheese concoction made it immediately forgettable. The Blue Moon'battered fish sandwich ($9.99) fared a bit better ' the tilapia cut was wonderfully mild and fleshy, but the overdone beer batter wasn't golden-brown as promised. While the accompanying side of fries was satisfactory, we both reacted adversely to the not-at-all-tart tartar sauce. Another very ordinary item from the bill of fare: the blackened chicken muffuletta pizza ($9.99), layered with an olive mix and Cajun seasoning. The flabby crust was a disappointing feature ' it had the taste and texture of Pillsbury dough, not proper pizza dough.

    This may seem like a harsh indictment of Bar Louie's kitchen, but it's fair given that they cater to a sophisticated clientele with sophisticated palates in a sophisticated neighborhood. From a diner's perspective, the food doesn't raise the bar by any means; but from a drinker's perspective, it certainly holds water â?¦ and hooch.

    Fall is the season when millions of people converge on Munich for Oktoberfest, a two-week bacchanal of beer-drinking, bratwurst-eating and debauchery. But here in Orlando, you can catch the spirit year-round at Bauern-Stube.

    It's an old German restaurant with new digs on South Orange Avenue. A former Pizza Hut has been transformed into a German farm-house atmosphere, where costumed waiters with thick accents bring you piles of authentic food and German beer on tap. On Friday and Saturday nights, the live entertainment includes accordion players and an acrobat act from Berlin.

    This is the kind of food that has fortified generations of Germans against those bitter, cold winters: noodle casserole with Black Forest ham and Swiss cheese ($8.95) and East Prussian dumplings with horseradish gravy ($9.95). It's becoming more of a rarity even in places like Munich, where these days it's easier to find a good sushi bar than an old-style German restaurant, says co-owner Barbara Hutto, a native of Berlin.

    In keeping with a typical German "gasthaus" that entertains travelers, Bauern-Stube is decorated with a dizzy display of knick-knacks, cuckoo clocks, stuffed birds, fir-tree garlands and Cabbage Patch frauleins. My friend thought it looked like a Christmas tree had exploded inside the restaurant. But the clutter adds a cozy touch that grows on you.

    Potato pancakes ($4.95), fried and topped with applesauce and sour cream, take the edge off your appetite while you wait for dinner. These are much more than glorified hash browns – the shredded potatoes are bonded with eggs, nutmeg, oil and vinegar, and they're heavy and firm as burgers.

    Wiener schnitzel ($10.75) was a juicy, fried cutlet of pork, seasoned with paprika, which gave it a tasty reddish cast inside. The dish was teamed with spaetzle, a cross between noodles and dumplings. Tossed with butter, they're delicious.

    The moist and tender sauerbraten ($12.50) is a specialty here, featuring sliced roast beef with a deep, dark gravy of bay leaves and cloves. Even if you think you don't like sauerkraut, definitely give it a whirl at Bauern-Stube. Mild and mellow, fresh out of a pork broth stew, seasoned with juniper, it's nothing like the canned, excessively acidic variety.

    Among the desserts, Black Forest cake ($3) was a still a little too icy inside, having just been thawed out of the freezer. Otherwise it was properly folded with chocolate and cherries, iced with whipped cream.

    If you visit, heed the posted sign: "15% tip includet in bill!" (sic). Hutto instituted the policy because many of her German customers were not leaving tips, assuming it already was figured in – because that's the custom in Germany.

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