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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.

Although we tend to think of "Indian" as one cuisine, there are many cultures within that country, and diets differ dramatically. In general, the food of Southern India is fragrant with curry leaves, coconuts and tamarind. In the North, cream and yogurt are common ingredients and the predominant spice is garam masala, a mixture based on cardamom, clove, black pepper and cumin.

Serving Northern-style cuisine is just what Amit Kumar and partner Joy Kakkanad were after when they opened Aashirwad (meaning "blessing") last November on the south side of Orlando. And although that is not a part of town hungering for an Indian restaurant, the owners wanted to set themselves apart by keeping the cost affordable.

This is certainly the case at lunch, when Aashirwad serves a tasty, if depleted at times, buffet for only $6.95. Every day, the buffet is stocked with favorites such as chicken tikka masala, tandoori chicken, curry and rice. They also have salad and a rotating array of vegetarian items that make this buffet well worth the price of admission. But it's necessary to exercise patience when eating here – service is slow, and they don't always keep the buffet completely stocked. My second trip to the mother lode was fraught with empty chafing dishes (in one there were three florets of cauliflower) and puddles of spilled curry sauce. Eventually we were waited on, and eventually the buffet was restocked. Even though this wasn't a fast lunch, I would happily recommend it for the frugal and hungry.

The dinner experience at Aashirwad is more suggestive of the basic hospitality background studied by Kumar and Kakkanad in hotel/restaurant management school in India: They keep the lights low, the music medium and the service high. Still, the restaurant is in a strip mall on the corner of International Drive and Kirkman Road, and the dining room itself is nothing special, just a collection of booths and tables and Indian-inspired wall hangings.

We started our meal with aromatic vegetable samosas ($3.50), delicate and flaky pastry snugly enfolding a mixture of potatoes and peas. Most of the vegetables at Aashirwad seemed slightly abused, as if they were overcooked or kept around too long, and the starchy-tasting veggies in the samosas were no exception.

Both the tandoori chicken ($11.95) and the tandoori mixed grill ($15.95) were fabulously flavorful and rich with the characteristic charred smokiness of the signature clay oven. The lamb that comes as part of the mix was succulent and moist, but the morsels of chicken were on the dry side. A nice element of surprise was the addition of grilled paneer (Indian-style cottage cheese); the smooth creaminess of the cheese and the spiciness of the seasonings blended quite beautifully.

I was disappointed with Aashirwad's version of palak paneer ($9.45), creamy spinach with cubes of Indian cheese. The spinach lacked the usual creaminess and tasted flat; the cheese – though very tasty itself – kind of hung in suspension and seemed out of place.

Many things we tasted were good but were shy of being great. The cucumber and yogurt condiment, raita ($1.95), didn't burst with flavor; the chickpea crackers with cumin seeds, pappadam (complimentary), were slightly greasy; the lentils with tomatoes and onions, tadka dal ($8.95), had a watery quality. But the tandoor-baked bread, naan ($1.50) was spectacular: springy and soft in the center, yet crisp and smoky on the outside where it melded with the heat of the clay oven.

I have a feeling this restaurant hasn't quite hit its stride yet. Until then, I'll go back just for the naan.

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).

Pizza without beer? Lasagna without wine? It's unthinkable according to Anthony Marku's standards, but then he's a native of Italy and the owner of Thornton Park's newest restaurant, Anthony's Pizza Cafe.

Marku feels so strongly about the pairings that he's prepared to start giving away beer and wine at his establishment – and he may have to do just that. Last week, the City Council, acting on the interests of a handful of residents concerned about adding another outlet for alcohol in their neighborhood, once again shot down his appeal for a permit to sell beer and wine.

Marku feels so strongly about the pairings that he's prepared to start giving away beer and wine at his establishment – and he may have to do just that. Last week, the City Council, acting on the interests of a handful of residents concerned about adding another outlet for alcohol in their neighborhood, once again shot down his appeal for a permit to sell beer and wine.

For the meantime, the Thornton Park dining district is confusing, with regard to spirits. Customers can belly up to the bar in droves at Dexter's, Chez Jose Mexican and Burton's Bar & Grill. But across the street at Anthony's, you have to bring your own bottle or visit the 7-Eleven.

For the meantime, the Thornton Park dining district is confusing, with regard to spirits. Customers can belly up to the bar in droves at Dexter's, Chez Jose Mexican and Burton's Bar & Grill. But across the street at Anthony's, you have to bring your own bottle or visit the 7-Eleven.

Even so, only one month after opening, Anthony's is shaping up as a popular dining spot. Located in a former car-repair shop that's been gutted and washed with bronze colors and a Tuscan atmosphere, the two dozen tables inside and on the courtyard are usually filled on Friday nights. This is casual, affordable Italian food at its best, prepared traditionally.

Even so, only one month after opening, Anthony's is shaping up as a popular dining spot. Located in a former car-repair shop that's been gutted and washed with bronze colors and a Tuscan atmosphere, the two dozen tables inside and on the courtyard are usually filled on Friday nights. This is casual, affordable Italian food at its best, prepared traditionally.

But don't come here if you're trying to save calories – there's nowhere to hide. The cheesy garlic bread appetizer is out of this world and a steal at $2.25. An Italian baguette is sliced down the middle, lusciously soaked with garlic butter and capped with whole-milk mozzarella cheese. Then it's lightly bronzed under the broiler.

But don't come here if you're trying to save calories – there's nowhere to hide. The cheesy garlic bread appetizer is out of this world and a steal at $2.25. An Italian baguette is sliced down the middle, lusciously soaked with garlic butter and capped with whole-milk mozzarella cheese. Then it's lightly bronzed under the broiler.

Lunch and dinner mainly consist of subs, pizzas and pasta entrees. Some of the portions are gargantuan. We asked for a small "special stromboli" ($6.95) and were presented with a virtual football, stuffed with mozzarella, pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, green peppers, onions and ham. The "VIP stuffed pizza" is daunting, too, with a double crust filled with all of the above, plus cappicolla and Genoa salami. Just one slice ($3.50) is the size of most restaurants' personal pizzas, and a large pie ($24) would serve a crowd.

Lunch and dinner mainly consist of subs, pizzas and pasta entrees. Some of the portions are gargantuan. We asked for a small "special stromboli" ($6.95) and were presented with a virtual football, stuffed with mozzarella, pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, green peppers, onions and ham. The "VIP stuffed pizza" is daunting, too, with a double crust filled with all of the above, plus cappicolla and Genoa salami. Just one slice ($3.50) is the size of most restaurants' personal pizzas, and a large pie ($24) would serve a crowd.

A lighter choice would be the spinach pizza, topped with white cheeses and spinach ($2.25 slice, $8.95 small pie).

A lighter choice would be the spinach pizza, topped with white cheeses and spinach ($2.25 slice, $8.95 small pie).

Pastas are just as good. We tried a heaping portion of delicious spaghetti ($6.25), topped with sweet, basil-infused marinara sauce and meatballs the size of golf balls.

Pastas are just as good. We tried a heaping portion of delicious spaghetti ($6.25), topped with sweet, basil-infused marinara sauce and meatballs the size of golf balls.

Even without beer and wine, Anthony's is positioned to become a fixture in the Thornton Park enclave.

Antonio's Café Downstairs has long been a favorite alternative to its fancier, upstairs sister, though it meant standing in line at the counter to place your order. Now the operation has been jazzed up, with full table service and new menus for both lunch and dinner.

Before ordering, be sure to check out the specials and look over the salads, meats and cheeses in the deli case. The focaccia topped with herbs, olive oil and tomato ($2.95) is heavenly; the lasagne di vegetali has chunks of fresh vegetables. ($6.25). Try any of the tasty pizzas or calzones, but there can be a wait for these made-to-order specialties.

Before ordering, be sure to check out the specials and look over the salads, meats and cheeses in the deli case. The focaccia topped with herbs, olive oil and tomato ($2.95) is heavenly; the lasagne di vegetali has chunks of fresh vegetables. ($6.25). Try any of the tasty pizzas or calzones, but there can be a wait for these made-to-order specialties.

Since Antonio's Café Downstairs also serves as a grocery and wine shop, don't be surprised if your dining space gets invaded by shoppers browsing the gourmet goodies.

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.

'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.

Sushi and noodles are all the rage at this cool lunch spot. Handsomely presented "torch rolls" with conch, scallops, salmon, tuna and sriracha are luscious, while spicy red tobiko proffer a proper pop. Bento boxes run the gamut and a bonanza of boba awaits tea-totalers.

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.

Sometimes bad things happen to good restaurateurs. Take Mark Dollard for example: The well-traveled chef responsible for bringing us Absinthe Bistro was booted from his space inside the gorgeous Bumby Arcade thanks to Lou Pearlman's kiddy-fiddling, grown-up-swindling ways, only to return at the behest of slimeball developer Cameron Kuhn ' who stipulated the new restaurant serve pizza instead of fancy French fare. So after taking a pecuniary hit for Absinthe, Dollard licked his financial wounds and, ultimately, swallowed his culinary pride and constructed an open kitchen complete with two different ovens: a brick pizza oven for deep-dish, and a wood-fired oven for hand-tossed pizza (thus the name 'Brick & Fireâ?�).

But Dollard managed to sneak a few gourmet items and pasta dishes onto the menu, a welcome sight given dining on pizza in the scarlet-lit cellar room seems a bit like watching a T-ball game in Yankee Stadium. Unfortunately, a leaky ceiling precluded any underground dining on this visit, but that didn't stop me from enjoying the baked ziti ($12.25), advertised by my well-meaning waiter as 'mac and cheese for adults.â?� Tubular bridegrooms baked with cream, blanketed with strips of brie and crisped with seasoned bread crumbs made for a stellar start, but I curbed my enthusiasm as there were more dishes on the way. Good ol'-fashioned London broil ($18.75) seemed an unusual, albeit impeccably executed, starter. The wonderfully tender strips of flank steak were served medium-rare, and sliced across the grain; wood-oven roasted potatoes and vegetables accompanied the dish.

And then came the pizza. There are scores of specialty/gourmet/artisan pies offered (not to mention the option to create your own), but being a sucker for a robust curd, I couldn't resist the goat cheese pizza ($16.75), a 10-inch, hand-tossed pie with a respectable crust and a liberal crumbling of chèvre. The cheese's tart flavor was balanced by the inclusion of sun-dried tomatoes, sautéed spinach, basil and toasted pine nuts. An added bonus: The pizza held up under the weight of all the toppings.

When the enormous pulled-chicken calzone ($9.75) finally arrived, its lustrous sheen nearly offset the waiter's absentmindedness (he forgot to put in the order), though I couldn't help but wonder why so many waiters forgo pen and paper. Dollard, nonetheless, forgoes the traditional half-moon shape for a circular one, fills it with roasted chicken, julienned portabella mushrooms and gouda, then tops it with plenty of tomato sauce for a little supplementary indulgence.

The Dessert Lady's decadent cakes beckoned next door, but my crusty disposition wouldn't waver when it came time for a sugary finale, and the flaky shell of the hot apple pie ($5.25) didn't disappoint. Baked and served in a cast-iron skillet, the deep-dish dessert was crowned with a dollop of vanilla-bean ice cream and a caramel drizzle, and was plenty big enough to share. My only complaint was that it was served tongue-scaldingly hot, and after waiting 10 minutes for it to arrive, I just wanted to dig in.

Still, you've got to hand it to Dollard for suffering through all the setbacks and shenanigans that have plagued the Church Street entertainment complex in recent years. The pace could be quickened and service could use some polishing, but Dollard's display of resolve and perseverance in the kitchen only underscores his never-say-die attitude. With that sort of determination, good things will (eventually) come to those who wait. `EDITOR'S NOTE: Since this review, Brick & Fire has moved to South Orange Avenue.`

Despite the trendy, well-heeled crowds lined up at the door, and despite the lightweight name that sounds like it was pulled from a starlet's bio, there is some substance to Brio, the new, upscale Tuscan grill at Winter Park Village.

We arrived without reservations on a busy weekend evening, and it was immediately clear we were in for a long wait. Throngs of people milled around. The hostess gave us a palm pager so we could window shop in the immediate area to kill time. It was either that or jockey for a place at the bar, where the members of the salon set were squeezed in so tight that we would have been lucky to find something to lean on, much less sit down.

We arrived without reservations on a busy weekend evening, and it was immediately clear we were in for a long wait. Throngs of people milled around. The hostess gave us a palm pager so we could window shop in the immediate area to kill time. It was either that or jockey for a place at the bar, where the members of the salon set were squeezed in so tight that we would have been lucky to find something to lean on, much less sit down.

The inside of the restaurant is spacious and bustling, with a curved layout that wraps around the show kitchen. The dining area is reinforced by pillars and softened by faux antique treatments, and the acoustics are comfortably noisy.

The inside of the restaurant is spacious and bustling, with a curved layout that wraps around the show kitchen. The dining area is reinforced by pillars and softened by faux antique treatments, and the acoustics are comfortably noisy.

There were some lapses in service, but our waitress seemed to be doing her best to keep up with the fast pace. Although we waited far too long for appetizers and a bread basket, they were in peak form when they showed up. The crusty Italian rolls had been whisked to our table straight from the oven, still steaming. And the "antipasto sampler" ($12.95) was delicious across the board. We loved the "calamari fritto misto," lightly fried and accented with "pepperoncini," as well as the "Brio bruschetta" topped with marinated tomatoes, seared peppers and mozzarella. The mushroom "ravioli al forno" had an exquisite, creamy sauce.

There were some lapses in service, but our waitress seemed to be doing her best to keep up with the fast pace. Although we waited far too long for appetizers and a bread basket, they were in peak form when they showed up. The crusty Italian rolls had been whisked to our table straight from the oven, still steaming. And the "antipasto sampler" ($12.95) was delicious across the board. We loved the "calamari fritto misto," lightly fried and accented with "pepperoncini," as well as the "Brio bruschetta" topped with marinated tomatoes, seared peppers and mozzarella. The mushroom "ravioli al forno" had an exquisite, creamy sauce.

Don't overlook the flatbread pizzas. Toasted in a wood-fired oven, they have crisp, thin crusts that are balanced by light toppings. The wild-mushroom version ($9.95) was slightly moistened with truffle oil and topped with mild, nutty fontina cheese and a few caramelized onions.

Don't overlook the flatbread pizzas. Toasted in a wood-fired oven, they have crisp, thin crusts that are balanced by light toppings. The wild-mushroom version ($9.95) was slightly moistened with truffle oil and topped with mild, nutty fontina cheese and a few caramelized onions.

Brio does an able job with pastas such as lasagna with Bolognese meat sauce, but it would be a shame to miss out on wood-grilled steaks, chops and seafood, which are what the kitchen does best. A 14-ounce strip steak ($21.95) was particularly juicy and buttery, and topped with melted gorgonzola. But on the side, the wispy "onion straws" didn't work – they were eclipsed by their overly oily fried batter.

Brio does an able job with pastas such as lasagna with Bolognese meat sauce, but it would be a shame to miss out on wood-grilled steaks, chops and seafood, which are what the kitchen does best. A 14-ounce strip steak ($21.95) was particularly juicy and buttery, and topped with melted gorgonzola. But on the side, the wispy "onion straws" didn't work – they were eclipsed by their overly oily fried batter.

Wood-grilled salmon ($21.95) was an exercise in restraint: The firm, pink, succulent flesh of the fish was jazzed with a delicate citrus pesto and accompanied by tomatoes encrusted with Romano cheese.

Wood-grilled salmon ($21.95) was an exercise in restraint: The firm, pink, succulent flesh of the fish was jazzed with a delicate citrus pesto and accompanied by tomatoes encrusted with Romano cheese.

The restaurant's next-door Tuscan Bakery is worth a visit on the way out, if only to glimpse the gorgeous profusion of breads and pastries. Brio's stylish atmosphere and well-executed menu make it a successful choice whether for lunch, dinner or the popular "Bellini brunch" on Saturdays and Sundays.

Mildred Perez heard the lament often: There just weren't enough Puerto Rican restaurants in Orlando. Finally the island's descendant decided to take her friends' advice and do something about it. Not long ago Perez debuted Brisas del Caribe on Curry Ford Road, where she has enjoyed a steady flow of traffic ever since.

Her homespun menu shares similarities with Cuban fare in the roast pork, chicken and fried-plantain staples. The difference between the two becomes clear in the flavorings, such as the extra garlic and cilantro that are rubbed into meats.

Her homespun menu shares similarities with Cuban fare in the roast pork, chicken and fried-plantain staples. The difference between the two becomes clear in the flavorings, such as the extra garlic and cilantro that are rubbed into meats.

And as for soups, rather than a traditional black bean, Perez favors richer stews fortified with plump, silky red-kidney beans.

And as for soups, rather than a traditional black bean, Perez favors richer stews fortified with plump, silky red-kidney beans.

"Puerto Rican is more European in its influence. We don't use so many hot spices, but we do use a lot of seasonings: garlic, olive oil, oregano and vinegar," explains Perez. "The island is so small that we also use a lot of seafood – it's one of our specialties."

"Puerto Rican is more European in its influence. We don't use so many hot spices, but we do use a lot of seasonings: garlic, olive oil, oregano and vinegar," explains Perez. "The island is so small that we also use a lot of seafood – it's one of our specialties."

Because Puerto Rican dinners are usually served in heaping portions, it's not necessary to start with appetizers at Brisas del Caribe. Many of them are included with entrees anyway. But we liked "yucca al mojo," a boiled, starchy vegetable that's fibrous like squash. All of the yucca's sweetness was brought out by a sticky garlic glaze, and it gained an entirely new character when dipped in a snappy red "mojo" sauce. It was a steal at $1.75.

Because Puerto Rican dinners are usually served in heaping portions, it's not necessary to start with appetizers at Brisas del Caribe. Many of them are included with entrees anyway. But we liked "yucca al mojo," a boiled, starchy vegetable that's fibrous like squash. All of the yucca's sweetness was brought out by a sticky garlic glaze, and it gained an entirely new character when dipped in a snappy red "mojo" sauce. It was a steal at $1.75.

Among entrees, my guest loved the bold freshness of pechuga al ajillo ($9.99), a boneless chicken breast that was sizzled on a grill, then smothered in a deeply flavored garlic sauce. The dish was served with red beans and rice, and fried green plantains that were golden on the edges, yet still moist and flavorful within.

Among entrees, my guest loved the bold freshness of pechuga al ajillo ($9.99), a boneless chicken breast that was sizzled on a grill, then smothered in a deeply flavored garlic sauce. The dish was served with red beans and rice, and fried green plantains that were golden on the edges, yet still moist and flavorful within.

Another fine choice was tripleta de mariscos ($15.99), a trio of conch, octopus and shrimp sautéed with a clean-tasting, vinegary sauce. The seafood creation had a delicate lightness that nicely contrasted against the heaviness of the fried plantains that were served on the side.

Another fine choice was tripleta de mariscos ($15.99), a trio of conch, octopus and shrimp sautéed with a clean-tasting, vinegary sauce. The seafood creation had a delicate lightness that nicely contrasted against the heaviness of the fried plantains that were served on the side.

As for dessert, we loved the luscious tres leches (three milk) cake ($1.75), a plain, blondish concoction served in a cup and masked by meringue. We prodded into it with a spoon, and three kinds of sweet milk spread luxuriantly over the cake, soaking into every crevice.

As for dessert, we loved the luscious tres leches (three milk) cake ($1.75), a plain, blondish concoction served in a cup and masked by meringue. We prodded into it with a spoon, and three kinds of sweet milk spread luxuriantly over the cake, soaking into every crevice.

Though Brisas del Caribe is too rambling and brightly lit to afford a sense of intimacy, after hours Thursday through Sunday the restaurant morphs nicely into a salsa/merengue club.

Though Brisas del Caribe is too rambling and brightly lit to afford a sense of intimacy, after hours Thursday through Sunday the restaurant morphs nicely into a salsa/merengue club.

Waiters take great pains to welcome newcomers, and the Perez's food is as warm and inviting as a home-cooked meal. Although dishes such as roast chicken and pork are not likely to win awards for innovation, count on leaving happy and stuffed.

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