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    As Einstein said, time is relative. It can be measured in dog years, Internet years and restaurant-in-Central-Florida years. Using that gauge, being around for almost two years makes 310 Park South an area veteran.

    The restaurant, glass doors open wide on to the hustle of Park Avenue, can be called what few others in the area can: cozy. The long room, with tables out on the sidewalk and a piano to the back, felt quite comfortable to me, and judging by the unrestrained conversation in the room, to everyone else as well. You have to applaud any restaurant that can generate real atmosphere.

    Chef Angel Pereira grew up in the family food business in Spain and trained in Italy, and the influences show in dishes like "grilled grouper with linguine in a black-olive pesto sauce and artichoke hearts" ($11.95). Some choices are quite ordinary: the chicken piccata ($10.95) is prepared very traditionally in a white wine and garlic butter; while others like "horseradish encrusted salmon" ($17.95), a thick pillow of flaky fish under a horseradish and whole-grain mustard shell, are eclectic in design. All are a pleasure to eat.

    However. not every dish hits the mark. The exercise afforded by chewing the fairly rubbery fried calamari appetizer ($8.95) is certainly cheaper than a facelift but not much more enjoyable. I will give an enthusiastic thumbs up to the "gator tail," sautéed 3-inch medallions under mustard sauce that will give you a new appreciation for lizard – and no, it doesn't taste like chicken.

    If the place is crowded, as it was the night we were there, resign yourself to the fact that you'll be in line. Our 15-minute wait turned into 30 before we were seated, and our server was very long in coming for our orders and even longer to serve.

    My companion had one of the evening's specials, a venison steak ($20.95). The good news is that the meat, which can be very easy to cook badly, was superbly done; fork-tender, moist and flavorful, a true credit to the capabilities of the chef. The bad news is that she didn't ask for the venison. After a 45-minute wait for the main course, the prime rib that was ordered had transformed into Bambi. Good Bambi, yes, but our server's reaction ("Gee, it would take a very long time to redo it.") put an unfortunate taste in both our mouths. Good service is a big part of enjoying a meal, and the quality of service at 310 Park South is a real failing.

    Take note that 310 Park South participates in the overlooked and very welcome Winter Park Valet parking on the next corner (New England Avenue), and is a darned sight better than cruising for parking. Save that time for waiting for a table.

    Judging from the line snaking out of the Four Rivers barbecue shack on Fairbanks Avenue, we knew that the joint had to be churning out some damn fine 'cue. So after spending an inordinate amount of time looking for parking [ed. note: this review was written for the original location at 2103 W. Fairbanks; they've since moved to a spot down the street with more parking], we joined the queue, inhaled the smoky air and covetously ogled the piled-high platters of meat being carried by salivating customers to the benches out back. In the meantime, a chirpy server came by with samples of pulled pork to hold us over – a shrewd ploy from a restaurant that already seems to have outgrown its space. Crowd control may not be this smokehouse's strong point, but serving the finest brisket in the region more than makes up for the inefficiency in the ordering process. So long as their food remains worth the wait, folks'll endure the lines and do so in happy anticipation.

    When we finally made it to the counter and saw our sublime slab of smoked-to-perfection brisket ($12.99 with three sides) being sliced, gathered and plopped onto a paper-lined tray by the Elvis/Michael Madsen look-alike, we could barely contain ourselves. Then came the selection of heady sides – smokehouse corn relish (an absolute must), Texas corn bread laced with jalapeños, thick, glistening macaroni and cheese – and finally the selection of one of the daily-changing desserts. We couldn't pay quick enough, anxious to dash out to the benches with our food and dig in.

    And it didn't disappoint. Rich, juicy and wonderfully smoky, the ample serving of Black Angus brisket was ridiculously good, the thin blackened crust an added bonus. Squeezing spicy barbecue sauce over the meat, while nice, wasn't necessary, and the accompanying lardy biscuit didn't really impress me. The mound of pulled pork ($10.99 with three sides), shredded into tangy submission, worked better as a sandwich ($6.99), while the burnt-ends sandwich ($6.59) offered the best of both worlds – brisket and pulled pork under one hefty bun. The moist half-chicken ($9.99 with three sides) requires a shout to have someone pluck it out of the smoker. (If you opt to splurge a couple of extra bucks to add a second meat to the meal, pass on the lackluster smokehouse prime rib.) The sides, it bears mentioning again, are what sets Four Rivers apart from other barbecue joints in town – sweet and meaty baked beans, salty crinkle fries and Southern green beans are all wonderful. Smoked jalapeños filled with cream cheese and wrapped in bacon are a truly original, if outright over-the-top, side. In keeping with the over-the-top theme, the towering block of "chocolate awesomeness" dessert ($3.99) is impossible to devour in two sittings, let alone one. I preferred the cup of divine banana dream pudding ($2.25) with coconut and Nilla wafers.

    4 Rivers is the brainchild of John Rivers (not to be confused with local barbecue maven Johnny Rivers), who led a successful corporate life before following his backyard passion for Texas-style barbecue. A line of sauces, a catering company and, now, a popular restaurant are all signs that Rivers' business skills are just as sharp as his cooking skills. So, given the long lines and high demand for his product, my sincere hope is that 4 Rivers mimics the bellies of its patrons and expands.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    In 1967, the Beatles released "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band," and a small chain of fast-food sandwich joints opened in Orlando. Called Beefy King, they were going to give the Arby's and MacDonald's of the world a run for their money.

    It didn't work out; after peaking with six local outlets, Beefy King faltered and began to close up shops. Eventually, only one remained, stranded on Bumby Avenue, cut off from any franchise network. But in a spirited display of entrepreneurial hardheadedness, this Beefy King refused to die. It went private, expanded its menu and thrived, becoming a local legend blessed with the kind of dedicated following usually reserved for Apple computers and Volkswagens.

    It didn't work out; after peaking with six local outlets, Beefy King faltered and began to close up shops. Eventually, only one remained, stranded on Bumby Avenue, cut off from any franchise network. But in a spirited display of entrepreneurial hardheadedness, this Beefy King refused to die. It went private, expanded its menu and thrived, becoming a local legend blessed with the kind of dedicated following usually reserved for Apple computers and Volkswagens.

    What's the Beefy King secret? I say it's their steamers. Every time a Beefy King sandwich is ordered, the meat is seasoned and heated over a steam vent, which serves to moisten the meat and bring out its natural juices. The sandwiches are then wrapped and served immediately, so there's no wait under an intense heat lamp.

    What's the Beefy King secret? I say it's their steamers. Every time a Beefy King sandwich is ordered, the meat is seasoned and heated over a steam vent, which serves to moisten the meat and bring out its natural juices. The sandwiches are then wrapped and served immediately, so there's no wait under an intense heat lamp.

    All the sandwiches are served hot on a freshly baked sesame-seed kaiser roll, which also benefits from the steaming process. And because the steam method is so effective at coaxing out the flavors in any meat, it's rarely necessary to add ketchup or barbecue sauce – though both are available.

    All the sandwiches are served hot on a freshly baked sesame-seed kaiser roll, which also benefits from the steaming process. And because the steam method is so effective at coaxing out the flavors in any meat, it's rarely necessary to add ketchup or barbecue sauce – though both are available.

    This made-to-order system is slower than the prefabricated strategy that takes place at most big-name fast-food chains. Beefy King makes up for the time with a large and highly efficient crew, who shame the dunderheads serving burgers at those places. No doubt, corporate experts would cringe upon seeing the Beefy King counter folks writing out all orders by hand on paper, but the lines appear to move as fast or faster than any.

    This made-to-order system is slower than the prefabricated strategy that takes place at most big-name fast-food chains. Beefy King makes up for the time with a large and highly efficient crew, who shame the dunderheads serving burgers at those places. No doubt, corporate experts would cringe upon seeing the Beefy King counter folks writing out all orders by hand on paper, but the lines appear to move as fast or faster than any.

    Rightfully reigning at the top of the Beefy King food chain is roast beef, cooked fresh daily and simply delicious. Also on the standard sandwich menu are ham and cheese, turkey breast, pastrami and cheese, corned beef, barbecue beef and barbecue pork. Prices range from $2 for a junior to $4 for an extra large.

    Rightfully reigning at the top of the Beefy King food chain is roast beef, cooked fresh daily and simply delicious. Also on the standard sandwich menu are ham and cheese, turkey breast, pastrami and cheese, corned beef, barbecue beef and barbecue pork. Prices range from $2 for a junior to $4 for an extra large.

    Along with the roast beef (which I adore with melted cheese), my favorites are the savory pastrami and cheese, and the turkey breast, which is a revelation. When I can't make a choice, I order junior sandwiches of all three.

    Along with the roast beef (which I adore with melted cheese), my favorites are the savory pastrami and cheese, and the turkey breast, which is a revelation. When I can't make a choice, I order junior sandwiches of all three.

    The barbecue options are all OK, but it's easy to get barbecue this good at other places, too.

    The barbecue options are all OK, but it's easy to get barbecue this good at other places, too.

    On the side, choices are limited: unexceptional salads, "Beefy spuds" (tater tots) and onion rings. The spuds are fine, but your best bet is to just order another sandwich and revel in the beauty of this mighty little sandwich shop that has survived for 33 years by doing it better than all the big players. Simple, focused quality – now there's a lesson everyone should learn.

    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.

    Some restaurants try to sell a "dining experience," which usually means "expensive chairs." At Black Hammock Fish Camp in Oviedo the experience you get is "Florida."

    Travel down snaking Oviedo roads to Lake Jessup, walk past the camp's live gator cage and you'll see the impressive stats on the ones that've been caught here (14 feet, 1/16 inch is the record). We didn't eat gator, but we were plenty satisfied with the Buffalo shrimp, which had a perfect wing-type spice that goes right to your toes.

    Travel down snaking Oviedo roads to Lake Jessup, walk past the camp's live gator cage and you'll see the impressive stats on the ones that've been caught here (14 feet, 1/16 inch is the record). We didn't eat gator, but we were plenty satisfied with the Buffalo shrimp, which had a perfect wing-type spice that goes right to your toes.

    You can't go to a fish camp and try to be healthful. God never meant for an ugly thing like catfish to be cooked in a daintified way – fried, it's wonderful. Go to Black Hammock while the sun is up so you can get a good look at this rare preserve of Florida.

    Upon gazing at Brianto's stark white walls, ornamented with memorabilia and photographs of every Philadelphia Phillies baseball player that ever donned a red-pinstriped uniform, I asked the good-natured lad behind the counter a question that no patron had ever dared to ask, let alone in deadpan fashion: 'Why no photos of Joe Carter?â?�

    Record screech.

    In the moments that ensued, his bulging gaze met my squinting glare for what seemed like minutes, but when the hoagie virtuoso's eyes eventually regained focus, we were all able to (thankfully) laugh the moment off. 'You should've said that after you got your food,â?� he joked ' at least I think he was joking. Carter's home run off Phillies closer Mitch Williams to win the '93 World Series for the Blue Jays isn't exactly a high point in the city's sports history. So in a place where even the logo is a facsimile of their beloved Phillies', I was happy to have all my teeth after uttering the cheeky quip: teeth I needed in order to chomp down on their huge hoagies and cheesesteaks.

    They take their cheesesteaks seriously here ' I'm talking Amoroso's hearth-baked rolls and sliced rib-eye steak, flown straight in from the City of Brotherly Love. And they don't skimp on the chopped meat in the cheesesteak supreme ($5.99 for 6-inch; $8.99 for 12-inch; $12.99 for 18-inch), a beefy sub with the requisite onions, green peppers and mushrooms oozing with sharp provolone and Cheez Whiz. Be sure to Whiz it up, as the cheesesteak borders on bland without it, likely due to the meat not being seasoned ' or not strongly enough.

    For the same price, you can opt to make the very same cheesesteak a 'cheesesteak hoagie,â?� which means adding lettuce, tomato, raw onions and a splash of oil, vinegar and mayo. The hoagie comes without green peppers or mushrooms, but I was surprised at how much better it was than the cheesesteak supreme. Everyone at the table agreed that this was the best sandwich of the lot, and we picked the 18-inch behemoth clean. Also good was the Liberty Bell ($5.99, 6-inch; $8.99, 12-inch; $12.99, 18-inch), a cold hoagie stuffed to the hilt with ham, turkey and roast beef, and plenty of sweet and hot peppers to pack a punch. The hot meatball hoagie ($4.49, 6-inch; $7.49, 12-inch; $11.49, 18-inch) was endorsed by one of my Italian dining companions ' not so much for the sub itself, but for the well-seasoned meatballs. You'll also find other Keystone State faves such as crackling Herr's potato chips (59 cents, small; 99 cents, medium; $1.59, large), refreshingly crisp Hank's birch beer ($1.99) and sugary Tastykakes ($1.29). Junk food connoisseurs may disagree, but to me, the Tastykakes tasted just like Hostess cupcakes/Ding Dongs/Ho Hos.

    Brianto's may not satisfy pangs for the legendary cheesesteaks and hoagies cooked up at Pat's or Geno's in Philadelphia, but the guys here make every effort to bring a little Philly flavor to Central Florida. If they focused a bit of that effort in seasoning the beef, transplanted Philadelphians might flock to Avalon Park for some of their griddled gourmandizing.

    Then, like Joe Carter off a Mitch Williams fastball, they'll be sure to hit it out the park.

    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!

    Bubbalou's Bodacious Bar-B-Que seduces you before you even lay eyes on it, which is just what good barbecue ought to do. The siren smell of smoky, sweet meats is in the air outside this new location, just north of Universal Studios Florida. Even from the parking lot, Bubbalou's is alluring, with that bold, unblushing name lit up in neon, flanked by three hot-pink piglets tip-toeing over flames.

    Inside, the atmosphere is cheerful and bright. It's roomier than the original Winter Park eatery, but both dish up Big Barbecue. You name it and they smoke it: pork, chicken, beef, turkey, ham, sausage, lamb; and for the barbecue rebel, gizzards and livers. Country music hits are on the sound system, and a stuffed bear rises over the wood-paneled dining room.

    Inside, the atmosphere is cheerful and bright. It's roomier than the original Winter Park eatery, but both dish up Big Barbecue. You name it and they smoke it: pork, chicken, beef, turkey, ham, sausage, lamb; and for the barbecue rebel, gizzards and livers. Country music hits are on the sound system, and a stuffed bear rises over the wood-paneled dining room.

    My guest and I placed orders at the counter, choosing from an array of sandwiches, baskets and dinners, priced from $2.69 to $8.99. We found seats at a picnic table in back, the only spot that hadn't been claimed by a hungry, lunchtime crowd.

    My guest and I placed orders at the counter, choosing from an array of sandwiches, baskets and dinners, priced from $2.69 to $8.99. We found seats at a picnic table in back, the only spot that hadn't been claimed by a hungry, lunchtime crowd.

    The food soon arrived, and we dived in with abandon. I tried "Bubbalou's Special" ($8.99), a sampler platter with four side-orders, and quickly honed in on the spare ribs. They were divine in the most primal way: succulent on the inside and slightly charred outside. Of the shredded meats, the pork was moist and tender, but the beef was a bit dry by comparison.

    The food soon arrived, and we dived in with abandon. I tried "Bubbalou's Special" ($8.99), a sampler platter with four side-orders, and quickly honed in on the spare ribs. They were divine in the most primal way: succulent on the inside and slightly charred outside. Of the shredded meats, the pork was moist and tender, but the beef was a bit dry by comparison.

    My guest ordered the quarter chicken basket with two sides ($3.99). Her chicken, like mine, was glazed to a rich, brown hue. On the inside, it was well-done, yet juicy. While most of the smoked meats stood on their own, we laced them with the barbecue sauces anyway: "Mild" had a hint of sweetness with a gentle bite; "Hot" was warm with a tangy edge; "Killer" was fiery enough to make your mouth glow.

    My guest ordered the quarter chicken basket with two sides ($3.99). Her chicken, like mine, was glazed to a rich, brown hue. On the inside, it was well-done, yet juicy. While most of the smoked meats stood on their own, we laced them with the barbecue sauces anyway: "Mild" had a hint of sweetness with a gentle bite; "Hot" was warm with a tangy edge; "Killer" was fiery enough to make your mouth glow.

    On the side, baked beans were sweetly simmered with pork. The cole slaw was creamy yet light. Corn bread was moist and savory, which was nice given that the grilled bread was a bit limp and unexciting. Ripple-cut french fries were delicious. My only quibble is the size of some side-orders. At $8.99 for a dinner plate combo, I expected more than a cuplet of beans and a dollop of slaw.

    On the side, baked beans were sweetly simmered with pork. The cole slaw was creamy yet light. Corn bread was moist and savory, which was nice given that the grilled bread was a bit limp and unexciting. Ripple-cut french fries were delicious. My only quibble is the size of some side-orders. At $8.99 for a dinner plate combo, I expected more than a cuplet of beans and a dollop of slaw.

    Although Bubbalou's was approaching capacity when we arrived, we were on our way with boxed leftovers within 50 minutes. And we swore to do some bodacious workouts so we can go back soon.

    We didn't review this location but you can check out the review of the Bubbalou's on Conroy Road.

    If you're not a beef lover or if you like a variety of menu options, you should probably skip this place. But "real beef" connoisseurs searching for a basic meat-and-potatoes dining experience need look no further than Butcher Shop Steakhouse on International Drive.

    The chain restaurant not only promises an array of "the biggest and best grain-fed beef direct from the Midwest," but invites patrons to grill their own steaks over a brick hickory pit. The handsomely appointed restaurant must have hosted a tired bunch of buckaroos during our midweek visit, as none of the diners took advantage of the opportunity to cook themselves a meal.

    The chain restaurant not only promises an array of "the biggest and best grain-fed beef direct from the Midwest," but invites patrons to grill their own steaks over a brick hickory pit. The handsomely appointed restaurant must have hosted a tired bunch of buckaroos during our midweek visit, as none of the diners took advantage of the opportunity to cook themselves a meal.

    Or perhaps, like us, none of them wanted to expend the effort and end up smelling like a backyard barbecue, a distinct possibility given the pungent charcoal smoke generated by the display grill, which made a mockery of the designated non-smoking room.

    Or perhaps, like us, none of them wanted to expend the effort and end up smelling like a backyard barbecue, a distinct possibility given the pungent charcoal smoke generated by the display grill, which made a mockery of the designated non-smoking room.

    Our reservation was honored within minutes of our arrival, our enthusiastic server greeted us promptly, and we began our menu perusal. No surprises: Though two fresh seafood catches and grilled marinated chicken breast are available, the specialty here is red meat. No appetizers, no gourmet soups or salads, just the basics. And it ain't cheap.

    Our reservation was honored within minutes of our arrival, our enthusiastic server greeted us promptly, and we began our menu perusal. No surprises: Though two fresh seafood catches and grilled marinated chicken breast are available, the specialty here is red meat. No appetizers, no gourmet soups or salads, just the basics. And it ain't cheap.

    Steaks range from an 8-ounce filet mignon ($17.95) to a 28-ounce T-bone ($23.95). There are also rib-eyes, top sirloins and Kansas City strips. Prime rib lovers may order a 16-ounce boneless cut ($17.95) or a 32-ounce king cut with bone ($23.95). Chicken and seafood entrees begin at $13.95. All dinners come with salad and bread. The only accompaniment offered is a half- or full-skillet order of sautéed mushrooms in light garlic and butter sauce ($3.95 and $5.95). Our dinner rolls were nondescript; our salads were fresh, with a nice assortment of trimmings but an overabundance of dressing.

    Steaks range from an 8-ounce filet mignon ($17.95) to a 28-ounce T-bone ($23.95). There are also rib-eyes, top sirloins and Kansas City strips. Prime rib lovers may order a 16-ounce boneless cut ($17.95) or a 32-ounce king cut with bone ($23.95). Chicken and seafood entrees begin at $13.95. All dinners come with salad and bread. The only accompaniment offered is a half- or full-skillet order of sautéed mushrooms in light garlic and butter sauce ($3.95 and $5.95). Our dinner rolls were nondescript; our salads were fresh, with a nice assortment of trimmings but an overabundance of dressing.

    My husband's weekly steak craving was satisfied by his 14-ounce rib-eye ($16.95), which was nicely marbled and cooked to order. The tableside gourmet steak sauce – featuring such bizarre ingredients as pineapple, raisins, anchovies and bourbon – didn't suit us. His half-order of sautéed mushrooms, presented in an iron skillet, was enough to share. While they were nicely cooked, the garlic seasoning was not discernable.

    My husband's weekly steak craving was satisfied by his 14-ounce rib-eye ($16.95), which was nicely marbled and cooked to order. The tableside gourmet steak sauce – featuring such bizarre ingredients as pineapple, raisins, anchovies and bourbon – didn't suit us. His half-order of sautéed mushrooms, presented in an iron skillet, was enough to share. While they were nicely cooked, the garlic seasoning was not discernable.

    I sent my first plate of 12-ounce yellowfin tuna back, as it was overcooked. Our server accommodated the request with a smile and an apology, returning five minutes later with a tender and juicy fillet. Our foil-wrapped baked potatoes were plump and enjoyable.

    I sent my first plate of 12-ounce yellowfin tuna back, as it was overcooked. Our server accommodated the request with a smile and an apology, returning five minutes later with a tender and juicy fillet. Our foil-wrapped baked potatoes were plump and enjoyable.

    Our "Katie's delight" house dessert ($3.50) was a deliciously chewy and crunchy creation that featured cream cheese, whipped cream and chocolate pudding on a bed of crushed pecans, topped with chocolate chips and more pecans.

    There aren't a lot of inland restaurants where you can savor fine Florida game such as gator tail and frog legs, done to a fine crunch in true Southern-fried-seafood style. But if you don't want to travel to remote fish camps on the St. Johns River or Lake Monroe, they'll hook you up at The Catfish Place in Apopka. You'd still better gas up the car before heading out, though. From central or south Orlando, it could take 45 minutes to an hour to get there, depending on traffic.

    As you head west on State Road 436 deep into Apopka territory, The Catfish Place finally appears on a completely unnoticeable corner of Forest Avenue across from City Hall. It's a rustic, inviting beacon. Inside, the dining area is as snug as an old quilt, and the friendly wait staff invite you to huddle down over healthy helpings of comfort food.

    As you head west on State Road 436 deep into Apopka territory, The Catfish Place finally appears on a completely unnoticeable corner of Forest Avenue across from City Hall. It's a rustic, inviting beacon. Inside, the dining area is as snug as an old quilt, and the friendly wait staff invite you to huddle down over healthy helpings of comfort food.

    Let the menu lure you into swamp territory: Frog legs are featured as an appetizer ($5.95), as well as served as a part of various entrees. After being deep-fried, they resemble quail and are so delicate and juicy they tempt you to suck on the bones. Gator-tail nuggets are fried as well, but not overly so. Truly, the meat resembles chicken, although it's not as tender.

    Let the menu lure you into swamp territory: Frog legs are featured as an appetizer ($5.95), as well as served as a part of various entrees. After being deep-fried, they resemble quail and are so delicate and juicy they tempt you to suck on the bones. Gator-tail nuggets are fried as well, but not overly so. Truly, the meat resembles chicken, although it's not as tender.

    But the star of the menu is catfish -- and rightly so. Chances are you've never had it prepared as expertly as it is here. Get the boneless catfish tenders, either as an all-you-can-eat special ($9.95) or included in different dishes. Clean and fresh, they are rolled in a cornmeal breading and deep-fried to a crisp, greaseless finish in soybean oil.

    But the star of the menu is catfish -- and rightly so. Chances are you've never had it prepared as expertly as it is here. Get the boneless catfish tenders, either as an all-you-can-eat special ($9.95) or included in different dishes. Clean and fresh, they are rolled in a cornmeal breading and deep-fried to a crisp, greaseless finish in soybean oil.

    Some more standard varieties of seafood are presented in inventive ways: Lobster is quartered into nuggets and deep-fried as an appetizer ($7.95). They're delicate and crunchy, dipped into a pot of melted butter and chased down with a frosty beer. Among the entrees, there's the country-boy-named "shrimp a la Bob" ($14.95), sautéed in a fragrant sauce of butter, lemon, Cajun spices and garlic. For variety and abundance, there's the house special ($15.95), loaded with boneless catfish tenders, crackling fried shrimp and frog legs, and fried scallops that collapse at the slightest nudge. There also are long, chewy clam strips and gator-tail nuggets.

    Some more standard varieties of seafood are presented in inventive ways: Lobster is quartered into nuggets and deep-fried as an appetizer ($7.95). They're delicate and crunchy, dipped into a pot of melted butter and chased down with a frosty beer. Among the entrees, there's the country-boy-named "shrimp a la Bob" ($14.95), sautéed in a fragrant sauce of butter, lemon, Cajun spices and garlic. For variety and abundance, there's the house special ($15.95), loaded with boneless catfish tenders, crackling fried shrimp and frog legs, and fried scallops that collapse at the slightest nudge. There also are long, chewy clam strips and gator-tail nuggets.

    Dinners come with a choice of side items, the best of which are the creamy, tart cole slaw, tangy-buttery collard greens, and chunky hash browns melted with cheese and onions. The too-soggy hushpuppies flopped miserably, though.

    Dinners come with a choice of side items, the best of which are the creamy, tart cole slaw, tangy-buttery collard greens, and chunky hash browns melted with cheese and onions. The too-soggy hushpuppies flopped miserably, though.

    Our waitress was friendly and efficient. If you go to The Catfish Place, expect to be on your way in a short time -- it will help to make up for the long drive back home.

    When it comes to eating meat, steakhouses still reign supreme. What meat-eater is not enamored with those dark, lavish dungeons that allow us to feast to our blood-craving heart's content? Even those who rarely go out to eat are likely to occasionally splurge on an outing at a local steakhouse institution – one like my long-standing favorite, Charley's Steak House. It dresses up, yet sensibly. It's hedonistic, yet polite. It's luxurious, yet wholesome.

    The minute you step through the opulent wooden doors of Charley's, you know right away that you have entered an old-school establishment. Even the newer location on International Drive transports you to a time when the steakhouse was the only option for fine dining. The low-hung lamps and yellow lighting might appear outdated in another setting, but they just made my mouth water as I remembered years of celebration meals here – proms, anniversaries, graduations and birthdays. (No meal at Charley's would be complete without hearing "Happy Birthday to You" from across the room.)

    The minute you step through the opulent wooden doors of Charley's, you know right away that you have entered an old-school establishment. Even the newer location on International Drive transports you to a time when the steakhouse was the only option for fine dining. The low-hung lamps and yellow lighting might appear outdated in another setting, but they just made my mouth water as I remembered years of celebration meals here – proms, anniversaries, graduations and birthdays. (No meal at Charley's would be complete without hearing "Happy Birthday to You" from across the room.)

    Our evening started with the opening of the heavy wooden doors. The charred fragrance of porterhouse mingled with cigar and port, as we heard the refrain of the birthday song and the sizzle of meat and asparagus on the open-fire grill. We were led into one of the many nooks and crannies and were shortly greeted by our server. Charley's has great service, but it's more science than art. Every move made by the servers and hosts seems programmed by market surveys and management policy, and they rule the upselling roost. I was midway through ordering crab legs ($15.95) as an appetizer when the server suggested the "seafood sampler" ($29.95). The "seafood sampler" is not listed on the menu, however,and I wasn't aware at the time that I was being cajoled into spending twice as much money. I find this behavior irritating in a server. Call me crazy, but I want a server who is as much my ally and advocate as the establishment's robot.

    Our evening started with the opening of the heavy wooden doors. The charred fragrance of porterhouse mingled with cigar and port, as we heard the refrain of the birthday song and the sizzle of meat and asparagus on the open-fire grill. We were led into one of the many nooks and crannies and were shortly greeted by our server. Charley's has great service, but it's more science than art. Every move made by the servers and hosts seems programmed by market surveys and management policy, and they rule the upselling roost. I was midway through ordering crab legs ($15.95) as an appetizer when the server suggested the "seafood sampler" ($29.95). The "seafood sampler" is not listed on the menu, however,and I wasn't aware at the time that I was being cajoled into spending twice as much money. I find this behavior irritating in a server. Call me crazy, but I want a server who is as much my ally and advocate as the establishment's robot.

    The next round of upselling was the server's insistence on adding an additional side dish to our order. I naively bought in to his spiel and believed that without the chef's spinach and artichoke casserole ($5.95), we would be lacking a substantial meal. Not only was the casserole mediocre in taste, it was sheer gluttony to have it on our table. I would have been just as happy (and full) with the side dishes of jumbo grilled asparagus ($6.95) and baked potato ($2) alongside the delicious porterhouse steak (29.95). I also enjoyed the fresh chopped salad that came with my meal, but when the server offhandedly asked me if I wanted some blue-cheese crumbles, I should have known there would be an extra charge on the bill.

    The next round of upselling was the server's insistence on adding an additional side dish to our order. I naively bought in to his spiel and believed that without the chef's spinach and artichoke casserole ($5.95), we would be lacking a substantial meal. Not only was the casserole mediocre in taste, it was sheer gluttony to have it on our table. I would have been just as happy (and full) with the side dishes of jumbo grilled asparagus ($6.95) and baked potato ($2) alongside the delicious porterhouse steak (29.95). I also enjoyed the fresh chopped salad that came with my meal, but when the server offhandedly asked me if I wanted some blue-cheese crumbles, I should have known there would be an extra charge on the bill.

    Let's get down to business: Charley's has some of the best steaks in town – no bones about it. The meat is superior. They cure and cut it on the premises, rub it in a secret (heavenly) spice blend and then flame-grill it over oak and citrus wood in temperatures that reach over 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The result of all the carnivorous muss and fuss is a sublime steak.

    Let's get down to business: Charley's has some of the best steaks in town – no bones about it. The meat is superior. They cure and cut it on the premises, rub it in a secret (heavenly) spice blend and then flame-grill it over oak and citrus wood in temperatures that reach over 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The result of all the carnivorous muss and fuss is a sublime steak.

    Appetizers and dessert are merely the parentheses around the main affair. Our dessert was a ridiculously big piece of chocolate Grand Marnier cake ($7.95) – something Charley's has on hand to accompany the chorus of birthday tunes, I presume. Even the side dishes are trifling dashes, momentarily interrupting the meat-eating. And don't bother with the lobster (market price), one of my usual favorites. That's not what you come here to eat. Thinking ahead to the next time, I think I'll go for a filet mignon ($24.95) appetizer, a porterhouse main course and a T-bone ($20.95) dessert.

    Stumbling out into the blinding Winter Park Village midday sun after a matinee movie, I was stunned to see an edifice that looked like a bank, where the old Dillard's used to be. The sign said The Cheesecake Factory, and I'd never heard of it. Why would a place that makes cheesecake need such an enormous building? Not one to turn down a good slice of dessert, I went to investigate.

    Turns out, there are 42 other CF restaurants, which started in the late '70s in Los Angeles, everywhere from Boston to California. I'm told the architecture is fairly similar in all of them. The decor is slightly Egyptian revival -- towering high ceilings, thick weathered columns painted in hieroglyphics, dark wood and upholstered booths. There are striking accents of glass all, like textured leaf shapes on columns and red swirled lamps, and open spaces alongside cozy partitioned areas.

    Turns out, there are 42 other CF restaurants, which started in the late '70s in Los Angeles, everywhere from Boston to California. I'm told the architecture is fairly similar in all of them. The decor is slightly Egyptian revival -- towering high ceilings, thick weathered columns painted in hieroglyphics, dark wood and upholstered booths. There are striking accents of glass all, like textured leaf shapes on columns and red swirled lamps, and open spaces alongside cozy partitioned areas.

    The menu is almost as large as the building -- a dozen pages of appetizers, pizza, burgers and steaks, not counting the full page of cheesecakes. So doing the addition (huge place, tons of menu items, slightly gimmicky name) I was somewhat skeptical. But from beginning to end, everything was wonderful.

    Our waiter advised us that "the appetizers are kinda large," which was like saying that I-4 gets a little crowded. I started with "Tex Mex eggrolls" ($7.95), crisp packages of corn, black beans, salsa, cheese and a rather spicy chicken with mellow avocado dipping cream. The massive serving was very tasty, with a nice melding of flavors.

    Our waiter advised us that "the appetizers are kinda large," which was like saying that I-4 gets a little crowded. I started with "Tex Mex eggrolls" ($7.95), crisp packages of corn, black beans, salsa, cheese and a rather spicy chicken with mellow avocado dipping cream. The massive serving was very tasty, with a nice melding of flavors.

    Onion rings come in a two-foot-high pile. The fillet of salmon ($15.95), a thick slice crusted with sesame and served with soy-ginger sauce, looks close to an entire fish. My "Navaho" sandwich had large strips of avocado and tender grilled chicken stuffed into real fry-bread (in Orlando?), a tasty bargain at $8.95. And the Thai lettuce wraps ($8.95) were a knockout, with curry noodles, satay chicken, sprouts and more to roll into hand-sized leaves.

    Ah, yes -- the cheesecake. More than 30 kinds, from regular to white-chocolate raspberry truffle to Kahlua-almond fudge. I had the "dulce de leche" caramel. There's a good reason for the takeout counter at the front; you'll want another piece by the time you hit the door.

    This must be a new strategy: Make portions so gigantic that two people can't even finish the appetizers and supply shopping bags emblazoned with "The Cheesecake Factory." Then send diners out into the world as stuffed and slightly sugar-rushed ambassadors. Signs above the restaurant offer loft apartments for lease. Think of it -- just call down from bed for all the cheesecake you can hold.

    In the face of a landscape burgeoning with whitewashed rejuvenation, Christo's Cafe stands as a fixture in defiance. So while progress in the guise of urban renewal encroaches on College Park's historic streets, the recusant little diner flaunts its 'this is your grandfather's greasy spoon' charm and, in so doing, has achieved a venerated standing in the community -- a standing reinforced with every new brick laid along Edgewater Drive.

    Not that the scruffy little sit-down is overrun by patrons long in the tooth, though members of that demographic, along with diners broad in the beam and raw in the bone, have all been known to indulge in Christo's hash-house classics. Most of my visits here have been to enjoy hearty breakfasts on their plastic tables outside and, personally, I know of no better place to have a pre-noon meal. That sentiment has less to do with the food than with the utterly calming environs, though a recent breakfast on a cool morn amid a light drizzle was made all the more memorable by the lamb and feta-filled Greek omelet ($7.25), a stack of silver dollar pancakes ($2.50), deep-fried French toast with bananas ($5.25) and bottomless cups of coffee.

    On weekends, the place fills up with the hungry and hungover, many lingering under the weathered green awning, awaiting some blood-thickening goodness. Tables inside and out fill up quickly, and it's not unusual to see diners waiting it out in the parking lot. The summer heat, however, dictates grabbing a vinyl-topped table inside, or one of the six seats at the counter where you'll compete for elbow room with dessert cases.

    Fancy they're not. Trimmings and decorations are kept simple, and a similar no-frills position is taken in the kitchen, from where equally simple treasures emerge. The hot open-face turkey sandwich ($8.70), for example, was adorned with a turbid slather of salted gravy and a side of thick mashed potatoes. A starter of blazing jalapeno poppers ($4.50) prepped my palate for the fowl-and-gravy onslaught. The breaded outer layer had the right amount of crisp and the cheese filling the right amount of ooze, but especially good was the kick of the homemade salsa dip.

    A mug of chili ($3.50) was a boon for bean-lovers, and a bane for those who sleep next to them. A heaped ladling of thick five-bean sauce topped with a generous layer of grated cheddar was given a pungent intensity by a further topping of diced Spanish onions.

    As if that didn't satisfy my craving for ground beef, my eyes were set on devouring the 'super big mouth' cheeseburger ($10), though my stomach knew full well that wasn't going to happen. Undaunted, I clasped the intimidating one-pound, kaiser-rolled monstrosity and managed about five feeble bites before succumbing to its immensity. Resisting the temptation to sample a burger purporting to be the 'best in town' has always been a challenging feat for me; in this particular case, the claim wasn't without merit.

    Carrot cake ($2.95) and coconut cake ($2.75), both of which my effusive waitress said were freshly baked, validates the kitchen's sweeter side, the latter being a soft, moist and ideal accompaniment for a cuppa joe.

    Greek-themed items like lamb and chicken gyros pay tribute to Christo's (the original owner, before he sold the joint to the current proprietors back in the early 1980s) Hellenic roots. The diner has since retained its throwback image and proudly adheres to a classical approach to diner fare. Epicurus would be proud.

    Slick and boisterous Orange Avenue sup-spot offers expertly prepared dishes like lobster fritters spiked with jalapeno and red snapper with lobster risotto cake, proof positive of the kitchen's competency. The din can be deafening, but the joint's got that asphalt-jungle verve that trendsters dig.

    More than 30 organic loose-leaf teas are offered at this socially conscious teahouse that's become a gathering ground for nonconformists, neo-cons and everyone in between. A predominantly vegan menu of wraps, salads and an outstandingly hearty chili will satisfy even the most ravenous of carnivores. Start with hummus with hemp seeds, and finish with the fluffernutter sandwich - a sweet proposition.


    Teaser: More than 30 organic loose-leaf teas are offered at this socially conscious teahouse that's become a gathering ground for nonconformists, neo-cons and everyone in between. A predominantly vegan menu of wraps, salads and an outstandingly hearty chili will satisfy even the most ravenous of carnivores. Start with hummus with hemp seeds, and finish with the fluffernutter sandwich ' a sweet proposition.

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