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Ah, progress. It seems whenever something new appears (the downtown Mini dealership for example), something old and treasured gets shoved aside. Such was the case with Café Annie, a neighborhood breakfast and lunch staple that occupied the corner spot on Jefferson Street and North Orange Avenue -- spiffy new cars in, gyros for lunch out.

So it was a great pleasure for downtown dwellers to see Café Annie return, displaced one door over. The spot, a cavernous storefront that was occupied by the Tin Can Alley restaurant for about five minutes, affords owner and chef Nazih Sebaali a large space for his Mediterranean and Middle Eastern recipes ("A bit of everything," he says) that have more to do with flavor than flair.

The food has a feeling of health and simplicity. Baba ghanoush ($2.95), a smooth paste of roast eggplant and garlic, sits on the plate simply adorned with a drizzle of olive oil, imploring you to eat. When you order a roasted chicken ($4.99), that's what you get, a dark or white quarter, oven-brown and juicy, served with two side dishes.

And what side dishes they are. Greek fasolia salad (butter beans stewed with tomato), snappy crisp green beans, or vinegary vegetarian stuffed grape leaves ($1.95 each) share a table with hummus ($2.95) and the best garlic mashed potatoes I've had in ages ($1.75, order extra).

The chicken kebab ($5.95) is charred and slightly lemony, and is available pressed in a pita, as is the gyro, a broiled beef and lamb combination with tomato, lettuce and a yogurt dressing ($4.25).

Specials change day to day; that afternoon it was richly seasoned lasagna and a salad for $5.50. How can you beat that? The point should be clear by now that if you don't like garlic, this might not be a good destination, but the thick roasted-garlic and tomato soup, loaded with savory chunks of tomato and rice, was worthy of nearby high-priced restaurants, and only $1.95 for the cup.

Breakfast starts at 7 a.m.; eggs, bacon, sausage, croissant sandwiches are joined by "Annie's eggpita" ($4.25) a dense Mediterranean omelet in pita bread.

Sebaali came to Orlando as an engineering student 25 years ago. When asked why he got into the restaurant business, he replied, "I don't really know how to answer that question." But despite his uncertainty, the previous home of Café Annie (named after his wife) stayed in business for 13 years. The revamped cafe opens for dinner starting this weekend, serving the same menu plus lamb kebabs, steak and seafood, with table service. I'll be going. How about you?

There's no love lost between the Greeks and the Turks ' invasions, wars, cultural boasts and religious differences have all helped to fan the flames of animosity between the two proud nations. So when Greek Flame Taverna left its Winter Park digs and settled on Anatolia's fan the flames of animosity between the two proud nations. So when Greek Flame Taverna left its Winter Park digs and settled on Anatolia's turf in the Dr. Phillips Marketplace, you knew the competitive, and culinary, juices of these two Mediterranean rivals would be flowing. turf in the Dr. Phillips Marketplace, you knew the competitive, and culinary, juices of these two Mediterranean rivals would be flowing. (The same, sadly, can't be said about GFT's chicken souvlaki, but more on that in a bit.) We've dined at both Anatolia and Greek Flame (The same, sadly, can't be said about GFT's chicken souvlaki, but more on that in a bit.) We've dined at both Anatolia and Greek Flame multiple times and we can state, without equivocation, that when it comes to straight-up Mediterranean classics ' kebabs, döner/gyros, without equivocation, that when it comes to straight-up Mediterranean classics ' kebabs, döner/gyros, grape leaves, honeyed pastries, sludgy coffee and the like ' Anatolia's dishes are unquestionably superior.

Now them ain't fightin' words, just our humble opinion. Where GFT does shine is in the more uncommon offerings. Take the taramosalata, for instance. We fightin' words, just our humble opinion. Where GFT does shine is in the more uncommon offerings. Take the taramosalata, for instance. We couldn't quite gauge the flavor in the fluffy cream-colored spread, one of a quartet of dips comprising the 'silogi� ($12), but when the couldn't quite gauge the flavor in the fluffy cream-colored spread, one of a quartet of dips comprising the 'silogi� ($12), but when the mystery ingredient was revealed to be caviar, we liked it all the more. We also didn't mind dipping our fried pita triangles into mystery ingredient was revealed to be caviar, we liked it all the more. We also didn't mind dipping our fried pita triangles into refreshing melitzanosalata, an eggplant salsa of sorts; garlicky skordalia, a potato-garlic puree; and the ubiquitous creamy tzatziki. refreshing melitzanosalata, an eggplant salsa of sorts; garlicky skordalia, a potato-garlic puree; and the ubiquitous creamy tzatziki. Kreatopita, a flaky beef-and-pine-nut-filled pie, highlighted an otherwise ho-hum platter of pre-entrée pastries ($15) that included Kreatopita, a flaky beef-and-pine-nut-filled pie, highlighted an otherwise ho-hum platter of pre-entrée pastries ($15) that included tiropita (cheese pie) with too much parsley and an uninspired spanakopita (spinach pie). The latter two were a bit of a letdown and had me tiropita (cheese pie) with too much parsley and an uninspired spanakopita (spinach pie). The latter two were a bit of a letdown and had me longing for the flaky wonders found in the Greek bakeries off Dodecanese Boulevard in Tarpon Springs.

From the healthy selection of mains, the kleftico ($18) intrigued with slices of slow-roasted leg of lamb mixed with veggies and feta baked in a parchment bag. The mains, the kleftico ($18) intrigued with slices of slow-roasted leg of lamb mixed with veggies and feta baked in a parchment bag. The result was nothing short of outstanding: tender lamb infused with saltiness from the cheese mixed with still-crisp peppers of all colors result was nothing short of outstanding: tender lamb infused with saltiness from the cheese mixed with still-crisp peppers of all colors and perfectly cooked mushrooms and potatoes. The other items we sampled just didn't pass muster ' lackluster fried calamari ($8) required and perfectly cooked mushrooms and potatoes. The other items we sampled just didn't pass muster ' lackluster fried calamari ($8) required deep dunks into the roasted garlic aioli to extract any semblance of flavor; and chicken souvlaki ($18), a dish that every Greek kouzina deep dunks into the roasted garlic aioli to extract any semblance of flavor; and chicken souvlaki ($18), a dish that every Greek kouzina should master, was thoroughly zapped of any moisture. The fact that the dish came with just one skewer and a miserly portion of rice made should master, was thoroughly zapped of any moisture. The fact that the dish came with just one skewer and a miserly portion of rice made it an unqualified failure.

Desserts offer some sweet redemption in the form of chocolate baklava ($5) ' here it takes the shape of a circular pie instead of a triangular wedge. We would've preferred a little more phyllo, but the honeyed treat was chock full of nuts. a circular pie instead of a triangular wedge. We would've preferred a little more phyllo, but the honeyed treat was chock full of nuts. Homemade dark chocolate, vanilla wafers and pistachios go into making the chocolate pyramid ($8), a dense capper served with two scoops of Homemade dark chocolate, vanilla wafers and pistachios go into making the chocolate pyramid ($8), a dense capper served with two scoops of black cherry ice cream (not made in-house).

While our servers were thorough, knowledgeable and attentive, the hostess, after seating us and announcing the Grecian-named specials of the evening, couldn't tell us what anything about said specials besides their seating us and announcing the Grecian-named specials of the evening, couldn't tell us what anything about said specials besides their names. That didn't make a good first impression, and it's precisely those intangible elements, along with a skilled kitchen, that separate names. That didn't make a good first impression, and it's precisely those intangible elements, along with a skilled kitchen, that separate restaurants that rise to the top from those relegated to Sisyphean frustration.

In dining, as in casino gambling, it helps to have a man on the inside. That's certainly the case at Hot Olives – the comfortably stylish Hannibal Square eatery that's been wending its way toward upscale fusion since taking over the site of the old Winter Park Grill in 2001. On a recent visit, our waitress welcomed us into her confidence by volunteering a couple of invaluable tidbits about the newly expanded menu: 1) the "spicy pecan salad" isn't really very spicy at all; and 2) even folks who think they don't like olives go crazy for the house-specialty appetizer, the "spicy fried olives."

She was right on both counts. The fried olives ($7) were simply mouth-watering, their breaded exterior and Asiago cheese-infused innards enough to tempt the most olive-wary martini-phobe. Dunking one of the delicious nuggets in the attendant dip – a swirl of blue cheese and three-chili sauce – brought the experience up yet another notch of memorability. It's easy to see why these namesake noshes are such a popular choice.

She was right on both counts. The fried olives ($7) were simply mouth-watering, their breaded exterior and Asiago cheese-infused innards enough to tempt the most olive-wary martini-phobe. Dunking one of the delicious nuggets in the attendant dip – a swirl of blue cheese and three-chili sauce – brought the experience up yet another notch of memorability. It's easy to see why these namesake noshes are such a popular choice.

As promised, nothing about the "spicy pecan salad" ($9) had us crying hoarsely for water, though the placement of toasted pecans, gorgonzola cheese and Granny Smith apple slices atop field greens produced a taste of its own pleasant distinction. For a more daring palate, there's the "Anjou pear and Cajun walnut salad" ($9), with the sprinkle of piquant nuts adding quite a kick to the assemblage of pears, greens and crumbled feta cheese.

As promised, nothing about the "spicy pecan salad" ($9) had us crying hoarsely for water, though the placement of toasted pecans, gorgonzola cheese and Granny Smith apple slices atop field greens produced a taste of its own pleasant distinction. For a more daring palate, there's the "Anjou pear and Cajun walnut salad" ($9), with the sprinkle of piquant nuts adding quite a kick to the assemblage of pears, greens and crumbled feta cheese.

As an entree, we opted for the herb-crusted grouper ($18), which reveled in a positively buttery texture that placed it among the finest specimens of this favorite fish we've yet encountered. The dish's sole failing – and it's our only strong criticism of the entire meal – was the topping of onions, which struck us as idling uncomfortably between the raw and the sautéed. Don't you hate it when a vegetable can't make up its mind?

As an entree, we opted for the herb-crusted grouper ($18), which reveled in a positively buttery texture that placed it among the finest specimens of this favorite fish we've yet encountered. The dish's sole failing – and it's our only strong criticism of the entire meal – was the topping of onions, which struck us as idling uncomfortably between the raw and the sautéed. Don't you hate it when a vegetable can't make up its mind?

The sesame-seared ahi tuna ($17) went down smooth and tender, another standout in a crowded field – but be careful with the Szechuan sauce, which if not applied sparingly can overwhelm the bed of orzo and stir-fried vegetables.

The sesame-seared ahi tuna ($17) went down smooth and tender, another standout in a crowded field – but be careful with the Szechuan sauce, which if not applied sparingly can overwhelm the bed of orzo and stir-fried vegetables.

Ordering from the dessert tray yielded two more success stories: The Snickers cheesecake ($6) had a terrifically gooey cohesion. Just as delectable was the macadamia nut pie ($6), overflowing with nuts and ending in a thin, soft crust that could have been a meal-finishing sweet in its own right.

Ordering from the dessert tray yielded two more success stories: The Snickers cheesecake ($6) had a terrifically gooey cohesion. Just as delectable was the macadamia nut pie ($6), overflowing with nuts and ending in a thin, soft crust that could have been a meal-finishing sweet in its own right.

With menu assets like these, you could forgive a restaurant for being light on ambience, but Hot Olives has it in spades. Outside patio seating is available, with blazing torches in place to make al fresco dining comfortable no matter the season. On the inside, faux-marble tabletops and rattan-backed chairs are laid out in an airy configuration; the effect is high-toned, yet just cozy enough to keep sterility at bay. Segregating interior from exterior are glass panels that mist up winsomely on rainy nights, imparting a feeling of pampered isolation from the outlying neighborhood. Acoustically, the room can be a bit loud, which poses a problem when all the tables are full. You should be whispering, anyway – how better to pick up that priceless insider knowledge the waitstaff is so eager to share with you?

When it comes to Moroccan restaurant ventures in this city, Achraf Taby has had his meaty fingers in the mix of quite a few of them. After stints in the kitchen at the now-defunct Casablanca Grill and Lounge and the eponymous Chez Achraf (it's now called Atlas Express, but still serves Moroccan staples), Taby has taken the helm of the kitchen at Kabbab House, a visually alluring if somewhat clichéd grill/lounge in the MetroWest Plaza. And while history hasn't been kind to couscouseries in Orlando, owner Simo Soaf is determined to make it work, and most of what I witnessed suggests Kabbab House has the potential to be a mainstay.

With less than a handful of Moroccan restaurants in town (Epcot included), Berber cuisine has hardly had the opportunity to evolve ' so, not surprisingly, the menu here cleaves to the familiar. There's nothing wrong with that. You won't find modern riffs on traditional Moorish meals, but if you're up for kebabs, tagines, couscous and assorted Mediterranean bites, look no further.

Moroccan cuisine comprises a heady array of dishes tinged with influences from Persia, India, Spain and Levantine nations, and for a representative sampling, the five-course Royal Feast ($23.95) poses quite a value. Depending on your mood, you can start your meal off with sweet-and-meaty chicken pastilla or a Mediterranean platter of hummus, tabouli and baba ghanoush. The pastilla was served piping hot and was a tad unctuous, but the overall textures and flavors of this flaky phyllo pie stuffed with chicken, eggs and almonds and dusted with confectioner's sugar and cinnamon exemplified the exotic nature of Moroccan fare. The platter was entirely satisfying, particularly the tart tabouli. The next course featured hearty harira, my go-to comfort soup of choice, but one sadly lacking in beef. Soaf admitted it's a ploy to appeal to vegetarians but, thankfully, the essence of the spice-laden, tomato-based broth wasn't lost. Greek salad was well-portioned with enough feta crumbles to keep cheeseheads in check.

For the main course, diners can opt for a mixed grill of kebabs, lamb tagine or chicken tagine. The diminutive and anemic merguez sausage seemed like an afterthought on an otherwise impressive platter, dominated by succulent chicken and tender beef kebabs lanced on a blade. The beef, while soft, was overcooked; nicely seasoned kofta (ground beef) kebabs were grilled and seasoned to perfection; and the cushion of saffron rice deserved equal billing with the meat. Saffron and preserved lemon charged the sauce in the chicken tagine, with plenty of green olives offering a true taste of Tangier, even though the jus was a bit oily. Fluffy semolina highlighted a side of lamb couscous ($6.95), but the shank of the fluffy critter wasn't as fall-off-the-bone tender as I expected, and overcooked baby carrots added to the inconsistency. Honeyed baklava, the fifth and final course, proved too formidable for the IKEA silverware, but sweet mint tea made an ideal after-dinner refresher.

If you plan on dining here on Friday or Saturday night, be sure to call ahead; the place gets packed with patrons flocking to catch live music and belly-dancing. Service is friendly, but harried and uncoordinated. Our server worked feverishly while others paced the room like zombies. When utensils aren't delivered, glasses are left unfilled and checks fail to materialize, other servers need to pick up the slack. Still, Kabbab House holds a lot of promise, and with a little work, lovers of Moroccan fare may avoid having to hear the heave of the Moor's last sigh.

You wouldn’t expect to find a restaurant on Orange Blossom Trail serving entrees at $30 per plate, but then again, who would expect a former Friendly’s restaurant, left to decay at the Sand Lake Road intersection for the past 8 years, to be gutted, refurbished at the cost of nearly $2 million and transformed into one of the most attractively ornamented restaurants in the city? Not many, I imagine, but there she stands, all dolled up and equipped to receive lovers of Mediterranean cuisine. Yet, unlike other segments of the strip, pleasure-seekers are nowhere to be seen, refuting the notion that if you build it they will come.

Inflated prices may have something to do with it, though lack of direct access to Maraya off either OBT or Sand Lake Road may also be a deterrent. But once inside, you can’t help but admire proprietor Violeta “Sabrina” Haddad’s interior design skills – the beautiful Italian porcelain tile floors alone are worthy of a prostrate perusal, and the wrought-iron wall hangings lend a pleasing rustic touch. Rustic touches appear on the menu as well, as in the simple roasted rack of lamb ($29.99), four succulent chops marinated in a blend of rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, cinnamon and other “Middle Eastern” seasonings that supplanted the lamb’s distinct flavor with an essence more akin to beef. Just as outstanding was the accompanying mound of rice, boiled in a veal-and-chicken stock that underscores the high standards of the kitchen. One sip of the broth in the chicken soup ($6.99) is all it takes to confirm the stock’s authenticity, while haricots verts and carrots add a bit of texture.

An appetizer plate of customary Lebanese staples ($15.99) offers a proper gastronomic cross-section of the owners’ native land: dense, crispy falafel; crackling kibbeh stuffed with seasoned ground beef, pine nuts and onions; creamy hummus with sesame tahini; zesty tabbouleh with fresh-squeezed lemon; and a flawless, garlic-tinged baba ghanoush.

Fish Parisienne ($17.99), spaghetti Bolognese ($14.99) and deep-fried Dubrovnik shrimp ($12.99) are somewhat representative of the region, but chicken kebabs ($16.99) are a truer, and extraordinary, Mediterranean offering. An assertive dip of garlic paste sharpened every juicy bite, augmented further by that wonderful rice. The beef kebabs ($19.99) proved too meager to endorse – I would’ve expected twice as much even if I were paying half the price.

Kenafa ($8.99), a baked pastry filled with semi-soft ackawi cheese and drizzled with a light syrup, ended the affair with intrigue. At once sweet, salty, flaky and sticky, the dense dessert filled the void left by the beef kebabs. Chocolate sauce and cinnamon overwhelmed the tiramisu ($7.99).

It’s a tall order, but if you can look beyond the prices, there’s some outstanding food to be had here, and if you can’t, prices on the lunch menu are much less steep. Even so, one can’t help but root for Maraya to press on in the face of facelessness and pull out all the stops to attract patrons to the restaurant. A new sign on OBT will help, as will belly dancers and a beautiful outdoor hookah terrace, but in the fickle world of the food and beverage industry, smoke and mirrors can only go so far.

Neighborhood jewel offers an eclectic pan-Mediterranean menu, with Indian, Latin and Asian influences on the horizon. Curry-crusted fish is deftly executed, as is chef Bret Ashman's intriguing take on gnocchi alla Sorrentina. A delightful smoked onion mince offers a contempo take on traditional Caprese salad. The wine list is ample and studied. Sunday brunch offered from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. 


Teaser: Neighborhood jewel offers an eclectic pan-Mediterranean menu, with Indian, Latin and Asian influences on the horizon. Curry-crusted fish is deftly executed, as is chef Bret Ashman's intriguing take on gnocchi alla Sorrentina. A delightful smoked onion mince offers a contempo take on traditional Caprese salad. The wine list is ample and studied. Sunday brunch offered from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Editor's note: This story has been changed to clarify the fact that although Theo's Kitchen no longer operates at this location, it did not go out of business; it relocated to Curry Ford Road.

Theo's Kitchen may be gone from this familiar location, but the space is being kept Greek by Mediterranean Blue, who also did us the favor of sprucing the joint up a bit, stocking eco-friendly wares, and adding a little flair to the menu (read: more cheese for everyone!). 

Said menu is deceptively simple, populated with just a handful of sandwiches and salads, but nearly everything is a winner. The Provence sandwich with ham, brie, herbes de Provence-infused butter and Dijon mustard ($6.50, comes with a side) may be just a Greek Cuban, but it's a delicious trip across the salty-savory spectrum. The more traditional falafel ($6.50 with a side) gets extra points for fresh, soft pita and the choice house-made tzatziki sauce. If doing dinner, a side of olive oil and oregano-garnished Greek fries helps fill you, but it'd be a ' what else ' tragedy not to order it smothered with feta cheese for $2. 

Orlando's ability to create and attract "stars" goes for acclaimed cuisine celebrities just as well as sports and music figures.

Chefs Paul Bocuse and Gaston Lenotre call Epcot their Florida home; Todd English is moving in to the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel; Roy Yamaguchi holds sway on Sand Lake Road; and we've all been exposed to Emeril and Wolfgang Puck. Slightly lower on the fame scale, but no less talented, is Melissa Kelly, the guiding hand behind Primo at the JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes.

The massive Grande Lakes complex also includes The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, home of Norman's, the signature restaurant headed by fellow James Beard Award winner Norman Van Aken; Kelly was named "Best Chef: Northeast."

This Primo is the second location for the renowned chef, who opened her Rockland, Maine, location in 1999 to critical acclaim. While Kelly's "down east" spot is a fairly simple affair in a Victorian house, the Orlando version reflects its massive surroundings. In a deep-colored room with semi-William Morris wallpaper and organic-looking chandeliers, you're confronted with a dizzying assortment of salad knives, fish forks and several sizes of dessert spoons. The cutlery is only slightly more complex than the food.

Kelly and chef de cuisine Kathleen Blake are well-versed in the ways of organic foods -- in fact, there's an organic garden on the premises -- and the menu varies with available supplies. The stuffed squash blossom starter ($10) was immensely pleasurable: crispy flowers filled with creamy ricotta and drizzled with balsamic vinegar. Too bad there were only two. Fried calamari ($11) used tender ring slices and spicy tentacles dressed with cress and citrus.

It isn't often you encounter a new experience, which I did with the sturgeon entree ($28). Sturgeon are huge, dense beasts, and my serving had a firm texture more like chicken than fish, with a flavor that only comes from cold-water catches. It was served alongside a baby artichoke half-filled with tomato couscous and a braised slice of escarole (impossible to cut with the fish knife).

Beautiful women and young men with spiky hair make up the well-trained staff, and do their jobs well. The only downside that comes to mind is the price: Dinner for two easily rises to more than $100. The Maine lobster ($32) -- while interestingly served with handmade pansoti (similar to ravioli) stuffed with squash -- is not the expected full shellfish but some chunks and a few deshelled claws, which seems a bit expensive.

There's thought behind the cuisine, and the excellent food isn't simply trendy -- Melissa Kelly has earned her fame.

It was a snack bar before it was Terrace on Lake Eola, 903 CitySide, Erik's on Eola or, as it's currently known, Relax Grill, but the one facet that's drawn patrons to the site on the northwest corner of Lake Eola is, well, the site itself. Towering oaks, dog-walkers, joggers and feathered quackers offer enough lakeside distractions and amusements to keep the courtyard seats filled, as does a modest selection of beer and wine. The food has never really wowed, no matter the café's name, but the view is unprecedented in the city, and for al fresco diners, that aspect, like the fare, carries a lot of weight.

Take the Mediterranean veggie combo ($11), for instance. The two-platter appetizer came with healthy portions of hummus, tzatziki, red pepper'nut dip, tabouli, pita and a trio of bulbous falafel, not to mention slices of cucumber and tomatoes. All items lived up to expectations, but my fave was the garlicky red pepper dip. The falafel, though good, lacked the sort of moistness I've come to expect, and the absence of tahini was an unconscionable omission, particularly given the chef's Syrian roots (thus the restaurant's emphasis on Mediterranean fare). A deep pool of balsamic vinaigrette was the only sour note to an otherwise fresh and crisp Greek salad ($7), a complimentary offering with any of the entrees.

But after gawking at a few pooches and watching a pair of fattened ducks waddle onto the path then fearlessly honk at startled couples out for a stroll (highly amusing), we turned our attention to the fattened chunks of the chicken kebabs ($11). The skewer of meat was simply seasoned, yet flavorful, and sat atop a bed of fluffy yellow rice with grilled seasoned peppers and onions. They're not the finest chicken kebabs in town ' that title belongs to Kabbab House in MetroWest ' but they made for an enjoyable nosh. A mediocre big burger ($9) proved that the kitchen was far more adept at the Mediterranean dishes than domestic ones. Furthermore, the limp crinkly fries on the side lacked any semblance of crisp.

It was far easier to stomach the hot apple dumpling ($6) than it was the live jazz of smooth variety, though both were equally syrupy. The menu said a light, refreshing fruit parfait ($5) was to come with strawberries and blackberries, but the latter were entirely absent from the cream-filled glass.

Relax Grill is a three-partner venture led by Sam Chatah, who managed Erik's on Eola before it ceased operations. The fact that the city of Orlando is charging Chatah a paltry $1,000 per month in rent should help his efforts in keeping the open-air café financially viable.

Admittedly, after hearing complaints of slow service, I thought perhaps the 'Relaxâ?� in Relax Grill was being used as an excuse to justify a sluggish disposition, but in my experience, the service was leisured and friendly and the fare certainly respectable. For now, Relax Grill seems to have all its ducks in a row.

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