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    Even a James Beard Award semifinalist isn't immune from the vagaries of the economy. Nationally recognized chef Kevin Fonzo, owner of both K Restaurant Wine Bar and Nonna Trattoria ed Enoteca, closed K's doors in late February and consolidated operations in the bungalow that housed Nonna. The newly amalgamated boîte, now called K Restaurant, has Kevin's brother Greg taking charge of a menu largely reflective of K's old bill of fare with influences from Nonna. The roll call of seasonal gems with a focus on local sourcing is what kept the old K thriving for many years, and it'll do the same for K's latest incarnation. As far as the space is concerned, the cosmetic changes are a welcome sight to the ears. The one aspect of Nonna that I didn't care for was the hardwood floor ' while aesthetically pleasing, that floor contributed to a clamorous racket throughout the restaurant. Now, with a thorough carpeting, the dining room makes craned-neck lobe-pinching a thing of the past. Velvet curtains add a touch of subdued elegance while nurturing an environment much more conducive to conversational sustenance.

    Case in point: the grilled beef hearts ($9). We couldn't stop talking about how all the disparate elements of the appetizer harmonized ' the robust flavor of the sliced hearts, sweet roasted beets, brined tangerines, earthy greens and a horseradish dressing with pop. The thick tomato slice in the K-Stack salad ($7) came topped with goat cheese and mixed greens splashed with a citrus vinaigrette, but it was the basil leaves that helped balance out all the flavors. Fonzo's locavore predilection shows in these dishes, with the beef hearts coming from DeLeon Springs' Deep Creek Ranch and the tomato sourced from Sanford's Waterkist Farm. The herb and vegetable garden on the restaurant's premises was trampled during the move, we were told, but it should be primed for picking in a few weeks. An inordinate amount of time passed before our entrees arrived ' our server appeared somewhat harried waiting on the handful of tables in our vicinity and, as a result, we didn't quite get the attentive service we expected. Along with the time lag, our water glasses went unfilled ' minor miscues that were temporarily dismissed after one bite of the porcini-rubbed filet mignon ($32). Each silken bite washed in a cabernet sauvignon sauce aroused groans of gratification, as did the square of potato au gratin, slightly seared on top. A side of grilled broccolini ($7) dusted with parmesan and sprinkled with lemon was an ideal green to pair with the steak. The grilled wild Scottish salmon ($21) didn't produce as enthusiastic a response, but it was a decent slab, served with basmati rice and a pickled-tomato relish. Just when we forgot and forgave the wait time to get our mains, an even longer wait ensued just to put in our dessert order. Other servers tended to us through the course of our entrees, but we were all but neglected for a good 10 minutes after our table was cleared. Nevertheless, it was well worth the wait to sample a slice of fresh pecan pie ($6) served with a scoop of Guinness ice cream. Molten chocolate lava cake ($8), a choice insisted on by our server, was also superb. I can see why the table next to us chose to start their meals off with dessert.

    As they've done in the past, the Fonzos, for the most part, run their restaurant to the letter. In K's case, that letter happens to be an A.

    What a difference a letter makes. Back in February, Café Allegre chef and owner Kevin Fonzo told me of his plan to renovate the existing space, add tables and a private dining room next door, and adopt a new name. "Something with 'Kevin' in it, to make my mother happy," he said. What he came up with was K Restaurant and Wine Bar. What he has in K is a superb restaurant, one that took me quite by surprise.

    People have been saying wonderful things about Café Allegre in College Park for years, something I'd attributed to the fact that there are very few restaurants in the area. On the site of the former Babycakes Restaurant, Allegre opened in May 1997. When then owner Maria Bonomo-Do Pico recruited Fonzo (a Culinary Institute of America graduate) from Atlanta's Phoenix Brewing Co., in 1999, the place turned from casual to upscale. Deep-red walls held paintings by local artists, the wine list expanded, and the menu added ingredients like venison and saffron.

    Blame it on phases of the moon, but on every occasion I was there, food was miscooked, substitutions were made without discussion, and service was mediocre.

    Well, same chef, same room, but in my recent experience dining at K, the quality of both food and service have skyrocketed. The meal was pleasurable from beginning to end.

    A heady mixture of intensely flavored grilled quail ($7) on a bed of mache (a green similar to cress) and a puree of Vidalia onion -- so sweet I thought it was apple -- started me off. The seared scallop with sesame noodles ($6) was perfectly done, but note the singular form -- one scallop, not quite the bargain the quail was. Even a simple house salad of greens and mushrooms was a delicacy, sprinkled with balsamic and the right touch of shaved grainy Romano.

    The main courses are seasonal; the menu on this visit featured grouper "picatta" ($19). People passing by the window actually came in to ask what I was eating -- it was that pretty. The slightly tangy pan-seared fish sat atop potatoes whipped with artichoke, and it was covered with a mélange of diced peppers and summer squash. It was exceptional. Equally good, the tender marinated chicken ($14) had its own potato mound, this time mixed with roasted garlic, plus more of the veggies, with a deep herb-flavored gravy.

    Even if you loved the old cafe, it's an even better restaurant now. And I'll be back.

    The Florida Film Festival at Enzian Theater continues through March 14, and visitors to the Maitland area have been exploring the shiny eateries along Orlando Avenue, north of Winter Park Village. But to complete the Maitland experience, make a visit to Kappy's, the downscale landmark that makes its own "anti-" statement about development. Use a little imagination to hear the car engines and radios that used to roar through Kappy's -- a 1950s-style diner with a covered parking area and picnic tables. The car-rally days have ended, says owner Bob Caplan. He's kept the place unchanged for 30 years come this May, and he bought it secondhand.

    Caplan, a firm believer in "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," was working the order window the other night, whipping up shakes from his weathered building that backs up onto railroad tracks.

    The clientele who swing in to the odd lot at the corner of Sybelia Avenue (across from a shiny 7-Eleven) are from all walks of life, joined by want of Kappy's Philly cheese steaks, hot dogs, burgers, subs, shakes, waffle fries, onion rings and root beer floats.

    For old time's sake, we tried the "special" -- Philly cheese steak and onion, waffle fries and drink ($5) -- which contained enough carbohydrates to fuel a football team. We also tried the worthy vegetarian sub ($3.05), with provolone cheese, lettuce, tomato and onions, and a dusting of oregano. The vanilla shake tasted like homemade ($2.85), and the waffle fries were not greasy (89 cents, small).

    There's a slice of counter space inside, with worn stainless-steel swiveling stools that make you feel like you're on the set of a New York hole in the wall.

    Karma Korner is a unique party place with a variety of parties and events. The club boasts an extra large dance floor and an airy atmosphere.

    We didn't review this location but you can check out the review of the Keller's Real Smoked Bar-B-Q on University Boulevard.

    We didn't review this location but you can check out the review of the Keller's Real Smoked Bar-B-Q on University Boulevard.

    We all know that safety deposit boxes are places of personal treasure – diamonds, gold, family heirlooms. But index cards? Not exactly the family riches. Unless, of course, you're Todd Keller.

    Keller, of Keller's Bar-B-Q, has pulled his father's recipes out of lockdown once again to bring authentic barbecue to a new University Boulevard location. Coming from a long line of barbecue masters, Keller learned from his father, the creator and king of the famed Fat Boys' Bar-B-Q. Keller decided to follow his parents' smoke trail and opened his own barbecue joint in 1994 in Lake Mary. He's had his hands in the barbecue world ever since.

    Not much has changed since the first Keller's opened or the second location in Altamonte Springs; the food is still as delicious as ever. The difference at this third place is that Keller partnered with a childhood friend and neighbor, Kemp Anderson. The barbecue is still some of the best you'll find in these parts, and I brought my own personal barbecue expert to testify. My husband, Gregg, is from an area of Kentucky where three of the top 100 barbecue restaurants in the world are located. (There's such a reverence for barbecue in his family that his father used to say to him after eating three helpings of done-right pulled pork, "Son, I'm proud to be eating with you.") And my expert gives Keller's his mark of approval.

    Keller's is a bastion of fun in an outparcel building set in an otherwise dismal parking lot. Loud vinyl cowhide tablecloths on the outdoor tables scream (moo?) from across the lot. Inside, the lights are bright, the music loud. Murals of idyllic farm animals look out on the small dining room. On another wall, there's a mural of the original Fat Boys, a reminder of where those animals end up. Friendly is the only word to accurately describe the service. Everyone is treated like a regular, in the spirit of a country café.

    Sweet corn nuggets ($3.99) are as delightful as ever, especially when dipped in mountain honey. The Brunswick stew ($2.99) is one of the recipes from Keller's safe. The shredded pork, chicken and beef thicken a rich, peppery stew packed with country sausage, lima beans, corn and crushed tomatoes. We skipped the salads, adhering to the philosophy that there is no reason to nibble on iceberg when one can save more room for something of the smoked order. But if salad is your thing, I hear their smoked-chicken version is good ($7.99).

    Gregg ordered the sampler platter ($13.99), a meat-lover's dream with sliced pork, beef, one-quarter chicken on the bone and ribs. Although there is no open pit in sight (the fault of EPA regulations and strip mall kitchen specifications), Keller's has managed to capture the charred flavor of an open-pit smoker with help from a top-of-the-line commercial smoker and Keller's savvy from a lifetime of barbecue experience. The meat was tender and infused with the robust flavor of pure blackjack oak.

    I got smoked turkey on garlic bread ($6.59) and drenched it in sweet sauce. The smoky meat and buttery toast was a match made in paradise. I ate every last bite, then reached over and stuffed a few pieces of Gregg's sliced pork between stray garlic bread. No barbecue meal would be complete without mention of sauces, and Keller's has three – "original" mustard, spicy tomato and sweet tomato.

    Of the sides, the baked beans, another time-tested recipe from the vault, are made fresh, with smoked meat for flavor. The green beans are loaded with bacon and, thankfully, are from a can. (Fresh green beans don't go with barbecue.) Skip both the cole slaw, a flavorless clump of shreds, and the Sysco-delivered dessert. Even Keller admits these aren't strong points.

    My advice is to save as much room as possible for meat. After all, it's the stuff that heirlooms are made of.

    In the world of the Hard Rock corporation, waitresses are encouraged to lead lives tantamount to those of rock stars. I should know; I used to work there. The company was so insistent on their cozy star status that they psyched employees into believing that working there equaled partying with stars every night. That was 10 years ago. Today, Hard Rock is all grown up and offers a place not to party with celebrities, but to eat like them.

    The Kitchen is tucked away on the bottom floor, near the pool, of the chic Hard Rock Hotel. Walking in, the first thing one sees is a sleek modern kitchen offset by a bar, which is really a chef's table. That one sliver of the expansive dining room alone feels like the cooking quarters in a dream home - which is exactly the Hard Rock's intent.

    "The hotel is designed to look like a rock star's mansion," the PR rep tells me. "The kitchen is where he'd go to whip up a late-night snack."

    Just like its famous sister restaurant, Hard Rock Café, The Kitchen is decked out with kitschy memorabilia, but here rock & roll meets culinary utensils. Who wouldn't at least glance at the oddity of a spatula signed by Mike Love from the Beach Boys? Or a black chef's jacket with leopard-print trim made exclusively for Joan Jett? When a cheese grater was presented to us at the beginning of the meal, it took a minute to figure out that it was actually a menu for the specials. Even the tables are made of stainless steel countertops like those found at stove-side workstations.

    By all means, bring the kids along. One of the best things about The Kitchen is that there's something for everyone. The food is largely of the comfort variety, and there are family favorites with trendy twists. Macaroni and cheese ($10.25) is made with Spanish manchego; fried calamari ($9.95) is served fusion-style with Asian slaw and Thai dipping sauce; filet mignon ($24) is drenched in delicious Argentinean chimichurri sauce. But there's no need to waste all this good food on the chicken-tender specialists. The Kitchen has a buffet just for the younger generation that is stockpiled with pizza and other kid-friendly delights. Not only that, but there's a rec room dedicated to their needs, as well. While you're civilly nibbling Asian vegetable rolls ($7.95) and conversing about the world at large, the kids can crowd around colorful games and toys, devouring fries from special TV trays.

    At times, not enough care is taken with some components of this otherwise tasty menu. The bacon on the iceberg wedge ($7.95) was so overcooked and salty that I felt as though I was chewing on jerky. Two pieces of tuna on the plate of charred ahi seemed to come from different fish, one a princess of the sea and the other her evil stepsister. I was not impressed with dessert: We tried s'mores and bread pudding, both too big and way over the top.

    Among the tasty adult selections, I tried the crab cakes ($9.95), two fresh discs of sweet crabmeat tenderly fried and served alongside golden corn bread and clever Old Bay rémoulade. Peanut-crusted chicken wings ($8.95) were served in a pail with the longest celery sticks I've ever seen. The presentation was cute, but unfortunately the pasty layer of Buffalo barbecue sauce was cloying. The seafood chowder ($15.95) was excellent, bursting with grouper, shrimp and scallops; the rich, creamy sauce still allowed the taste of delicate leeks and corn to shine through. Likewise, a plate of charred ahi tuna ($23) allowed both rich and light flavors to work in harmony. A sesame rice cake was not overpowered by wasabi cream and pickled ginger, but enhanced by the tangy sharpness.

    At The Kitchen, you may not brush elbows with rock stars, but you are certainly eating in surroundings that make you feel like one yourself.

    Forget whatevery concept you may have about buffets. This "upscale" Asian restaurant will have you bursting with quality Chinese dishes, made-to-order hibachi and all the freshly prepared sushi you can eat. 


    Teaser: For bottomless appetites or those who like to take a bite of every chocolate in the box, KoyWan is a great deal. Just eight bucks is the lunchtime entry fee ($11 for dinner) to 15 kinds of sushi, tables full of familiar Chinese dishes and custom-grilled hibachi offerings. Freshness and authenticity here isn't what you'd find in any of the Asian restaurants crowding the Mills 50 district, but for some diners, quantity trumps quality, and for them, this is a gold mine.

    This November, Kres gets its proverbial star on the Red Meat Walk of Fame when it joins the ranks of other Orlando steakhouses celebrating 10 years in the business of beef. Quite the accomplishment for a high-end chophouse that a) opened in the heart of a bar- and club-infested strip, and b) had the audacity to shun the established practice of possessive nomenclature. In the world of Ruth’s and Linda’s, Morton’s and Charley’s, Christner’s, Shula’s and Vito’s, Kres is the odd man out, and that suits this downtown boîte just fine.

    From the onset, Kres looked to draw a more urbane and sophisticated clientele, and, save for the smattering of pre-clubbing 1-percenters, this tactic, even 10 years later, appears to have worked. The turn-of-the-21st-century decor feels slightly dated and perhaps a redesign is in order, but Kres is still worthy of being housed inside one of downtown’s most architecturally revered buildings – not just for its bill of fare, but also for its throwback focus on customer service. From our initial phone call to make reservations to the genial farewells on our exit, the staff here made us feel prized – as prized as, say, an expensive foie gras. No: foie gras crowning a tenderloin of elk! Yes. And that just so happened to be one of the dishes in which we indulged: an 8-ounce cut ($35), to be exact. Cooked to a perfect medium-rare, the lean elk loin was made instantly rich with that buttery tiara of foie ($13). Nary a hint of gaminess; no dental-displacing sinews; just a perfect cut married perfectly with that buttery epicurean delight. Our prime 18-ounce rib-eye steak ($39) may have been a tad undercooked, but that just made the leftovers all the better the following morning in their rebirth as steak and eggs. The rib-eye’s marbling was sublime, and its flavor more so. Steaks and chops are served a la carte; our choice of greens and starch sides were grilled asparagus ($8) and cheddar-rosemary mashed potatoes ($7). Though both served their respective purpose, we would’ve rather ordered another side of foie.

    Prior to all that luxurious richness, we started with an old-guard staple – oysters Rockefeller ($15), baked with a properly herbaceous butter sauce. Our impeccably trained server also suggested a nontraditional starter to break up our Gatsbian feast, namely “Aegean style” lamb ribs ($14). The ribs are marinated in kalamata olive oil, spicy mustard and herbs, then braised to a soft succulence before being zested with caramelized lemon wheels. It’s a difficult dish to eat delicately, but then again, steakhouses don’t exactly play to the genteel side of dining.

    Our server’s suggested wine pairings were admirable, though in-house sommelier Rob Christie patrols the red-velveted space offering recommendations for serious wine drinkers. Red velvet didn’t find its way to the dessert menu, but white chocolate bread pudding ($9) did. The meal-capper was sumptuous, ample enough for two, and hooched with enough panther sweat to bring back the Jazz Age.

    As you exit the restaurant and take in the grand space, the original art, the triple-crown and dentil-crown molding, one thing becomes exceedingly clear: Kres naturally exudes a verve and panache that other steakhouses can’t match. If flair is as important as your filet, Kres is the place.

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