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    Judging from the packed parking lot, we thought we were about to experience Steaks "R" Us. And since we spotted quite a few "Jeb!" and Confederate flag bumper stickers, we weren't quite sure what else to expect. A gaudy marquee announced Sam Seltzer's Steakhouse to the traffic on State Road 436, and a small group of fiberglass cow statues greeted us at the front door.

    And so we found ourselves lining up with hundreds of other carnivores at the restaurant that bills itself as "the biggest steakhouse in town." Steak World might be a better name. The smoking section alone seats about 110 people, and the restaurant holds a total of 375 customers. On a busy night, it's almost like visiting a Disney satellite attraction, where hundreds of animatrons sit neatly at tables, chewing politely on their red-meat fix.

    And so we found ourselves lining up with hundreds of other carnivores at the restaurant that bills itself as "the biggest steakhouse in town." Steak World might be a better name. The smoking section alone seats about 110 people, and the restaurant holds a total of 375 customers. On a busy night, it's almost like visiting a Disney satellite attraction, where hundreds of animatrons sit neatly at tables, chewing politely on their red-meat fix.

    The seating is arranged into dining clusters through a series of rooms, so at least you aren't elbow-to-elbow with the masses. After scanning the appetizer menu, we chose the deep-fried onion blossom -- of course. It's required eating in a steakhouse, and it seems like every restaurant trots out the same basic version these days. Here, it's called "Sam's wild onion rose" ($4.95), and it was not bad at all -- crisp and crunchy, not greasy a bit, served with a peppery horseradish-Thousand Island dressing.

    The seating is arranged into dining clusters through a series of rooms, so at least you aren't elbow-to-elbow with the masses. After scanning the appetizer menu, we chose the deep-fried onion blossom -- of course. It's required eating in a steakhouse, and it seems like every restaurant trots out the same basic version these days. Here, it's called "Sam's wild onion rose" ($4.95), and it was not bad at all -- crisp and crunchy, not greasy a bit, served with a peppery horseradish-Thousand Island dressing.

    "Sam's wings & ribs" ($6.95) turned out to be drummettes and ribs, but they were fall-off-the-bone tender, glazed with a sweet barbecue sauce. In fact, they were far more tender than my 16-ounce rib-eye ($13.95), which the menu promised would be "exquisitely tender" but wasn't. My guest's 10-ounce filet mignon ($14.95) was the best thing we had that evening. It was cooked properly medium, with a hot, pink center. Our dinners came with a choice of salads and sides, and our favorite was the garlic mashed potatoes. The creamed spinach was excruciatingly bland.

    "Sam's wings & ribs" ($6.95) turned out to be drummettes and ribs, but they were fall-off-the-bone tender, glazed with a sweet barbecue sauce. In fact, they were far more tender than my 16-ounce rib-eye ($13.95), which the menu promised would be "exquisitely tender" but wasn't. My guest's 10-ounce filet mignon ($14.95) was the best thing we had that evening. It was cooked properly medium, with a hot, pink center. Our dinners came with a choice of salads and sides, and our favorite was the garlic mashed potatoes. The creamed spinach was excruciatingly bland.

    If you have room for dessert, there is a great "chocolate explosion" ($4.50) that features a triple-whammy of cake, mousse and brownie, dunked with hot fudge sauce and topped with vanilla ice cream.

    If you have room for dessert, there is a great "chocolate explosion" ($4.50) that features a triple-whammy of cake, mousse and brownie, dunked with hot fudge sauce and topped with vanilla ice cream.

    Our waiter was on the ball, obliging every request and checking on us frequently, which couldn't have been easy considering how fast the place filled up. Sam Seltzer's is a notch above the more generic steak shacks, but it's also handy for those times when you don't want to part with the monthly power-bill allowance to feed your craving at Ruth's Chris Steak House or Del Frisco's.

    Here are some quick tips for those who don't have an entire evening to kill at Seasons 52, the new "test" restaurant on Sand Lake Road from the Darden folks (Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Bahama Breeze).

    Don't go there on a Friday night. Don't go after 7:30 p.m. Don't try to make a reservation; they're booked for weeks. Don't go there now. But once the newness wears off, go there.

    Don't go there on a Friday night. Don't go after 7:30 p.m. Don't try to make a reservation; they're booked for weeks. Don't go there now. But once the newness wears off, go there.

    Seasons 52 is what they're calling a "fresh grill." The concept ties seasonal items and global specialties into the menu, trying to make the most of what's currently available. Basically, that means some dishes will come and go throughout the year, while others will change when, say, asparagus is harvested in California or strawberries reach their peak here.

    Seasons 52 is what they're calling a "fresh grill." The concept ties seasonal items and global specialties into the menu, trying to make the most of what's currently available. Basically, that means some dishes will come and go throughout the year, while others will change when, say, asparagus is harvested in California or strawberries reach their peak here.

    Even if you're not a salad person, the mixture of baby spinach and Comice pear from Oregon, drizzled with lemon vinaigrette and blue cheese, is a perky delight ($4.75). And even with the occasional grit, the large "Fisherman's bowl" of mussels ($8.50), fragrant with an orange-ginger broth, is worth ordering, just to slurp every drop from the bowl. By comparison, the much-touted chicken flatbread ($7.50), a long slab of thin, oven-roasted bread wasn't as impressive, undercooked in spots but crunchy and savory in others.

    Even if you're not a salad person, the mixture of baby spinach and Comice pear from Oregon, drizzled with lemon vinaigrette and blue cheese, is a perky delight ($4.75). And even with the occasional grit, the large "Fisherman's bowl" of mussels ($8.50), fragrant with an orange-ginger broth, is worth ordering, just to slurp every drop from the bowl. By comparison, the much-touted chicken flatbread ($7.50), a long slab of thin, oven-roasted bread wasn't as impressive, undercooked in spots but crunchy and savory in others.

    A rare presence in restaurants, chunks of mesquite-grilled turkey were presented with great flair on a kabob with red onions from Maui, and a sweet, dark tamarind glaze ($12.75). I cannot imagine it being done any better.

    A rare presence in restaurants, chunks of mesquite-grilled turkey were presented with great flair on a kabob with red onions from Maui, and a sweet, dark tamarind glaze ($12.75). I cannot imagine it being done any better.

    Grilled sea scallops ($17.95), giant discs pan-browned with fresh asparagus on the side, hovered right on the cusp of absolute greatness, and if they'd stayed in the skillet 30 seconds more they would have been.

    Grilled sea scallops ($17.95), giant discs pan-browned with fresh asparagus on the side, hovered right on the cusp of absolute greatness, and if they'd stayed in the skillet 30 seconds more they would have been.

    Another interesting concept: Waiters come equipped with a wireless PDA (a sort of personal dining assistant) that not only feeds orders directly to the kitchen, but accesses nutritional information for every meal, on request. (Locally based nutritionist/writer Pam Smith, an expert on health and how people really eat, consulted on the menu.)

    Another interesting concept: Waiters come equipped with a wireless PDA (a sort of personal dining assistant) that not only feeds orders directly to the kitchen, but accesses nutritional information for every meal, on request. (Locally based nutritionist/writer Pam Smith, an expert on health and how people really eat, consulted on the menu.)

    The room is large but with a feeling of intimacy. There's a great use of woods and windows, and everything fits, from the fabulous silverware to the energetic and casual but attentive service. And the chefs have great hats. While you're waiting for a table (even at 5:30 p.m. there was a 30-minute wait) the pleasant bar offers 60-plus wines by the glass.

    The room is large but with a feeling of intimacy. There's a great use of woods and windows, and everything fits, from the fabulous silverware to the energetic and casual but attentive service. And the chefs have great hats. While you're waiting for a table (even at 5:30 p.m. there was a 30-minute wait) the pleasant bar offers 60-plus wines by the glass.

    Another "test" concept, Outback Steakhouse's Zazarac (which I liked), wasn't open long enough to be entered on a resume. I can't predict that the kitchens at Seasons 52 will be permanent enough to live out its name. But if it does, go.

    Tucked away on Edgewater Drive, the tiny cottage called Shakers has served its tried-and-true breakfast and lunch menu for ages without becoming outdated. It's the kind of place that can be counted on like clockwork, opening every morning at 7 a.m., except for Sunday.

    Named for the kitschy collection of salt and pepper shakers that contribute to a modest dŽcor that's part diner and part country kitchen, Shakers holds less than 20 tables and by 11:30 a.m. on a weekday, those tables fill up fast for the lunch crowd.

    Named for the kitschy collection of salt and pepper shakers that contribute to a modest dŽcor that's part diner and part country kitchen, Shakers holds less than 20 tables and by 11:30 a.m. on a weekday, those tables fill up fast for the lunch crowd.

    Now remember, breakfast is only served until 10:30 a.m., and the choices cover the gamut of familiar day-starters. A variety of three-egg omelets are offered, such as the "chef's omelet" ($5.25), filled with mushrooms, ham, bacon, tomato, potato and cheddar cheese. Add a small stack of blueberry pancakes ($2.75) or biscuits and gravy ($2.15), or choose from side items that range from kielbasa ($2.10) to grits (45 cents).

    Now remember, breakfast is only served until 10:30 a.m., and the choices cover the gamut of familiar day-starters. A variety of three-egg omelets are offered, such as the "chef's omelet" ($5.25), filled with mushrooms, ham, bacon, tomato, potato and cheddar cheese. Add a small stack of blueberry pancakes ($2.75) or biscuits and gravy ($2.15), or choose from side items that range from kielbasa ($2.10) to grits (45 cents).

    Lunch can be ordered all day, and the options are impressive. There's a full menu of "gourmet" salads, sandwiches, soups and quiches, along with daily specials that can be as fancy as fresh grilled fish (grouper $7.95, salmon $7.50).

    Lunch can be ordered all day, and the options are impressive. There's a full menu of "gourmet" salads, sandwiches, soups and quiches, along with daily specials that can be as fancy as fresh grilled fish (grouper $7.95, salmon $7.50).

    The slice of artichoke-broccoli quiche ($6.35) we ordered arrived with a fresh fruit salad. The thick quiche filling was topped with a layer of melted cheddar cheese – heavy but satisfying. The egg salad sandwich ($3.75) was a lighter item, but also amply loaded and dressed with crisp lettuce and juicy tomatoes.

    The slice of artichoke-broccoli quiche ($6.35) we ordered arrived with a fresh fruit salad. The thick quiche filling was topped with a layer of melted cheddar cheese – heavy but satisfying. The egg salad sandwich ($3.75) was a lighter item, but also amply loaded and dressed with crisp lettuce and juicy tomatoes.

    There's not enough space inside Shakers to satisfy their customers' demands, so they do a lot of takeout and catering business. Just go to the website, www.shakerscafe.com, for a listing of that day's specials, plus all the other details needed to place a mother of a takeout order. They handle mega lunch orders like clockwork, too.

    We were told the wait would be 25 minutes, which wasn't surprising given it was Saturday night and that we hadn't made reservations at Shula's 347 Grill, a casual spinoff of the Don's chain of upscale steakhouses. A hightop table was offered, but we politely declined, took a seat on the curvilinear silver sofa and opted to wait it out. But someone in the front of the house must have decided to run the hurry-up offense, because not two minutes later, we were being seated at a table in the back of the restaurant, away from the din and clamor of the bar. We may not have been seated in those cozy plush leather booths (they were all occupied), but we had sufficient privacy, given the entire back row of tables was free of diners.

    The '347� is a reference to the number of wins Don Shula amassed over his 33-year coaching career. It's safe to say Shula has notched another win with this restaurant situated inside the Westin Lake Mary hotel, but it isn't resounding enough a win to compel us to come, ahem, running back. For one, the potential for a burgeoning hotel-bar pick-up scene isn't really one we particularly care for, nor is the incessant clatter ringing through the restaurant. Understandably, it's the restaurant's raison d'être and the milieu many of its patrons look for. Part sports bar, part trendy steakhouse, Shula's 347 undoubtedly benefits from the spillage from bars and restaurants situated across the street in the Colonial TownPark. 

    The space itself is attractive, with metallic steel-grey walls, chrome accents, polished hardwood floors and a centerpiece wine vault splitting the lounge from the dining area. It's a high-energy joint in which our sprightly waiter seemed perfectly comfortable. His suggestion that we start with the honey-sesame chicken ($9) was a good one; the seemingly prosaic starter was a delight ' fried orbs of chicken came in a bowl zested with ginger and stacked with plenty of cabbage and green and red onions for a healthy crunch. But beef is what we really came for, and we were a little saddened to see only four cuts available, three of which were of the 'Shula Cut� variety (premium Black Angus beef that exceeds seven of the eight standards qualifying steaks as USDA Prime). The 10-ounce flatiron steak ($26), while cooked perfectly, was somewhat marred by the spice rub and a pool of red wine demi-glace. A heap of crispy fried onions were a nice topping, but a little less adulteration would've benefited this steak. 

    For a few bucks more, the cowboy steak ($32) was simply outstanding. The wonderful marbling and flavor running through this 16-ounce bone-in ribeye made it a dish we'd seriously consider returning for, though next time we'd probably just eat it outside on the patio. We didn't care for the sides of corn-edamame succotash (the texture didn't mesh well with the juicy steak) or the dry citrus rice pilaf. 

    Seafood and sandwiches comprise a hefty chunk of the menu, and we were thoroughly gratified by the fish of the day, a hefty chunk of grouper ($26), simply grilled and served with asparagus drizzled with a balsamic vinaigrette and creamy smashed potatoes. After waiting a while for our dessert order, we ultimately indulged in a divine wedge of warm chocolate cake ($8) and vanilla-bean crème brûlée, a now all-too familiar and common standby. In retrospect, the same claim can be made for Shula's 347.

    The Smiling Bison
    On certain nights, there's live music, and nothing's better at the Bison than being adventurous and trying new beers on draft while soaking in the sounds on Jazz Tuesdays. They retained the marvelous bar many of us perched around when Redlight Redlight occupied the space, which means the Bison bar top similarly serves as communal grounds for random small talk with other barflies.

    From the specialty styles of South Carolina and Alabama to Kansas City and beyond, you can have barbecue every which way in this town. With the arrival of Smokey Bones BBQ across from Fashion Square, there's another option: Rocky Mountain-style.

    The restaurant's origins go back to the late '60s, when the founder built a smoker out of an old section of the Rocky Mountain pipeline. As legend has it, the makeshift cooker produced the best barbecue anyone had ever tasted.

    The restaurant's origins go back to the late '60s, when the founder built a smoker out of an old section of the Rocky Mountain pipeline. As legend has it, the makeshift cooker produced the best barbecue anyone had ever tasted.

    But we found that the menu is less inspired by the Rockies than is the atmosphere: Smokey's looks like a cross between a sports bar and a mountain lodge, with rugged wood furniture and stacked slate walls. Televisions are positioned around the bar, always tuned into a game. In general, the barbecue is the same as what you could find at Sonny's or Fat Boy's. But in some cases, it's better. One thing is certain, this is a great place to get a lot of food for not much money. Barbecue sandwiches start at $4.59, and that includes a mess of fries.

    But we found that the menu is less inspired by the Rockies than is the atmosphere: Smokey's looks like a cross between a sports bar and a mountain lodge, with rugged wood furniture and stacked slate walls. Televisions are positioned around the bar, always tuned into a game. In general, the barbecue is the same as what you could find at Sonny's or Fat Boy's. But in some cases, it's better. One thing is certain, this is a great place to get a lot of food for not much money. Barbecue sandwiches start at $4.59, and that includes a mess of fries.

    The trick is careful selection. Some items range from generic ("crunchy chicken fingers") to scary ("BBQ chicken pizza toast"). Our cup of beef and bean chili ($1.99) was a good choice. Loaded with tender cubes of beef, it had a rich, aromatic, spicy broth that wasn't the least bit greasy. Try spooning it over a plate full of spicy cheese fries ($2.99) that are already smothered with melted cheddar cheese dotted with pieces of jalapeño peppers.

    The trick is careful selection. Some items range from generic ("crunchy chicken fingers") to scary ("BBQ chicken pizza toast"). Our cup of beef and bean chili ($1.99) was a good choice. Loaded with tender cubes of beef, it had a rich, aromatic, spicy broth that wasn't the least bit greasy. Try spooning it over a plate full of spicy cheese fries ($2.99) that are already smothered with melted cheddar cheese dotted with pieces of jalapeño peppers.

    Even in the higher price ranges, there are good deals. The "50/50" combo ($13.99) made our mouths water: A half rack of baby back ribs were smoked until the meat could barely hang onto the bone. They were teamed up with a slab of meaty spare ribs which were delicately charred on the outside.

    Even in the higher price ranges, there are good deals. The "50/50" combo ($13.99) made our mouths water: A half rack of baby back ribs were smoked until the meat could barely hang onto the bone. They were teamed up with a slab of meaty spare ribs which were delicately charred on the outside.

    Another good choice would be the combo platter which comes with lean cuts of sliced pork and beef that are plenty tender, and a link of flavorful smoked sausage ($9.99).

    Another good choice would be the combo platter which comes with lean cuts of sliced pork and beef that are plenty tender, and a link of flavorful smoked sausage ($9.99).

    The only thing that disappointed us was the garlic toast. It was dry and withered, having spent too much time under the broiler. Everything else was up to par, including a creamy slaw and beans that were so thick we ate them with a fork.

    The only thing that disappointed us was the garlic toast. It was dry and withered, having spent too much time under the broiler. Everything else was up to par, including a creamy slaw and beans that were so thick we ate them with a fork.

    The fresh-baked apple cobbler a la mode was an impressive hunk of dessert, so hot and bubbly we had to let it sit for a few minutes. But it tasted like something reclaimed from a deep freeze ($2.79).

    The fresh-baked apple cobbler a la mode was an impressive hunk of dessert, so hot and bubbly we had to let it sit for a few minutes. But it tasted like something reclaimed from a deep freeze ($2.79).

    Smokey's appeared to be overstaffed, which was a good thing. Open for only a couple of weeks, Smokey Bones is up to a 90-minute wait for tables on Saturday nights. But with plenty of friendly, efficient staff to look after us, we were in and out in less than an hour.

    The primary draw to this NoCal-inspired bar is the 49 beers on tap, though a case could be made for the plump roast wings and inviting wraparound patio as well. "Cast iron" burgers and "stone fire" pizzas are anchors on a menu highlighting good, simple grub, and a small list of wines plays up the Sonoma County angle.

    Picture this: A smart-looking grill and tavern at Heathrow, part of an up-and-coming chain founded by a couple of Darden Restaurants refugees. We thought we knew the drill: big brews, plenty of animal protein and a menu that tastes like it was prepared by bookkeepers from corporate headquarters.

    But we really loved Stonewood Tavern and Grill, and so does the neighborhood, even though the place has been open less than a month. Stonewood has become an instant player in the Lake Mary/Heathrow area. Part of its allure is the rustic elegance: The tavern and dining area are pulled together by stacked stone walls, rich wood tables and high-backed booths so plush you could take a nap in them. (And the jeans-clad waiters are so friendly, they probably wouldn't mind.) Lighting design adds to the feng shui; recessed into high ceilings, the lights illuminate the walkways, with a subtle spotlight aimed at the center of each table. The focus is on the meat lover's menu, highlighted by the many offerings that are smoked over an oak-wood grill.

    But we really loved Stonewood Tavern and Grill, and so does the neighborhood, even though the place has been open less than a month. Stonewood has become an instant player in the Lake Mary/Heathrow area. Part of its allure is the rustic elegance: The tavern and dining area are pulled together by stacked stone walls, rich wood tables and high-backed booths so plush you could take a nap in them. (And the jeans-clad waiters are so friendly, they probably wouldn't mind.) Lighting design adds to the feng shui; recessed into high ceilings, the lights illuminate the walkways, with a subtle spotlight aimed at the center of each table. The focus is on the meat lover's menu, highlighted by the many offerings that are smoked over an oak-wood grill.

    From the start it was clear that our attempts to have a linear conversation would be useless: Every time a fresh wave of handiwork arrived from the kitchen, we forgot whatever it was we were talking about.

    From the start it was clear that our attempts to have a linear conversation would be useless: Every time a fresh wave of handiwork arrived from the kitchen, we forgot whatever it was we were talking about.

    The "oak-grilled shrimp" appetizer ($7.45) is well worth the splurge; the bright-pink crustaceans were succulently steeped in tempting woodsy aromas, and they were excellent when dipped in the avocado-basil sauce. Attention also must be paid to "walla walla" fried onions ($5.95), which were jumbo onion sticks dipped in buttermilk batter, fried to a greaseless crisp and served with red-pepper sauce.

    The "oak-grilled shrimp" appetizer ($7.45) is well worth the splurge; the bright-pink crustaceans were succulently steeped in tempting woodsy aromas, and they were excellent when dipped in the avocado-basil sauce. Attention also must be paid to "walla walla" fried onions ($5.95), which were jumbo onion sticks dipped in buttermilk batter, fried to a greaseless crisp and served with red-pepper sauce.

    For an entree, you could fork over a bundle for the lamb chops ($19.95) encrusted with herbs or the "Pacific cliffs salmon" ($16.95) coated with almonds and brandied blueberry compote. But the sandwiches are excellent, too, and they come with heaps of fries. Or try the pan-seared grouper with ginger-wasabi mayonnaise ($8.45).

    For an entree, you could fork over a bundle for the lamb chops ($19.95) encrusted with herbs or the "Pacific cliffs salmon" ($16.95) coated with almonds and brandied blueberry compote. But the sandwiches are excellent, too, and they come with heaps of fries. Or try the pan-seared grouper with ginger-wasabi mayonnaise ($8.45).

    The tender and juicy "pork Adirondack" ($15.95), a tenderloin sautéed in white-wine mushroom sauce, is about as good as pork gets. And although it doesn't quite qualify as truly great, the scorching New York strip steak ($20.95) was still a source of pleasure. The prime-grade cut of beef was dry aged and sizzled with a bit of butter.

    The tender and juicy "pork Adirondack" ($15.95), a tenderloin sautéed in white-wine mushroom sauce, is about as good as pork gets. And although it doesn't quite qualify as truly great, the scorching New York strip steak ($20.95) was still a source of pleasure. The prime-grade cut of beef was dry aged and sizzled with a bit of butter.

    Service was great and collaborative; the whole team knew what they were doing, with the exception of a baked potato that arrived with the works on top, not on the side as requested.

    Service was great and collaborative; the whole team knew what they were doing, with the exception of a baked potato that arrived with the works on top, not on the side as requested.

    For a new entry, Stonewood carries the smell of success.

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