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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The day I went to Champs Deli across the street from the downtown library, there were just five people in the place. Still, I almost didn't make it in.

    The little phone-booth-sized established for quite a while, with Chef George serving his famous pulled-pork sandwiches, and even though it's now owned by Lilia's Catering, George is still there. (By the way, Champ's Bakery on West Church has no connection to this place.)

    The little phone-booth-sized established for quite a while, with Chef George serving his famous pulled-pork sandwiches, and even though it's now owned by Lilia's Catering, George is still there. (By the way, Champ's Bakery on West Church has no connection to this place.)

    The cold-cut selection is pretty ordinary, but where else can you get a pretty decent chicken-salad sandwich and a cup of soup for $3.95, or a hot breakfast sammich for a buck-fifty? The banter that flies around might be reason enough to stop by, but if you're not in the neighborhood, they have a website. They have a website! It's almost bigger than the deli! Check Champs Deli if you need a catering menu.

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

    Having indulged in my fair share of cottage pies at Jimmy Mulvaney’s charming, unpretentious Irish boozer Claddagh Cottage, I was more than a little intrigued when word came that the pub owner (along with wife Kathy and food-service veterans Lisa and Rick Boyd) had taken over Scruffy Murphy’s once-future home to open an upscale gastropub fronted by a cordon bleu chef. Given Mulvaney’s deft skills as a bar proprietor, I was less concerned about the “pub” than I was the “gastro,” but as it turned out, the kitchen ultimately held up its end of the deal.

    The “gastro,” it should be noted, is segregated from the “pub” next door and showcases Mulvaney’s skills as master artisan. Not only did he lay down the hardwood floors and take care of the wiring, Mulvaney junky-to-funkied the wooden desks left behind by the previous tenants and transformed them into beautifully crafted (if slightly upright) seating booths done in a rustic 1900s-era style. The quaint interior, with its low ceiling and exposed piping, is reminiscent of Claddagh Cottage, only decidedly classier and, at least on this Saturday evening, significantly quieter. If it weren’t for the catchy riff of “Day Tripper” and other Beatles classics being piped over the sound system, I’d likely be able to make out conversations in the kitchen. As a result, an unrivaled level of personalized service prevailed which, at times, bordered on intrusive, but it was understandable given the dearth of patrons.

    And given chef Cody Patterson’s blue ribbon status, the menu, understandably, leans heavily on French cuisine. I was hoping for Irish soda bread inside the complimentary carb basket, but no such luck. Instead, it was beef and barley soup ($4) that offered a small taste of the Emerald Isle with its generous mélange of carrots, corn, green beans, peas and potatoes. Too bad the beef was lacking, and the few miniature morsels I did manage to sift out were ground, not cubed.

    “Stop light prawns” ($9), so named because the trio of accompanying sauces resemble a stoplight, fared a little better. The fried plump curls were a smidgen greasy, but a dip into the olfactory-retarding wasabi mayo sauce proved to be the ultimate redeemer, while sweet mango chutney and zesty cocktail sauce were just as exceptional.

    The Harp house salad ($4) left me wanting more – more brie, to be exact. The one negligible piece of warm soft cheese is a cruel addition to the mix of tomatoes, field greens, red onions and croutons. After all, no fromage-lover could eat just one small bite of brie; I’d rather they serve a significant slab of cheese with a berry compote, and let the greens be an adjunct to the dish, even if it meant an increase in price.

    The two entrees I sampled were, conversely, flawless. Lamb persillade ($22) featured two racks of two chops each rubbed with honey mustard and rosemary, grilled, then roasted for a crisp finish. Creamy saffron risotto and grilled zucchini were ideal sides, but gnawing the utterly luscious flesh off the bone was what made this dish a truly enjoyable feast. The 10-ounce Angus beef filet ($33) was a tad overdone, but a superbly flavorful and prodigious cut nonetheless.

    Desserts aren’t prepared in-house as yet, but don’t let that prevent you from indulging in the fabulous chocolate bombe ($6). The dome-shaped confection envelops airy dark and white chocolate mousse and rich chocolate ganache. Call me picky, but I didn’t care much for the raspberry drizzle, nor did I care much for the key lime pie ($4) which

    This November, Kres gets its proverbial star on the Red Meat Walk of Fame when it joins the ranks of other Orlando steakhouses celebrating 10 years in the business of beef. Quite the accomplishment for a high-end chophouse that a) opened in the heart of a bar- and club-infested strip, and b) had the audacity to shun the established practice of possessive nomenclature. In the world of Ruth’s and Linda’s, Morton’s and Charley’s, Christner’s, Shula’s and Vito’s, Kres is the odd man out, and that suits this downtown boîte just fine.

    From the onset, Kres looked to draw a more urbane and sophisticated clientele, and, save for the smattering of pre-clubbing 1-percenters, this tactic, even 10 years later, appears to have worked. The turn-of-the-21st-century decor feels slightly dated and perhaps a redesign is in order, but Kres is still worthy of being housed inside one of downtown’s most architecturally revered buildings – not just for its bill of fare, but also for its throwback focus on customer service. From our initial phone call to make reservations to the genial farewells on our exit, the staff here made us feel prized – as prized as, say, an expensive foie gras. No: foie gras crowning a tenderloin of elk! Yes. And that just so happened to be one of the dishes in which we indulged: an 8-ounce cut ($35), to be exact. Cooked to a perfect medium-rare, the lean elk loin was made instantly rich with that buttery tiara of foie ($13). Nary a hint of gaminess; no dental-displacing sinews; just a perfect cut married perfectly with that buttery epicurean delight. Our prime 18-ounce rib-eye steak ($39) may have been a tad undercooked, but that just made the leftovers all the better the following morning in their rebirth as steak and eggs. The rib-eye’s marbling was sublime, and its flavor more so. Steaks and chops are served a la carte; our choice of greens and starch sides were grilled asparagus ($8) and cheddar-rosemary mashed potatoes ($7). Though both served their respective purpose, we would’ve rather ordered another side of foie.

    Prior to all that luxurious richness, we started with an old-guard staple – oysters Rockefeller ($15), baked with a properly herbaceous butter sauce. Our impeccably trained server also suggested a nontraditional starter to break up our Gatsbian feast, namely “Aegean style” lamb ribs ($14). The ribs are marinated in kalamata olive oil, spicy mustard and herbs, then braised to a soft succulence before being zested with caramelized lemon wheels. It’s a difficult dish to eat delicately, but then again, steakhouses don’t exactly play to the genteel side of dining.

    Our server’s suggested wine pairings were admirable, though in-house sommelier Rob Christie patrols the red-velveted space offering recommendations for serious wine drinkers. Red velvet didn’t find its way to the dessert menu, but white chocolate bread pudding ($9) did. The meal-capper was sumptuous, ample enough for two, and hooched with enough panther sweat to bring back the Jazz Age.

    As you exit the restaurant and take in the grand space, the original art, the triple-crown and dentil-crown molding, one thing becomes exceedingly clear: Kres naturally exudes a verve and panache that other steakhouses can’t match. If flair is as important as your filet, Kres is the place.

    While there is a host -- nay, horde -- of sushi bars within walking distance of Lake Eola, we haven't seen very much Thai food downtown, which is odd considering how much pad Thai can be found elsewhere.

    One of the places known for that sweet, sticky rice-noodle dish is Thai Cuisine on Edgewater Drive. This was where my partner and I had our first chicken sate and spring rolls together, and I remember the food cooked by its original owners (since changed) quite fondly. Those owners, it turns out, were the parents of the young people who opened Sawadee Thai on Kirkman in 2001, a restaurant I quite liked. Now those (still) young folks, lead by Odum Ketsatha and his wife, Kanjana, have moved to Pine Street and brought the flavors of Siam to the old Le Provence building in the form of Napasorn Thai.

    One of the places known for that sweet, sticky rice-noodle dish is Thai Cuisine on Edgewater Drive. This was where my partner and I had our first chicken sate and spring rolls together, and I remember the food cooked by its original owners (since changed) quite fondly. Those owners, it turns out, were the parents of the young people who opened Sawadee Thai on Kirkman in 2001, a restaurant I quite liked. Now those (still) young folks, lead by Odum Ketsatha and his wife, Kanjana, have moved to Pine Street and brought the flavors of Siam to the old Le Provence building in the form of Napasorn Thai.

    Not much has been changed inside, aside from a new color scheme for the two-level room, a new bar and a complete overhaul of the kitchen, run by Ketsatha's Uncle Damri. ("Thai cooking is very different from French," Uncle Damri tells me.) The menu isn't 100 percent Thai, with smatterings of Chinese (a dark-brothed and savory wonton soup with plump dumplings for $3.50), Japanese gyoza and a good but not stellar sushi menu.

    Not much has been changed inside, aside from a new color scheme for the two-level room, a new bar and a complete overhaul of the kitchen, run by Ketsatha's Uncle Damri. ("Thai cooking is very different from French," Uncle Damri tells me.) The menu isn't 100 percent Thai, with smatterings of Chinese (a dark-brothed and savory wonton soup with plump dumplings for $3.50), Japanese gyoza and a good but not stellar sushi menu.

    Appetizers are both authentic and jazzed-up. The crispy spring rolls ($3.95) are stuffed with ground chicken and a coleslaw-like shredding of vegetables, both crisp and mellow. The "cheese roll crisp," on the other hand ($3.95), finds cream cheese and tiny bits of shrimp inside the wrap, and I'm still not sure if I liked it or not, but it's different. Most traditional is "sate gai" ($5.95), rich, peanut-sauced chicken slices on a skewer.

    Appetizers are both authentic and jazzed-up. The crispy spring rolls ($3.95) are stuffed with ground chicken and a coleslaw-like shredding of vegetables, both crisp and mellow. The "cheese roll crisp," on the other hand ($3.95), finds cream cheese and tiny bits of shrimp inside the wrap, and I'm still not sure if I liked it or not, but it's different. Most traditional is "sate gai" ($5.95), rich, peanut-sauced chicken slices on a skewer.

    My favorite carryover from the Sawadee days is the basil duck dish ($15.95), a savory combination of dark duck meat and spinach-like basil leaves that now features mushrooms and peppers added to the lime-and-basil flavored sauce. Also a treat is "garlic and pepper meat" ($9.95), your choice of beef or chicken ($2 more for seafood) with a tang of spicy garlic, spicier black pepper and even spicier sauce that sneaks up on you until the sweat is pouring. I wasn't as impressed with the "madsa mahn" curry ($10.95), a dish from Islamic south Thailand that is usually loaded with potatoes which here seemed to have cooked down to a thick paste. Still, the combination of roasted peanuts and tender chicken was enjoyable.

    My favorite carryover from the Sawadee days is the basil duck dish ($15.95), a savory combination of dark duck meat and spinach-like basil leaves that now features mushrooms and peppers added to the lime-and-basil flavored sauce. Also a treat is "garlic and pepper meat" ($9.95), your choice of beef or chicken ($2 more for seafood) with a tang of spicy garlic, spicier black pepper and even spicier sauce that sneaks up on you until the sweat is pouring. I wasn't as impressed with the "madsa mahn" curry ($10.95), a dish from Islamic south Thailand that is usually loaded with potatoes which here seemed to have cooked down to a thick paste. Still, the combination of roasted peanuts and tender chicken was enjoyable.

    Napasorn is both a welcome addition to the downtown food scene and a chance to eat Uncle Damri's great cooking a lot closer to home.

    The slightly funky location at Orange Avenue and Wall Street rescues this streetside eatery from too-calculated hipness. Basic Tex-Mex fried favorites are heaped with pico de gallo, guacamole and sour cream and are absolutely delicious. Salads and grilled sandwiches round out the offerings


    Teaser: The slightly funky location at Orange Avenue and Wall Street rescues this streetside eatery from too-calculated hipness. Basic Tex-Mex fried favorites are heaped with pico de gallo, guacamole and sour cream and are absolutely delicious. Salads and grilled sandwiches round out the offerings.

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