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    With stints at Antonio’s La Fiamma in Maitland and Terramia Winebar in Longwood, Adriatico chef Marco Cudazzo has played a significant role in pleasing local palates with a penchant for pasta and rustic dishes from the old country. Now, along with his charming wife Rosetta, Cudazzo brings the flavors of his native Abruzzo, a coastal region shoring the Adriatic, to College Park’s savvy denizens, most of whom are no strangers to authentic Italian cuisine.

    Not surprisingly, Adriatico’s menu slants toward the sea, not the Abruzzo’s mountainous interior, where lamb, mutton and diavolicchio peppers typify the Abruzzese style. No, it’s all about the seafood here, and the calamaretti alla Napoletana ($8.50), ringlets and tentacles of small, tender squid sautéed in a spicy tomato sauce, is an antipasto worth diving into. The meat is faultlessly firm and doesn’t suffer from the rubbery texture that results from overcooking, while the sauce is an ideal lure for the complimentary bread.

    I took great pleasure in listening to my waiter’s thick, rolling lilt, though I’m sure he felt like driving his giant fist into my skull after I asked him to repeat the evening’s special three times. When I finally understood that the white striped bass ($27.50) was pan-fried with portobello mushrooms, and not pot-bellied monsoons, I couldn’t say no. The enormous platter contained a thick fillet garnished with baby romas, yellow tomatoes and two crunchy jumbo shrimp in addition to the ’shrooms, all slicked in a garlic white wine sauce. The flavors worked well, but I would’ve enjoyed the fish more had it not been served tepid.

    Terrestrial items also get a chance to shine, and the indisputable freshness of the creamy tomato soup ($5.50) made it a bowl full of magical slurps, with heavy cream and basil adding texture and pungency to the ruddy orange bisque. Carciofini “mamma mia” ($8.50), baby artichokes sautéed in olive oil, garlic and mint, were tender for the most part though a few stringy stragglers found their way into the garlicky sauce. The astringency of the artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes, unfortunately, overpowered the essence of mint, making the dish a slight disappointment.

     

    A comforting main like gnocchi della casa can be enjoyed with a choice of three sauces: marinara ($11.50), meaty Bolognese ($14.50) or gorgonzola cheese ($16.50). No matter the sauce, the potato dumplings were perfectly pillowy, and if you opt for the gorgonzola, the rich sauce is as aromatic as it is fulfilling. Italian-imported lemon sorbetto ($7) bests house-made tiramisu, partly for its refreshing tang and partly for its lemon-peel shell, though
    either will ensure your meal ends on a sweet note.

    Wine racks, exposed brick walls and the glow of candlelight on fresh linens create an oasis of calm, though the serene ambience also extends outside, where patrons can dine by the light of tiki torches along Edgewater Drive. Service is purposefully friendly and leisured, but can seem a little too leisurely when glasses are left unfilled and when lags create uneven pacing. Nevertheless, the trattoria’s genuine charm ultimately wins over the hearts of diners, and the competent execution of the seafood-leaning menu is sure to make Adriatico a fixture in the neighborhood.

    From the outside, Cafe Trastevere seems a little too perfect. It's almost as if a grand, old Italian villa fell out of the sky and landed on Magnolia Avenue, across the street from the First Union office tower.

    Yet when we stepped inside this new "Roman Italian kitchen" – the sister establishment of Trastevere Ristorante in Winter Park – on a recent Saturday evening, we found a very casual atmosphere and a smart, postmodern interior.

    Yet when we stepped inside this new "Roman Italian kitchen" – the sister establishment of Trastevere Ristorante in Winter Park – on a recent Saturday evening, we found a very casual atmosphere and a smart, postmodern interior.

    Seated at one of the last available tables downstairs, we found ourselves nearly elbow-to-elbow with our neighbors. To the left, a group of 40-somethings discussed Winter Park real-estate rumors. To the right, a table of Generation Xers held forth on the latest crop of super-models. The music included old jazz ballads, along the lines of Billie Holiday. Then someone in the kitchen turned on the radio, and we were listening to "Car Wash."

    Seated at one of the last available tables downstairs, we found ourselves nearly elbow-to-elbow with our neighbors. To the left, a group of 40-somethings discussed Winter Park real-estate rumors. To the right, a table of Generation Xers held forth on the latest crop of super-models. The music included old jazz ballads, along the lines of Billie Holiday. Then someone in the kitchen turned on the radio, and we were listening to "Car Wash."

    Most items on the dinner menu can be had for $10 to $16. The selection includes some of the finest pasta dishes and classic Italian entrees you'll find in town – chockablock with fresh seasonings and flavors and absolutely delicious. The proof is in the flock of cars usually crowded around the building.

    Most items on the dinner menu can be had for $10 to $16. The selection includes some of the finest pasta dishes and classic Italian entrees you'll find in town – chockablock with fresh seasonings and flavors and absolutely delicious. The proof is in the flock of cars usually crowded around the building.

    We started with eggplant capponata ($4.95), a dish of chopped eggplant sautéed with onions, garlic, plum tomatoes and capers. It was served with a soup spoon and toast points, which we used to build bruschettas – very saucy, warm and tasty. The traditional paste e fagioli soup ($2.95) was dominated by cannellini beans, but the tomato broth was warm and thick, and quite good.

    We started with eggplant capponata ($4.95), a dish of chopped eggplant sautéed with onions, garlic, plum tomatoes and capers. It was served with a soup spoon and toast points, which we used to build bruschettas – very saucy, warm and tasty. The traditional paste e fagioli soup ($2.95) was dominated by cannellini beans, but the tomato broth was warm and thick, and quite good.

    Among the entrees, filet porcini is highly recommended. At $19.25, it was worth every penny. The filet mignon was butterfly-cut and grilled, and so tender that it hardly required a knife. It was topped with a dark sauce of cabernet and wild porcini mushrooms just rich enough to enhance the meat.

    Among the entrees, filet porcini is highly recommended. At $19.25, it was worth every penny. The filet mignon was butterfly-cut and grilled, and so tender that it hardly required a knife. It was topped with a dark sauce of cabernet and wild porcini mushrooms just rich enough to enhance the meat.

    My guest's pesto capellini ($14.95) featured Gulf shrimp seared in garlic, then tossed with angel-hair pasta in a light pesto sauce. Although the flavors were fresh, the shrimp were medium –not jumbo, as the menu advertised.

    My guest's pesto capellini ($14.95) featured Gulf shrimp seared in garlic, then tossed with angel-hair pasta in a light pesto sauce. Although the flavors were fresh, the shrimp were medium –not jumbo, as the menu advertised.

    Cafe Trastevere also has a more spacious dining area upstairs that affords more privacy. But wherever you choose to be seated, expect a great meal in a classy, stimulating atmosphere, without having to spend a fortune.

    I'll admit it: I'm not thrilled by Chinese food, at least not the overly greasy and sodium-filled kind that dominates the American foodscape. If I'm going to eat Chinese, I want it to be from some back alley in Chinatown where the menu barely taps the English language. I've always said that you should dine with someone Chinese who can show you the ropes about the good stuff. But when I walked into China in College Park with two of my least Asian girlfriends, I learned a thing or two about the validity of the Chinese-American hybrid – Chimerican, one of my friends called it.

    China in CP has one of those menus that numbers everything because there are so many items, all familiar and safe. Who hasn't heard of sesame chicken? Vegetable fried rice? Egg foo young? These dishes are so embedded in the American culture that they've almost become clichés of themselves. But what would a neighborhood be without Chinese takeout? People describe vapid districts of town, lacking culture, as places that "don't even have a Chinese restaurant." So China in CP not only fills a gap, but fills it well in its small spot on Edgewater Drive.

    We walked up at night, the bright interior beckoning. As we stepped inside, we were awash in familiar Chimerican smells – vegetable oil, sesame, shrimp and steamed rice. This truly felt like an urban Chinese takeout, with people popping in and out for paper bags brimming with red-and-white paper boxes, plastic soup containers and fortune cookies.

    I must mention the service, which was so friendly that it had the feel of a corner diner, the kind of place you go by yourself on a rainy night and pour out your sorrows while drinking hot tea and catching up on gossip. Every dish we ordered generated our server's excitement, along with a story about who else eats it or why she thought we'd like it spicier.

    Shrimp fried rice ($6.95) was an enormous dish of tender rice stir-fried with a plethora of diced vegetables and shrimp pieces. It was exactly what it promised, except it was three times larger. For value, you can't go wrong at China in CP. A family of four could feast for under $20 if they put their minds to it.

    Because it fit the atmosphere so well, we ordered crab Rangoon ($3.95), six pieces of deep-fried wonton filled with crab and cream cheese. These antiquated party appetizers originated at Trader Vic's, the legendary 1950s tiki hideaway. Even though crab Rangoon has filtered down from the days of groovy gastronomy, they are still satisfying to the American palate.

    One of my friends ordered chicken with lemon sauce ($7.95), which was more like chicken with lemon curd. The chicken was battered and deep-fried, and from the looks of the heaping plate, there was again enough for three portions. Alongside it, a bowl of bright yellow sauce was goopy-sweet. It tasted just right with chicken, but my friend admitted that she could eat the sauce on ice cream.

    My other friend ordered an appetizer of sushi. Now that grocery stores sell sushi, places like China in CP feel free to do so, too. The sushi bar that fills the back of the restaurant serves decent sushi and sashimi. My friend got the sashimi sampler ($7.95) with great toro, mediocre tuna flank and flavorless yellowtail. For her entree, she chose something that wasn't on the menu, Singapore noodles – one of those ubiquitous dishes – and they had no problems accommodating her request. They make it all the time, they told her. Her plate was a huge mound of wok-fried rice noodles with spicy, curry-flecked vegetables and seafood.

    I zeroed in on Peking duck ($15). I love this Beijing specialty that involves a process of glazing and drying to produce a succulent bird with a crispy skin atop a layer of delicious fat. It had been sliced into manageable portions and was served with thin pancakes to wrap around it and hoisin sauce for dipping.

    Although China in College Park is a far cry from authentic Chinese, it is firmly filling its small place in its neighborhood.

    Prodigious patties for the post-grad set seems to be graffiti Junktion's function; the crowd is young and the digs run to squatter-chic embillishments. Skip the salad and chili and head straight for the beefed-up burgers, served on homemade buns. a full bar keeps the scene lively and the din uproarious.

    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.

    There are times when a quiet meal in quiet surroundings is all you want. No chatting from people nearby, no loud noise -- you get enough of that at work -- just sitting down in front of a plate of food and tucking in. Doesn't even matter what kind of food, really ... just peace.

    On those days, don't go to Il Pescatore. But if you crave a good dinner in an atmosphere that will remind you more of Sunday afternoon at Aunt Marie's than Ristorante di Silenzio, head as quickly as possible to east Orlando and grab a table.

    Marie, by the way, is usually at the front counter. She greets diners as if they're old friends, and the amazing thing is, most are. Before this place was Il Pescatore ("the fisherman"), it was Jocelyne's, a French and Italian place, and before that, just plain Italian as Sorrento's. Back then, Stefano Lacommare was the chef, and he and his wife Marie left in '95 to open Stefano's Trattoria on Aloma Avenue. But the little place got too little, and while Stefano's is still there under different ownership, Lacommare has returned to Primrose Drive.

    With wood-paneled walls and uncovered wood tables, Il Pescatore is more relaxed than your typical restaurant. There's a never-ending flow of people walking in the front door, out the side door and heading to tables. There's talking, continuously -- chatter behind you, a discussion across the room, an explosion of laughter from the back. In other words, this is an Italian restaurant, the kind I'd all but given up on seeing again outside of New York's Arthur Avenue.

    And the food lives up to that image. Nothing comes out of a jar. The cozze marinara appetizer ($6.95) consists of lovely mussels simply served on half-shell with a rich tomato sauce full of garlic and a slightly dark basil taste. There's an extensive list of pasta dishes, including sautéed tortellini with cream sauce and a touch of prosciutto ($6.95), and more than a dozen sauces that you can mix with your choice of pasta.

    There are almost too many dinner choices, from traditional house specialties like "trippa del Pescatore" (tripe in tomato sauce; $12.95) to linguini with clams, conch or squid ($10.95). The cannelloni ($10.95) is splendid: pasta envelopes stuffed with ground chicken, ricotta cheese and mushrooms that tasted like they were marinated in garlic, then topped with mozzarella. The chicken special on one visit was a sheet of chicken breast wrapped around a four-cheese risotto. The softball-sized dish is baked, then served in a marsala wine sauce.

    Go welcome Stefano back to the neighborhood. Tell 'em Joe sent ya.

    You can quibble and kvetch all you want about how Jason's isn't a real deli ' where's the matzo ball soup, you'll ask? The nova lox? Fair enough. I'll cede that this chain based out of Beaumont, Texas, doesn't conform to Delancey Street standards, but it's pretty much unrivaled on Colonial Drive. In fact, not since the days when Schlotzky's occupied a small space across from the Fashion Square Mall has there been a deli worth visiting in the area.

    And no matter what time you go, you're sure to witness some sweaty gym-rat spillage from the L.A. Fitness next door. But you can't blame them, considering Jason's guarantee of a trans fat'free dining experience, highlighted by a section of the menu devoted to 'healthy heart slimwichesâ?� ' wraps and sandwiches low in calories, fat, cholesterol and sodium. A decent salad bar ($6.59), properly attended to and always stocked with fresh vegetables, is another popular option for the health- conscious, not that the rest of the menu, with its paninis, wraps, salads, soups, po'boys, traditional sandwiches and muffulettas, is an artery-clogging affair. Muffulettas, by the way, are waggishly referred to as 'muffâ?� sandwiches, and those of you with enough gumption to order the 'whole muffâ?� ($10.99) with a straight face will be rewarded with an enormous 9-inch muffuletta filled with layers of provolone, olive mix and your choice of ham, salami or oven-roasted turkey (half- and quarter-muff sandwiches are also offered).

    I opted for the slightly less obscene-sounding Reuben the Great ($7.29). The corned beef wasn't hot, as advertised, but it was warm and piled high on Swiss-laid, doughy rye. What I really liked was that the sauerkraut was still crunchy and not overly sharp, likely because of a shorter fermentation cycle. My only complaint, and it's a small one, is that the soft bread ultimately succumbed to the beefiness and tore. The cup of chili-thick vegetable soup ($2.59) felt particularly comforting on this rainy evening with its heart-healthy broth of plump lima beans, corn and carrot wedges. The Sergeant Pepper po'boy ($6.59), a Texas take on the French dip sandwich layered with thin slices of roast beef, sauteed onions, bell peppers and a provolone smother, had a surprising kick, and a dunk in the jus made it all the more mouthwatering. Again, the only complaint was the texture of the bread; it could've used a bit more toasting. The barbecue brisket sandwich ($6.99), one of their daily specials, wasn't anywhere near as enjoyable as the others, primarily because of the overwhelmingly sweet sauce. Of course, you're free to custom-build your own sandwich from the assortment of meats, breads, fillers and dressings available.

    The gargantuan baked potatoes seem like byproducts of a nuclear accident, but the secret of their girth, I later found out, is the fusion of two large spuds to create an Atkins nightmare. Potatoes are baked for an hour, then microwaved when your order is placed. The spud au broc ($5.79), a meal in itself, is loaded with broccoli heads, green onions, bacon and gooey cheddar, though a petite half-size is available for $1 less.

    The sizable dining space is accoutred with ceiling fans and photographs of European cityscapes (which I thought slightly odd), and is designed to handle large numbers of patrons. Their system ' place your order, take a number, have a seat and wait for your food to be brought out ' isn't without its flaws. My strawberry shortcake ($2.99) failed to materialize, so I had to retrieve it myself from the counter. And I'm glad I did. The two layers of cake filled with cream, flavored with vanilla and topped with strawberry slices was a light and not-too-sweet capper.

    But there's no harm in saving your cash and settling for a cup or two of complimentary low-fat ice cream. Like most of the offerings here, it's a suitable antidote to guilty consciences.

    Korea House dates back to 1982, and while that's hardly early history in terms of the city's evolution, the restaurant was nonetheless a pioneer on the dining scene. For many years, it was the only local eatery offering a taste of the Land of the Morning Sun, and now it's among the few.

    Even today, the phone book lists just two other sources for Korean food: Korea Garden, which is down the street from Korea House; and Korea House Oriental Super Market on Edgewater Drive, which is completely unrelated to the restaurant. Oddly enough, there are more Korean churches than restaurants: six in all. There's never been the mainstream acceptance of Korean food as there has been for other Asian cuisines.

    Even today, the phone book lists just two other sources for Korean food: Korea Garden, which is down the street from Korea House; and Korea House Oriental Super Market on Edgewater Drive, which is completely unrelated to the restaurant. Oddly enough, there are more Korean churches than restaurants: six in all. There's never been the mainstream acceptance of Korean food as there has been for other Asian cuisines.

    Korea House offers a tour of classic Korean flavors: garlic, ginger, soy and hot pepper. The atmosphere is at once genteel and bohemian. There's a Spartan quality to the dining area, with just 10 tables, a few paper lanterns and rice-paper partitions. At night the overhead lighting is far too harsh. But there is a quiet throughout the room, even as servers deliver tray after tray of delicacies to the customers.

    Korea House offers a tour of classic Korean flavors: garlic, ginger, soy and hot pepper. The atmosphere is at once genteel and bohemian. There's a Spartan quality to the dining area, with just 10 tables, a few paper lanterns and rice-paper partitions. At night the overhead lighting is far too harsh. But there is a quiet throughout the room, even as servers deliver tray after tray of delicacies to the customers.

    Korea House rivals the average Chinese restaurant in terms of price and value. For the cost of a $32 dinner for two, we received an overly abundant amount of food. We tried: yaki mandoo, pan-fried dumplings stuffed with beef and vegetables and crimped into crescents ($4.25), sushi-esque kim bap, seaweed rolls filled with beef and vegetables ($3.95), a bowl of tofu soup with miso and spinach ($1.95), and a generous platter of bulgogi beef, which is kind of like Korean barbecue, marinated in a sweet garlic sauce ($9.95). The pizza-sized pajuen, a fried potato pancake laced with scallions, oysters, clams, peppers and rice, was delicious, but unwieldy and difficult to slice.

    Korea House rivals the average Chinese restaurant in terms of price and value. For the cost of a $32 dinner for two, we received an overly abundant amount of food. We tried: yaki mandoo, pan-fried dumplings stuffed with beef and vegetables and crimped into crescents ($4.25), sushi-esque kim bap, seaweed rolls filled with beef and vegetables ($3.95), a bowl of tofu soup with miso and spinach ($1.95), and a generous platter of bulgogi beef, which is kind of like Korean barbecue, marinated in a sweet garlic sauce ($9.95). The pizza-sized pajuen, a fried potato pancake laced with scallions, oysters, clams, peppers and rice, was delicious, but unwieldy and difficult to slice.

    There was much variety among the side items, with 11 offerings included with the meal, gratis, including cucumbers in sweet vinegar sauce, marinated bean sprouts, pickled turnips and pan-seared tofu. We sampled several varieties of kimchi, the pickled cabbage dish that is the cornerstone of the Korean diet. We had a traditional version, which had been fermented with hot peppers and caught us off-guard with its spiciness. A dish of house soy sauce added a mild, sweet dimension to different dinner items, and it wasn't salty in the least.

    There was much variety among the side items, with 11 offerings included with the meal, gratis, including cucumbers in sweet vinegar sauce, marinated bean sprouts, pickled turnips and pan-seared tofu. We sampled several varieties of kimchi, the pickled cabbage dish that is the cornerstone of the Korean diet. We had a traditional version, which had been fermented with hot peppers and caught us off-guard with its spiciness. A dish of house soy sauce added a mild, sweet dimension to different dinner items, and it wasn't salty in the least.

    For a culinary adventure at Korea House, you won't need a lot of money, just a hearty appetite and an open mind.

    The long-standing dim sum hot spot cools somewhat in the evening hours, but that doesn’t stop diners craving traditional Cantonese-American from indulging in the copious number of dishes offered. For freshness, look to the tanks teeming with striped bass, tilapia and lobster; otherwise, take your chances with the huge menu. Wor shu duck is a crispy, garlicky winner.


    Teaser: The long-standing dim sum hotspot cools somewhat in the evening hours, but that doesn't stop diners craving traditional Cantonese-American from indulging in the copious number of dishes offered. For freshness, look to the tanks teeming with striped bass, tilapia and lobster; otherwise, take your chances with the huge menu. Wor shu duck is a crispy, garlicky winner.

    You know a restaurant must be doing at least one thing right when it lays claim to being the oldest family-owned steakhouse in Orlando. That one thing would be steaks, and you'll definitely find beef on the menu -- if not a lot of other attractions -- at Linda's La Cantina Steakhouse, which dates back to 1947. It's been in the same location for more than half a century at 4721 E. Colonial Drive.

    In the old days it was called Al and Linda's La Cantina. But it's Linda Seng who runs the place after all these years (she prefers not to discuss the particulars behind the name and ownership transition), and her family joins her in running the restaurant.

    In the old days it was called Al and Linda's La Cantina. But it's Linda Seng who runs the place after all these years (she prefers not to discuss the particulars behind the name and ownership transition), and her family joins her in running the restaurant.

    A casual observer would never guess the restaurant's history: It looks virtually new. That's because the old La Cantina burned to the ground three days after Christmas 1994 and rebuilt by the following summer. The spiffy updated digs include a bilevel dining area and a gleaming new bar that is built around a distinctive "water-fire" fountain -- a pool of water that has an undulating flame as its centerpiece. The whole effect is that of a typical, dimly lit family steakhouse, but more upscale.

    A casual observer would never guess the restaurant's history: It looks virtually new. That's because the old La Cantina burned to the ground three days after Christmas 1994 and rebuilt by the following summer. The spiffy updated digs include a bilevel dining area and a gleaming new bar that is built around a distinctive "water-fire" fountain -- a pool of water that has an undulating flame as its centerpiece. The whole effect is that of a typical, dimly lit family steakhouse, but more upscale.

    We weren't expecting a revolutionary dining experience, so we weren't disappointed. We enjoyed expertly prepared steaks, with the exception of one appetizer -- the too-chewy "bourbon bites" ($5.95) tinged with whiskey and brown sugar. The shrimp cocktail ($6.25) featured a half dozen Gulf shrimp that were simply presented on a bed of greens with chilled, tangy marinara sauce. But for an opener, we preferred the toasty, warm baguette that came with the bread basket.

    We weren't expecting a revolutionary dining experience, so we weren't disappointed. We enjoyed expertly prepared steaks, with the exception of one appetizer -- the too-chewy "bourbon bites" ($5.95) tinged with whiskey and brown sugar. The shrimp cocktail ($6.25) featured a half dozen Gulf shrimp that were simply presented on a bed of greens with chilled, tangy marinara sauce. But for an opener, we preferred the toasty, warm baguette that came with the bread basket.

    My guest's huge "surf and turf" dinner ($28.95) was fantastic and flawless. A 14-ounce snapper fillet was blanketed in Cajun spices (chosen by Seng after excursions to New Orleans). There also was an 8-ounce filet mignon that was sizzled outside and deep-red inside with a silky texture throughout. Juicy, succulent and tender, with hints of smokiness, the mammoth T-bone steaks ($23.45) cover the better part of an oversized dinner plate.

    My guest's huge "surf and turf" dinner ($28.95) was fantastic and flawless. A 14-ounce snapper fillet was blanketed in Cajun spices (chosen by Seng after excursions to New Orleans). There also was an 8-ounce filet mignon that was sizzled outside and deep-red inside with a silky texture throughout. Juicy, succulent and tender, with hints of smokiness, the mammoth T-bone steaks ($23.45) cover the better part of an oversized dinner plate.

    Among the side items, skip the spaghetti; it's lackluster next to such a fabulous cut of meat. Dinners like this call for jumbo baked potatoes smothered with all the trimmings and a simple house salad ladled with freshly made Roquefort "blue cheese" dressing.

    Among the side items, skip the spaghetti; it's lackluster next to such a fabulous cut of meat. Dinners like this call for jumbo baked potatoes smothered with all the trimmings and a simple house salad ladled with freshly made Roquefort "blue cheese" dressing.

    Despite the high-end prices, you won't find any waiters putting on airs here. Service is strictly casual. Linda's La Cantina Steakhouse is just the place to thoroughly relax over a fine steak dinner.

    Mediterranean Deli tops my list of places to eat for $10 or less. Located in a 1950s-style strip mall on the western edge of Fairbanks Avenue in Winter Park, it sits like an oasis of authenticity.

    I'm not talking about the kind of quaint Mediterranean place that makes you feel as if you're sipping Monacos at a resort by the sea. That's tourist-variety authenticity. Mediterranean Deli makes you feel like you're eating the way the residents of the Mediterranean region really eat: From small, run-down places with odd decorations, exhilaratingly exotic smells and hearty but inexpensive meals.

    Chipped terrazzo flooring, an industrial sink in the dining room and crooked counters are mere blemishes when it comes to tasting the homemade Greek and Lebanese dishes that are prepared by owner Walaid Ali and his wife. Besides, you can always gaze upon the beaded screen of palm trees that leads to the bathroom or the holographic eagle paintings or the fruit-decorated place mats.

    The hummus ($2.80) was perfect, both nutty from the garbanzos and pleasingly tart from the fresh lemon juice. Although chickpeas are the dominant ingredient, they nicely hold the flavors of tahini and garlic.

    Kibbeh ($4.99), one of my favorite Mediterranean dishes, is made in advance and reheated on the spot. These flavorful balls of seasoned ground lamb and pine nuts swaddled in an outer shell of deep-fried buckwheat were superior specimens.

    If you like spinach pies, don't miss Mediterranean Deli's boreeka ($4.99), rich with verdant spinach and tangy feta cheese in puff pastry. It's not served as the typical individual pie, but cut from a larger sheet pan. This is one of the best I've tried.

    The visit wouldn't have complete without at least sampling a gyro sandwich ($4.99), and the Mediterranean Deli rendition is superb. The sauce is cool and creamy and complements the ground lamb and beef. The bread enhances the sandwich rather than just sitting around the ingredients. Visiting Mediterranean Deli may not be like a vacation, but the fare is tasty enough for everyday eating.

    If I lived somewhere in the middle of nowhere I would be jumping for joy at the arrival of Pho Hoa, the new Vietnamese soup emporium that has moved in to the Primrose Avenue spot vacated by the Golden Lake restaurant. But with the many nearby family-owned Vietnamese eateries (including Pho 88, another soup place a scant 1.2 miles away), the addition of a franchise seems redundant. Truth is, a franchise is a relatively risk-free way of opening a new restaurant and sharing the company's national advertising.

    There are more than 90 other Pho Hoas and sister Pho Cong Lys, from California to Boston and Ontario to Kuala Lumpur. The chain emphasizes the "Health Conscious Choice" of its broth-based dishes. And although I could not find any exact nutritional information, there doesn't seem to be much danger in the beef and chicken consommés, with pieces of meat, noodles and a whole bunch of vegetables. A bowl here is sort of like having a soup, salad and main course all at once.

    There are more than 90 other Pho Hoas and sister Pho Cong Lys, from California to Boston and Ontario to Kuala Lumpur. The chain emphasizes the "Health Conscious Choice" of its broth-based dishes. And although I could not find any exact nutritional information, there doesn't seem to be much danger in the beef and chicken consommés, with pieces of meat, noodles and a whole bunch of vegetables. A bowl here is sort of like having a soup, salad and main course all at once.

    The sign looming over Pho Hoa reads, "The best Vietnamese food in town," and I can undeniably proclaim, "Not in this town." But the food ain't bad, and judging by the mostly Vietnamese clientele, rather authentic. The clear soup bases of beef or chicken are slow-simmered and delicately seasoned, even the beef broth is a lustrous golden color. The bowls come large ($5.50) and even larger ($6.50), loaded with rice noodles, mushrooms, and in the case of the chicken pho, bits of cauliflower and broccoli. The pho do bien chua cay (seafood soup, $6.50) finds squid, tender scallops and a bit of fish floating amongst the noodles, a savory combination that unfortunately included the dreaded "fake crab." Tell them to leave it out if at all possible.

    The sign looming over Pho Hoa reads, "The best Vietnamese food in town," and I can undeniably proclaim, "Not in this town." But the food ain't bad, and judging by the mostly Vietnamese clientele, rather authentic. The clear soup bases of beef or chicken are slow-simmered and delicately seasoned, even the beef broth is a lustrous golden color. The bowls come large ($5.50) and even larger ($6.50), loaded with rice noodles, mushrooms, and in the case of the chicken pho, bits of cauliflower and broccoli. The pho do bien chua cay (seafood soup, $6.50) finds squid, tender scallops and a bit of fish floating amongst the noodles, a savory combination that unfortunately included the dreaded "fake crab." Tell them to leave it out if at all possible.

    The big adventure is the beef soup (which is what "pho" means). To the basic dish is added any number of beef cuts, from steak, brisket and meatballs ("For Beginners" on the menu) to tendon, bible tripe (so named because it looks like the pages of a book) and flank steak, either "fatty" or "crunchy" (cooked by the heat of the soup or well-done).

    The big adventure is the beef soup (which is what "pho" means). To the basic dish is added any number of beef cuts, from steak, brisket and meatballs ("For Beginners" on the menu) to tendon, bible tripe (so named because it looks like the pages of a book) and flank steak, either "fatty" or "crunchy" (cooked by the heat of the soup or well-done).

    I will enthusiastically recommend the blended drinks, in particular the avocado one ($3.25). It looked like soft-serve pistachio ice cream and tasted like frozen guacamole.

    I will enthusiastically recommend the blended drinks, in particular the avocado one ($3.25). It looked like soft-serve pistachio ice cream and tasted like frozen guacamole.

    The etiquette of pho calls for an abundance of seasoning and supplementing. There's hoisin sauce for a sweet and spicy kick of garlic and soy; sesame oil for a mellow fragrance; basil leaves, coriander, bean sprouts and jalapeños for crunch, bite and heat; and the ever-present red chili sauce. Try being adventurous and slurp it down -- it's OK to slurp here.

    There was a time when a good number of my lunchtime repasts were enjoyed at this very address, back when Schlotzsky’s Deli occupied the space. So as I glided across the black-and-white checkered floor (the sole vestige from those heady deli days) to my comfortable banquette, I couldn’t help reminiscing about those deeply satisfying oven-toasted sandwiches and hoping SEA Thai’s strikingly diverse menu would leave me just as satisfied.

    Thankfully, the six siblings running SEA (an acronym for “Southeast Asia,” but also an allusion to their modest seafood offerings) make customer contentment a priority. All have served as either waiters or cooks at other Siamese establishments around town, and if a culinary conundrum is encountered, parental consultation is just a phone call away.

    The scene is simple and serene with a trace of lounge cool: A colorful wall of geometry evokes Mondrian, while colorful dishes evoke Shavitranuruk, the chef responsible for melding the four “S”s of Thai cookery – sweet, sour, spicy and salty. The mound of slivered green papaya ($5.95) specked with fresh garlic and soaked in vinegar and lemon elicits a proper pucker before the piercing stab of Thai green chilies numbs the tongue. The flavors are similar to Indian kachumber but with a far greater crunch, thanks to the papaya.

    The perfumed broth of Thai lemongrass soup ($3.25) further demonstrates the kitchen’s consistency, and while the tempered use of fish sauce suggests a less-is-more approach, a cluster of baby corn, snow peas, broccoli, carrots, mushrooms, scallions and cabbage refutes the notion. Even unadventurous fried spring rolls ($2.95) stuffed with glass noodles and assorted minced veggies show a fastidious commitment.

    A complex confluence of flavors comprises the more than 50 available entrees, but none more so than chili red snapper ($26.95). The enormous, impeccably crisp fish is served whole atop a slather of chili-laced hot and sour sauce jeweled with diced red and green peppers. It’s the sort of dish that gets you lost in the moment and makes raising your head a challenging endeavor.

    Lime juice and chili sauce provoke the palate in the tiger tear steak ($12.95), a marinated strip loin served sizzling on a hot plate. The hiss of the fat dripping from the meat gives the dish its weepy name, and you’ll cry for more once you’re done. Two sauces – a lip-smacking dip of garlic, rice powder and crushed chilies, and a sweet “American-style teriyaki sauce,” as my waitress put it – enhance the succulence of the beef.

    Refreshing coconut and slightly bitter mango ice cream ($4.95) set atop gelatinous sticky rice brings the meal to a tropical finish and provides some much-needed oral relief. I couldn’t get enough of buttery Thai donuts ($3.95) tinseled with a glimmering honey drizzle. If you’re like me and melt at the thought of any butter-filled confection, this is the capper for you.

    The glut of Thai restaurants in town has given rise to an ever-growing legion of devotees, many of whom have cultivated a discriminating palate for all things Siamese. SEA Thai certainly belongs in the category of restaurants worthy of a visit, its loyal following being a testament to the kitchen’s proficiency and the jolly disposition of its staff. My waitress seemed to be perpetually beaming which, as I learned when I made my way back to the car, ultimately proved infectious.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    I’ll admit, I wasn’t exactly salivating at the thought of dining at a restaurant catering to that oft-forgotten demographic of aging golfers and their silver-coiffed spouses. The Tap Room at Dubsdread, after all, is on the grounds of Orlando’s oldest public golf course; more than a few of its patrons are as well-worn as the ancient golf shoes encased in the display behind the hostess stand. The whole joint is made out of wood, including the ceiling, and the rustic touches and Shaker-style furnishings play up the historic angle. But the restaurant exudes a relaxed swagger – casual, yet unrelenting in its quest for perfection.

    In comparison to 19th holes at other public golf courses in Central Florida, the Tap Room is on a whole different playing field. Offering a mix of bar-and-grill bites and gourmet fare, the kitchen unquestionably takes pride in its efforts, plating simple, impeccably prepared dishes. To wit: creamy chicken vegetable soup ($4.95), a chowder-like potage with corn and potatoes that made it a struggle to pass up a second bowl. The soup was a special of the night, but should they offer it on your visit, do yourself a favor and order two.

    I was looking forward to sampling the jumbo lump crab cake, but they had evidently run out of crab, so I opted for the tenderloin steak flatbread ($11.95) instead. Cubes of medium-rare beef weighed down a long rectangular sleeve of crisp flatbread flavored with caramelized onions, wild mushrooms and a layer of mozzarella. Not a bad choice at all. I missed the berry compote more than I thought I would while enjoying baked brie ($12.95), though slices of pineapple, cantaloupe, melon and red apple, along with a small cluster of seedless red grapes, offered a properly fruity complement. The buttery-soft baguette was worth half the price of the dish alone.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the simply grilled onaga ($24.95), a ruby-red snapper from Hawaii noted for its soft, slightly fatty flesh. The generous puck of liquefying lime-dill butter atop the ample fillet proved to be the sole fault of this special, but it’s a nitpicky charge. Fluffy yellow rice and perfectly grilled asparagus accompanied the dish. If you’re a meat-and-potatoes man, the pot roast ($15.75) won’t disappoint. The slow-roasted slab of beef is enveloped by a wonderfully thick moat of peppery gravy, with potatoes, carrots and celery added to the comforting mix.

    Desserts are all made in-house and supply toothsome coups de grace. Shaved rinds add a touch of class to simply divine key lime pie ($4.95), while even the most ardent of chocoholics will be hard-pressed not to feel buzzed from the thick, rich chocolate cake ($5.95).

    Service could use a bit of polishing: I can see how the bucolic view lends to a leisurely pace, but letting 10 minutes pass before taking a drink order is just plain shoddy. That, coupled with a front of house I found to be somewhat harried, can dampen the mood and may keep the Tap Room from being a destination for the city’s fooderati. Yeah, the short game may be a little off, but the kitchen, thankfully, has its act together. That’s more than enough to keep the Tap Room in the game.

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