Locations in Winter Park Area

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    It's pretty amazing what's happening on the west side of Winter Park. Avoiding for the moment the social and economic implications of the area's growth, I'll just say that on the dining front, we're getting a lot more choices.

    Some choices didn't work. The East India Market, an upscale and rather tony shop, has given way to the latest location for O'Boys Real Smoked Bar-B-Q, and for the most part it's a change for the better. (Although as far as I'm concerned, you just can't have too many places that sell walnut vinegar.)

    Some choices didn't work. The East India Market, an upscale and rather tony shop, has given way to the latest location for O'Boys Real Smoked Bar-B-Q, and for the most part it's a change for the better. (Although as far as I'm concerned, you just can't have too many places that sell walnut vinegar.)

    O'Boys -- which sort of sounds like another teen band -- has been a longtime fave at its West Colonial location near the O-rena. I mean the TD Waterhouse Centre. It's a step or two up from the level of roadhouse-shack smoker joint (which we all love) and many steps below the themed, expensive, "barbecue is an art form" establishment that dots the tourist landscape. You know the ones: all smoke, no flavor. O'Boys, on the other hand, definitely has flavor. It's a nice, comfortable place, nothing fancy about it, with booths around a small bar and a pleasant outdoor eating area. And it sure smells good.

    The menu offers enough variations to satisfy most folk, including Caesar, chef's and green salads liberally topped with chicken or turkey, and a wide range of sandwiches and burgers. But we came here for barbecue, and by gum, we got it.

    The menu offers enough variations to satisfy most folk, including Caesar, chef's and green salads liberally topped with chicken or turkey, and a wide range of sandwiches and burgers. But we came here for barbecue, and by gum, we got it.

    Specials after 3 p.m. are "all-you-can-eat," and if you're lucky enough to come on a Saturday, you can chose beef, pork, chicken or ribs. Otherwise, I'd suggest the "sampler platter," which includes a huge amount of everything for $10.95. The short ribs are moist, and the sliced beef and pork are quite wonderful, slightly pink on the edges with just the right smoked flavor. I have to say I wasn't all that happy with the chicken. It's not as smothered in sauce as some places insist on doing, but the white meat was rather dry. I don't like to have to work quite that hard to chew. I did like the thin-sliced smoked turkey -- tender, with a nice hickory flavor.

    Dinners come with salad or a finely chopped slaw, baked beans and garlic bread, which is nice as long as you eat it when it's hot. Avoid the uninspired french fries; wait until after 5 p.m. and have a baked sweet potato instead. Yum.

    The boys of O'Boys pride themselves on their secret-recipe sauces, and three are offered at the table: a vinegar base, a lovely sweet-and-warm mustard and the Red Bottle. Red means "warning" -- this stuff is hot!

    The boys of O'Boys pride themselves on their secret-recipe sauces, and three are offered at the table: a vinegar base, a lovely sweet-and-warm mustard and the Red Bottle. Red means "warning" -- this stuff is hot!

    O'Boys is a local favorite, and rightfully so. Grab a rack and dig in.

    Between the options to eat in or take out, there's the Olive Branch (314 Hannibal Square, 407-629-1029), directly across the street from Hot Olives (463 W. New England Ave., 407-629-1030), a settled-in spot known for the casual nosh or two. And now we have the cutely named offshoot, where those noshes are available to take home. They do things differently in Winter Park.

    "They make everything across the street and bring it over," I was told at the counter, a glass case brimming with dense meat loaf, salmon with cous cous and chocolate-chip cheesecakes.

    "They make everything across the street and bring it over," I was told at the counter, a glass case brimming with dense meat loaf, salmon with cous cous and chocolate-chip cheesecakes.

    Prices might seem high -- $12 for a whole chicken lasagna -- but the paper-thin sheets of pasta covering layers of shredded chicken, mushrooms and mild tomato sauce weighs in at almost three pounds, and you can always tell folks it's your recipe. I promise I won't say a word.

    Aesthetics always play a role in Thai cooking, more so than in any other cuisine, or so it seems. Artistically pared vegetables lolling in colorful curries plated with near-perfect geodesic mounds of rice are common, and in the case of this Winter Park restaurant, beautiful orchids adorn every dish. And this being Park Avenue, style clearly has a place in Orchid’s small, yet tastefully decorated, dining room: postmodern art pairs gracefully with a serene color scheme illumined by the flicker of candlelight, while the soothing sounds of lounge keep the ambience at a comfortable chill.

    The renovations undertaken by the charming husband-and-wife team have been significant, perhaps in an effort to rid the address of its hex. The space has seen a few eateries bite the dust in the past four years, but if the owners have their way, the only biting taking place will be diners sinking their teeth into traditional Thai meals.

    Green curry ($14), for example, with its rich coconut gravy perfumed with kaffir lime and Thai basil, is a nostril-flaring cross of infernal spice and subtle sweetness, with texture provided by zucchini and bell peppers. The bowl of tom yum soup ($5) may have been small, but it packed a fiery wallop. Plump curls of shrimp smacked with the essence of lemongrass were delightfully crunchy, while bracing bursts of cilantro enlivened the broth. I also enjoyed the curry puffs ($6), with their East-meets-South blend of Indian seasonings and South American form. The flavors resembled a samosa, but the flaky pastry and turnover shape were more like an empanada.

    Mieng kum ($10) suffered from its own trendiness. Spooning the mix of toasted coconut, dried shrimp, peanuts, ginger, onions and tiny wedges of lime into spinach leaves was a cumbersome exercise, and dipping the green wrap into tamarind plum sauce required enough dexterity to discourage the most patient of diners. The larb chicken’s ($18) a better choice if you like your meal inside a leaf. The zing to the salad’s piquant mix of cilantro, mint, red onions and minced chicken is a painful pleasure, though a little more lime juice would’ve offset the slightly desiccated appearance. The dish certainly benefited from a tempered use of fish sauce, which often can overwhelm the flavors of the other ingredients.

    Thai iced coffee ($4), splashed with sweetened condensed milk and ornamented with a pink orchid, was my go-to palate-soother of choice, though exceptionally sticky and salty-sweet coconut rice ($7) crowned with a fleshy slab of mango will also work wonders in dousing fires in your mouth. Thai custard ($5) wasn’t available, but golden Thai doughnuts ($5), sweetened in a peanut-sprinkled dip of condensed milk, were a worthy, if light and airy, substitute.

    Lunchtime selections are limited – though the owners vow that menu expansion will take place in the coming weeks – but that hasn’t stopped diners from enjoying an al fresco nosh at the tables outside. Waitresses are efficient and unobtrusively go about their business inside the small dining room, leaving diners to take in the surroundings and luxuriate in the visual feast.

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