Locations in Winter Park Area with Kid Friendly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    A much-awaited renovation gives an updated look and feel to this downtown establishment hidden away on Church Street. Blissfully undiminished is the quality of the food ' seaweed salad that crunches just right and sushi so fresh it needs no adornment (though the elaborate rolls are delicious).

    Restaurants specializing in Eastern European cuisine no longer seem content simply to attract homesick expats pining for a hearty meal. Judging from the popularity of such places as Polonia, Lacomka and Chef Hans Café, it appears there are more than a few diners with a proclivity for stuffing their gourds on meals that no one could describe as 'light.� Polish food, like the cuisine of other Slavic nations, is about as glutted as Coach Ditka's arteries, and Anna's Polish Restaurant will certainly help nurture a bay- windowed frame.

    Case in point: a platter of smoked kielbasas ($10.99), flown straight in from Chicago, grilled and served with plenty of sauerkraut and sautéed onions. Sorry, dieters ' they don't offer the low-fat I Can't Believe It's Not Polish Sausage option here. A plate of pan-fried potato-and-cheese pierogies ($4.99) help enrich any meaty dish, and these pillowy dumplings, handsomely primped with fried onions, were damn near perfect. For as hearty (but not as filling) a side, try the red borscht ($3.29 cup; $4.79 bowl) ' a crimson-colored beet soup not acidic in the least. With fava beans, carrots and potatoes, the chunky concoction makes a great option for those looking to up their vegetable intake; a white borscht, made from fermented rye flour, smoked sausage and eggs, will certainly speak to the Bob Swerski (George Wendt's SNL 'superfan� character) in you.

    Of the mains, I couldn't get enough of chef Anna's specialty ' a Cracovia chicken cutlet ($15.99) crusted on both sides with a healthy coating of Parmesan dough. The fried slab was at once juicy, tender and crisp, and the steady downpour outside made me want to curl up with the cutlet on a sofa in my jammies and watch the rain hit the window.  The defining characteristics of Eastern European cuisine ' substantial, comforting, bloat-inducing ' made an order of the beef goulash ($13.99) a no-brainer. And it looked inviting: beefy chunks slathered in a thick brown sauce blanketing kopytka (potato 'finger dumplings� similar to gnocchi). But like the 1986 Chicago Bears, the dish comprised an impressive assemblage but didn't come through in the clutch. Compared to the goulash at Chef Hans Café, Anna's was an unseasoned disappointment. A side of red cabbage salad, on the other hand, was refreshing, while the beetroot salad went a little too heavy on red peppers. Potato pancakes, another letdown, were brushed to the side after a couple of bites ' even apple sauce that tasted like grandma's apple pie couldn't redeem the flat, lifeless patties for me.

    And then came the strudel ($4.29), a late-game neutralizer that put the kitchen back in our good graces. Another dessert, the walnut extravaganza known as pychotka ($4.29), is a must for nut-lovers, and crepes 'Nalesnikiâ?� ($4.79) is a winner, even with Reddi-wip and strawberry topping from a jar. Service deserves special mention: Our server couldn't have been more charming or pleasant, qualities that were reflected in the restaurant's dining room.

    The space once housed Polonia, the reigning champeen of Polish cuisine in this town, before they moved to larger digs up in Longwood. With a little time and some seasoning, Anna's should give them a run for the title.

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

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

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

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

    There are plenty of great Italian restaurants in Orlando, but there are few that can manage to be smart and sophisticated without being imposing. Antonio's La Fiamma in Maitland has that wonderful combination of warmth, hospitality and energy.

    This is one restaurant that wouldn't be caught dead relying on accordion music, red-checkered tablecloths or drippy candles in Chianti wine bottles to convey atmosphere. Although it's a popular spot for lunch, twilight is an excellent time to visit. There's a second-floor view of shimmering Lake Lily, framed by sunset skies. The dining area glows with impressions of candlelight, crisp white linens and gleaming china. Service is thoroughly professional, yet fluid and relaxed. It's almost as if the formal dining area were taking its cue from Antonio's Café Downstairs, the lively deli, wine shop and Italian market that occupies the first level.

    This is one restaurant that wouldn't be caught dead relying on accordion music, red-checkered tablecloths or drippy candles in Chianti wine bottles to convey atmosphere. Although it's a popular spot for lunch, twilight is an excellent time to visit. There's a second-floor view of shimmering Lake Lily, framed by sunset skies. The dining area glows with impressions of candlelight, crisp white linens and gleaming china. Service is thoroughly professional, yet fluid and relaxed. It's almost as if the formal dining area were taking its cue from Antonio's Café Downstairs, the lively deli, wine shop and Italian market that occupies the first level.

    The food also is first-rate, we found on a recent visit. The restaurant, which inspired the spin-off Cafe d'Antonio in Celebration, owes its skillful creations to head chef Sebastian Santangelo. Although he is a native Sicilian, his menu is a tour of Italy.

    The food also is first-rate, we found on a recent visit. The restaurant, which inspired the spin-off Cafe d'Antonio in Celebration, owes its skillful creations to head chef Sebastian Santangelo. Although he is a native Sicilian, his menu is a tour of Italy.

    Among the caldi, or hot appetizers, fried calamari ($6.95) were lightly breaded and greaseless – these weren't dainty squiggles, but more like thick calamari steaks, accompanied by a superb sauce of sun-dried tomatoes, garlic and mayonnaise. Also good were the ravioli al funghetto ($5.95), stuffed with shiitake mushrooms in a pink sauce of cream and tomatoes.

    Among the caldi, or hot appetizers, fried calamari ($6.95) were lightly breaded and greaseless – these weren't dainty squiggles, but more like thick calamari steaks, accompanied by a superb sauce of sun-dried tomatoes, garlic and mayonnaise. Also good were the ravioli al funghetto ($5.95), stuffed with shiitake mushrooms in a pink sauce of cream and tomatoes.

    But you could easily cut costs by skipping the starters: The bread basket is a showcase featuring onion-embedded focaccia. The freshness is owed to a baker who arrives at 3 a.m. daily for a baking marathon that continues until 10 a.m. That's when Santangelo arrives to reclaim the kitchen and begin cooking various sauces, which are the restaurant's real bread and butter, he says.

    But you could easily cut costs by skipping the starters: The bread basket is a showcase featuring onion-embedded focaccia. The freshness is owed to a baker who arrives at 3 a.m. daily for a baking marathon that continues until 10 a.m. That's when Santangelo arrives to reclaim the kitchen and begin cooking various sauces, which are the restaurant's real bread and butter, he says.

    There was one in particular that we enjoyed: A Cognac sauce enhanced with lemon and fresh herbs, served with a double-thick, sautéed veal chop. But for a better idea of what a talented chef can accomplish with the simplest ingredients, don't miss zuppa di pesce ($22.95). Preparation is a 7-to-10 minute deal, featuring a tricky, mixed bag of shrimp, calamari, scallops, fish and langostino, a species of prawn with a sweet, delicate meat which rivals shrimp or lobster. Santangelo's version is outstanding, mostly due to a delicate broth of tarragon, basil, garlic and a touch of marinara.

    There was one in particular that we enjoyed: A Cognac sauce enhanced with lemon and fresh herbs, served with a double-thick, sautéed veal chop. But for a better idea of what a talented chef can accomplish with the simplest ingredients, don't miss zuppa di pesce ($22.95). Preparation is a 7-to-10 minute deal, featuring a tricky, mixed bag of shrimp, calamari, scallops, fish and langostino, a species of prawn with a sweet, delicate meat which rivals shrimp or lobster. Santangelo's version is outstanding, mostly due to a delicate broth of tarragon, basil, garlic and a touch of marinara.

    You can usually catch a glimpse of him at work behind the kitchen counter, visible from most seats in the dining area. Or, get a closer look during Festa Italiana, a group cooking class, Italian feast and wine soiree from 4 p.m.-7 p.m. Nov. 15 at the restaurant. The cost is $50 per person in advance, $55 at the door.

    No one should have to make up their mind about lunch while listening to Pat Benatar belt out "Hit Me With Your Best Shot." But we gave it a try at the new Baja Burrito Kitchen at Colonial Marketplace. Standing in the "place your order here" spot by the counter, our attention ricocheted between burritos, enchiladas, soft tacos and quesadillas. And we hadn't even gotten to the salsa bar yet.

    Looking past the neon lighting, beach-scene murals and picture windows overlooking the parking lot, we wanted to imagine ourselves on the rugged Pacific coastline. That's where the cuisine takes its cue, from the deadly-hot chilis that grow wild in the desert and the seafood that's plucked from the surf. The menu is not that rustic but has more of a "Cal-Mex" spin: Soft tacos are stuffed with fish, burritos are packed with healthy grilled meats, and beans are stewed, not refried.

    Looking past the neon lighting, beach-scene murals and picture windows overlooking the parking lot, we wanted to imagine ourselves on the rugged Pacific coastline. That's where the cuisine takes its cue, from the deadly-hot chilis that grow wild in the desert and the seafood that's plucked from the surf. The menu is not that rustic but has more of a "Cal-Mex" spin: Soft tacos are stuffed with fish, burritos are packed with healthy grilled meats, and beans are stewed, not refried.

    After placing our orders, we chose seats and waited just a few minutes for delivery. The "Baja burrito" ($4.95) is a popular item, and it's a chunk of a meal – a steamed flour tortilla wrapped around a juicy conglomeration of char-grilled steak, black beans, onions, cilantro, cheese and sour cream. It was even better after a trip to the salsa bar, which features six ways to pack heat. Our favorite was the "fire roasted chipotle" salsa, a medium-strength version with blackened Roma tomatoes. Do heed the warnings on the labels. The formidable "habañero" salsa glows orange, and one drop is all it takes.

    After placing our orders, we chose seats and waited just a few minutes for delivery. The "Baja burrito" ($4.95) is a popular item, and it's a chunk of a meal – a steamed flour tortilla wrapped around a juicy conglomeration of char-grilled steak, black beans, onions, cilantro, cheese and sour cream. It was even better after a trip to the salsa bar, which features six ways to pack heat. Our favorite was the "fire roasted chipotle" salsa, a medium-strength version with blackened Roma tomatoes. Do heed the warnings on the labels. The formidable "habañero" salsa glows orange, and one drop is all it takes.

    We loved the grilled soft tacos so much that we plan on getting to know each and every one. The best on this day was the "fish taco Baja style" ($2.75), a grilled soft flour tortilla crimped around a fried fillet of cod, topped with shredded cabbage and drizzled with creamy cilantro-lime sauce. Running a close second, "spicy steamed shrimp" ($2.75) were mildly seasoned and fresh.

    We loved the grilled soft tacos so much that we plan on getting to know each and every one. The best on this day was the "fish taco Baja style" ($2.75), a grilled soft flour tortilla crimped around a fried fillet of cod, topped with shredded cabbage and drizzled with creamy cilantro-lime sauce. Running a close second, "spicy steamed shrimp" ($2.75) were mildly seasoned and fresh.

    Unfortunately, the "Baja Kitchen combo" ($6.25) was having a bad day – the grilled chicken strips were dry and uninspired. Had they not been overcooked, they would have set off the rest of the dish, which was a hot and flavorful collection of stewed black beans, seasoned rice and soft flour tortillas.

    Unfortunately, the "Baja Kitchen combo" ($6.25) was having a bad day – the grilled chicken strips were dry and uninspired. Had they not been overcooked, they would have set off the rest of the dish, which was a hot and flavorful collection of stewed black beans, seasoned rice and soft flour tortillas.

    While Baja Burrito Kitchen's cooking is formulaic, its freshness is without question. Everything is cooked to order. The restaurant is a welcome addition to the Colonial-Bumby area, whether for a quick pit stop after shopping or for takeout.

    The longtime Central Florida favorite is rebranding itself one shop at a time, and this Park Avenue location is the first to morph. Elegant breakfast and lunch menus betray Barnie's wide ambition; successful dishes like smoke-salmon tartine, Turkish pots de creme and Israeli shakshuka prove they're serious. Coffee service has been similarly modernized, with a pour-over station offering the smoothest cup you've tasted in a while.

    Three dozen flavors and only one of me. That was my dilemma when I stopped by Ben & Jerry's ice cream cafe at the new Oviedo Marketplace shopping mall.

    The choices were lined up in neat rows behind polished glass, including old friends Chunky Monkey banana ice cream – so fresh it smelled like a field of bananas – and Cherry Garcia (life should always be like a bowl of this stuff). But there were new arrivals too, such as Dilbert's Totally Nuts – butter-almond with roasted hazelnuts and praline pecans.

    The choices were lined up in neat rows behind polished glass, including old friends Chunky Monkey banana ice cream – so fresh it smelled like a field of bananas – and Cherry Garcia (life should always be like a bowl of this stuff). But there were new arrivals too, such as Dilbert's Totally Nuts – butter-almond with roasted hazelnuts and praline pecans.

    I finally committed to a dreamy scoop of low-fat Coconut Cream Pie, laced with chewy coconut flakes and sweet pie crust pieces. Stored at a precise 5 degrees Fahrenheit, it was the perfect, creamy texture, and the price was right: $2.06 for a scoop, $3.99 for a hand-packed pint.

    While some other Cuban kitchens tag onto the pan-Latin craze and expand their menus to include influences from Central and South America, the humble Black Bean Deli in Winter Park remains doggedly devoted to homespun Cuban food. After 18 years, it's still a prime choice for sturdy, soul-warming lunches and dinners.

    As soon as you step inside, you barely have to close the door before you're at the front counter, facing a menu board and kitchen team. If you don't know what you want, ask for help, and they'll steer you in the right direction, with a hot meal usually ready within minutes, generally in the $4 to $5 ballpark.

    As soon as you step inside, you barely have to close the door before you're at the front counter, facing a menu board and kitchen team. If you don't know what you want, ask for help, and they'll steer you in the right direction, with a hot meal usually ready within minutes, generally in the $4 to $5 ballpark.

    For dining in, there's but a cluster of bar stools lined up at the window overlooking traffic on U.S. Highway 17-92. But the Black Bean Deli is better known as a dependable takeout joint. Although it's a sweet, cozy setup, don't expect any overly friendly schmoozing from behind the counter – they're just too busy. We stopped by at 7 p.m. one recent evening, about an hour before they closed. "There are no more Cuban sandwiches today, and we're all out of empanadas," we were told by a poker-faced guy wearing an apron and a tired expression. Mindful of a new wave of customers who had come in behind us, we quickly chose from the other dinner options – and there were plenty.

    For dining in, there's but a cluster of bar stools lined up at the window overlooking traffic on U.S. Highway 17-92. But the Black Bean Deli is better known as a dependable takeout joint. Although it's a sweet, cozy setup, don't expect any overly friendly schmoozing from behind the counter – they're just too busy. We stopped by at 7 p.m. one recent evening, about an hour before they closed. "There are no more Cuban sandwiches today, and we're all out of empanadas," we were told by a poker-faced guy wearing an apron and a tired expression. Mindful of a new wave of customers who had come in behind us, we quickly chose from the other dinner options – and there were plenty.

    Side orders are an excellent place to start. Papas rellenas (two for $2.50) are mashed-potato fritters, rolled up almost as big as baseballs and fried into a kind of finger food. Inside are pockets of spicy ground beef, but I would have liked them better if there were more meat. Cuban tamales ($1.85) are classic renditions. The cornmeal is silky, sweet and highly filling, topped with a dab of pimento and a spoonful of peas. It gets better with a splash of hot sauce from the bar.

    Side orders are an excellent place to start. Papas rellenas (two for $2.50) are mashed-potato fritters, rolled up almost as big as baseballs and fried into a kind of finger food. Inside are pockets of spicy ground beef, but I would have liked them better if there were more meat. Cuban tamales ($1.85) are classic renditions. The cornmeal is silky, sweet and highly filling, topped with a dab of pimento and a spoonful of peas. It gets better with a splash of hot sauce from the bar.

    Sandwiches are long and flat, wrapped in wax paper and generally served warm. In lieu of the in-demand Cuban sandwich (sweet ham, roast pork and Swiss cheese pressed into a slice of Cuban bread), we chose the "media noche" (midnight) ($3.95), which is basically the same sandwich, only it's presented on a soft, yellow, toasted sweet roll.

    Sandwiches are long and flat, wrapped in wax paper and generally served warm. In lieu of the in-demand Cuban sandwich (sweet ham, roast pork and Swiss cheese pressed into a slice of Cuban bread), we chose the "media noche" (midnight) ($3.95), which is basically the same sandwich, only it's presented on a soft, yellow, toasted sweet roll.

    Among the dinner specials, we found a spicy pan con lechon shredded-pork entree, drizzled with "mojo" garlic sauce. At $7.25, it was a couple of dollars more expensive than some of the other platters, but it did come with ample trimmings of sweet fried plantains, salad and, best of all, the diner's signature black beans and rice, which was thick, savory and buttery tender.

    Among the dinner specials, we found a spicy pan con lechon shredded-pork entree, drizzled with "mojo" garlic sauce. At $7.25, it was a couple of dollars more expensive than some of the other platters, but it did come with ample trimmings of sweet fried plantains, salad and, best of all, the diner's signature black beans and rice, which was thick, savory and buttery tender.

    Flan de queso ($1.75) ended our dinner on a rich note. Black Bean's sinful version of the classic egg custard is sweetened up with melted cheese and caramel sauce.

    Flan de queso ($1.75) ended our dinner on a rich note. Black Bean's sinful version of the classic egg custard is sweetened up with melted cheese and caramel sauce.

    Years ago the Black Bean Deli might have been open one Saturday and closed the next, or open one weeknight until 7 p.m. and closed the next night by 5 p.m. These days the deli is consistently open from 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday through Friday.

    Here's the thing: I don't know much about Turkish cuisine. But here's the other thing: You don't have to know much to know that Bosphorous, a new Turkish restaurant gracing Park Avenue, has exceptional food. After being initiated into the world of Turkish food by Bosphorous, I daydream about a culinary journey to Turkey. Aren't daydreams what good ethnic cuisine should inspire? Shouldn't foreign foods hold adventure with a healthy dose of curiosity to wash it down?

    When thinking about Turkish food, think ancient fusion. The crescent-shaped region lies on a swath of land that juts out between the Black and the Mediterranean seas, dividing Europe from the Middle East. Turkey was touched by all the major spice routes in the 15th century and was a major hub of other trade during its heyday under Ottoman rule, which lasted 600 years. Not surprisingly, Turkish food is an amalgamation of the many people who have passed through. I noticed hints of Italian, Lebanese and Greek, yet this food has a style all its own. It's rich in eggplant and lamb and spices of all sorts; citrusy red sumac is served alongside verdant dill, while zesty coriander, cumin and cayenne are also likely to make appearances.

    We started with lavas ($4.99), an unleavened, griddle-baked bread. This oversized, hollow pocket puffed up into a feathery pillow and was served with a light smattering of butter and sesame seeds. The flavor was superbly sweet with a pleasing sour tang. I loved tearing off small pieces and dipping it into one of the many cold appetizers scattered across our table. We tried three different eggplant appetizers: One grilled, with a heavy dose of dill, called patlican salatasi; another, soslu patlican, was made with fried eggplant in a tomato sauce; and a third was smoky and garlicky and familiar – baba ghanoush ($7.50 each). In addition, we got tarama ($7.50), an emulsion of olive oil and lemon juice whipped with orange caviar, and haydari ($6.95), a creamy yogurt dip made with lemon, walnuts and fresh dill. Oh, and some of the best hummus ($6.95) I've ever tasted.

    Among my favorite entrees, there were many made with dšner kebab, a spiced mixture of ground lamb that originated in Anatolia and was the predecessor of Greek gyro and Arabic shawarma. I especially liked the iskender kebap ($18.95), which featured this spiced lamb meat served with a delicate tomato sauce and a heap of yogurt. The beautiful and popular C. got etli manti ($15.95), a Turkish-style ravioli stuffed with lamb (what else?), squash and onions. A whole section of the menu is dedicated to pide, a pizza-like Turkish pastry that is stuffed with various ingredients. We tried the spinach pide ($12.99), which came with a hearty mix of feta, onions, tomatoes and spinach.

    Special mention should be made of Bosphorous' wine selection from the Turkish Kavaklidere winery. A deliciously tannic red paired well with the olive oil-rich cuisine, while the white variety was refreshingly fruity. I also couldn't get enough of the nonalcoholic beverages imported from Turkey, especially the mouth-puckering cherry juice ($2).

    After making our way through the surfeit of victuals that Bosphorous has to offer, we went outside so that some of my friends could smoke the nargile, or water pipe, while I chowed on some homemade baklava ($5.50) and Turkish coffee ($2.50). Wafts of apple-scented smoke piled up around us as straight-laced Winter Parkers passed with mouths agape at this beautifully derelict form of entertainment taking over the block. The owners of Bosphorous fell in love with Park Avenue and moved down from New York, bringing four Turkish chefs in tow, just to open their restaurant. I'd go a lot further than that for this food.

    While waiting for our lunch at Boston's Fish House, we watched a line of customers snake into the folksy dining room. When we'd arrived, a few minutes earlier, there had been no such wait. Beginners' luck, our server informed us.

    On most Sundays, the line stretches out to the front door, she said. But this was Super Bowl Sunday, and apparently many of the restaurant's regulars were quaffing a cold one elsewhere while watching pregame hype. Nevertheless, there were still more patrons than tables throughout our dining adventure here.

    On most Sundays, the line stretches out to the front door, she said. But this was Super Bowl Sunday, and apparently many of the restaurant's regulars were quaffing a cold one elsewhere while watching pregame hype. Nevertheless, there were still more patrons than tables throughout our dining adventure here.

    There's a system at Boston's. A sign directs you to the cashier's station (ordering counter), which is out of view when you first walk inside. Once orders were placed, drinks procured and payment settled, customers return to the dining room and are directed to a vacant table – if there is one. Unless otherwise requested, all the seafood at Boston's is fried. Ipswich calms are a house specialty.

    There's a system at Boston's. A sign directs you to the cashier's station (ordering counter), which is out of view when you first walk inside. Once orders were placed, drinks procured and payment settled, customers return to the dining room and are directed to a vacant table – if there is one. Unless otherwise requested, all the seafood at Boston's is fried. Ipswich calms are a house specialty.

    Fortunately for us, our timing was impeccable and we landed a nice corner booth. Though nothing fancy, the themed surroundings were much nicer than those in cookie-cutter seafood outlets. The single, paneled dining room – decorated in nautical blue – features captain's chairs, Cape Cod curtains, an oar and harpoon, and framed prints of such New England institutions as Boston Harbor and Larry Bird. I especially noted the absence of fishy odor and grease so often found in small fish-fry operations.

    Fortunately for us, our timing was impeccable and we landed a nice corner booth. Though nothing fancy, the themed surroundings were much nicer than those in cookie-cutter seafood outlets. The single, paneled dining room – decorated in nautical blue – features captain's chairs, Cape Cod curtains, an oar and harpoon, and framed prints of such New England institutions as Boston Harbor and Larry Bird. I especially noted the absence of fishy odor and grease so often found in small fish-fry operations.

    Our meals – served on paper plates with plastic utensils – were soon presented by a cheerful service attendant who also bussed vacated tables. My New England clam chowder ($1.95) was delicious. Piping hot, with a wonderful hearty smoked flavor and more clams than potato, it was even better with a dash of salt. And my husband's sherried lobster bisque ($2.10) was even more outstanding. With an abundance of delicate lobster bits, the thick, velvety-rich soup was expertly laced with the distinctive wine.

    Our meals – served on paper plates with plastic utensils – were soon presented by a cheerful service attendant who also bussed vacated tables. My New England clam chowder ($1.95) was delicious. Piping hot, with a wonderful hearty smoked flavor and more clams than potato, it was even better with a dash of salt. And my husband's sherried lobster bisque ($2.10) was even more outstanding. With an abundance of delicate lobster bits, the thick, velvety-rich soup was expertly laced with the distinctive wine.

    Our main courses were inconsistent, although all of the seafood we were served was extraordinarily fresh. My Boston haddock dinner ($7.50) – another of the house specialties – was baked rather than fried. Crowned with a layer of bread crumbs, the fillet was bland but a dollop or two of the tasty homemade tartar sauce made it palatable. My side of rice pilaf was better than most.

    Our main courses were inconsistent, although all of the seafood we were served was extraordinarily fresh. My Boston haddock dinner ($7.50) – another of the house specialties – was baked rather than fried. Crowned with a layer of bread crumbs, the fillet was bland but a dollop or two of the tasty homemade tartar sauce made it palatable. My side of rice pilaf was better than most.

    My husband's seafood dinner ($10.50) was basically a fried combo platter. The batter was relatively light on the cod, shrimp, scallops, oysters (substituted for clams, which were unavailable that day) and onion rings. The scallops and oysters were especially good. We missed out by not ordering the side-orders of onion rings that we saw at other tables – they were piled a foot high.

    Take a stroll down any major thoroughfare in the Peruvian capital of Lima and you'll find that pollerias, or rotisserie chicken joints, are as ubiquitous as pizzerias are here. In fact, many of these hole-in-the-wall eateries closely guard their recipes for pollo a la brasa the same way that pie-makers guard their recipes for pizza sauce. And while Peruvian-style chicken has yet to establish itself in this city's culinary lexicon, you'd be hard-pressed to coax the fowl formula from the cooks, waitstaff and proprietors at Brazas Chicken, all of whom defend their secret like Túpac Amaru defended his Incan pride.

    Occupying a corner of an Edgewood strip plaza, the bustling full-service restaurant forgoes the fast-food ambience typical of pollerias. Earthy tones exude a warmth inside the inviting, though somewhat cramped, interior while Andean objets d'arts and the predominantly Peruvian staff lend the place an air of authenticity.

    As far as chicken goes, you won't find a better deal. A whole roasted pollo, hacked into quarters, can be had here for a paltry $8. The spit-fired bird is, typically, rubbed in a marinade comprising (but not limited to) salt, paprika, cumin, black pepper, garlic, lemon juice and vinegar, resulting in crispy, herb-speckled skin and incredibly moist, fragrant and flavorful meat. I particularly enjoyed drizzling the juicy morsels with zesty chimichurri and a creamy piquant sauce made from the Andean herb huacatay, or Peruvian black mint.

    A whole chicken will easily satisfy two, possibly three, diners depending on which side items you order. I opted for the maduros ($3), or sweet plantains; arroz con frijoles ($4), long-grain rice and beans; and good ol' fashioned papas fritas ($3), aka french fries. Ravaging the succulently salty chicken, then downing a chubby fried plantain ripened to a wonderful sweetness was a gratifying act.

    But that didn't stop me from indulging in the papa a la huancaina ($5), a starchy specialty of boiled potato halves lathered in a huacatay-infused cheese sauce the consistency of béchamel and served over a bed of lettuce. The cold salad was a nice prelude to the chicken ' though, really, I found myself eating bits and bites from all the dishes on the table at once.

    Those dishes also included Peru's national dish, ceviche ($10). Cured in citrus and peppered with aji limo, a Peruvian red chili, every sliver of the uncooked, cilantro-flecked tilapia offered a tantalizing tang and took me back to when I first sampled the dish in a seaside restaurant in Lima. The inclusion of thinly sliced rings of red onions, sweet potato and canchita, roasted kernels of maize, provided texture and a cooling balance to the dish.

    Bubble gum-flavored Inca Kola ($1.50) and chicha morada ($2), a cider made from purple corn and sweetened with pineapple, sugar and cinnamon, are both equally palatable beverages.

    A dulce de leche-layered sandwich cookie known as an alfajore ($1.50) was a sugary chew, while the lucuma ice cream ($3), made from a popular Peruvian fruit, had a pistachio-like flavor reminiscent of Indian kulfi.

    With influences from Spain, North Africa, Japan, China and Italy, Peruvian cuisine has long been heralded, and its emergence on the global stage was astutely predicted most recently at Madrid Fusion 2006, one of the premier gastronomic events in the world. Brazas Chicken may not offer the full culinary spectrum from the South American nation, but what it does, it does well.

    Briar Patch has much working in its favor: A primo location on Park Avenue that guarantees a steady influx of old fans and curious newcomers, and a menu that's meant to be enjoyed rather than comprehended. That is, if you can get your foot in the door.

    Just try to snag a table around noon on busy weekends, on Saturdays in particular. As countless others have found over the 10 years since it opened, you'll be cooling your heels by the ice-cream counter or out on the sidewalk for 20, 30, even 40 minutes.

    But that doesn't seem to stop most people from coming back for more.

    There's a front-porch coziness that pervades the restaurant, all the way back to the deepest recesses. Althought the seating is packed in as comfortably as possible, you're still likely to be elbow-to-elbow with the diners at the next table.

    The menu rarely overreaches: salad nicoise with albacore tuna ($7.95), two-fisted guacamole and Swiss burgers nestled in piles of potato chips ($7.50), omelets perfumed with pears and Gorgonzola cheese ($6.75), and bow-tie "picnic pasta" with ham, pecans and cheese ($8.95). Many items are tried-and-true favorites that have been on the menu since the beginning.

    Soups of the day are usually pleasing, as we found with the creamy, pungent cheddar-bacon chowder ($3.25). A yummy Gorgonzola and walnut salad was studded with apples and poached chicken ($8.95), proof that the heart-healthy offerings are as tempting as the rest of the menu.

    Among the entrees, eggplant Florentine was worth diving into, with its spinach and mushroom stuffing. The marinara sauce added balance, with the light scent of garden fresh tomatoes.

    By comparison, the "chicken Briar Patch" ($10.95) was inexplicably slim on meat, so that the accompanying cream sauce disappeared into a mountain of angel-hair pasta. Artichokes and mushrooms were tossed generously into the mix, but that was scant reward.

    In the unlikely event that all else fails to please, the Briar Patch has one sure saving grace: awe-inspiring desserts. The ice-cream parlor at the front of the restaurant offers everything from milk shakes and malts, to old-fashioned egg creams, to the infamous "New Orleans Gold Brick Sundae" ($5.95). But we opted for an eye-popping, 10-inch-tall wedge of chocolate layer cake ($5.25) that was worthy of a Bon Appetit cover photo.

    Briar Patch sports the patina of a well-worn gathering place. Despite the occasional menu misses and service that inevitably slows down during peak periods, it remains a favorite dining spot for one really good reason: You can relax over breakfast, lunch or dinner, rather than think about it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    As Carmelo Gagliano tells it, when his uncle opened his first pizza restaurant at the Brooklyn Shipyards 40 years ago "only Italian people knew what pizza was." The open-air ristorante was authentic to the traditions of Sicily, traditions that are just as important to Gagliano today as he runs his two local locations of Brooklyn Pizza.

    "Authentic Brooklyn-style pizza," he calls it, "just like they made it in the '50s." As a New York boy, I can tell you that Brooklyn Pizza has it nailed. Everything here is handmade, from the ravioli to the simmered sauces – yes, plural: The sauce they use on their pizza is different from the lasagna or meat sauces. What a welcome change.

    "Authentic Brooklyn-style pizza," he calls it, "just like they made it in the '50s." As a New York boy, I can tell you that Brooklyn Pizza has it nailed. Everything here is handmade, from the ravioli to the simmered sauces – yes, plural: The sauce they use on their pizza is different from the lasagna or meat sauces. What a welcome change.

    I'm enthusiastic about Brooklyn Pizza. Some purists insist that the only "real" pizza is the original style invented by the Neapolitans, with a crust more like well-done puff pastry. But the never-ending quest of ex-patriot New Yorkers like me is to find the crunchy, yeasty bread circles we were weaned on. Brooklyn Pizza's pie is just that, a thin, crisp base of dough laden with garlic and fresh cheeses – a tomatoey Siren calling us home.

    I'm enthusiastic about Brooklyn Pizza. Some purists insist that the only "real" pizza is the original style invented by the Neapolitans, with a crust more like well-done puff pastry. But the never-ending quest of ex-patriot New Yorkers like me is to find the crunchy, yeasty bread circles we were weaned on. Brooklyn Pizza's pie is just that, a thin, crisp base of dough laden with garlic and fresh cheeses – a tomatoey Siren calling us home.

    While the Pershing Avenue location has been around since 1985, the new place on West Fairbanks Avenue (the former Captain Mary's Bar and Grill) in Winter Park only opened late last year. And it's tiny: six tables, two ancient video-game machines and lots of black-and-white pictures of Brooklyn. In fact, the whole place – floors, walls, curtains – is black and white. The kitchen is very visible and busy – and certainly more so than the one on Pershing, which was actually designed to hold only one person.

    While the Pershing Avenue location has been around since 1985, the new place on West Fairbanks Avenue (the former Captain Mary's Bar and Grill) in Winter Park only opened late last year. And it's tiny: six tables, two ancient video-game machines and lots of black-and-white pictures of Brooklyn. In fact, the whole place – floors, walls, curtains – is black and white. The kitchen is very visible and busy – and certainly more so than the one on Pershing, which was actually designed to hold only one person.

    There are enough choices to keep even a jaded pizza-eater interested, including a classic Margherita (fresh tomato, basil and mozzarella, no sauce), an Alfredo chicken pizza, and the killer "white" pie with a layer of ricotta and acres of garlic (the varieties range from $9 to $18.50). But start out with something simple, like a vegetarian pizza, that allows the naturally sweet tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella to shine through.

    There are enough choices to keep even a jaded pizza-eater interested, including a classic Margherita (fresh tomato, basil and mozzarella, no sauce), an Alfredo chicken pizza, and the killer "white" pie with a layer of ricotta and acres of garlic (the varieties range from $9 to $18.50). But start out with something simple, like a vegetarian pizza, that allows the naturally sweet tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella to shine through.

    Other options include the cheese ravioli, stuffed with crumbly and firm ricotta and baked with a rich sauce, which is delightful ($8.25). And the eggplant sub ($6.75) is so full of tender eggplant and roasted peppers that you'll want to linger over it.

    Other options include the cheese ravioli, stuffed with crumbly and firm ricotta and baked with a rich sauce, which is delightful ($8.25). And the eggplant sub ($6.75) is so full of tender eggplant and roasted peppers that you'll want to linger over it.

    Gagliano says he'll be adding traditional dishes from Palermo to the menu, like sausage and rapini, but don't wait. Savor the tradition now.

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

    If you want to have a quiet, relaxed Italian dinner for two, stay clear of the new Maitland mecca Buca di Beppo – but I mean that in a good way.

    Only one month after opening on the former Bubble Room site, Buca di Beppo is a neighborhood magnet. Few people know that the name loosely translates as Joe's Basement, but they quickly understand the eatery's eclectic nature: bright and busy, bustling with an army of waiters.

    Only one month after opening on the former Bubble Room site, Buca di Beppo is a neighborhood magnet. Few people know that the name loosely translates as Joe's Basement, but they quickly understand the eatery's eclectic nature: bright and busy, bustling with an army of waiters.

    One oddity is that everyone who enters Buca di Beppo is marched through the kitchen, where a tag team of chefs is in constant motion. The dining area is busy in a different way. Much like the Bubble Room before it, every inch is garishly festooned with Christmas lights and souvenirs, including a reproduction of the Mona Lisa in neon curlers.

    One oddity is that everyone who enters Buca di Beppo is marched through the kitchen, where a tag team of chefs is in constant motion. The dining area is busy in a different way. Much like the Bubble Room before it, every inch is garishly festooned with Christmas lights and souvenirs, including a reproduction of the Mona Lisa in neon curlers.

    Visitors are encouraged to roam around the dining room to check out the billboard-style menus. (Regular ones are provided as well.) Also like the Bubble Room, be careful not to over order. The kitchen turns out pizzas as big as counter tops and meatballs the size of baseballs. We ordered an appetizer, two dinners and dessert, and ended up carting leftovers home in a grocery sack with handles. "Thank you for shopping with us," manager Tim Dean sometimes says as the full waddle out.

    Visitors are encouraged to roam around the dining room to check out the billboard-style menus. (Regular ones are provided as well.) Also like the Bubble Room, be careful not to over order. The kitchen turns out pizzas as big as counter tops and meatballs the size of baseballs. We ordered an appetizer, two dinners and dessert, and ended up carting leftovers home in a grocery sack with handles. "Thank you for shopping with us," manager Tim Dean sometimes says as the full waddle out.

    Bruschetta ($6.95) is a fine meal-starter, created from a loaf of country bread sliced in half and broiled with garlic vinaigrette. The bread has a puffy, crispy, oily quality that is tantalizing, especially when topped with the lush mixture of tomatoes and red onions.

    Bruschetta ($6.95) is a fine meal-starter, created from a loaf of country bread sliced in half and broiled with garlic vinaigrette. The bread has a puffy, crispy, oily quality that is tantalizing, especially when topped with the lush mixture of tomatoes and red onions.

    Nine-layer lasagna is such a big deal to prepare that it's presented as a special event every week or two. (It's worth calling ahead to time a visit accordingly.) At $21.95 and nearly a foot in length, the Buca version sizzles with secret seasonings in the marinara and is loaded with meat, ricotta and provolone cheeses; super-fresh basil adds further appeal.

    Nine-layer lasagna is such a big deal to prepare that it's presented as a special event every week or two. (It's worth calling ahead to time a visit accordingly.) At $21.95 and nearly a foot in length, the Buca version sizzles with secret seasonings in the marinara and is loaded with meat, ricotta and provolone cheeses; super-fresh basil adds further appeal.

    One of the favorite pizzas is the "arrabbiata" ($18.95), featuring a 2-foot-long cracker crust brushed with spicy oil, topped with thick slices of tangy fennel sausage, pepperoni and caramelized onions.

    One of the favorite pizzas is the "arrabbiata" ($18.95), featuring a 2-foot-long cracker crust brushed with spicy oil, topped with thick slices of tangy fennel sausage, pepperoni and caramelized onions.

    They were out of the "Buca bread pudding caramello" ($8.95), studded with chocolate chips, raisins and cinnamon cream, and smothered with caramel sauce. So we diverted our attention to a trio of "chocolate cannoli" ($8.95) packed with chocolate chips and candied pistachio nuts, and served in a puddle of chocolate-licorice sauce.

    They were out of the "Buca bread pudding caramello" ($8.95), studded with chocolate chips, raisins and cinnamon cream, and smothered with caramel sauce. So we diverted our attention to a trio of "chocolate cannoli" ($8.95) packed with chocolate chips and candied pistachio nuts, and served in a puddle of chocolate-licorice sauce.

    For now, Buca di Beppo is open only for dinner. On weekends, reservations are not just a good idea, they're essential – unless you don't mind spending an hour or two in the equally animated bar.

    Winter Park burger joint is loud and proud of its all-natural Angus burgers, though flavors can ebb and tide depending on the choice of patty. The double-cheeseburger is stellar; the double prime brisket ultimate burger fell a bit flat; and the quinoa burger will appease vegetarians. Also on the menu: Wagyu beef hot dogs and frozen custard "concretes." Prices are a bit steep, but, hey, rustic-PoMo-industrial décor doesn’t come cheap.


    Teaser: Winter Park burger joint is loud and proud of its all-natural Angus burgers, though flavors can ebb and tide depending on the choice of patty. The double-cheeseburger is stellar; the double prime brisket ultimate burger fell a bit flat; and the quinoa burger will appease vegetarians. Also on the menu: Wagyu beef hot dogs and frozen custard 'concretes.� Prices are a bit steep, but, hey, rustic-PoMo-industrial décor doesn't come cheap.

    Classic French cuisine, of the sort revered gastronome Georges Auguste Escoffier codified in his landmark 1903 publication Le Guide Culinaire, has never really turned my gastric crank. I'm referring to those elaborate dishes where the role of the saucier supersedes that of the chef, resulting in caloric juggernauts heavy on béchamel and light on, well, nothing. Having been raised on a diet bordering on the infernal, I've often found myself veering away from haute and gravitating toward hot.

    But Café de France, a low-key boîte ensconced on high-profile Park Avenue, shuns the weighty and complicated for traditional nouvelle cuisine ' simple, light and with an emphasis on preserving natural flavors, not saucing them into submission. They've been doing so for nearly a quarter-century; chef Benjamin Schrank has defied gastro trends and maintained a focus on the straightforward, while adding a touch of finesse to his Gallic presentations.

    Escargots à l'ail ($9), for example, was a fine plating of succulent shelled snails bathed in herbed garlic butter and served with a small phyllo pastry shell. A couple of gritty gastropods were cause for concern, but I'd likely order it again. Same goes for the Bloody Mary bisque ($7), the soup du jour that should be available toujours. An airy puree of tomatoes and horseradish blazed a trail down the esophagus, but finely diced celery provided a cool crunch while a dollop of avocado mousse assuaged the palate. French onion soup ($6) was a textbook study of the classic starter, with a gossamer broth, subtly sweet onions and a generous layer of nutty Gruyère.

    Competent mains vary from rack of lamb ($29) to veal osso buco ($30), but the grilled ostrich ($30), a special for the evening, proved too tempting to pass up. Medium-rare slices of the lean, slightly gamy bird were served on a rectangular plate along with a splash of rosemary beurre-rouge, potatoes confit and stalks of broccolini. The dish's simplicity epitomizes Schrank's style, and the European-sized portion was also a welcome sight.

    The pan-seared filet ($30) was, in a word, outstanding. The side, a mix of corn, shallots and diced Peruvian potatoes in a roasted red pepper coulis, brought out the flavor of the beef, while an accompanying glass of Chateau Le Conseiller Bordeaux ($9) made an ideal pairing.

    Surrender yourself to the 'soft heart� chocolate soufflé ($8), a ramekin-shaped bonne bouche with a molten center of Belgian dark chocolate sided with fresh raspberries. I also found myself succumbing to the indulgence of the profiteroles ($8) ' the puff pastries filled with ice cream and drizzled with chocolate were neither overly sweet nor excessive.

    Surrender yourself to the 'soft heart� chocolate soufflé ($8), a ramekin-shaped bonne bouche with a molten center of Belgian dark chocolate sided with fresh raspberries. I also found myself succumbing to the indulgence of the profiteroles ($8) ' the puff pastries filled with ice cream and drizzled with chocolate were neither overly sweet nor excessive.

    The interior is reminiscent of a French country manor and exudes an air of austerity, as does the service, which, for the most part, is efficient and professional. I did get a chuckle when a pair of Rollins College students, one wearing a 'Save Darfurâ?� hoodie, walked in asking if they could get takeout. They were met with a polite non, but I felt bad they couldn't take a $30 filet or $32 roasted mallard duck in a paper bag back to the dorm.

    Then again, the restaurant's proximity to Rollins will, at times, see famished college students walk through its French doors in search of a classy nosh. And it's just as well considering that over the past 25 years, Café de France has been in the business of schooling its competition.

    There's something about an authentic Chinese restaurant that lends itself to good conversation. Maybe that's just a Western perception, but the evening seemed to slip away as we sampled the menu at Chan's Chinese Cuisine. My guest and I were lulled by the languid surroundings and soft music, and rather surprised when we got up to leave and noticed that two full hours had passed.

    In retrospect, I would do a couple of things differently if I revisited Chan's. It would have been better to visit at lunch, when a dim sum service is offered and waiters stroll through the dining room with carts filled with dozens of varieties of dumplings, spring rolls and assorted delicacies. Customers choose and pay by the item, dressing up their selections with hot pastes, warm mustards and sweet sauces.

    In retrospect, I would do a couple of things differently if I revisited Chan's. It would have been better to visit at lunch, when a dim sum service is offered and waiters stroll through the dining room with carts filled with dozens of varieties of dumplings, spring rolls and assorted delicacies. Customers choose and pay by the item, dressing up their selections with hot pastes, warm mustards and sweet sauces.

    We were somewhat disappointed to find that this service isn't offered at dinner. Ordering from the appetizer menu, we were only able to sample a couple of varieties. But we liked what we tried, particularly the steamed dumplings stuffed with pork ($4.95), and dumplings filled with plump shrimp, minced vegetables and nuts ($5.95). They looked mysterious, wrapped in translucent pastry sheets and crimped shut to seal in the savory flavors, almost like a tray full of jellyfish. But they were delicious.

    We were somewhat disappointed to find that this service isn't offered at dinner. Ordering from the appetizer menu, we were only able to sample a couple of varieties. But we liked what we tried, particularly the steamed dumplings stuffed with pork ($4.95), and dumplings filled with plump shrimp, minced vegetables and nuts ($5.95). They looked mysterious, wrapped in translucent pastry sheets and crimped shut to seal in the savory flavors, almost like a tray full of jellyfish. But they were delicious.

    The won ton soups were fairly flavorful as well. My guest had the conventional version ($1.50), a clear brown broth and won ton noodles stuffed with pork. I preferred the "wor won ton" ($4.50), a heartier variety with shrimp, pork, snow peas, water chestnuts and ears of baby corn.

    The won ton soups were fairly flavorful as well. My guest had the conventional version ($1.50), a clear brown broth and won ton noodles stuffed with pork. I preferred the "wor won ton" ($4.50), a heartier variety with shrimp, pork, snow peas, water chestnuts and ears of baby corn.

    After such a promising start, we were somewhat let down by our entrees. Although beautifully presented with bright vegetables, the flavors simply weren't interesting. My guest had Chan's cashew nut chicken ($7.95), served with plenty of nuts and vegetables in a brown sauce that was quite boring. My braised duck with assorted meat and seafood ($12.95) was a disappointing stew with slippery, fatty meats. The crisp, stir-fried broccoli, carrots and mushroom caps served with our entrees were much more appealing.

    After such a promising start, we were somewhat let down by our entrees. Although beautifully presented with bright vegetables, the flavors simply weren't interesting. My guest had Chan's cashew nut chicken ($7.95), served with plenty of nuts and vegetables in a brown sauce that was quite boring. My braised duck with assorted meat and seafood ($12.95) was a disappointing stew with slippery, fatty meats. The crisp, stir-fried broccoli, carrots and mushroom caps served with our entrees were much more appealing.

    Chan's did such a good job with dim sum, they must be doing something right. If you order from the dinner menu, steer away from dishes that involve sauces and gravies. My best advice: Go at lunch, the better to affordably sample a wide range of offerings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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