Vegetarian/Vegan in Orlando with Kid Friendly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Health-food market that includes a bakery and cafe with a hot lunch bar that is vegetarian heaven. Also try their fresh juices, smoothies and sandwiches.

    Health-food market that includes a bakery and cafe with a hot lunch bar that is vegetarian heaven. Also try their fresh juices, smoothies and sandwiches.

    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.

    Last week it was the Ravenous Pig; this week it’s the Drunken Monkey. In coming weeks, expect reviews on the Lecherous Hedgehog and the Fetid Squirrel. Seriously, attention-grabbing appellations can give a newly opened restaurant some much-needed buzz but, thanks to their very own coffee-bean roaster, Drunken Monkey does a pretty good job generating its own.

    And the inspiration for naming the café after a poggled primate? BAM! None other than Emeril Lagasse or, rather, Emeril Lagasse’s “Drunken Monkey” ice cream – a blend of white chocolate, bananas and rum. Co-owner Maureen Hawthorne says the name stuck during her stint at the portly superchef’s restaurant at Universal’s CityWalk. Plus, seeing that the other co-owner, Larry Hardin, is a proponent of Chinese martial arts (of which the Drunken Monkey form of kung fu is a part), endorsing the coffee house’s bibulous designation proved a cinch.

    Inside, a miscellany of découpaged tables, office chairs and vintage sofas make for a stylistic clash, and the same could be said about the menu. You’ll find everything from quiche and paella to soups and burritos, but unlike the building’s previous tenant (Conway’s BBQ), meat takes a backseat to a healthy offering of vegan and vegetarian fare. A wedge of jalapeño-streaked Southwest quiche ($5.95 with a cup of soup) was a perfectly portioned starter, only it was served partially warm and needed to be sent back, after which it was re-served too hot. French onion soup was superbly satisfying; no real surprise considering it was made by John Batcho, whose Soupçon Soups were a main draw at the College Park and Downtown Farmers Markets. His liquid gold is now sold exclusively at Drunken Monkey.

    The irony in the café’s proximity to Beefy King isn’t lost, though meat does make its appearance in some offerings. Shrimp, chicken and sausage are optional ingredients in paella ($6.95), but I made a conscious effort to eschew the wrath of these urban herbivores by ordering the meat-free version. Granted, it wasn’t served in a pan, and the aromatic splendor of saffron was absent, but the hodgepodge of veggies – onions, celery, peas, artichokes, olives, green beans and chickpeas – offered an interesting twist on this classic Spanish dish.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the Baja Dann ($4.50), a burrito stuffed with huevos, tomatoes, queso, caramelized onions and peppers and a black-bean spread, but a dunk in the pureed salsa really kicked it up a notch (pardon the Emeril-ism). A soy patty wedged between ciabatta bread comprised the veggie burger ($5.99), but I found the sandwich bland and unsatisfying, like other meatless burgers I’ve sampled.

    Desserts are small in stature, but large in flavor. Dense banana bread with chocolate chips ($2) partnered well with specialty coffee drinks like the Mojo Jojo ($3), a Vietnamese-style beverage with sweetened condensed milk, cinnamon and vanilla flavoring. Triple-chocolate organic cookies ($1 for three) begged for a dip in the cappuccino ($3.10), and don’t overlook their fresh-squeezed juices, particularly the pleasurably tart limeade ($2).

    What I like about this coffeehouse is its inclusive, across-the-board vibe. As laid-back as it is eco-conscious, Drunken Monkey caters to Dandelion’s drum-circle set without alienating java junkies and meat-lovers. Service needs a little tweaking, but in a place like this, you get the sense that these folks won’t mind monkeying with the monkey.

    A garden of leafy delights awaits at Eden’s, a clean, spacious green house on North Orange sandwiched between Winnie’s Oriental Garden and the Ravenous Pig. The focus here is on the body (healthy food), spirit (a place for quiet reflection and artistic expression) and mind (free Wi-Fi), though their wraps and salads really take center stage. The blues and greens of the interior reflect the colors of the sky, plants and water, but are also reminiscent of an Aegean café, which may have induced me to order the Athena ($4.80). The mélange of greens, kalamata olives, tomatoes, cukes, peppers, snow peas and feta can be stuffed in a wrap or enjoyed as a traditional bowl of salad. I opted for the former (in a tomato-basil wrap) and had some lemon-pepper chicken thrown in for an additional $2. The flavors were rightfully tangy, if a tad salty. I really liked the Daisy ($4.80), a refreshingly sweet and delightfully nutty salad that I enjoyed sans wrap. Mandarin oranges and strawberries provided the pop, almonds and sunflower seeds the crunch and raspberry vinaigrette the invigorating splash.

    There are 11 different salads from which to choose, and if none tickles your fancy, create your own from Eden’s 37 available “tossings” and 12 dressings. Counter service can slow considerably during the lunch rush, but that’ll give you a chance to peruse the original artwork and sayings on the walls. Oh, and if you’re looking for a little quiet reflection, the consistent chatter and piped-in music could foil any meditative urges. It should be noted that the items above, though ordered “small,” were enormous portions, but really – eating too much salad is like taking too many naps; how bad for you could it possibly be?

    It’s no secret that Americans are a meat-eating bunch, and that the only time vegetables make it on the plate is when they’re in the form of french fries or iceberg lettuce. Recent studies have shown Americans forgoing vegetables in increasing numbers, with just a small percentage meeting the recommended daily value, but why? One plausible reason could be the manner in which vegetables are commonly prepared at home and at many restaurants – mushy, soggy, overcooked and bland. If more meat-eaters were exposed to properly prepared carrots, broccoli, peas and spinach, perhaps they wouldn’t react so negatively at the prospect of dining at a vegetarian or (gasp!) a vegan restaurant.

    Ethos Vegan Kitchen takes a valiant stab at showing condescending carnivores what herbivores already know – that meatless fare can be creative, satisfying and not just a side item to steak. That said, for those of you going vegan for the first time, more often it’s not the meat you’ll miss, but rather the items you’ve grown accustomed to at other restaurants: butter on bread, milk in coffee, cheese on pasta and whipped cream on dessert. However, even for a non-vegan and self-professed fromage-head like myself, the plate of macaroni & cheese ($4.95) proved gratifyingly gooey despite the use of cheese made from rice milk and soy cream mixed with, presumably, eggless pasta. Vegetable soup ($3.95), a hearty blend of potato chunks, carrots, broccoli, yellow squash and celery, met the minimum flavor requirement, but the broth could’ve been invigorated some with the addition of Scotch bonnet peppers, fire-roasted vegetables or a liberal sifting of paprika or cayenne.

    Similarly, sheep’s pie ($9.95) could’ve used a seasoned kick, but any pub in the U.K. would be hard-pressed to outmatch the casserole’s generous heaping of fluffy mashed potatoes. Even the pungent vegetable brown sauce enveloping a sauté of peas, onions, carrots and broccoli had beefy notes to it. I would’ve preferred the two ample slices of pecan-crusted eggplant ($12.95) to be cooked just a little more, but the slight caramelization of the pecans really gave the dish a pleasant bittersweetness. A thick mound of mashed potatoes and gravy was simply outstanding, while sautéed broccoli never tasted better. Though accompanying slices of bread were lovely, this was one place where I missed butter. A suggestion: Garlicky, herbaceous dipping oil would make a worthy substitute.

     

    Desserts whisked away any thoughts of butter and eggs, and the lack of such essential baking ingredients wasn’t to the detriment of the comforting warm apple galette ($2.25) with a wonderfully flaky crust and cinnamon-spiced sweet apples. The dense slab of chocolate cake ($1.50) wasn’t as moist as I’d hoped, but it wasn’t dry either. Double chocolate chip cookies ($1.25) were a pinch better than regular chocolate chip cookies, though, admittedly, I dunked them at home in a glass of milk (I know, I’m bad).

    The restaurant is situated on some prime property at the foot of Antique Row and truly exudes a chillax vibe, not surprising considering the same space once housed the Lava Lounge. Sleepy-eyed vegetarians opt for the candlelit tables in the cozy outdoor courtyard, with its Big Easy feel and bucolic view of giant oaks

    There's an abundance of painfully obvious jokes to be endured when you invite a bunch of wise-asses to lunch at a hospital cafeteria. But the superspread at Florida Hospital Orlando had them eating their words and more.

    It's no secret on the health-food circuit that vegetarian and generally healthy food can be found here, thanks to the dietary observances of the founding Seventh Day Adventists. But faux-meat dishes, real chocolate brownies and coffee with caffeine (refills encouraged) can also be found in the dizzying spread that starts with a pizza/pasta station.

    It's no secret on the health-food circuit that vegetarian and generally healthy food can be found here, thanks to the dietary observances of the founding Seventh Day Adventists. But faux-meat dishes, real chocolate brownies and coffee with caffeine (refills encouraged) can also be found in the dizzying spread that starts with a pizza/pasta station.

    At the wok station, a steaming medley of green beans, mushrooms, yellow squash and onions ($1.40) tasted as good as it looked. Seasonings are predictably mild, even in the "vegetarian-chicken" chimichanga ($1.40). And the mauve-colored mystery meat(less) in the Reuben made for good conversation.

    Weighing more on the healthy than the vegetarian side, Green Day is nevertheless quite veggie-friendly. Patrons can opt to global-warm chicken, turkey, tuna or veg wraps on a grill, or make them green by leaving out the sauce and cheese. A side of broccoli crunch, flecked with sunflower seeds and subtly sweetened with raisins, nearly upstages the wraps.
    Weighing more on the healthy than the vegetarian side, Green Day is nevertheless quite veggie-friendly. Patrons can opt to global-warm chicken, turkey, tuna or veg wraps on a grill, or make them green by leaving out the sauce and cheese. A side of broccoli crunch, flecked with sunflower seeds and subtly sweetened with raisins, nearly upstages the wraps.

    Sitting at Infusion Tea on Edgewater Drive, sipping Assam black tea ($2) and munching on delicious vegetarian hummus ($6), I reflect on what this place has in common with my favorite hot dog counter in the East Village: They are both what sociologist Ray Oldenburg calls "Third Places." Naturally the First Place is home; the second is work (damn). Third Places are the gems, providing us the precious community we so often lack in our lives.

    I went to Infusion for the third time in four days last night. I met up with a friend I hadn't seen in a while, and we closed ourselves off to the outside world to concern ourselves only with conversation and the vast menu of tea before us. Suddenly the choice of black, oolong, white, green or herbal seemed the most important thing in the world. Jasmine pearls? Or monkey-picked oolong?

    Some places can just sweep you off your overworked and/or bored-at-home feet, and Infusion has the charm to do it. The quaint corner spot in a little retro building on Edgewater begs you to bike over and stay for hours. Owner Christina Cowherd is interesting and kind, and has created a special atmosphere where visiting and lingering reign over efficiency and the bottom line. She and her husband, Brad, got the idea to open Infusion Tea while in the Peace Corps in Guatemala, and moved back to College Park to be near their families and down the street from their alma mater, Edgewater High School. Incorporating into their business many of the lifestyle changes they learned in Guatemala, they are avid recyclers, conscientious organic-food buyers and dedicated composters. Among their fantastic food choices are banana bread ($1.75) and gazpacho ($5) – recipes that Christina created with her Guatemalan students – and delightful organic tea-time bites such as scones ($1.75) with fresh cream and jam (add 75 cents).

    I couldn't help but ask about their goal in opening the tea shop. "This may sound hokey," Christina said, "but I read this book called Great Good Places by Ray Oldenburg …"

    "The one about Third Places?" I asked.

    "That was my primary goal," she said.

    Doesn't sound hokey to me at all. In fact, I'm happy to switch my affection from all-beef kosher dogs to Assam tea when it provides me with something nourishing that I crave: community.

    Chief among my Orlando restaurant crushes has been Woodlands, the vegetarian Indian restaurant on South OBT. It was the only alternative I knew to fighting the tourist hordes down on I-Drive when I need a masala fix. The atmosphere falls somewhere between fancy and casual ' no need to dress up, but you won't be chasing your chickpeas around the plate with a plastic fork, either. The fact that Woodlands is purely vegetarian is a big plus, too: I'm not, but my usual dining partner is, and restaurants that serve meat sometimes get slapdash with the veggie dishes. Little did I know that there's been a gem twinkling away just around the corner from Woodlands all along.

    In fact, Khasiyat has been open longer than Woodlands, according to owner Bhanu Chavda. Hidden away on Lancaster Road, a few blocks west of Orange Blossom Trail, Khasiyat is stuck between a Mexican market and an Indian music/DVD store. If you didn't know it was there, you'd never run across it. Bigger cities than ours don't have two excellent vegetarian Indian restaurants to choose from ' we should consider ourselves incredibly lucky.

    Khasiyat is decidedly casual. Food is served on styrofoam dishes and eaten with plastic cutlery; you order and pay at the counter. The room is spacious but very plain, dominated by an enormous flat-screen TV. Satellite service supplies Bollywood musicals in a steady, mesmerizing stream. (Even with the sound turned down ' or perhaps because the sound was turned down ' we were enthralled.) They offer an inexpensive buffet of Northern Indian specialties and three different Southern Indian thalis (sampler plates), but the real strength of the menu is the vast assortment of snacks. Fully two-thirds of the menu is devoted to appetizers and 'bites.â?�

    Khasiyat is decidedly casual. Food is served on styrofoam dishes and eaten with plastic cutlery; you order and pay at the counter. The room is spacious but very plain, dominated by an enormous flat-screen TV. Satellite service supplies Bollywood musicals in a steady, mesmerizing stream. (Even with the sound turned down ' or perhaps because the sound was turned down ' we were enthralled.) They offer an inexpensive buffet of Northern Indian specialties and three different Southern Indian thalis (sampler plates), but the real strength of the menu is the vast assortment of snacks. Fully two-thirds of the menu is devoted to appetizers and 'bites.â?�

    I vaguely remembered OW's resident expert on all things Indian, Jason Ferguson, waxing rhapsodic over a street food called bhel puri. I spotted it on the 'bitesâ?� section of the menu, surrounded by several other similar nibbles, and we decided to give it a try ($3.99). After a brief misunderstanding ' we almost got a poori (puffed flatbread) instead ' a bowl of what looked like broken ramen noodles and Kix cereal was placed in front of us. One bite, though, and we were hooked. The mixture of puffed wheat, sev (Indian noodles) and tiny diced potatoes and onions, brightened up with fresh cilantro leaves and a hint of chili, was a perfect balance of crunchy, soft, salty and spicy. Absorbed as we were in trying to untangle the plot of the muted musical, if they had put a bathtub full of this stuff in front of us, we probably would have finished it.

    I vaguely remembered OW's resident expert on all things Indian, Jason Ferguson, waxing rhapsodic over a street food called bhel puri. I spotted it on the 'bitesâ?� section of the menu, surrounded by several other similar nibbles, and we decided to give it a try ($3.99). After a brief misunderstanding ' we almost got a poori (puffed flatbread) instead ' a bowl of what looked like broken ramen noodles and Kix cereal was placed in front of us. One bite, though, and we were hooked. The mixture of puffed wheat, sev (Indian noodles) and tiny diced potatoes and onions, brightened up with fresh cilantro leaves and a hint of chili, was a perfect balance of crunchy, soft, salty and spicy. Absorbed as we were in trying to untangle the plot of the muted musical, if they had put a bathtub full of this stuff in front of us, we probably would have finished it.

    The other big hit was the dosa we ordered. Dosai, if you haven't tried them, are huge, paper-thin savory pancakes, sometimes filled. And when I say huge, I mean huge ' our masala dosa ($4.49) was at least 18 inches across, and we ordered the regular, not the 'largeâ?� ($5.99) or the 'oversizedâ?� ($6.99). Because they're fried on the grill, sometimes dosai are greasy ' in the most delicious way, of course ' but this was crisp, not at all oily. The potato-and-onion filling squished pleasingly under the crackly wrapper, accompanied by heavenly coconut chutney.

    I went in knowing that I had to try the buffet ($5.99), because I felt obligated to try the most commonly ordered dishes. The spread satisfied: rice, dal, four curries (the sag paneer was especially good, with bursting kernels of fresh corn) and several sweets. But, tasty as it was, I'll stick to the dosai and 'bitesâ?� next time. I think I have a new Sunday-afternoon ritual: bhel puri and Bollywood.

    When I lived in Atlanta in the early 1990s, I was one broke-ass sucker. Before I began my illustrious career in alternative journalism, I was sleeping on a friend's floor, working various jobs, avoiding responsibility and managing to drink most of my paycheck. Therefore, despite all the wonderful dining options around town, my stomach had to endure the standard bohemian rations of cheap ramen and 99-cent fast-food menus.

    Occasionally, though, minor financial windfalls would come my way, and whatever wasn't spent in pursuit of entertainment was splurged on one of two meals: fried chicken at the Silver Grill (the best fried chicken on the planet) or pizza at Mellow Mushroom. And Mellow Mushroom was the first place I ever encountered a tofu anything that tasted good. Yeah, tofu on your pizza. Weird, right? But the, um, mellow vibe at the Mushroom helped keep the hippie leanings of its pizza menu from turning the joint into some sort of granola factory. The mood was communal, the beer was cheap and the pizza – with meat or without – was always excellent.

    Not surprisingly, the restaurant was successful to the point of being an institution. The first Mellow Mushroom opened in the '70s near Georgia Tech; there are now more than 50 locations throughout the Southeast. So when construction began on a Mellow Mushroom outpost – near my house even! – I was eager for a chance to see what happens when a restaurant whose identity is intertwined with its city of origin branches out into foreign territory. Would the atmosphere be as convivial? Would they have good beer? Would this charming and wonderful part of my own personal history have been turned into an Olive Garden-style commodity? Most importantly, would they have good pizza?

    Answers: Yes, but with effort. Hell, yes. Yes, but not in a bad way. Absolutely.

    As with any new restaurant in Winter Park, interest in Mellow Mushroom's opening was high. We went just a few days after it opened and were greeted by a polite hostess who informed us there was a 15-minute wait, which was surprising, but would have been fine if there had actually been a place to wait. The restaurant is squeezed into a tiny plot of land in the Publix shopping plaza on Aloma Avenue, and there's precious little room for parking near the restaurant (unless you count the plaza's huge parking lot nearby). With no real waiting area, this means the parking lot also functions as an ersatz holding pen for those on the list.

    That's the only thing I found wrong with the new Mellow Mushroom.

    Though it shone with a sparkly freshness that was a little off-putting, the classic-rock soundtrack and quasi-psychedelic artwork (right down to the "plasticine porter" bathroom-door markers) were all hallmarks of the relaxed, counter-culture Mushroom environment. A reassuringly long line of beer taps at the bar was a great sight; the fact that they all poured excellent Shipyard products made me giddy.

    Our waitress was one of those sit-at-the-table types, which is usually annoying, but when she served our food, it could have been brought to us by Dick Cheney and we would have left a good tip. Huge chunks of fresh, moist mozzarella and tomato slices topped a massive bed of fresh field greens in the Capri salad ($7). The teriyaki-marinated tofu in our half-hoagie ($3.75) was accented by grilled onions, peppers and sprouts and slathered with mayonnaise. The pretzels ($3.70) were made with superfresh dough and baked on a pizza stone.

    Oh yeah, the pizza. The 10-inch "Magical Mystery Tour" ($10.75) pie – spinach, feta, mozzarella, portobello mushrooms on a pesto (rather than marinara) base – was simply astounding, with copious toppings and a buttery, Parmesan-topped crust. Despite the other excellent offerings on the menu, the pizza's what it's all about here, and I'm pleased to report that expansion has done nothing to diminish the quality.

    Sure, the slick new surroundings don't have the same scrappy appeal as the original shops, but the pizza's still great and, hey, I don't have the same scrappy appeal I had a decade ago either. I guess that's a fair trade.

    Orlando’s lone Ethiopian restaurant is a blessing for foodies with an appetite for the exotic. Utensils come in the form of pancake-like sourdough bread called injera, used to scoop intensely spiced dishes from a large communal platter. Be sure to sample traditional honey wine as well as Ethiopian coffee, brewed in a clay pot.

    Funny about the side streets off Park Avenue in Winter Park. While the main strip retains its, shall we say, "upscale" image, little spots along Welbourne and Morse house stores filled with small brass Buddhas, dog toys and ice cream.

    Just off the corner of East Lyman, hovering near the latest and greatest shopping additions, is a little restaurant called the Power House Café. Some might call it a throwback to simpler, hippier times; this is what used to be called a "health food" restaurant. The menu is replete with tabbouleh and yogurt, sunflower seeds and bulgur wheat. But with the increased popularity of stores like Whole Foods, Power House might simply be ahead of its time.

    Just off the corner of East Lyman, hovering near the latest and greatest shopping additions, is a little restaurant called the Power House Café. Some might call it a throwback to simpler, hippier times; this is what used to be called a "health food" restaurant. The menu is replete with tabbouleh and yogurt, sunflower seeds and bulgur wheat. But with the increased popularity of stores like Whole Foods, Power House might simply be ahead of its time.

    Although current owner Milad Bassil took over only last year, Power House has been in business since 1970, an enviable accomplishment in a town where far more ambitious restaurants have closed and reopened several times in that span. There are tables throughout the relatively recently expanded place, but most of the action takes place at the counter, sort of a Whole Earth diner concept, where you're invited to join your fellow diners. Pitas and salads rule, as does the delicacy that single-handedly revived the blender -- the smoothie, a big glass of sweetness for $3.

    Although current owner Milad Bassil took over only last year, Power House has been in business since 1970, an enviable accomplishment in a town where far more ambitious restaurants have closed and reopened several times in that span. There are tables throughout the relatively recently expanded place, but most of the action takes place at the counter, sort of a Whole Earth diner concept, where you're invited to join your fellow diners. Pitas and salads rule, as does the delicacy that single-handedly revived the blender -- the smoothie, a big glass of sweetness for $3.

    From the vantage point of a counter stool, strange happenings are spotted. What's that, being spooned into the blender for a smoothie? Real strawberries? Where's the prefrozen, melted, sugared syrup we've come to expect at smoothie bars? And wait -- bananas? Not powdered 'nana extract? And they use real honey instead of white sugar. Are they trying to put me in shock? To watch the whole ingredients being placed in a well-used blender and shaken into submission is an almost thrilling reminder of how food used to be made in our younger, precorporate days. There's also a big list of yogurt shakes with granola, peanut butter and all-natural fruit juices. They're a bargain at $3.25, and if you buy six you get one free.

    The solids on the menu ain't bad, either. I was very impressed with the hummus, chick peas puréed with garlic, lemon and tahini paste. The "Middle Eastern platter" ($6.95) is accompanied by lovely fried falafel patties and tabbouleh, the rich, green parsley salad mixed with cracked wheat and fresh tomato. An unusual item is a chicken salad mixed with carrots, deliciously sweet and served on apple slices and raisins ($4.50). Or try something as simple as a veggie sandwich with avocado on a pita ($4.50), and savor the fresh aromas.

    The solids on the menu ain't bad, either. I was very impressed with the hummus, chick peas puréed with garlic, lemon and tahini paste. The "Middle Eastern platter" ($6.95) is accompanied by lovely fried falafel patties and tabbouleh, the rich, green parsley salad mixed with cracked wheat and fresh tomato. An unusual item is a chicken salad mixed with carrots, deliciously sweet and served on apple slices and raisins ($4.50). Or try something as simple as a veggie sandwich with avocado on a pita ($4.50), and savor the fresh aromas.

    Every menu item has a calorie listing, and side items like yogurt-cucumber dressing or lemon sauce make for great touches. Join the gang at the counter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Boho coffeehouse perks up the Aloma/Semoran corridor with bold brews, live music and a colorful aesthetic. Soups, salads and sandwiches comprise the menu offerings; butternut squash and tomato-lentil soups are spot-on, while sandwiches can be hit ("roast beef yum") or miss ("Tofurkey Day"). To end, the chocolate trilogy provides another caffeine fix. Closed Sundays.

    Stardust Video and Coffee
    Stardust started life as a video rental place that served coffee and over the years has morphed to serve the changing desires of the community. Among its many functions (work and study spot, café, live music venue, market host) and despite its ramshackle air, the ’dust is prized by anyone looking for a quality buzz. The bartenders of the Slanted and Enchanted Bar (in the big room) are given free rein to come up with inventive craft cocktails; the Scotch Bar (in the smaller room) stocks exquisite bottles; and the bottled beer and cider selection is choice. For many, it’s a home away from home.

    There was nothing deliberate about Viet Garden's decision to offer a half Vietnamese, half Thai menu when it opened in 1994. It was merely a reflection of a kitchen team skilled in both cuisines. But as Thai food has taken off in popularity, Viet Garden has added even more Thai items and specials.

    The restaurant continues to do an equally good job with its Vietnamese and Thai creations. And the quietly understated atmosphere -- the tile floors are glossy and polished, and lacquered furniture is precisely arranged -- ensures the emphasis stays on the food.

    The restaurant continues to do an equally good job with its Vietnamese and Thai creations. And the quietly understated atmosphere -- the tile floors are glossy and polished, and lacquered furniture is precisely arranged -- ensures the emphasis stays on the food.

    We started off with nam sod ($5.95), a fantastic Thai appetizer that is much more delectable than it sounds. Ground chicken is jazzed up with ginger, scallions, chili and lime dressing, and it crunches with the texture of the whole peanuts. Served with a pot of peanut sauce, this appetizer was our favorite. Other items not to miss include the popular "pineapple fried rice" ($8.50), served in a scooped-out pineapple shell with chicken, shrimp, eggs and scallions.

    We started off with nam sod ($5.95), a fantastic Thai appetizer that is much more delectable than it sounds. Ground chicken is jazzed up with ginger, scallions, chili and lime dressing, and it crunches with the texture of the whole peanuts. Served with a pot of peanut sauce, this appetizer was our favorite. Other items not to miss include the popular "pineapple fried rice" ($8.50), served in a scooped-out pineapple shell with chicken, shrimp, eggs and scallions.

    Next we moved on to the "Viet combo appetizer" ($7.95), which featured a fabulous shrimp toast. Luscious shrimp paste was spread over toast points and broiled until sizzling. There also were crackling-crisp spring rolls, fresh garden rolls, beef tenders and fried wontons, all of which were appealing.

    Next we moved on to the "Viet combo appetizer" ($7.95), which featured a fabulous shrimp toast. Luscious shrimp paste was spread over toast points and broiled until sizzling. There also were crackling-crisp spring rolls, fresh garden rolls, beef tenders and fried wontons, all of which were appealing.

    We also liked fine rice vermicelli topped with grilled pork ($6.50). The bed of pure white rice noodles was properly sticky, and the pork strips were flawlessly tender. The dish was even better enjoyed with a sprinkling of crushed nuts, with each forkful dabbed into plummy hoisin sauce.

    We also liked fine rice vermicelli topped with grilled pork ($6.50). The bed of pure white rice noodles was properly sticky, and the pork strips were flawlessly tender. The dish was even better enjoyed with a sprinkling of crushed nuts, with each forkful dabbed into plummy hoisin sauce.

    Less exciting was the "flower connection" ($9.95), a surf-and-turf extravaganza presented in a blossom formed from fried wonton skins. There were shrimp, scallops, pork, chicken and stir-fried vegetables, but something was missing in the sauce, which was bland and flavorless.

    Less exciting was the "flower connection" ($9.95), a surf-and-turf extravaganza presented in a blossom formed from fried wonton skins. There were shrimp, scallops, pork, chicken and stir-fried vegetables, but something was missing in the sauce, which was bland and flavorless.

    The only lapse in service came at the end of the meal, when we were left waiting for the check for nearly 15 minutes after we had finished eating and only a few other customers lingered. We finally beckoned to our waiter, who was seated at an empty table across the room. He brought the check and just one box instead of the two requested for our leftovers.

    The only lapse in service came at the end of the meal, when we were left waiting for the check for nearly 15 minutes after we had finished eating and only a few other customers lingered. We finally beckoned to our waiter, who was seated at an empty table across the room. He brought the check and just one box instead of the two requested for our leftovers.

    Although service isn't always as sharp as it should be, you can count on Viet Garden for delicious food from the Far East, time and again.

    The new Whole Foods Market is a great stop for a quick bite, and not just because of the free samples -- from chocolates to cheeses, fresh-baked sunflower loaves to black-bean hummus. It's a different food-gathering experience altogether.

    With background swing music, Utne Readers at the check-out and booth-seating at the front, it's the kind of market that we didn't know we were missing. The deli has an impressive display of takeout delicacies: saffron-yellow paella primavera ($4.59/lb.); grilled portobello mushrooms ($10.99/lb.); oriental sea bass with ginger, honey and pineapple ($14.99/lb.), and more. Plus, the smoothie counter offers an array of liquid energizers, including espresso shots (95 cents). Try "OrangeMango Madness ($3.50)," filled with chunky, organic mangoes.

    The section of South Orange Blossom Trail on the edge of Florida Mall territory has been catering to varying appetites for some time as the area continues to diversify. One of the area's few German restaurants is here (Gain's), Amigos caters to the Tex-Mex crowd, and Laxmi Plaza offers food and sundry shopping to a growing population of Indian residents.

    And when it comes to healthy appetites, Woodlands -- across the road from Laxmi -- is a restaurant worth adding to your go-to list. As their website (woodlands-usa.com) proclaims, "Step-in and you will be wafted with the aroma of enthralling culinary appetizing that the already proud regular customers are experiencing now."

    You also could be experiencing now the flavors, aromas and visual delight of the South Indian cuisine served here.

    Recipes from the southern region, the ancient India below the Vindhya Mountains, are based on Hindu tradition and use ingredients differently than the northern menus we're more familiar with. So no Kashmiri dishes like tandoori, no naan bread, no vindaloo. And no meat -- Woodlands maintains a "pure vegetarian" kitchen. (That means no animal fats, either.)

    Purely delightful is more to the point. Coconut milk instead of cream, mustard seeds and fiery-hot chili peppers add to the distinctive cookery. Woodlands specializes in dosai -- thin, plate-sized crepes that are fried crisp or filled with savory items like hot chutney or potatoes ($4.75 to $6.50).

    The traditional spicy and sour soup called rasam ($2.50), hot with peppers and sweet with tamarind, is a heated warm-up for dishes that stimulate every part of the tongue. Rich and sometimes smoky flavors inhabit "Gobi Manchurian" ($6.50), sautéed cauliflower, sharp with ginger and garlic, and spiced with chili and soy sauce. A concoction of lentils, brown rice and vegetables called "pongol avial" is one you'll want again ($6.50). My favorite Indian curry, the spinach-based palak paneer ($6.95) is done to a deep, creamy and slightly hot perfection.

    Settling in on a favorite is fine, but the bargain is one of the dinner specials. "Mysore Royal Thali" ($14.95) combines samosa appetizers, chana chickpea curry, spiced lentil sambar and more into a feast of bright colors (such as the green coriander raita sauce) and dazzling tastes.

    Offer thanks to the portrait by the front door of Sri Ganesha, the elephant-headed god of luck and new beginnings, for such a fine meal. As it says on the website, "We guarantee a sound and happy sleep after dinnertime at Woodlands."And one with a warm and satisfied belly.

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