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A Jamaican restaurant in Apopka? I suppose it won’t be long before we’ll be gorging on lutefisk and köttbullar in a Swedish bistro in Pine Hills. Yes, a Jamaican joint nestled in a strip mall in the heart of Fern City may seem unlikely, but C & C has been garnering some low-key buzz among Central Florida Caribs since opening three years ago. Is it worth the drive to Apopka? That all depends on your proximity to Pine Hills, where a majority of the area’s best Caribbean cuisine can be had.

Not to say the food here isn’t on par with establishments on West Colonial Drive or Silver Star Road – it is, and the décor is certainly on equal footing. Walls are swathed in requisite yellow-and-green and bear obligatory photos of Bob Marley and Haile Selassie. Head-bopping is a foregone conclusion, given the infectious reggae-driven vibes resounding from the boombox near the counter. On weekends, the five additional speakers lying in wait are put to use and the restaurant transforms into C & C music factory.

Owner Clifton Campbell’s initials light up the restaurant’s marquee, though the letters could also stand for Cabbage & Codfish or Curry & Chicken. The chicken, by the way, is best enjoyed curried or jerked, not fried, as I ordered the chicken gizzards ($3.49). The little orbs of bird belly were too crisp and too rubbery a chew for my liking, though the fault lay squarely on my palate, not the kitchen.

Beef patties ($1.50) and jerk chicken ($6) are the sine qua non of Windies cuisine, and both are deftly prepared here. The spicy patties, though not the best I’ve ever had, were appetizing and tinged with a hint of sweetness. I only wished they were a bit more substantial and flakier. The chicken, jumped-up with peppery (and addictive) jerk seasoning, turned my meal into a ravenous affair, the juicy slabs of chicken packing a savory wallop. It’s one of those dishes you want to devour bone-clean, no matter how full you are, but the side of fluffy rice and peas (aka red beans) and springy cabbage-and-carrot slaw made it a difficult endeavor. Diners can also opt to enjoy any of their dinners with traditional hard dough bread, a loaf with a mass and consistency similar to pound cake.

Goat soup ($3) contained more bones and fat than meat, but the piping hot broth was propped up by yams, potatoes, carrots and a Scotch bonnet zing, making for a splendid succession of slurps. The curried goat ($6.50) made up for the soup’s ruminant deficiency, but sucking the wondrously gelatinous marrow out of the bones provided the most enjoyable moments.

Other specialties like cow foot, jerk pork, oxtails and red snapper escovich are offered, as is Jamaica’s national dish – ackee and codfish – for breakfast. The decision to include chicken wings on the menu may have been precipitated by the wing joint next door, though there’s no telling how many customers they’ve managed to attract from the other side. Fresh cane juice is, sadly, absent, as are desserts, though a bottle of Ting ($1.50), a tart grapefruit beverage, and a side order of sweet caramelized plantains ($1.99), proved to be worthy substitutes.

As expected, the friendly waitstaff are about as relaxed and laid-back as patrons in a Dutch café, and the handful of tables is often filled with regulars, most of whom get together, then feel all right.

The Caboose is as unpretentious as a bar gets, with loud music, a piecemeal approach to furnishing the space – which is now twice as big as when they started – and no-frills ways to get wasted with stiff drinks and domestic pitchers. You can disappear here.

Adorable breakfast spot with a French-accented gentleman behind the counter specializes in perfect pastry – don’t miss the viennoise chocolat, a twisted brioche studded with dark chocolate – but no one is left out: There are gluten-free baked goods as well, along with daily fresh soups and savories like pepperoni-and-pepper jack rolls.


Teaser: Adorable breakfast spot with a French-accented gentleman behind the counter specializes in perfect pastry ' don't miss the viennoise chocolat, a twisted brioche studded with dark chocolate ' but no one is left out: There are gluten-free baked goods as well, along with daily fresh soups and savories like pepperoni-and-pepper jack rolls.

Ah, progress. It seems whenever something new appears (the downtown Mini dealership for example), something old and treasured gets shoved aside. Such was the case with Café Annie, a neighborhood breakfast and lunch staple that occupied the corner spot on Jefferson Street and North Orange Avenue -- spiffy new cars in, gyros for lunch out.

So it was a great pleasure for downtown dwellers to see Café Annie return, displaced one door over. The spot, a cavernous storefront that was occupied by the Tin Can Alley restaurant for about five minutes, affords owner and chef Nazih Sebaali a large space for his Mediterranean and Middle Eastern recipes ("A bit of everything," he says) that have more to do with flavor than flair.

The food has a feeling of health and simplicity. Baba ghanoush ($2.95), a smooth paste of roast eggplant and garlic, sits on the plate simply adorned with a drizzle of olive oil, imploring you to eat. When you order a roasted chicken ($4.99), that's what you get, a dark or white quarter, oven-brown and juicy, served with two side dishes.

And what side dishes they are. Greek fasolia salad (butter beans stewed with tomato), snappy crisp green beans, or vinegary vegetarian stuffed grape leaves ($1.95 each) share a table with hummus ($2.95) and the best garlic mashed potatoes I've had in ages ($1.75, order extra).

The chicken kebab ($5.95) is charred and slightly lemony, and is available pressed in a pita, as is the gyro, a broiled beef and lamb combination with tomato, lettuce and a yogurt dressing ($4.25).

Specials change day to day; that afternoon it was richly seasoned lasagna and a salad for $5.50. How can you beat that? The point should be clear by now that if you don't like garlic, this might not be a good destination, but the thick roasted-garlic and tomato soup, loaded with savory chunks of tomato and rice, was worthy of nearby high-priced restaurants, and only $1.95 for the cup.

Breakfast starts at 7 a.m.; eggs, bacon, sausage, croissant sandwiches are joined by "Annie's eggpita" ($4.25) a dense Mediterranean omelet in pita bread.

Sebaali came to Orlando as an engineering student 25 years ago. When asked why he got into the restaurant business, he replied, "I don't really know how to answer that question." But despite his uncertainty, the previous home of Café Annie (named after his wife) stayed in business for 13 years. The revamped cafe opens for dinner starting this weekend, serving the same menu plus lamb kebabs, steak and seafood, with table service. I'll be going. How about you?

I somehow managed to talk my husband, the Impatient Gourmet, into heading to Mount Dora for lunch on a lazy Sunday afternoon. We slowly made our way north on Orange Blossom Trail until we reached the quaint roads that drag one into the heart of this historical town in Lake County.

Our destination was Café Attuare, an Italian café off Donnelly Street in the heart of downtown Mount Dora. The restaurant is located on the second story of a small tower of stores that looked to have been developed in the mid-'80s. It sits back off the road and stands out against a backdrop of early 20th-century storefronts. We climbed the short flight of stairs and walked in. The view out the windows in the airy room was of treetops, making a lovely hideaway. The décor, while fitting, was a cheap version of tasteful, and the smiley Italian hostess running around in leopard-print leggings and a halter top only added to the charm. We were seated next to a burgundy-draped window, beneath the requisite photograph of some destination in Italy.

I opened the menu and immediately made the assessment that this would not be what I call Italian-Italian fare. It seemed more like upstate New York Italian or something from Jersey that you might find on an episode of The Sopranos. In other words, it's the food I used to eat at my maternal grandparents' house back in the '70s. This was the generation when immigrant Italian food had been perfected as its own cuisine, no longer resembling true Italian cooking but possessing a hint of Sicilian sensibility mixed with a lot of modern American appeal.

We started with a sampler of garlic rolls ($2.50), since the menu proclaimed them "a must." They were, in fact, delicious: garlic-laced oil smothering yeasty knots of freshly cooked dough. The bread here is nothing like true Italian bread, which tends to be rustic, with lots of holes, and chewy. Café Attuare's version is nonetheless unique and tasty – slightly sweet, dense and yeasty. The crust had hardened and darkened with cooking, and it tasted more like Amish friendship bread than something from Little Italy.

I also started with a cup of house-made minestrone ($2.50) that had an abundance of fresh vegetables, including huge chunks of fresh garlic that had been stewed to a caramel-like texture.

Both entrees came with salads and an impressive array of homemade dressings. The Impatient Gourmet ordered a Caesar, and the real anchovy mixed into the creamy dressing impressed him greatly. I chose a fresh-looking house salad with a better-than-average Italian dressing spiked with fresh herbs.

The Impatient Gourmet couldn't resist a stromboli ($7.95) from the pizza portion of the menu. Pepperoni, sausage and fresh veggies were rolled up with provolone and baked in the same bread as the garlic knots.

For my entree, I tried shrimp scampi ($14.95) and this dish of linguine topped with sautéed shrimp was a mixed bag. The shrimp were lightly tender, walking a fine line between raw and tough. The wine, however, must have been poured in a downfall, because the shrimp were overly pungent, accenting the fishy smell. The whole thing was poured over the pasta in a watery mess and the flavor didn't cling well to the starch. I added some cheese and took a few bites before returning to nibbling at the stromboli bread. Impressively, Paulette, the owner in the leopard pants who I had noticed running around with a coral-lipstick-outlined smile, promptly noticed my reaction to the scampi and offered another dish.

I decided to save room for dessert instead. I'm glad, because the homemade selections looked outstanding. Tiramisu ($4.50) with white Russian espresso was tempting, but we chose chocolate decadence cake ($4.50), which was a creamy layer of chocolate enhanced with a little amaretto and Bailey's and poured into a buttery crumb crust.

We were so pleased with our meal that we ordered a piece of homemade lasagna ($9.25) to eat later that night while watching the season premiere of Rome, and it was fabulous.

Classic French cuisine, of the sort revered gastronome Georges Auguste Escoffier codified in his landmark 1903 publication Le Guide Culinaire, has never really turned my gastric crank. I'm referring to those elaborate dishes where the role of the saucier supersedes that of the chef, resulting in caloric juggernauts heavy on béchamel and light on, well, nothing. Having been raised on a diet bordering on the infernal, I've often found myself veering away from haute and gravitating toward hot.

But Café de France, a low-key boîte ensconced on high-profile Park Avenue, shuns the weighty and complicated for traditional nouvelle cuisine ' simple, light and with an emphasis on preserving natural flavors, not saucing them into submission. They've been doing so for nearly a quarter-century; chef Benjamin Schrank has defied gastro trends and maintained a focus on the straightforward, while adding a touch of finesse to his Gallic presentations.

Escargots à l'ail ($9), for example, was a fine plating of succulent shelled snails bathed in herbed garlic butter and served with a small phyllo pastry shell. A couple of gritty gastropods were cause for concern, but I'd likely order it again. Same goes for the Bloody Mary bisque ($7), the soup du jour that should be available toujours. An airy puree of tomatoes and horseradish blazed a trail down the esophagus, but finely diced celery provided a cool crunch while a dollop of avocado mousse assuaged the palate. French onion soup ($6) was a textbook study of the classic starter, with a gossamer broth, subtly sweet onions and a generous layer of nutty Gruyère.

Competent mains vary from rack of lamb ($29) to veal osso buco ($30), but the grilled ostrich ($30), a special for the evening, proved too tempting to pass up. Medium-rare slices of the lean, slightly gamy bird were served on a rectangular plate along with a splash of rosemary beurre-rouge, potatoes confit and stalks of broccolini. The dish's simplicity epitomizes Schrank's style, and the European-sized portion was also a welcome sight.

The pan-seared filet ($30) was, in a word, outstanding. The side, a mix of corn, shallots and diced Peruvian potatoes in a roasted red pepper coulis, brought out the flavor of the beef, while an accompanying glass of Chateau Le Conseiller Bordeaux ($9) made an ideal pairing.

Surrender yourself to the 'soft heart� chocolate soufflé ($8), a ramekin-shaped bonne bouche with a molten center of Belgian dark chocolate sided with fresh raspberries. I also found myself succumbing to the indulgence of the profiteroles ($8) ' the puff pastries filled with ice cream and drizzled with chocolate were neither overly sweet nor excessive.

Surrender yourself to the 'soft heart� chocolate soufflé ($8), a ramekin-shaped bonne bouche with a molten center of Belgian dark chocolate sided with fresh raspberries. I also found myself succumbing to the indulgence of the profiteroles ($8) ' the puff pastries filled with ice cream and drizzled with chocolate were neither overly sweet nor excessive.

The interior is reminiscent of a French country manor and exudes an air of austerity, as does the service, which, for the most part, is efficient and professional. I did get a chuckle when a pair of Rollins College students, one wearing a 'Save Darfurâ?� hoodie, walked in asking if they could get takeout. They were met with a polite non, but I felt bad they couldn't take a $30 filet or $32 roasted mallard duck in a paper bag back to the dorm.

Then again, the restaurant's proximity to Rollins will, at times, see famished college students walk through its French doors in search of a classy nosh. And it's just as well considering that over the past 25 years, Café de France has been in the business of schooling its competition.

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