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No lamb?, I incredulously asked myself. Poring over the streamlined menu at the counter of Habibi Fine Lebanese Cuisine, I noticed beef and chicken were well-represented, but the staple meat defining Middle Eastern cooking was nowhere to be seen. Feeling somewhat nonplussed, I posed the question to owner Frank Ashriki, a seasoned restaurateur who traded the refined rues of Montreal for the boilerplate boulevards of MetroWest. A downward glance, a deliberate pause and an uncomfortable wriggle later, the response: 'We plan on having lamb on the menu soon.� Not that Habibi's culinary legitimacy rests solely on rotisseried ruminants, but a Lebanese restaurant without lamb is, well, like Certs without the Retsyn�. 

So for the time being we settled and, ultimately, really settled into Habibi's two-meat offerings, but not before getting our fill of their vegetarian platter ($8). A cluster of standards ' fresh-fried falafel, smoky babaganoush, hummus, tabouli and incomparably lemony grape leaves ' it's a flesh-spurner's delight. Just keep in mind that allowing falafel to cool zaps it of its moisture, so eat the tahini-drizzled orbs first. 

At the hub of the platter sat a sliver of eggplant coiled around fluffy toum, the garlicky white sauce often dolloped alongside chicken kebabs. Speaking of those, the flame-licked pieces of poultry were a highlight of the combo kebab ($13.99), with or without a toum dip. Biting into fattened morsels of beef and peppery kefta provoked the most vocal mm-mmm moments ' moments which, given our choice of outdoor seating, seemed to rouse the interests of passers-by. Granted, most of them were heading to Habibi's anyway, primarily for takeout. The two booths and counter seating inside the atmo-less space don't exactly lend themselves to prolonged stays, yet it's not unusual to find a contingent of Arab and African patrons outside talking food and football with Frank. Being swept into the conversation is probable, and that speaks to the undeniable conviviality of the joint. 

Caught up in all the World Cup chatter, I nearly missed the fact that the fattoush salad ($3.99) lacked its characteristic toasted pita. A fattoush salad without the pita is, well, like the World Cup without its vuvuzelas. A surprising omission, to say the least, but if there's one item Habibi can toot its own horn about, it's their fried kibbeh ($1.75) and beef shawarma ($4.50). The seasoned top sirloin of the latter is shaved from a spit and, along with supremely tart pickles, radishes and tomatoes stuffed in a pita, makes for a consummate lunchtime sandwich. Take-home test: After a 10-minute sweat in a 250-degree oven, the shawarma held up just fine the following night.

The 'Fine� in 'Habibi Fine Lebanese Cuisine� is somewhat misleading. Plastic utensils and paper napkins in no way resemble the fine dining scene of Cedar's Restaurant in Dr. Phillips, but what Habibi does, it does relatively well. Most dishes are made to order, so don't expect immediate delivery of comestibles, as is customary with many counter-service eateries. And credit Ashriki for fostering Habibi's hospitable and neighborly vibe. In a single visit, it was easy to discern that Montreal's loss was MetroWest's gain. 

Years after the landmark San Francisco diner shut its queer-friendly doors at the turn of millennium, Hamburger Mary's has re-emerged in cities across the country, finding new life through franchising, while continuing to market its fare to 'open-minded people.â?� And given Orlando's rep as a gay-friendly hamlet, setting up shop in the heart of Church Street seems like a perfect fit for this ol' burger queen. Sure, it's a campy retread of a '50s-style diner, and the swaths of bright turquoise, hot pinks and lime greens make you feel like you're dining inside an acid-drenched Beatles flick directed by Paul Lynde, but at no point can you say the place is dull. Not when a waiter shoots a bit of sass your way, or when their plasma screens air videos from Nu Shooz followed by Ladytron; it all serves to enhance the mood, as does the lively cocktail scene. (Hamburger Mary's is fully licensed.) Still, diners with toddlers and hetero carnivores will feel as welcome here as the nanciest of patrons ' while diversity is key to Mary's clientele, her menu is unquestionably all-American.

A variety of finger foods, comfort staples and (what else?) burgers dominate the offerings here ' nothing particularly fab, but all sufficiently satisfying. Mary-mac & cheese balls ($7.95) were more triangles than orbs, but addictive little buggers nonetheless. In keeping with the kitsch, the menu is replete with cutesy names ' this particular 'appeteazerâ?� came with a tangy 'Mary-naraâ?� sauce. Crispy caramel chicken salad ($5.95) will 'leaf you greenâ?� (my words, not theirs). The caramel drizzle on the fried chicken was sweet enough, but lathering the mixed greens in ranch dressing created a clash as resounding as Charles Nelson Reilly's wardrobe.

Ranch dressing reared its creamy head once again in the 'spicy Maryâ?� burger ($8.95), this time meshing well with the melted jack cheese, jalapeños and mojo sauce. The lower bun proved too weak to sustain the gloppy half-pound Angus beef patty; the top bun, flecked with sesame seeds, was fabulously poofy, however. The side of seasoned fries was better than average, and much better than the runny mashed potatoes. Mary's meaty meatloaf ($10.50) can be had as an entree or as a sandwich ($7.95), and if you're a meatloaf lover, you'll be pleased with the slabs of turkey-beef mix. I chose the latter, with a side of onion rings ($4.95) that came with a ramekin of that ubiquitous ranch dressing, this time spiked with chipotle that was just plain awful.

Desserts here are caloric juggernauts. If you're the type to test your ticker at meal's end, fried Twinkies ($5) will vitrify your ventricles; one bite was certainly enough for me. An enormously dense square of banana-nut bread pudding ($5) had plenty of hot nuts, but it was big enough to share among the group. Mary Tyler S'mores ($6.95), roasted tableside, will turn your world on with a gooey, sticky smile.

If, at any point during your meal, you feel the room resonate, chances are the source is a passing train, though a parade of bellowing drag queens isn't out of the question. (Should it be a choo-choo, $3 tequila shots will be tendered, a la PR's Taco Palace.) In keeping with the restaurant's flamboyance, the campy coup de grâce arrives in the form of a red patent-leather shoe containing the check, allowing diners, gay or straight, a chance to foot the bill in style.

There's nothing quite like the nostalgic feeling you get from eating at a restaurant made to look like flashback diners from the '60s. Unless it's the feeling you get from eating at the real thing.

Hampton's Drive-In Restaurant has stood, virtually unchanged, since 1957; its wood paneling and tile floors have been freshened but otherwise it's much the same. Brothers Gary and Barry Moore have owned the place (and Hampton's in Daytona) since 1980, but still serve the marinated, pressure-cooked fried chicken and award-winning hot dogs that made Hampton's famous. Dinner fare is familiar comfort food, from meat loaf to liver and onions to chicken fried steak to home-made pie.

Hampton's Drive-In Restaurant has stood, virtually unchanged, since 1957; its wood paneling and tile floors have been freshened but otherwise it's much the same. Brothers Gary and Barry Moore have owned the place (and Hampton's in Daytona) since 1980, but still serve the marinated, pressure-cooked fried chicken and award-winning hot dogs that made Hampton's famous. Dinner fare is familiar comfort food, from meat loaf to liver and onions to chicken fried steak to home-made pie.

The music is pure '50s and '60s oldies, the burgers are rare, the shakes are cold, and there's even curb service -- but, sorry, no roller-skating waitresses.

Altamonte Drive near I-4 isn't exactly known as a dining hot spot, what with the never-ending strip of fast food, chain food and, well, almost-food lining the road. Still, there are a few shining moments in the otherwise ketchup-slathered landscape, such as Amira's and Sam Seltzer's nearby and, for a fairly decent meal just outside Altamonte Mall, Bahama Breeze.

Add to that list Hana Sushi, situated in the Renaissance Shopping Center on the west side of the mall. It's a plaza going through a transition, with many stores vacant or under construction, and I guess the Hana folks, who have been there since December, are hoping the changes will do them good, because right now it is an obscure place to eat sushi.

Add to that list Hana Sushi, situated in the Renaissance Shopping Center on the west side of the mall. It's a plaza going through a transition, with many stores vacant or under construction, and I guess the Hana folks, who have been there since December, are hoping the changes will do them good, because right now it is an obscure place to eat sushi.

Like many of the town's new sushi bars, it's scantly decorated with light wood tables and some lovely brush prints on the walls. I felt sorry for the four fish in the corner tank and wondered if they knew what was going on right in front of them.

Like many of the town's new sushi bars, it's scantly decorated with light wood tables and some lovely brush prints on the walls. I felt sorry for the four fish in the corner tank and wondered if they knew what was going on right in front of them.

The restaurant's tables were practically empty when we were there, but the sushi bar was amazingly crowded with people who were obviously regulars, a surprising thing for such an odd location, with several people wagering who could eat the largest lump of wasabi. I guess nobody bets on football anymore.

The restaurant's tables were practically empty when we were there, but the sushi bar was amazingly crowded with people who were obviously regulars, a surprising thing for such an odd location, with several people wagering who could eat the largest lump of wasabi. I guess nobody bets on football anymore.

The sushi menu is full of those specialty rolls that combine odd and usually cooked ingredients for those who don't think pristinely fresh tuna is inventive enough but haven't gotten the hang of raw fish yet. I ordered the rainbow roll ($6.95), which seemed interesting: tuna, carrot and cucumber wrapped with grilled eel, which is a weakness of mine. It would have been perfect if not for the inclusion of cream cheese (who came up with that?) that melded the tastes and textures into one schmear-laden blur.

The sushi menu is full of those specialty rolls that combine odd and usually cooked ingredients for those who don't think pristinely fresh tuna is inventive enough but haven't gotten the hang of raw fish yet. I ordered the rainbow roll ($6.95), which seemed interesting: tuna, carrot and cucumber wrapped with grilled eel, which is a weakness of mine. It would have been perfect if not for the inclusion of cream cheese (who came up with that?) that melded the tastes and textures into one schmear-laden blur.

It may not be the best Japanese food in town, but you sure get a lot of it. Along with the regular list of tempuras and grilled meats, the definitive choice has to be the $19.95 bento box dinner. It comes with a ginger-dressed salad, miso soup, tuna roll, four pieces of sushi, tempura veggies, fried spring roll and your choice of chicken teriyaki, or shrimp or chicken tempura. Unfortunately, one of the "sushi" used that fake crabmeat, which I just object to on principle. But the food just keeps coming, bowl followed by plate followed by a lovely red and black box stuffed with food.

It may not be the best Japanese food in town, but you sure get a lot of it. Along with the regular list of tempuras and grilled meats, the definitive choice has to be the $19.95 bento box dinner. It comes with a ginger-dressed salad, miso soup, tuna roll, four pieces of sushi, tempura veggies, fried spring roll and your choice of chicken teriyaki, or shrimp or chicken tempura. Unfortunately, one of the "sushi" used that fake crabmeat, which I just object to on principle. But the food just keeps coming, bowl followed by plate followed by a lovely red and black box stuffed with food.

Sushi bars were never meant to be the chic, reverent eateries that a lot of folks have elevated them to: They were probably the original fast-food joints. Hana Sushi, tucked into a shopping center, has the right attitude.

Japanese cuisine is all about harmony. Everything – from the food to the presentation to the restaurant's decor – is suppose to work together to create a flawlessly integrated and refreshing experience. But since my kind of sushi joint is the sort that blares music and uses Godzilla as a mascot, this concept of harmony remained foreign to me until I dined at Hanamizuki.

Situated in a bland I-Drive strip mall, Hanamizuki has zero vibe from the outside. But inside is a spacious room with sage-green walls, elegantly minimalist decor, and a menu of refreshing depth and intrigue. An absolute lack of all things kitschy gives the place an unfussy, authentic air. The focus is on flavorful, expertly prepared food and enjoying it in the proper environment.

Situated in a bland I-Drive strip mall, Hanamizuki has zero vibe from the outside. But inside is a spacious room with sage-green walls, elegantly minimalist decor, and a menu of refreshing depth and intrigue. An absolute lack of all things kitschy gives the place an unfussy, authentic air. The focus is on flavorful, expertly prepared food and enjoying it in the proper environment.

My dining partner and I opted for courtside seats at the sushi bar. Hanamizuki's expansive menu is an invitation to experiment, so we kicked off with two appetizers, tako su ($6) and ika nuta ($5). The former was a small salad of sliced octopus that was well-complemented by a soy-sauce dressing with a distinct bacon flavor. The latter was a small bowl of squid and scallions blended with a sauce of white soybean paste, vinegar and a hot mustard with a delightful kick.

My dining partner and I opted for courtside seats at the sushi bar. Hanamizuki's expansive menu is an invitation to experiment, so we kicked off with two appetizers, tako su ($6) and ika nuta ($5). The former was a small salad of sliced octopus that was well-complemented by a soy-sauce dressing with a distinct bacon flavor. The latter was a small bowl of squid and scallions blended with a sauce of white soybean paste, vinegar and a hot mustard with a delightful kick.

Pleased thus far, we moved onto the more traditional sashimi and maki-style sushi (rolled with rice). Moriawase ($20 and up) is the chef's selection of the day's best raw fish. Presented with little fanfare on a medium-size white plate, the dish focuses totally on the superb sliced fish. Fresh and firm with barely a scent from the sea, this was top-notch sashimi (at nearly $2 a bite.) The tightly wrapped maki-style rolls were neatly presented, with the very spicy cod being our favorite.

Pleased thus far, we moved onto the more traditional sashimi and maki-style sushi (rolled with rice). Moriawase ($20 and up) is the chef's selection of the day's best raw fish. Presented with little fanfare on a medium-size white plate, the dish focuses totally on the superb sliced fish. Fresh and firm with barely a scent from the sea, this was top-notch sashimi (at nearly $2 a bite.) The tightly wrapped maki-style rolls were neatly presented, with the very spicy cod being our favorite.

From the menu's grilled and fried sections, we liked the "beef nagima yaki" ($15), a substantial plate of small rolls of thinly sliced, if a bit dry, grilled beef surrounding enticingly crunchy braised scallions flavored by soy sauce. And the "kashige combination" ($15) boasts 10 skewers, each with one crisp piece of seafood, meat or vegetable (the onion was our favorite). All were deep fried in a very light batter that recalled coconut shavings.

From the menu's grilled and fried sections, we liked the "beef nagima yaki" ($15), a substantial plate of small rolls of thinly sliced, if a bit dry, grilled beef surrounding enticingly crunchy braised scallions flavored by soy sauce. And the "kashige combination" ($15) boasts 10 skewers, each with one crisp piece of seafood, meat or vegetable (the onion was our favorite). All were deep fried in a very light batter that recalled coconut shavings.

Our sole misadventure was mozuku tororo ($7), a ghastly blend of grated yam and mozuku seaweed in a viscous broth, topped with a raw quail egg. We attempted to eat it with chopsticks, which brought chuckles from the chef and waitress.

Our sole misadventure was mozuku tororo ($7), a ghastly blend of grated yam and mozuku seaweed in a viscous broth, topped with a raw quail egg. We attempted to eat it with chopsticks, which brought chuckles from the chef and waitress.

Our otherwise exquisite meal was topped off by Japanese ice cream enhanced with red-bean toppings – a graceful way to end this feast. Hanamizuki isn't cheap, but it is a most gracious and delicious way to enjoy the foods of Japan.

With its array of large pillars, HRC stands majestically like a Roman Coliseum of rock, boasting more pieces of rock and roll memorabilia than any other Hard Rock. Not only is there a vast, multi-level cafe, but throw in Hard Rock Live Orlando, a 3,000-person concert venue, and you've got a winner.


Teaser: With large, statuesque pillars, HRC stands majestically like a Roman Coliseum of rock, boasting more pieces of rock & roll memorabilia than any other Hard Rock. Not only is there a vast, multi-level cafe, but throw in Hard Rock Live Orlando, a 3,000-person concert venue, and you've got a winner.

Having indulged in my fair share of cottage pies at Jimmy Mulvaney’s charming, unpretentious Irish boozer Claddagh Cottage, I was more than a little intrigued when word came that the pub owner (along with wife Kathy and food-service veterans Lisa and Rick Boyd) had taken over Scruffy Murphy’s once-future home to open an upscale gastropub fronted by a cordon bleu chef. Given Mulvaney’s deft skills as a bar proprietor, I was less concerned about the “pub” than I was the “gastro,” but as it turned out, the kitchen ultimately held up its end of the deal.

The “gastro,” it should be noted, is segregated from the “pub” next door and showcases Mulvaney’s skills as master artisan. Not only did he lay down the hardwood floors and take care of the wiring, Mulvaney junky-to-funkied the wooden desks left behind by the previous tenants and transformed them into beautifully crafted (if slightly upright) seating booths done in a rustic 1900s-era style. The quaint interior, with its low ceiling and exposed piping, is reminiscent of Claddagh Cottage, only decidedly classier and, at least on this Saturday evening, significantly quieter. If it weren’t for the catchy riff of “Day Tripper” and other Beatles classics being piped over the sound system, I’d likely be able to make out conversations in the kitchen. As a result, an unrivaled level of personalized service prevailed which, at times, bordered on intrusive, but it was understandable given the dearth of patrons.

And given chef Cody Patterson’s blue ribbon status, the menu, understandably, leans heavily on French cuisine. I was hoping for Irish soda bread inside the complimentary carb basket, but no such luck. Instead, it was beef and barley soup ($4) that offered a small taste of the Emerald Isle with its generous mélange of carrots, corn, green beans, peas and potatoes. Too bad the beef was lacking, and the few miniature morsels I did manage to sift out were ground, not cubed.

“Stop light prawns” ($9), so named because the trio of accompanying sauces resemble a stoplight, fared a little better. The fried plump curls were a smidgen greasy, but a dip into the olfactory-retarding wasabi mayo sauce proved to be the ultimate redeemer, while sweet mango chutney and zesty cocktail sauce were just as exceptional.

The Harp house salad ($4) left me wanting more – more brie, to be exact. The one negligible piece of warm soft cheese is a cruel addition to the mix of tomatoes, field greens, red onions and croutons. After all, no fromage-lover could eat just one small bite of brie; I’d rather they serve a significant slab of cheese with a berry compote, and let the greens be an adjunct to the dish, even if it meant an increase in price.

The two entrees I sampled were, conversely, flawless. Lamb persillade ($22) featured two racks of two chops each rubbed with honey mustard and rosemary, grilled, then roasted for a crisp finish. Creamy saffron risotto and grilled zucchini were ideal sides, but gnawing the utterly luscious flesh off the bone was what made this dish a truly enjoyable feast. The 10-ounce Angus beef filet ($33) was a tad overdone, but a superbly flavorful and prodigious cut nonetheless.

Desserts aren’t prepared in-house as yet, but don’t let that prevent you from indulging in the fabulous chocolate bombe ($6). The dome-shaped confection envelops airy dark and white chocolate mousse and rich chocolate ganache. Call me picky, but I didn’t care much for the raspberry drizzle, nor did I care much for the key lime pie ($4) which

My friend and I got to Harvey's Heathrow around 5 p.m., just as they were opening for the evening. We sidled into a bar booth and eagerly embraced our bronze paper menus. As my eyes rested on a delightful-sounding onion and ale soup with Gouda ($5), my friend said, "Oh, look. The beautiful people are arriving."

Startled out of my menu-reading trance, I looked up to watch a gaggle of golf shirts strutting in accompanied by fake boobs. Welcome to the Lake Mary dining scene, where replicas of great restaurants are set amidst the sprawl of construction.

The original Harvey's, a downtown Orlando establishment for more than 10 years, has decidedly kept up with the dining times, even if it's a little dated in appearance. The new Heathrow site has an updated appearance, while still maintaining the delicious set of standards upheld by the original.

The Harvey's in Heathrow differs from the original in one respect: The room is lighter and brighter and more airy than the dark-wood, bottom-floor-of-a-bank original. A shotgun dining room juts out from a spacious bar and is bathed in mint green and russet. Adorning every nook and cranny are design elements made of geometrical shapes – like the giant orb lamps suspended near small, angular square paintings.

We ordered a first course of lobster bisque ($5) and artichoke and cashew salad ($7) as we perused the menu for more. The lobster bisque was perfect: Sweet lobster meat mixed with rich, heavy cream that hit the tongue first. Then a subtle heat followed, tinged with pungent garlic and fragrant tarragon. Finally, a note of acidic sherry burst through, while the taste of cream still lingered. I was so absorbed that I barely had a chance to taste my friend's salad, but she insisted. Raspberry vinaigrette draped over greens and whole cashews made for a bright, clean flavor that paired well with artichoke hearts. We also tried Harvey's version of Caprese salad ($7), a mixture of underripe red and perfectly ripened yellow tomatoes stacked with fresh mozzarella cheese. This is a dish in which most restaurants miss the point. Let's face it: This is a seasonal salad, at its best when the ingredients are so fresh that the tomatoes are picked an hour before they're served (why even bother with a tasteless, green tomato?) and the cheese has been hand-pulled by the owner's grandmother in the basement. Unfortunately, Harvey's didn't quite meet that expectation, but the fresh basil and a crude pesto gave it some spunk.

The entrees are a mix of surf and turf with a few pasta dishes thrown in. My friend ordered the grilled petite tenderloin ($24), a succulent center cut of beef, well seasoned and cooked exactly to her desired doneness. A mélange of jardinière snow peas, carrots and onions, cooked tender with a refreshing snap of crispness, were dynamite. I eschewed my usual pot roast ($17) to try herb-crusted sea scallops on angel hair ($18). Drenched in a silky sauce of wine, garlic and clams, the pasta was irresistible. A few dollops of sautéed spinach made a bed for the herb-encrusted scallops, which tasted superb with nice salinity and a wonderful crust of herbed batter. But the four scallops themselves were a tad overcooked and on the rubbery side. There are many other choices, but if you like duck, don't miss the roasted half duck with triple sec and pistachio glaze ($19), a tribute to the undervalued bird.

For a nibble at the bar, I recommend ordering a bowl of truffle fries ($6), dusted with Parmesan and tossed with lightly fried shiitake mushrooms. They had a deft hand with truffle oil in the kitchen, and this dish was magic, instead of a mouthful of perfume.

We were full by dessert, but we couldn't resist at least sharing a slice of Key lime pie ($5), a pleasing balance of tartness and sweetness.

Harvey's is another successful addition to the expanding dining scene of the Lake Mary/ Heathrow area. Even if this part of town represents a maze of highways, malls, construction and suburban sprawl that I don't appreciate, at least they know how to eat up here.

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