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When I was growing up in DeLand, there just weren't any kosher delis around. I didn't discover blintzes, latkes and matzo ball soup until going off to college in Atlanta. And while these days Orlando hardly brims with traditional Jewish food, the unassuming market and deli Amira's is worth a visit.

As a kosher deli, cleanliness, food and service at Amira's are supervised by the Orlando Rabbinic Council. But don't ask about the name; I felt like a real schlemiel when I asked our waitress for a translation, and she informed me that "Amira" is the owner's first name.

My companion and I visited for lunch, served between 11 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. For starters, we split the mini Israeli sampler ($4.95), a smaller version of the Israeli platter ($6.95). I could have made an entire meal out of the falafel (think chickpea hushpuppy) and the eggplant relish, which was similar to ratatouille. The tabouli also was tasty; heavier on parsley than bulghur wheat, it tasted more like a regular salad than other versions I've tried. And while I thought the hummus had too much tahini, my companion pronounced it delicious. Our sampler also came with a big plate of pita bread.

For my entree, I ordered half a "Virgin Rachel" and a cup of chicken noodle soup ($5.95 for the combo). Even without the customary Swiss cheese, this Rachel was superb. Served grilled on rye bread, it came with a huge, hot stack of pastrami, sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing. The soup stock was marvelous, although there was only one measly piece of chicken hiding in a cup full of noodles. My companion's overstuffed cold corned beef sandwich on rye ($6.95), served plain with condiments on the side, was similarly outstanding. His sandwich came with cole slaw and potato salad, fries or a potato knish. He chose the latter, a spicy mashed-potato mixture inside flaky pastry.

Other sandwiches include hot or cold beef brisket ($7.25), chopped liver ($5.25), half-pound turkey burgers ($6.25), and quarter-pound chili dogs ($4.45). And excepting Friday evenings, when Amira's is closed, the dinner menu includes stuffed cabbage ($9.95), prime rib ($12.95), half a rotisserie chicken ($9.95), and open-face roast beef or turkey sandwiches (both $7.95).

There are people who stare at a showroom floor of cars, yearning for the latest model, or drool over displays of fine watches. Then there are the folks who can't walk past a dessert case without being mesmerized by the mile-high cakes under the spotlights. For you, we have Annie Pie's (anniepiesbakery.com).

Annie's delights can be ordered from the Neiman-Marcus catalog or at Moonfish restaurants, and they've been featured on Food Network's "Best Of" show But now you can purchase those humongous, coma-inducing cakes for your own gluttonous glee by phone or web from Annie's.

Annie's delights can be ordered from the Neiman-Marcus catalog or at Moonfish restaurants, and they've been featured on Food Network's "Best Of" show But now you can purchase those humongous, coma-inducing cakes for your own gluttonous glee by phone or web from Annie's.

These are not only gourmet indulgences, but marvels of construction: The "peanut butter explosion" cake, layers of chewy fudge brownie, peanut butter mousse, chocolate cake, fudge and peanut-butter chips, weighs in at over three pounds!

A good old-fashioned country diner may seem a wee bit out of place on the modern suburban thoroughfare of Lake Mary Boulevard, but that hasn't stopped families from tolerating Appleton's fruity decor (a decor that gets ridiculously kitschy once Halloween and Christmas roll around) and gorging on heaping plates of hearty, greasy goodness. Maybe it's because the Old South vibe here isn't uncomfortably Old South ' it's relaxed, friendly, even a little dowdy, but it's got a distinct charm, and it offers a pre-noon alternative to the Heathrow housewife scene at the Peach Valley Café a couple of miles down the road.

The waitresses at Appleton's are delightfully old-school and defiantly pleasant in the face of sluggish and disinterested diners. And they can certainly perk up the senses with comments like 'I wouldn't recommend the fruit today,â?� which, while somewhat off-putting, had me in stitches nonetheless.

So, forgoing the cup of fruit ($2.95), we dove headfirst into one of their 'hearty breakfasts,â?� namely the country-fried steak and eggs ($7.95), which lived up to all expectations. The crunch of the pounded steak was perfect, and the thick sausage gravy that smothered it added a nice kick. Interspersing each bite with eggs over easy sopped up with a homemade country biscuit just made the meaty morning meal all the better.

'Grits,â?� my dining partner remarked, 'are a serious personal choice.â?� The ones served here are on the thicker side, in need of quite a bit of butter and salt to give them the desired consistency and flavor. On the potato front, I preferred the home fries over the hash browns, though, really, both were good. From the griddle, both the thick French toast ($5.95; short stack, $4.25) and the pillowy pancakes ($5.95; short stack, $4.25) were flawlessly cooked. In keeping with the café's theme, warm apples and cinnamon can be added to your hotcakes for a couple more bucks. My only complaint, and it's an oft-cited one with me when it comes to breakfast joints, is that pure maple syrup isn't offered, even as an upgrade.

All omelets are prodigious three-egg envelopes with enough sides (your choice of home fries, hash browns or grits and your choice of toast, homemade biscuit or English muffin with plain or cinnamon-raisin bagel) to keep you going until dinner. The Greek omelet ($7.95), however, was just too dry to fully enjoy. The cook was likely distracted from all the other dishes he was cooking and left it in the pan a few minutes too long, a shame considering I was looking forward to downing this eggy number with gyro meat, pepperoncini, black olives and crumbled feta.

Coffee snobs need to leave their java judgments at the door ' the cup of joe served here is dark, strong and not for the faint of heart. A lunch menu is also offered (the place is open until 3 p.m.) with a variety of comfort food and greasy-spoon fare.

'The Next Best Thing to Mom's Cookingâ?� is emblazoned on their menu, and while that may be true, their furnishings, particularly in the screened-in back porch, are the next best thing to a Motel 6. Then again, I wouldn't have expected anything less from a place that celebrates its Old Florida character. Biscuits to bacon, Appleton's is down-home to the core.

I wasn't really expecting big things on my first visit to Athena Cafe. But then they started bringing out the wealth of Greek cuisine: humus, dolmans, moussaka, spanakopita. As I sampled my way from one dish to the next, I decided that in the next life, I'm going to ask to come back as a Greek. It really was that good.

Although my revelation at Athena was partly due to the vibrance and depth of Greek cuisine as a whole, it's mostly a tribute to the culinary skills of the Said (Sah-eed) family, who emigrated from the region to America 12 years ago, bringing along their favorite recipes.

Everything was delicious on the day I visited, but especially the dolmades ($3.50), which, translated from the Arabic, means "something stuffed." Marinated grape leaves were wrapped around fillings of rice, lean beef and onions. The deep green leaves were glassy and translucent, firm enough to bind yet giving easily to the bite. They were best when swished through the accompanying tzatziki sauce, a stiff mixture of sour cream, cucumber, garlic and parsley.

Hummus ($3.25) was almost enough for a meal. A warm, nutty spread of pureed chickpeas was smoothed across a small plate, moistened with olive oil and dusted with spices. On the side was a basket of pita bread, sliced into wedges. These you folded into halves, tucking them with dollops of hummus, diced tomatoes and onions.

Among the house specialties, moussaka ($3.75) was a full-flavored casserole that could almost be likened to lasagna. Layers of eggplant and sliced potatoes were baked with lean beef, feta cheese, onions and garlic. On top was creamy béchamel sauce, which had become firm from the baking.

Spanakopita ($3.75), more commonly known as spinach pie, was a hearty pastry, sliced into a generous rectangle and served warm. Dozens of layers of phyllo dough were stacked and baked in a batter of eggs, spinach, onions and feta cheese.

Warm, spicy and honey-sweet, the traditional baklava ($1.50) was worthy of a dining excursion in itself. Sheets of phyllo were stacked, soaked with butter and syrup, then layered with nuts and baked.

Athena Cafe isn't open for dinner, but its modest atmosphere is perfect for a casual breakfast or lunch. Popular for its breakfast gyros and Greek omelets in the $3 to $4 price range, this is a busy stop in the morning hours.

From the shores of Brooklyn comes Bayridge Sushi, one of the newest entries in metro Orlando's crowded Japanese-restaurant market.

Not that Brooklyn isn't also teeming with sushi and sashimi. Bay Ridge is a tiny neighborhood right on the New York Bay, and to succeed there, you have to be darn good.

Not that Brooklyn isn't also teeming with sushi and sashimi. Bay Ridge is a tiny neighborhood right on the New York Bay, and to succeed there, you have to be darn good.

Owner and sushi chef Ben Lu was trained by a venerable Manhattan sushi master for many years, and says he moved his restaurant here for the "business opportunities."

Owner and sushi chef Ben Lu was trained by a venerable Manhattan sushi master for many years, and says he moved his restaurant here for the "business opportunities."

Bayridge Sushi is in an odd, slightly cowboy-looking building on the outside, but inside it's thoroughly Far East, with paper screens and blond wood surrounding intimate tables, and the sushi bar up front. There is even a tatami room for those nimble of knee.

Bayridge Sushi is in an odd, slightly cowboy-looking building on the outside, but inside it's thoroughly Far East, with paper screens and blond wood surrounding intimate tables, and the sushi bar up front. There is even a tatami room for those nimble of knee.

Unlike a lot of local Japanese eateries, the menu isn't numbingly extensive, but it narrows the hot dishes down to teriyaki, noodles and tempura, focusing instead on sushi and rolls.

Unlike a lot of local Japanese eateries, the menu isn't numbingly extensive, but it narrows the hot dishes down to teriyaki, noodles and tempura, focusing instead on sushi and rolls.

I liked the slightly expensive but convenient a la carte sushi menu, from which you can order single pieces that show off Lu's talents.

I liked the slightly expensive but convenient a la carte sushi menu, from which you can order single pieces that show off Lu's talents.

The white tuna (shiro, $4.25) is an absolute order; hold the morsel in your mouth and let the buttery fish slowly cook on your tongue.

The white tuna (shiro, $4.25) is an absolute order; hold the morsel in your mouth and let the buttery fish slowly cook on your tongue.

Eel (unagi, $4.25) is my weakness, prepared here with less of the obligatory sweet sauce to let the flavor shine through.

Eel (unagi, $4.25) is my weakness, prepared here with less of the obligatory sweet sauce to let the flavor shine through.

The tuna is bright pink to dark red, depending on the cut ($3.95 to $4.45), and it tastes of clear water.

The tuna is bright pink to dark red, depending on the cut ($3.95 to $4.45), and it tastes of clear water.

My only complaint was the "crab stick" ($3.25) which, like the crab-dumpling appetizer ($4.50) was not real crab, but surimi – you know, that formed whitefish stuff.

My only complaint was the "crab stick" ($3.25) which, like the crab-dumpling appetizer ($4.50) was not real crab, but surimi – you know, that formed whitefish stuff.

A better choice is the slightly pickled mackerel with its bracing vinegar bite (saba, $3.25).

A better choice is the slightly pickled mackerel with its bracing vinegar bite (saba, $3.25).

The appetizer that was particularly pleasing was the nasu ($3.25), a small jewel of a Japanese eggplant, split and broiled with a topping of miso and ponzu sauce for a sweet contrast to the deep eggplant flavor.

The appetizer that was particularly pleasing was the nasu ($3.25), a small jewel of a Japanese eggplant, split and broiled with a topping of miso and ponzu sauce for a sweet contrast to the deep eggplant flavor.

I'm actually not a fan of rolls, but there's a wide selection of not-too-bizarre combinations. The "rainbow," "California" and "dragon" rolls are all here (and not much different from other local concoctions), but I did like the taste and texture variations in the "Bayridge roll" of tuna, salmon and avocado ($8.95).

I'm actually not a fan of rolls, but there's a wide selection of not-too-bizarre combinations. The "rainbow," "California" and "dragon" rolls are all here (and not much different from other local concoctions), but I did like the taste and texture variations in the "Bayridge roll" of tuna, salmon and avocado ($8.95).

Bayridge Sushi is a long way from the Brooklyn shores, but in its new Florida digs is a smart choice for tasty, well-prepared sushi.

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.

OK, I'm going to come right out and admit it. When I first heard of a 24-hour Mexican takeout restaurant, I shuddered. Having been out of college for many years, the idea of fast-food-grade tacos before sunrise made me just a little bit queasy.

And then we went to Beto's, near the congested crossroads of State Road 436 and U.S. Highway 17-92, and I now humbly apologize. There's an old joke about Mexican food being nothing but meat, rice and cheese with different names, and I can tell you that the joke doesn't hold true here. Beto's does not churn out your typical drive-through meals.

And then we went to Beto's, near the congested crossroads of State Road 436 and U.S. Highway 17-92, and I now humbly apologize. There's an old joke about Mexican food being nothing but meat, rice and cheese with different names, and I can tell you that the joke doesn't hold true here. Beto's does not churn out your typical drive-through meals.

Look at the "Beto's special carne asada fries" ($5.50), thick-cut french fries smothered in guacamole, sour cream and chopped steak -- not ground meat but real pieces of steak. Or "carnitas" tacos, soft corn tortillas stuffed with roasted pork ($2.25).

Look at the "Beto's special carne asada fries" ($5.50), thick-cut french fries smothered in guacamole, sour cream and chopped steak -- not ground meat but real pieces of steak. Or "carnitas" tacos, soft corn tortillas stuffed with roasted pork ($2.25).

I don't usually associate Mexican cooking with potatoes, and, in fact, the "Mexican potato" is actually jicama, a crunchy, sweet tuber much like a water chestnut. (The sweet, syrupy Pina drink that's served is made from jicama; also try Horchata, a traditional rice, almond and cinnamon drink.) So I wasn't expecting the Southwestern influences of the "Texano" burrito ($2.95), filled with rich dark-meat chicken, sour cream, cheese and potatoes, a filling and satisfying combination. I guarantee you will not eat it all at one sitting; likewise the "California" burrito ($3.05), grilled steak, pico de gallo and potato, an old-fashioned meat-and-potato meal in your hand.

I don't usually associate Mexican cooking with potatoes, and, in fact, the "Mexican potato" is actually jicama, a crunchy, sweet tuber much like a water chestnut. (The sweet, syrupy Pina drink that's served is made from jicama; also try Horchata, a traditional rice, almond and cinnamon drink.) So I wasn't expecting the Southwestern influences of the "Texano" burrito ($2.95), filled with rich dark-meat chicken, sour cream, cheese and potatoes, a filling and satisfying combination. I guarantee you will not eat it all at one sitting; likewise the "California" burrito ($3.05), grilled steak, pico de gallo and potato, an old-fashioned meat-and-potato meal in your hand.

Still on the burrito kick, the fried-fish-and-tarter-sauce one was exceptional, with crispy fried fish and sharp pico de gallo (spiked with lime) for a West Coast-flavored delight ($2.95). The combination platters ($4.25 to $5.95) are enormous servings of extremely well-executed traditional dishes, using shredded beef (machaca) in enchiladas and chorizo with tortillas. I wish there were more seafood offerings than just fish, but perhaps that will come.

Still on the burrito kick, the fried-fish-and-tarter-sauce one was exceptional, with crispy fried fish and sharp pico de gallo (spiked with lime) for a West Coast-flavored delight ($2.95). The combination platters ($4.25 to $5.95) are enormous servings of extremely well-executed traditional dishes, using shredded beef (machaca) in enchiladas and chorizo with tortillas. I wish there were more seafood offerings than just fish, but perhaps that will come.

And then there's breakfast. Never contemplated a stuffed taco in the morning? Beto's serves breakfast burritos unlike any other: giant two-fisted tortillas wrapped around ham and eggs, shredded beef and vegetables, or a steak and egg burrito stuffed with grilled meat, fried eggs, cheese and potatoes. Go very early, because you won't be hungry again for quite a while after finishing one of these.

And then there's breakfast. Never contemplated a stuffed taco in the morning? Beto's serves breakfast burritos unlike any other: giant two-fisted tortillas wrapped around ham and eggs, shredded beef and vegetables, or a steak and egg burrito stuffed with grilled meat, fried eggs, cheese and potatoes. Go very early, because you won't be hungry again for quite a while after finishing one of these.

Beto's won't be winning any prizes for its decor, but the interior of the nondescript building (which at various times was a roast-chicken stand, a bagel place and a Chinese takeout) is immaculately clean and comfortable enough for a not-so-quick eat-in, any time of the day or night. Be prepared to bring half home.

In a previous life, I spent a lot of time traveling for business, which brought me to a lot of hotel restaurants, usually alone (sniff). Being perched at a noisy, dimly lit table trying to read a book and eat affords ample time to experience the food, and let me tell you, it was usually a bad experience.

So my hopes for Bistro 1501, the slightly upscale restaurant at the Orlando Marriott Lake Mary, weren't high, although I always go into an establishment hoping for a fabulous meal. This time, my hopes were answered.

So my hopes for Bistro 1501, the slightly upscale restaurant at the Orlando Marriott Lake Mary, weren't high, although I always go into an establishment hoping for a fabulous meal. This time, my hopes were answered.

The room isn't overwhelmingly large, and sitting at the high, cushy banquettes is like having your own private little dining area. I liked the décor -- wood walls and gorgeous glass accents -- and the casual attentiveness of the staff. The food was damn good, too.

The room isn't overwhelmingly large, and sitting at the high, cushy banquettes is like having your own private little dining area. I liked the décor -- wood walls and gorgeous glass accents -- and the casual attentiveness of the staff. The food was damn good, too.

Scott Dickenson, former executive chef for the Church Street Station complex, is behind the stove at Bistro, turning out his own recipes of what management calls "American food," which means that the influences are from everywhere.

Scott Dickenson, former executive chef for the Church Street Station complex, is behind the stove at Bistro, turning out his own recipes of what management calls "American food," which means that the influences are from everywhere.

Half the menu features seafood. The fish arrives whole in the kitchen and is filleted there.

Half the menu features seafood. The fish arrives whole in the kitchen and is filleted there.

My fried-oyster and spinach salad ($7.95) was a huge bowl of tender leaves dressed in a lemony vinaigrette and accompanied by crisp, flattened, fried oysters, sort of shellfish fritters. If you only order this dish, you'll be happy.

My fried-oyster and spinach salad ($7.95) was a huge bowl of tender leaves dressed in a lemony vinaigrette and accompanied by crisp, flattened, fried oysters, sort of shellfish fritters. If you only order this dish, you'll be happy.

A simple bowl of seafood chowder is far from simple here, a $3.95 feast of grouper chunks, shrimp (a little overcooked, but delectable) and crabmeat in a thick tomato and corn base with perhaps a bit too much salt.

A simple bowl of seafood chowder is far from simple here, a $3.95 feast of grouper chunks, shrimp (a little overcooked, but delectable) and crabmeat in a thick tomato and corn base with perhaps a bit too much salt.

The cream of asparagus "carpe diem" soup du jour ($3.50) didn't suffer from a salt problem and came out rich and marvelously green tasting.

The cream of asparagus "carpe diem" soup du jour ($3.50) didn't suffer from a salt problem and came out rich and marvelously green tasting.

The "Captain's grouper" ($19.95) is a guilty pleasure. Topped with lump crabmeat, the perfectly sautéed fish is coated in what tastes like a richly caramelized breading, but is actually a crust of pulverized Captain Crunch cereal. Yes, it sounds disgusting but, heaven help me, it's delicious. And you won't have to eat breakfast the next morning.

The "Captain's grouper" ($19.95) is a guilty pleasure. Topped with lump crabmeat, the perfectly sautéed fish is coated in what tastes like a richly caramelized breading, but is actually a crust of pulverized Captain Crunch cereal. Yes, it sounds disgusting but, heaven help me, it's delicious. And you won't have to eat breakfast the next morning.

Over on the carnivorous side of the menu, the 12-ounce New York strip ($20.95) comes to the table glistening from the grill and basted in a red wine reduction. The steak was a bit fatty and not tough, but resistant ... but that's a NY strip after all. The taste was worth it.

Over on the carnivorous side of the menu, the 12-ounce New York strip ($20.95) comes to the table glistening from the grill and basted in a red wine reduction. The steak was a bit fatty and not tough, but resistant ... but that's a NY strip after all. The taste was worth it.

Dessert choices are varied and unique, including a must-have apple caramel custard pie, and a very strange-sounding "cheesecake burrito" that I just couldn't get myself to order.

Dessert choices are varied and unique, including a must-have apple caramel custard pie, and a very strange-sounding "cheesecake burrito" that I just couldn't get myself to order.

All in all, the surroundings, service and bill of fare makes Bistro 1501 well worth the drive up I-4.

Some restaurants try to sell a "dining experience," which usually means "expensive chairs." At Black Hammock Fish Camp in Oviedo the experience you get is "Florida."

Travel down snaking Oviedo roads to Lake Jessup, walk past the camp's live gator cage and you'll see the impressive stats on the ones that've been caught here (14 feet, 1/16 inch is the record). We didn't eat gator, but we were plenty satisfied with the Buffalo shrimp, which had a perfect wing-type spice that goes right to your toes.

Travel down snaking Oviedo roads to Lake Jessup, walk past the camp's live gator cage and you'll see the impressive stats on the ones that've been caught here (14 feet, 1/16 inch is the record). We didn't eat gator, but we were plenty satisfied with the Buffalo shrimp, which had a perfect wing-type spice that goes right to your toes.

You can't go to a fish camp and try to be healthful. God never meant for an ugly thing like catfish to be cooked in a daintified way – fried, it's wonderful. Go to Black Hammock while the sun is up so you can get a good look at this rare preserve of Florida.

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