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    In the face of a landscape burgeoning with whitewashed rejuvenation, Christo's Cafe stands as a fixture in defiance. So while progress in the guise of urban renewal encroaches on College Park's historic streets, the recusant little diner flaunts its 'this is your grandfather's greasy spoon' charm and, in so doing, has achieved a venerated standing in the community -- a standing reinforced with every new brick laid along Edgewater Drive.

    Not that the scruffy little sit-down is overrun by patrons long in the tooth, though members of that demographic, along with diners broad in the beam and raw in the bone, have all been known to indulge in Christo's hash-house classics. Most of my visits here have been to enjoy hearty breakfasts on their plastic tables outside and, personally, I know of no better place to have a pre-noon meal. That sentiment has less to do with the food than with the utterly calming environs, though a recent breakfast on a cool morn amid a light drizzle was made all the more memorable by the lamb and feta-filled Greek omelet ($7.25), a stack of silver dollar pancakes ($2.50), deep-fried French toast with bananas ($5.25) and bottomless cups of coffee.

    On weekends, the place fills up with the hungry and hungover, many lingering under the weathered green awning, awaiting some blood-thickening goodness. Tables inside and out fill up quickly, and it's not unusual to see diners waiting it out in the parking lot. The summer heat, however, dictates grabbing a vinyl-topped table inside, or one of the six seats at the counter where you'll compete for elbow room with dessert cases.

    Fancy they're not. Trimmings and decorations are kept simple, and a similar no-frills position is taken in the kitchen, from where equally simple treasures emerge. The hot open-face turkey sandwich ($8.70), for example, was adorned with a turbid slather of salted gravy and a side of thick mashed potatoes. A starter of blazing jalapeno poppers ($4.50) prepped my palate for the fowl-and-gravy onslaught. The breaded outer layer had the right amount of crisp and the cheese filling the right amount of ooze, but especially good was the kick of the homemade salsa dip.

    A mug of chili ($3.50) was a boon for bean-lovers, and a bane for those who sleep next to them. A heaped ladling of thick five-bean sauce topped with a generous layer of grated cheddar was given a pungent intensity by a further topping of diced Spanish onions.

    As if that didn't satisfy my craving for ground beef, my eyes were set on devouring the 'super big mouth' cheeseburger ($10), though my stomach knew full well that wasn't going to happen. Undaunted, I clasped the intimidating one-pound, kaiser-rolled monstrosity and managed about five feeble bites before succumbing to its immensity. Resisting the temptation to sample a burger purporting to be the 'best in town' has always been a challenging feat for me; in this particular case, the claim wasn't without merit.

    Carrot cake ($2.95) and coconut cake ($2.75), both of which my effusive waitress said were freshly baked, validates the kitchen's sweeter side, the latter being a soft, moist and ideal accompaniment for a cuppa joe.

    Greek-themed items like lamb and chicken gyros pay tribute to Christo's (the original owner, before he sold the joint to the current proprietors back in the early 1980s) Hellenic roots. The diner has since retained its throwback image and proudly adheres to a classical approach to diner fare. Epicurus would be proud.

    A satisfying dark-roasted brew works well in expresso  drinks (lattes, macchiato, cappuccino) and as  a straight-up drip coffee is served in a room as simple and satisfying as the menu, with clean lines, comfortable modern furniture and just enough embellishment to make the space appealing. The pay-what-you-will model is intriguing; we hope it works out for them.

    Emeril Lagasse Foundation Kitchen House and Culinary Garden
    A facility focusing on the culinary arts and education, a joint venture between Florida Hospital for Children, Orlando Junior Academy and the Emeril Lagasse Foundation, supporting OJA's Edible Education Experience.

    Sitting at Infusion Tea on Edgewater Drive, sipping Assam black tea ($2) and munching on delicious vegetarian hummus ($6), I reflect on what this place has in common with my favorite hot dog counter in the East Village: They are both what sociologist Ray Oldenburg calls "Third Places." Naturally the First Place is home; the second is work (damn). Third Places are the gems, providing us the precious community we so often lack in our lives.

    I went to Infusion for the third time in four days last night. I met up with a friend I hadn't seen in a while, and we closed ourselves off to the outside world to concern ourselves only with conversation and the vast menu of tea before us. Suddenly the choice of black, oolong, white, green or herbal seemed the most important thing in the world. Jasmine pearls? Or monkey-picked oolong?

    Some places can just sweep you off your overworked and/or bored-at-home feet, and Infusion has the charm to do it. The quaint corner spot in a little retro building on Edgewater begs you to bike over and stay for hours. Owner Christina Cowherd is interesting and kind, and has created a special atmosphere where visiting and lingering reign over efficiency and the bottom line. She and her husband, Brad, got the idea to open Infusion Tea while in the Peace Corps in Guatemala, and moved back to College Park to be near their families and down the street from their alma mater, Edgewater High School. Incorporating into their business many of the lifestyle changes they learned in Guatemala, they are avid recyclers, conscientious organic-food buyers and dedicated composters. Among their fantastic food choices are banana bread ($1.75) and gazpacho ($5) – recipes that Christina created with her Guatemalan students – and delightful organic tea-time bites such as scones ($1.75) with fresh cream and jam (add 75 cents).

    I couldn't help but ask about their goal in opening the tea shop. "This may sound hokey," Christina said, "but I read this book called Great Good Places by Ray Oldenburg …"

    "The one about Third Places?" I asked.

    "That was my primary goal," she said.

    Doesn't sound hokey to me at all. In fact, I'm happy to switch my affection from all-beef kosher dogs to Assam tea when it provides me with something nourishing that I crave: community.

    Even a James Beard Award semifinalist isn't immune from the vagaries of the economy. Nationally recognized chef Kevin Fonzo, owner of both K Restaurant Wine Bar and Nonna Trattoria ed Enoteca, closed K's doors in late February and consolidated operations in the bungalow that housed Nonna. The newly amalgamated boîte, now called K Restaurant, has Kevin's brother Greg taking charge of a menu largely reflective of K's old bill of fare with influences from Nonna. The roll call of seasonal gems with a focus on local sourcing is what kept the old K thriving for many years, and it'll do the same for K's latest incarnation. As far as the space is concerned, the cosmetic changes are a welcome sight to the ears. The one aspect of Nonna that I didn't care for was the hardwood floor ' while aesthetically pleasing, that floor contributed to a clamorous racket throughout the restaurant. Now, with a thorough carpeting, the dining room makes craned-neck lobe-pinching a thing of the past. Velvet curtains add a touch of subdued elegance while nurturing an environment much more conducive to conversational sustenance.

    Case in point: the grilled beef hearts ($9). We couldn't stop talking about how all the disparate elements of the appetizer harmonized ' the robust flavor of the sliced hearts, sweet roasted beets, brined tangerines, earthy greens and a horseradish dressing with pop. The thick tomato slice in the K-Stack salad ($7) came topped with goat cheese and mixed greens splashed with a citrus vinaigrette, but it was the basil leaves that helped balance out all the flavors. Fonzo's locavore predilection shows in these dishes, with the beef hearts coming from DeLeon Springs' Deep Creek Ranch and the tomato sourced from Sanford's Waterkist Farm. The herb and vegetable garden on the restaurant's premises was trampled during the move, we were told, but it should be primed for picking in a few weeks. An inordinate amount of time passed before our entrees arrived ' our server appeared somewhat harried waiting on the handful of tables in our vicinity and, as a result, we didn't quite get the attentive service we expected. Along with the time lag, our water glasses went unfilled ' minor miscues that were temporarily dismissed after one bite of the porcini-rubbed filet mignon ($32). Each silken bite washed in a cabernet sauvignon sauce aroused groans of gratification, as did the square of potato au gratin, slightly seared on top. A side of grilled broccolini ($7) dusted with parmesan and sprinkled with lemon was an ideal green to pair with the steak. The grilled wild Scottish salmon ($21) didn't produce as enthusiastic a response, but it was a decent slab, served with basmati rice and a pickled-tomato relish. Just when we forgot and forgave the wait time to get our mains, an even longer wait ensued just to put in our dessert order. Other servers tended to us through the course of our entrees, but we were all but neglected for a good 10 minutes after our table was cleared. Nevertheless, it was well worth the wait to sample a slice of fresh pecan pie ($6) served with a scoop of Guinness ice cream. Molten chocolate lava cake ($8), a choice insisted on by our server, was also superb. I can see why the table next to us chose to start their meals off with dessert.

    As they've done in the past, the Fonzos, for the most part, run their restaurant to the letter. In K's case, that letter happens to be an A.

    What a difference a letter makes. Back in February, Café Allegre chef and owner Kevin Fonzo told me of his plan to renovate the existing space, add tables and a private dining room next door, and adopt a new name. "Something with 'Kevin' in it, to make my mother happy," he said. What he came up with was K Restaurant and Wine Bar. What he has in K is a superb restaurant, one that took me quite by surprise.

    People have been saying wonderful things about Café Allegre in College Park for years, something I'd attributed to the fact that there are very few restaurants in the area. On the site of the former Babycakes Restaurant, Allegre opened in May 1997. When then owner Maria Bonomo-Do Pico recruited Fonzo (a Culinary Institute of America graduate) from Atlanta's Phoenix Brewing Co., in 1999, the place turned from casual to upscale. Deep-red walls held paintings by local artists, the wine list expanded, and the menu added ingredients like venison and saffron.

    Blame it on phases of the moon, but on every occasion I was there, food was miscooked, substitutions were made without discussion, and service was mediocre.

    Well, same chef, same room, but in my recent experience dining at K, the quality of both food and service have skyrocketed. The meal was pleasurable from beginning to end.

    A heady mixture of intensely flavored grilled quail ($7) on a bed of mache (a green similar to cress) and a puree of Vidalia onion -- so sweet I thought it was apple -- started me off. The seared scallop with sesame noodles ($6) was perfectly done, but note the singular form -- one scallop, not quite the bargain the quail was. Even a simple house salad of greens and mushrooms was a delicacy, sprinkled with balsamic and the right touch of shaved grainy Romano.

    The main courses are seasonal; the menu on this visit featured grouper "picatta" ($19). People passing by the window actually came in to ask what I was eating -- it was that pretty. The slightly tangy pan-seared fish sat atop potatoes whipped with artichoke, and it was covered with a mélange of diced peppers and summer squash. It was exceptional. Equally good, the tender marinated chicken ($14) had its own potato mound, this time mixed with roasted garlic, plus more of the veggies, with a deep herb-flavored gravy.

    Even if you loved the old cafe, it's an even better restaurant now. And I'll be back.



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