Locations in Orlando

Clear Filters
Loading...
101 results

    If you've ever lived south of the East-West Expressway, in the vicinity of Lake Davis, you probably remember El Rincon, a beer-in-a-bag kind of market at the corner of Mills Avenue and Gore Street. If your timing was good and you caught the place when it was open, which was frustratingly rare, you might find a loaf of white bread and a copy of the paper to go with your tallboy. But only the foolhardy would actually order a sandwich from the place.

    How things have changed since Jim Ellis and Nick Massoni took over in September. El Rincon is now the 903 Mills Market, and it is the heart of a quickly gentrifying neighborhood. The once-dark grocery with bars on the windows is now brightly lit and inviting. You can have lunch or a beer at one of the outside tables and watch the traffic on Mills whiz by. Or sit inside and chat with neighbors as they come and go.

    How things have changed since Jim Ellis and Nick Massoni took over in September. El Rincon is now the 903 Mills Market, and it is the heart of a quickly gentrifying neighborhood. The once-dark grocery with bars on the windows is now brightly lit and inviting. You can have lunch or a beer at one of the outside tables and watch the traffic on Mills whiz by. Or sit inside and chat with neighbors as they come and go.

    903 Mills serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the food is worth a stop. I have yet to eat breakfast there, but the sandwiches are creative, tasty and huge (the "Grateful Bread," a combination of turkey, blue cheese, stuffing, onions and cranberry mayo on sourdough is a personal favorite); the dinner blue plates don't disappoint, and there's always a kettle of soup on.

    903 Mills serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the food is worth a stop. I have yet to eat breakfast there, but the sandwiches are creative, tasty and huge (the "Grateful Bread," a combination of turkey, blue cheese, stuffing, onions and cranberry mayo on sourdough is a personal favorite); the dinner blue plates don't disappoint, and there's always a kettle of soup on.

    Tipplers will appreciate what has to be one of the best beer selections in town. I've never seen He'Brew, Dogfish Head, Flying Dog and White Hawk together in one place before, let alone in a single cooler in a tiny neighborhood store. Wine heads (as distinguished from winos) will dig the monthly tastings.

    Tipplers will appreciate what has to be one of the best beer selections in town. I've never seen He'Brew, Dogfish Head, Flying Dog and White Hawk together in one place before, let alone in a single cooler in a tiny neighborhood store. Wine heads (as distinguished from winos) will dig the monthly tastings.

    In the age of the 7-Eleven, community grocery stores are a rare and wonderful thing, and this one is a gem.

    When I was growing up in DeLand, there just weren't any kosher delis around. I didn't discover blintzes, latkes and matzo ball soup until going off to college in Atlanta. And while these days Orlando hardly brims with traditional Jewish food, the unassuming market and deli Amira's is worth a visit.

    As a kosher deli, cleanliness, food and service at Amira's are supervised by the Orlando Rabbinic Council. But don't ask about the name; I felt like a real schlemiel when I asked our waitress for a translation, and she informed me that "Amira" is the owner's first name.

    My companion and I visited for lunch, served between 11 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. For starters, we split the mini Israeli sampler ($4.95), a smaller version of the Israeli platter ($6.95). I could have made an entire meal out of the falafel (think chickpea hushpuppy) and the eggplant relish, which was similar to ratatouille. The tabouli also was tasty; heavier on parsley than bulghur wheat, it tasted more like a regular salad than other versions I've tried. And while I thought the hummus had too much tahini, my companion pronounced it delicious. Our sampler also came with a big plate of pita bread.

    For my entree, I ordered half a "Virgin Rachel" and a cup of chicken noodle soup ($5.95 for the combo). Even without the customary Swiss cheese, this Rachel was superb. Served grilled on rye bread, it came with a huge, hot stack of pastrami, sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing. The soup stock was marvelous, although there was only one measly piece of chicken hiding in a cup full of noodles. My companion's overstuffed cold corned beef sandwich on rye ($6.95), served plain with condiments on the side, was similarly outstanding. His sandwich came with cole slaw and potato salad, fries or a potato knish. He chose the latter, a spicy mashed-potato mixture inside flaky pastry.

    Other sandwiches include hot or cold beef brisket ($7.25), chopped liver ($5.25), half-pound turkey burgers ($6.25), and quarter-pound chili dogs ($4.45). And excepting Friday evenings, when Amira's is closed, the dinner menu includes stuffed cabbage ($9.95), prime rib ($12.95), half a rotisserie chicken ($9.95), and open-face roast beef or turkey sandwiches (both $7.95).

    It's not like throwing tofu in stir-fries or over noodles is exactly ground-breaking in these parts. Asian restaurants abound in soy offerings, and one of the tastiest tofu dishes in town comes from the long-standing Anh Hong, at the crossroads of Mills Avenue and Colonial Drive. (Parking is around back, so don't be thrown off by the busy intersection.) Just say, "No. 146," to jump into "fried tofu stir fried with lemongrass and chili" ($7.95). The peppery batter flavors up the curd and makes for a satisfying bite once you spear a chunk amidst the lemongrass, red chilis, celery, onions and snow peas, all mixed in a sesame-oil-tinged sauce.

    The thing that'll take the longest is making your way through the eight-panel takeout menu, which offers the subheadings "squid" and "family dishes." Good news for vegetarians: There are 21 choices under "vegetables" ($7.95-$9.95) making use of noodles, vegetables, rice cakes, rice crepes and eggs.

    Subs ($2.50-$5.50) are another cheap staple, with crisp cucumbers, carrots and cilantro added to Vietnamese deli-style meats (bologna and ham), beef stew, grilled pork, beef, chicken or tofu loaded on "French sub" bread. My recent snacking on a bologna sub found the meat to be a bit of a mystery but OK when crunched along with the greenery and the fresh roll.

    Smoothies ($3) are another sure bet at Anh Hong. Mango, strawberry and banana are familiar flavors, along with the more exotic jackfruit, sour sop, sapota and durian (the super-stinky tropical fruit). Experiment if you feel daring, but some fruits, like durian, are an acquired (blech) taste. Add an order of summer rolls (two for $2.50) for a fast takeout lunch.

    The real mystery is what's in the refrigerator case. Neon-colorful cups of gelatins mixed with unrecognizable fruits mingle with strange plastic-wrapped sandwiches and rice blobs; the baffling descriptions on the labels render the contents lost in translation – sample if you dare.

    A good old-fashioned country diner may seem a wee bit out of place on the modern suburban thoroughfare of Lake Mary Boulevard, but that hasn't stopped families from tolerating Appleton's fruity decor (a decor that gets ridiculously kitschy once Halloween and Christmas roll around) and gorging on heaping plates of hearty, greasy goodness. Maybe it's because the Old South vibe here isn't uncomfortably Old South ' it's relaxed, friendly, even a little dowdy, but it's got a distinct charm, and it offers a pre-noon alternative to the Heathrow housewife scene at the Peach Valley Café a couple of miles down the road.

    The waitresses at Appleton's are delightfully old-school and defiantly pleasant in the face of sluggish and disinterested diners. And they can certainly perk up the senses with comments like 'I wouldn't recommend the fruit today,â?� which, while somewhat off-putting, had me in stitches nonetheless.

    So, forgoing the cup of fruit ($2.95), we dove headfirst into one of their 'hearty breakfasts,â?� namely the country-fried steak and eggs ($7.95), which lived up to all expectations. The crunch of the pounded steak was perfect, and the thick sausage gravy that smothered it added a nice kick. Interspersing each bite with eggs over easy sopped up with a homemade country biscuit just made the meaty morning meal all the better.

    'Grits,â?� my dining partner remarked, 'are a serious personal choice.â?� The ones served here are on the thicker side, in need of quite a bit of butter and salt to give them the desired consistency and flavor. On the potato front, I preferred the home fries over the hash browns, though, really, both were good. From the griddle, both the thick French toast ($5.95; short stack, $4.25) and the pillowy pancakes ($5.95; short stack, $4.25) were flawlessly cooked. In keeping with the café's theme, warm apples and cinnamon can be added to your hotcakes for a couple more bucks. My only complaint, and it's an oft-cited one with me when it comes to breakfast joints, is that pure maple syrup isn't offered, even as an upgrade.

    All omelets are prodigious three-egg envelopes with enough sides (your choice of home fries, hash browns or grits and your choice of toast, homemade biscuit or English muffin with plain or cinnamon-raisin bagel) to keep you going until dinner. The Greek omelet ($7.95), however, was just too dry to fully enjoy. The cook was likely distracted from all the other dishes he was cooking and left it in the pan a few minutes too long, a shame considering I was looking forward to downing this eggy number with gyro meat, pepperoncini, black olives and crumbled feta.

    Coffee snobs need to leave their java judgments at the door ' the cup of joe served here is dark, strong and not for the faint of heart. A lunch menu is also offered (the place is open until 3 p.m.) with a variety of comfort food and greasy-spoon fare.

    'The Next Best Thing to Mom's Cookingâ?� is emblazoned on their menu, and while that may be true, their furnishings, particularly in the screened-in back porch, are the next best thing to a Motel 6. Then again, I wouldn't have expected anything less from a place that celebrates its Old Florida character. Biscuits to bacon, Appleton's is down-home to the core.

    Before you associate the Bumby Cafeteria with meatloaf and chocolate cream pie, we should clarify that Bumby Cafeteria is a full-service Latin restaurant, albeit a hole in the wall. About six months ago, it joined the ranks in downtown's closest claim to a Latin quarter – the stretch of Bumby Avenue between Colonial Drive and South Street. While the area doesn't qualify as Little Havana, it does have Medina's Restaurant (Cuban) and Rica Arepa Cafe (Venezuelan).

    Bumby Cafeteria barely seats a dozen customers, and that includes the picnic table out front. The dress code is comfortable, and the food is served on mismatched china, usually with a friendly greeting.

    Bumby Cafeteria barely seats a dozen customers, and that includes the picnic table out front. The dress code is comfortable, and the food is served on mismatched china, usually with a friendly greeting.

    Co-owners Hector and Blanquita Mata hail from Venezuela and Colombia, respectively; manager Pablo Quinones originates from Puerto Rico. Thus the melange of influences, from Cuban sandwiches and black beans heaped with chopped onions, to Venezuelan arepas (cornmeal patties stuffed with ham and cheese), to Spanish pork dinners with rice. Nothing sets you back more than $5.99.

    Co-owners Hector and Blanquita Mata hail from Venezuela and Colombia, respectively; manager Pablo Quinones originates from Puerto Rico. Thus the melange of influences, from Cuban sandwiches and black beans heaped with chopped onions, to Venezuelan arepas (cornmeal patties stuffed with ham and cheese), to Spanish pork dinners with rice. Nothing sets you back more than $5.99.

    Although this is a mom-and-pop operation, service is speedy, making Bumby Cafeteria excellent for takeout. On one visit, pabellon ($5.99) was ready in just under four minutes, featuring shredded beef spiced with tomatoes, peppers and garlic, served with rice and a choice of red or black beans. The red beans, loaded with peppers and onions, were the winner. The Wednesday lunch special ($5.49) was a sturdy chicken breast served in a spicy sauce with a trace of tomatoes. It came with more rice and beans, and a basket of toasted Cuban bread.

    Although this is a mom-and-pop operation, service is speedy, making Bumby Cafeteria excellent for takeout. On one visit, pabellon ($5.99) was ready in just under four minutes, featuring shredded beef spiced with tomatoes, peppers and garlic, served with rice and a choice of red or black beans. The red beans, loaded with peppers and onions, were the winner. The Wednesday lunch special ($5.49) was a sturdy chicken breast served in a spicy sauce with a trace of tomatoes. It came with more rice and beans, and a basket of toasted Cuban bread.

    Tamales ($4.50) are cooked to order, so there's a 15-minute wait. But slice into the corn-husk jacket and you'll find a moist, sweet, filling meal. Better yet, add a jolt of house hot sauce, made with marinated chilis and peppers.

    Tamales ($4.50) are cooked to order, so there's a 15-minute wait. But slice into the corn-husk jacket and you'll find a moist, sweet, filling meal. Better yet, add a jolt of house hot sauce, made with marinated chilis and peppers.

    Don't miss the homestyle coconut ice cream ($2.50), served in a scooped-out coconut shell. And a creamy block of flan goes for just $1.

    Don't miss the homestyle coconut ice cream ($2.50), served in a scooped-out coconut shell. And a creamy block of flan goes for just $1.

    As a potential extra treat, the spokesman for Bumby Cafeteria told me that they're planning on expanding to a 24-hour schedule at some point. After midnight, dining options dwindle, and downtown in particular is ready for an alternative to Denny's, I-Hop, Krystal and the hot-dog grill at 7-Eleven. If and when that comes to pass, it will create some welcomed wee-hours competition.

    I wasn't really expecting big things on my first visit to Athena Cafe. But then they started bringing out the wealth of Greek cuisine: humus, dolmans, moussaka, spanakopita. As I sampled my way from one dish to the next, I decided that in the next life, I'm going to ask to come back as a Greek. It really was that good.

    Although my revelation at Athena was partly due to the vibrance and depth of Greek cuisine as a whole, it's mostly a tribute to the culinary skills of the Said (Sah-eed) family, who emigrated from the region to America 12 years ago, bringing along their favorite recipes.

    Everything was delicious on the day I visited, but especially the dolmades ($3.50), which, translated from the Arabic, means "something stuffed." Marinated grape leaves were wrapped around fillings of rice, lean beef and onions. The deep green leaves were glassy and translucent, firm enough to bind yet giving easily to the bite. They were best when swished through the accompanying tzatziki sauce, a stiff mixture of sour cream, cucumber, garlic and parsley.

    Hummus ($3.25) was almost enough for a meal. A warm, nutty spread of pureed chickpeas was smoothed across a small plate, moistened with olive oil and dusted with spices. On the side was a basket of pita bread, sliced into wedges. These you folded into halves, tucking them with dollops of hummus, diced tomatoes and onions.

    Among the house specialties, moussaka ($3.75) was a full-flavored casserole that could almost be likened to lasagna. Layers of eggplant and sliced potatoes were baked with lean beef, feta cheese, onions and garlic. On top was creamy béchamel sauce, which had become firm from the baking.

    Spanakopita ($3.75), more commonly known as spinach pie, was a hearty pastry, sliced into a generous rectangle and served warm. Dozens of layers of phyllo dough were stacked and baked in a batter of eggs, spinach, onions and feta cheese.

    Warm, spicy and honey-sweet, the traditional baklava ($1.50) was worthy of a dining excursion in itself. Sheets of phyllo were stacked, soaked with butter and syrup, then layered with nuts and baked.

    Athena Cafe isn't open for dinner, but its modest atmosphere is perfect for a casual breakfast or lunch. Popular for its breakfast gyros and Greek omelets in the $3 to $4 price range, this is a busy stop in the morning hours.

    When looking for more than "a good loaf," you'll definitely find it at Au Bon Pain (pronounced ah-bahn-pahn). The high-end bakery-cafe chain with an outpost on every other corner in Manhattan has established its first local site in tourist territory in the Club Hotel at DoubleTree.

    The polished, Art Deco-styled bakery is stocked with its fresh-baked loaves including the famous tomato-basil variety, as well as consistently delicious roast-beef and brie sandwiches, soups in bread bowls, croissants stuffed with chocolate and raspberries, and a killer Boston clam chowder. Vegetarian, low-fat and low-sodium versions are available, too.

    The polished, Art Deco-styled bakery is stocked with its fresh-baked loaves including the famous tomato-basil variety, as well as consistently delicious roast-beef and brie sandwiches, soups in bread bowls, croissants stuffed with chocolate and raspberries, and a killer Boston clam chowder. Vegetarian, low-fat and low-sodium versions are available, too.

    Prices are high – 99 cents for a focaccia bagel, for instance. But there are plush sofas, laptop ports, televisions and plenty of reading material. Other sites in central locations are a strong possibility.

    An unassuming chill cafe where you can drink, sip and catch part of Orlando's local talent. Grab a beer or a glass of our organic wine, listen to live bands, see an indie film, take in some local art or enjoy live comedy and poetry performances. We have something going on every night. Drink, be merry and enjoy!


    Teaser: After the sun sets, Austin's is less about fair trade and fresh roasting and more about moderately expensive microbrews. Squeeze between anarcho-hipsters for live bands, independent film screenings and stand-up comedy. Free Wi-Fi for YouTube riots is a plus; gooch-ish climate, not so much.

    What do you get when you cross Starbucks with Ron Jon's Surf Shop? A coffeehouse with a faux molten volcano, 3-D surf wave, saltwater aquarium and brews with an attitude, aka Bad Ass Coffee Company.

    The fantastical decor of this Hawaiian-rooted chain fits right into its I-Drive location, south of Sand Lake Boulevard – so much so that owners Tom and Linda Clark haven't heard so much as a boo about the Bad Ass name (even though there was a bit of a "brewhaha" over the Tampa store), since they opened their family business in February. The Ass reference pays homage to the donkeys used to transport the harvested beans out of the mountains. They're not just talking dirty.

    Being good parents, the friendly Clark couple invested in the store so that daughter Jennifer, a fresh Florida State University graduate with a master's degree in tax accounting, could follow her dream to open a coffeehouse, because she didn't really like numbers, after all. And it's the only Bad Ass in town.

    This is the place to purchase genuine Kona beans – the only coffee grown in the United States. If you're late to the Kona controversy, there's been much to-do about the sale of fake or blended varieties, even by heavyweights such as Starbucks. The hoopla comes from the fact that Kona beans only grow on a 20-square-mile area on the island of Hawaii. The constant cloud cover and rich soil generate the distinctive low-acid, full-bodied beans that claim top dollar around the world.

    Bad Ass carries a variety of 100 percent Kona roasts, from lightweight American to robust French. The ultimate delicacy in the store is the "Peaberry medium-dark roast" – $22.95 for a half-pound bag, which is a totally reasonable price. Most coffee beans have two halves, but the pea berry has a single core – a natural anomaly – and they are handpicked out of the processing line. A fresh crop won't be in until February, so there's little Kona (much less pea berry) to be found anywhere, except at Bad Ass, which stocked up for the holidays.

    The store carries a lighthearted line of Bad Ass-branded mugs, T-shirts, calendars, even thong underwear. There's a limited menu of "Donkey Feeds" that includes pastries, sandwiches and ice cream served seven days a week.

    The website (www.badasscoffeeorlando.com) is ready for mail orders and shipping is free until Dec. 15.

    'Business casualâ?�: It's a conundrum that most of us have had to wrap our brains around in the last five years or so. Where once there was a uniform for work (suit, tie; pantyhose, pumps) and one for hanging out (either looser or tighter than the daily monkey suit, depending on your proclivities), now we have to parse a version of our home selves that will fly at work. Food has gone through a similar makeover ' once it was split between expensive white-tablecloth restaurants and greasy spoons, but now the lines have blurred. We want to dress up our Gap-khaki turkey sandwiches with dry-clean-only caper pesto.

    Bella Café doesn't redefine the spiffed-up sandwich; it just prepares them very well. No surprises here; the upmarket salads and sandwiches aren't especially creative, but they are put together with care and quality. The board of menu choices can be overwhelming ' everything's been assigned an Italian title, and the descriptions are hard to read ' but there really are no wrong choices.

    Two in our trio went for panini: the 'Montianoâ?� (roast beef, provolone and caramelized onion daubed with super-sweet honey mustard; $7.50) and the 'Tuscanâ?� (juicy grilled chicken breast ' the real thing, not the icky cold-cut variety ' fresh mozzarella and roasted red peppers; $7.50). Both were satisfying, but the real mouth-watering winner was our third companion's choice, the 'Marlianaâ?� ($7.95). A soft baguette ' well, the menu calls it a baguette, but a Frenchman would sneer; I'd label it a crusty roll ' barely managed to contain moist, tender pot roast touched with horseradish and blanketed in cheddar. It was like a portable Sunday dinner. All that was missing was the roasted carrots and potatoes.

    Luckily for me, this companion has a dainty appetite, and I was easily able to talk him out of half of his sandwich. He fell back on his bowl of creamy lobster bisque ($2.99). It was thick as pudding and the color of Thousand Island dressing, lacking the delicate nature one might expect from a usually refined soup, but there were tangible shreds of crustacean.

    On our way out the door, we had to have a bit of gelato ('to settle the stomach,� as my ice-creamaholic father would say). Bella Café serves several flavors of gelato from downtown's Il Gelatone. After sampling tiny spoons of peanut butter and chocolate, we settled for a scoop ($3.25) of dulcet ripe banana and one of raspberry ' studded with tiny crunchy seeds and intensely sweet-tart. After a business-like lunch, we were ready to get back to the casual Orlando Weekly office.

    Despite Bella's distant (to me) location in a busy MetroWest strip mall, I might return soon â?¦ half of that pot-roast sandwich just wasn't enough.

    OK, I'm going to come right out and admit it. When I first heard of a 24-hour Mexican takeout restaurant, I shuddered. Having been out of college for many years, the idea of fast-food-grade tacos before sunrise made me just a little bit queasy.

    And then we went to Beto's, near the congested crossroads of State Road 436 and U.S. Highway 17-92, and I now humbly apologize. There's an old joke about Mexican food being nothing but meat, rice and cheese with different names, and I can tell you that the joke doesn't hold true here. Beto's does not churn out your typical drive-through meals.

    And then we went to Beto's, near the congested crossroads of State Road 436 and U.S. Highway 17-92, and I now humbly apologize. There's an old joke about Mexican food being nothing but meat, rice and cheese with different names, and I can tell you that the joke doesn't hold true here. Beto's does not churn out your typical drive-through meals.

    Look at the "Beto's special carne asada fries" ($5.50), thick-cut french fries smothered in guacamole, sour cream and chopped steak -- not ground meat but real pieces of steak. Or "carnitas" tacos, soft corn tortillas stuffed with roasted pork ($2.25).

    Look at the "Beto's special carne asada fries" ($5.50), thick-cut french fries smothered in guacamole, sour cream and chopped steak -- not ground meat but real pieces of steak. Or "carnitas" tacos, soft corn tortillas stuffed with roasted pork ($2.25).

    I don't usually associate Mexican cooking with potatoes, and, in fact, the "Mexican potato" is actually jicama, a crunchy, sweet tuber much like a water chestnut. (The sweet, syrupy Pina drink that's served is made from jicama; also try Horchata, a traditional rice, almond and cinnamon drink.) So I wasn't expecting the Southwestern influences of the "Texano" burrito ($2.95), filled with rich dark-meat chicken, sour cream, cheese and potatoes, a filling and satisfying combination. I guarantee you will not eat it all at one sitting; likewise the "California" burrito ($3.05), grilled steak, pico de gallo and potato, an old-fashioned meat-and-potato meal in your hand.

    I don't usually associate Mexican cooking with potatoes, and, in fact, the "Mexican potato" is actually jicama, a crunchy, sweet tuber much like a water chestnut. (The sweet, syrupy Pina drink that's served is made from jicama; also try Horchata, a traditional rice, almond and cinnamon drink.) So I wasn't expecting the Southwestern influences of the "Texano" burrito ($2.95), filled with rich dark-meat chicken, sour cream, cheese and potatoes, a filling and satisfying combination. I guarantee you will not eat it all at one sitting; likewise the "California" burrito ($3.05), grilled steak, pico de gallo and potato, an old-fashioned meat-and-potato meal in your hand.

    Still on the burrito kick, the fried-fish-and-tarter-sauce one was exceptional, with crispy fried fish and sharp pico de gallo (spiked with lime) for a West Coast-flavored delight ($2.95). The combination platters ($4.25 to $5.95) are enormous servings of extremely well-executed traditional dishes, using shredded beef (machaca) in enchiladas and chorizo with tortillas. I wish there were more seafood offerings than just fish, but perhaps that will come.

    Still on the burrito kick, the fried-fish-and-tarter-sauce one was exceptional, with crispy fried fish and sharp pico de gallo (spiked with lime) for a West Coast-flavored delight ($2.95). The combination platters ($4.25 to $5.95) are enormous servings of extremely well-executed traditional dishes, using shredded beef (machaca) in enchiladas and chorizo with tortillas. I wish there were more seafood offerings than just fish, but perhaps that will come.

    And then there's breakfast. Never contemplated a stuffed taco in the morning? Beto's serves breakfast burritos unlike any other: giant two-fisted tortillas wrapped around ham and eggs, shredded beef and vegetables, or a steak and egg burrito stuffed with grilled meat, fried eggs, cheese and potatoes. Go very early, because you won't be hungry again for quite a while after finishing one of these.

    And then there's breakfast. Never contemplated a stuffed taco in the morning? Beto's serves breakfast burritos unlike any other: giant two-fisted tortillas wrapped around ham and eggs, shredded beef and vegetables, or a steak and egg burrito stuffed with grilled meat, fried eggs, cheese and potatoes. Go very early, because you won't be hungry again for quite a while after finishing one of these.

    Beto's won't be winning any prizes for its decor, but the interior of the nondescript building (which at various times was a roast-chicken stand, a bagel place and a Chinese takeout) is immaculately clean and comfortable enough for a not-so-quick eat-in, any time of the day or night. Be prepared to bring half home.

    Orlando isn't exactly known for its bike-friendly thoroughfares, what with the lack of good public transportation clogging up streets with sedans and SUVs of every conceivable size. In the early '90s, in fact, the city was consistently voted as one of the worst in the country for cyclists ' I've personally known two people who were hit by careless drivers while enjoying a ride on our mean streets. And while things have improved in recent years (more bikeways, bike racks, bike awareness), the gains aren't worth an ache in the undercarriage if motorists remain oblivious to pedal-pushers. So, given this city's less-than-stellar rep for cycling I, naturally, opted to drive to Bikes, Beans & Bordeaux, a cute little neighborhood café in Audubon Park and a haven for urban bikers.

    The night I visited, a hobbling chap sporting a crutch (a motorist-related mishap, perhaps?) walked in to unwind with a few of his cycling buddies, giving rise to a cacophony louder than a roomful of yellow jerseys. A place for quiet conversation it's not, even when half-full, but the space, decorated in an understated modern style, proves owners Jen and Darrell Cunningham have good taste. For that matter, so did a glass of Marqués de Griñón caliza ($10.50), the blend of Spanish syrah and graciano getting the meal off to clean start. (In honor of the Vuelta a España, or Tour of Spain, there were a few Spanish selections on the wine list.) A thick smoothie of peanut butter, banana, milk, yogurt and honey ($3.95) made for a far more sluggish beginning.

    But the pace picked up again with the sandwiches, many named after famous cyclists. (A suggestion, if I may: the Steve Bauer-y Bum, with slices of rump roast, pearl onions and banana peppers.) The Rasmussen ($6.95), named after Danish cyclist Michael 'The Chickenâ?� Rasmussen, is everything a chicken salad sandwich should be: creamy, crunchy and subtly sweet, thanks to the inclusion of grapes. The café's focus on health means sandwiches are served with your choice of carrot sticks or Flat Earth vegetable chips, as well as a small bag of Jelly Bellys. The caprese panini ($6.95) was perfectly pressed and not a palate-shredder, with just the right ratio of mozzarella-to-tomato-to-basil. But sampling the broccoli cheddar soup ($3.95) was akin to having your bike chain slip off its sprocket. Too runny and devoid of chunkiness, the soup brought the proceedings to a screeching halt. I did get my fill of the thick, wonderful hummus ($6.95), circled by 'spokesâ?� of celery, cukes, carrots, tomato, zucchini and squash.

    Don't expect to have your order taken tableside. The idea is to place it at the counter, after which the meal will be brought to you. I made the mistake of waiting for my order to be taken, and Jen was kind and gracious enough to oblige, but that isn't the norm. It's easy to make that assumption, as the place just looks like it has full table service. I made sure to get off my seat when it came time for dessert, and it's a good thing, too, as both the Nutella cupcake ($1.85) and the chocolate-coconut-butterscotch brownie ($2.95) were finish-line favorites. A cup of Jittery Joe's coffee ($1.45) offered an appropriate kick-start.

    Riding your bike to B3 is encouraged ' just keep your eye on the racks outside, lest you inadvertently re-create a scene from a Vittorio de Sica film. The restaurant business, after all, has always had a cyclical nature.

    In a previous life, I spent a lot of time traveling for business, which brought me to a lot of hotel restaurants, usually alone (sniff). Being perched at a noisy, dimly lit table trying to read a book and eat affords ample time to experience the food, and let me tell you, it was usually a bad experience.

    So my hopes for Bistro 1501, the slightly upscale restaurant at the Orlando Marriott Lake Mary, weren't high, although I always go into an establishment hoping for a fabulous meal. This time, my hopes were answered.

    So my hopes for Bistro 1501, the slightly upscale restaurant at the Orlando Marriott Lake Mary, weren't high, although I always go into an establishment hoping for a fabulous meal. This time, my hopes were answered.

    The room isn't overwhelmingly large, and sitting at the high, cushy banquettes is like having your own private little dining area. I liked the décor -- wood walls and gorgeous glass accents -- and the casual attentiveness of the staff. The food was damn good, too.

    The room isn't overwhelmingly large, and sitting at the high, cushy banquettes is like having your own private little dining area. I liked the décor -- wood walls and gorgeous glass accents -- and the casual attentiveness of the staff. The food was damn good, too.

    Scott Dickenson, former executive chef for the Church Street Station complex, is behind the stove at Bistro, turning out his own recipes of what management calls "American food," which means that the influences are from everywhere.

    Scott Dickenson, former executive chef for the Church Street Station complex, is behind the stove at Bistro, turning out his own recipes of what management calls "American food," which means that the influences are from everywhere.

    Half the menu features seafood. The fish arrives whole in the kitchen and is filleted there.

    Half the menu features seafood. The fish arrives whole in the kitchen and is filleted there.

    My fried-oyster and spinach salad ($7.95) was a huge bowl of tender leaves dressed in a lemony vinaigrette and accompanied by crisp, flattened, fried oysters, sort of shellfish fritters. If you only order this dish, you'll be happy.

    My fried-oyster and spinach salad ($7.95) was a huge bowl of tender leaves dressed in a lemony vinaigrette and accompanied by crisp, flattened, fried oysters, sort of shellfish fritters. If you only order this dish, you'll be happy.

    A simple bowl of seafood chowder is far from simple here, a $3.95 feast of grouper chunks, shrimp (a little overcooked, but delectable) and crabmeat in a thick tomato and corn base with perhaps a bit too much salt.

    A simple bowl of seafood chowder is far from simple here, a $3.95 feast of grouper chunks, shrimp (a little overcooked, but delectable) and crabmeat in a thick tomato and corn base with perhaps a bit too much salt.

    The cream of asparagus "carpe diem" soup du jour ($3.50) didn't suffer from a salt problem and came out rich and marvelously green tasting.

    The cream of asparagus "carpe diem" soup du jour ($3.50) didn't suffer from a salt problem and came out rich and marvelously green tasting.

    The "Captain's grouper" ($19.95) is a guilty pleasure. Topped with lump crabmeat, the perfectly sautéed fish is coated in what tastes like a richly caramelized breading, but is actually a crust of pulverized Captain Crunch cereal. Yes, it sounds disgusting but, heaven help me, it's delicious. And you won't have to eat breakfast the next morning.

    The "Captain's grouper" ($19.95) is a guilty pleasure. Topped with lump crabmeat, the perfectly sautéed fish is coated in what tastes like a richly caramelized breading, but is actually a crust of pulverized Captain Crunch cereal. Yes, it sounds disgusting but, heaven help me, it's delicious. And you won't have to eat breakfast the next morning.

    Over on the carnivorous side of the menu, the 12-ounce New York strip ($20.95) comes to the table glistening from the grill and basted in a red wine reduction. The steak was a bit fatty and not tough, but resistant ... but that's a NY strip after all. The taste was worth it.

    Over on the carnivorous side of the menu, the 12-ounce New York strip ($20.95) comes to the table glistening from the grill and basted in a red wine reduction. The steak was a bit fatty and not tough, but resistant ... but that's a NY strip after all. The taste was worth it.

    Dessert choices are varied and unique, including a must-have apple caramel custard pie, and a very strange-sounding "cheesecake burrito" that I just couldn't get myself to order.

    Dessert choices are varied and unique, including a must-have apple caramel custard pie, and a very strange-sounding "cheesecake burrito" that I just couldn't get myself to order.

    All in all, the surroundings, service and bill of fare makes Bistro 1501 well worth the drive up I-4.

    Restaurants are organic things. Like the tide, they ebb and flow. Owners and names of places change at a dizzying rate. And, in a town where good chefs are a bankable commodity, it can be challenging to keep track of who is cooking what where.

    Who's in the kitchen? It could be a chef from Disney, a woman trained in France or a guy who was managing an Arby's last week. A change can come because someone wonderful becomes available; sometimes it's because someone just left.

    Sometimes it's both. When The Boheme opened in the Westin Grand Bohemian Hotel downtown, Chef Todd Baggett had the enviable job of matching a menu to the expansive art collection and opulent-looking setting that surrounds diners. And mostly he succeeded. When he moved on to Wolfgang Puck's, the vacuum was filled by Robert Mason, former chef at the famous Vic Stewart's steak house in San Francisco and the California Café at Florida Mall. Mason promises he will take the restaurant "to a new level."

    There aren't any changes in the room itself. Same dark woods, massive columns and burgundy accents, same eclectic and sometimes puzzling art.

    As for the kitchen, the highs and lows suggest that Mason's reign also is organic. Our waiter, a bubbly chap, promised that the new fall menu was "more flavorful." I didn't see massive differences between the pre-Mason era and now. The menu still has seafood, and hefty chunks of Angus beef in several incarnations. The "au Poivre" with garlic-pepper crust ($26) is very "flavorful," though not quite as tender as I had expected. Breast of Muscovy duck ($25) and lobster still find their way to the table, and it was good to see the large a la carte vegetables available (order the "exotic mushrooms" -- in fact, order two and you may not need an entree).

    The new dishes fit in with the scheme. A pan-roasted chicken breast, stuffed with vegetables and served atop spaghetti squash ($19), is tender and good; the herb sauce made from the drippings is extraordinary. Combine that with a deceptively simple "Boheme salad" ($6) and its irresistible Gorgonzola vinaigrette dressing, and you'll leave the table happy. But "Shrimp 2 Ways" was four shrimp that tasted almost the same "way," and didn't seem worth 12 bucks.

    A new jazz brunch on Sunday allows you to eat roast turkey, omelets and waffles while hanging out around the $250,000 Imperial Grand Bösen-dorfer piano. Take an extra napkin.

    If you love buffets, there's nothing better than table after table laden with massive and sometimes bizarre combinations of food. But if you dislike or distrust the concept of groaning boards, you'd probably be inclined to avoid Boma - Flavors of Africa, the buffet-style African restaurant at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge. You do so at the risk of missing some unusual and very tasty dishes.

    "Boma" is a fenced space in the Maasai bushland, surrounded by thatch huts and usually home to a chief and his family. The Boma at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge is designed as wonderfully as the rest of the building (the massive thatch cathedral ceiling in the lobby still makes me teary-eyed), with pillars like stacks of huge ceramic pots, a massive copper hood over the hot tables, and hanging lights made of orange, yellow, and green glass gourds. The 270-seat restaurant is open for breakfast and dinner, with a half-dozen "cooking stations" offering serve-yourself salads, soups, meats, seafood, veggies and desserts.

    The servers, all from various African countries, seat more than 1,000 people a day, and dinner will set you back $21.99 (breakfast $14.99). But that price opens the gate to a world of very different (and sometimes unrecognizable) foods, from salmon baked in banana leaves to "zebra mousse."

    Some dishes change by availability, but you'll usually find a thick and creamy carrot soup spiced with ginger, along with curried coconut soup and mulligatawny that show the Indian influence on South African food. The puzzling flavors in the different dishes come from unusual combinations of tamarind, cumin and cinnamon, along with hot chilis, cilantro and papaya. For a mouthful, try the cucumber chutney with the grilled spiced chicken.

    Prime rib and ham (and mac 'n' cheese for the kids) are by far the most unimaginative of the offerings and not really African at all. Better to check out the seafood stews or a wonderful mix of white potatoes and sweet potatoes spiked with cinnamon and pepper. "Pap," a white corn mash almost identical to grits, is served as porridge for breakfast, but made thicker – and sometimes grilled – at dinner. Wines are strictly South African and equal to vintages anywhere; the coffee is Kenyan.

    Boma is an unusual take on the buffet. But it's best to call ahead for priority seating – it could save 45 minutes of agonizing wait time.

    Given the seemingly unambiguous moniker of Boston Bakery & Café, one would expect to find display cases filled with mouthwatering cream pies, cupcakes, whoopee pies, molasses-sweetened brown bread and, perhaps, the odd patron or two downing frothy glass mugs of Irish coffee. Unfortunately, that isn't the case. Instead, this simple café on the fringes of Little Saigon is primarily a Vietnamese restaurant, and lies smack dab in the middle of what I like to call the CoFer District (Colonial Drive and Ferncreek Avenue).

    Further digging revealed that the name isn't so cryptic after all. Owners Tony and Yolanda Vu ran a restaurant in the Boston suburb of Quincy before swapping nor'easters for sweltering zephyrs a year ago. The couple shares kitchen and cooking responsibilities, but it's Yolanda who handles the baking duties.

    A large cake display case sits at the core of the square space, but upon entering, neither 'bakery� nor 'café� are descriptors that immediately leap to mind. In fact, the baby blue'colored walls and children milling about makes it feel more like a nursery or after-school daycare. Even so, I did glimpse a few baguettes resting on sheet pans behind the counter, undoubtedly prepared for one of their many banh mi, or Vietnamese sandwiches (ask for a side of their homemade butter if ordering one).

    But the purpose of this assignment was to spotlight confections, not comestibles, and with Halloween looming, focusing on a place where those of us over the age of 13 could go and satisfy our sweet tooths seemed imperative. So, off to the display case I went in search of treats but, I have to say, I felt slightly tricked after perusing the offerings. Most were cake rolls, birthday cakes and Napoleons that weren't offered by the slice; and there was nary a tart, pie, turnover or éclair in sight.

    Evidently, they were all sold out of personal-sized cakes, but a small, oval-shaped 'cheese cakeâ?� ($2) stared back at me, which I promptly ordered and devoured in four bites. Now this isn't your Cheesecake Factory brand of cheesecake; it's more like pound cake with a layer of soft cream cheese in the center, and rather delicious.

    Pre-packaged cakes made by a friend of the owner are also available, but the plastic wrapping is a total buzz kill.

    Still craving cake and cake-like products, I got myself a chocolate cake roll ($8), which resembled a log made of sponge. Light and airy with a hint of coffee flavoring, the roll embodied a minimalist ideal in both look and taste. I took it home and enjoyed it deeply with a dollop of double Devonshire cream. Simple, unaffected, not too sweet, but far from orgasmic.

    The menu board beckoned to 'experience the slush magicâ?� so, on this particular visit, my accompanying beverage of choice was a perfectly tangy and refreshing passionfruit slushie ($3.50). Other flavors, ranging from mint-chocolate to watermelon, are also offered, each with the option to add chewy 'pearls,â?� or tapioca balls, to the mix for an additional 40 cents. Those rubbery orbs are often found dotting the bottoms of plastic cups filled with milk tea, thus the terms 'bubble tea,â?� 'pearl teaâ?� and 'boba tea.â?� The drink, hugely popular in cities with large Asian populations, was as trendy as Starbucks' lattes among high school and college students when I was growing up in Toronto, and it seems to have a burgeoning following here in Orlando. I enjoyed the sugary Thai bubble tea ($3) until the tapioca balls got stuck in my straw. Neophytes, take heed: When you're offered a straw from the decanter, be sure to choose one wide enough to suck up the balls. Uhh, yeah.

    If sipping bubble tea through a broad, colorful straw seems too emasculating an act, might I suggest the red bean tea ($3.50), sans tapioca. The proteined potable (the sole nod to their Beantown roots) features red bean (or azuki) powder, producing a smoky slurp akin to liquid barbecue.

    Vietnamese coffee ($2), meticulously prepared in a press pot by blending a chicory-flavored French roast with Vietnamese arabica and robusta grounds, will definitely turn your crank. Served in a small glass, the coffee is at once ridiculously strong, syrupy-sweet and glacially creamy thanks to the addition of sweetened condensed milk. Amusing side note: The brand of the chicory-flavored coffee, Café Demonte, is a blatant rip-off of Café du Monde and even comes in a can that looks remarkably similar to the one the venerable Big Easy coffeehouse produces.

    Admittedly, I was a little disappointed in this bakery, especially when, on a return visit, the display case was, once again, devoid of individually portioned baked goods. Pissa! If sweet treats are what you crave this Halloween, avoid being tricked and take your chances at the Publix across the street.

    Briar Patch has much working in its favor: A primo location on Park Avenue that guarantees a steady influx of old fans and curious newcomers, and a menu that's meant to be enjoyed rather than comprehended. That is, if you can get your foot in the door.

    Just try to snag a table around noon on busy weekends, on Saturdays in particular. As countless others have found over the 10 years since it opened, you'll be cooling your heels by the ice-cream counter or out on the sidewalk for 20, 30, even 40 minutes.

    But that doesn't seem to stop most people from coming back for more.

    There's a front-porch coziness that pervades the restaurant, all the way back to the deepest recesses. Althought the seating is packed in as comfortably as possible, you're still likely to be elbow-to-elbow with the diners at the next table.

    The menu rarely overreaches: salad nicoise with albacore tuna ($7.95), two-fisted guacamole and Swiss burgers nestled in piles of potato chips ($7.50), omelets perfumed with pears and Gorgonzola cheese ($6.75), and bow-tie "picnic pasta" with ham, pecans and cheese ($8.95). Many items are tried-and-true favorites that have been on the menu since the beginning.

    Soups of the day are usually pleasing, as we found with the creamy, pungent cheddar-bacon chowder ($3.25). A yummy Gorgonzola and walnut salad was studded with apples and poached chicken ($8.95), proof that the heart-healthy offerings are as tempting as the rest of the menu.

    Among the entrees, eggplant Florentine was worth diving into, with its spinach and mushroom stuffing. The marinara sauce added balance, with the light scent of garden fresh tomatoes.

    By comparison, the "chicken Briar Patch" ($10.95) was inexplicably slim on meat, so that the accompanying cream sauce disappeared into a mountain of angel-hair pasta. Artichokes and mushrooms were tossed generously into the mix, but that was scant reward.

    In the unlikely event that all else fails to please, the Briar Patch has one sure saving grace: awe-inspiring desserts. The ice-cream parlor at the front of the restaurant offers everything from milk shakes and malts, to old-fashioned egg creams, to the infamous "New Orleans Gold Brick Sundae" ($5.95). But we opted for an eye-popping, 10-inch-tall wedge of chocolate layer cake ($5.25) that was worthy of a Bon Appetit cover photo.

    Briar Patch sports the patina of a well-worn gathering place. Despite the occasional menu misses and service that inevitably slows down during peak periods, it remains a favorite dining spot for one really good reason: You can relax over breakfast, lunch or dinner, rather than think about it.

    Broadway Café is a quaint bistro and art gallery located in the heart of downtown Kissimmee. Not only a restaurant, the Café also allows you to dine surrounded by art that isn't just restricted to the walls! Every table is a one-of-a-kind painting depicting scenes ranging from the building in the 1920's to beautiful flora and local scenery. We also offers a variety of coffee drinks, homemade desserts and an ice cream bar! The motto of Broadway Café is â??Where the Creation of Good Food is an Art!â?� so if you enjoy the arts, irresistible food made with pride, and a unique dining experience, come visit us in Historic Downtown Kissimmee!

    You've seen the little chocolate medallions adorning absolutely irresistible pastries, pies and cakes around town (at Ba Le, for example), the ones imprinted with the name "Bruno's Gourmet Kitchen." They've always been a sign to me that, if nothing else, dessert was going to be a something special.

    Fortunately for all of us sugar addicts -- ones with taste, of course – Bruno Ponsot has opened his doors in Sanford to the salivating public. Ponsot has trained with legendary chefs Paul Bocuse, Alain Ducasse and Gaston Lenotre, and has served as head chef locally at Le Coq au Vin and Le Provence.

    Fortunately for all of us sugar addicts -- ones with taste, of course – Bruno Ponsot has opened his doors in Sanford to the salivating public. Ponsot has trained with legendary chefs Paul Bocuse, Alain Ducasse and Gaston Lenotre, and has served as head chef locally at Le Coq au Vin and Le Provence.

    The man knows pastry. From his Bavarian Charlotte cake, filled with Bavarian cream, fresh berries and Chambord liqueur, to miniature éclairs and fruit tarts, this is a world-class patisserie that's worth the trip from anywhere.

Calendar

Newsletters

Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

© 2019 Orlando Weekly

Website powered by Foundation