Best Of 2014

Best BBQ Side Dish

Jalapeño cheese grits at the East Orlando Bubbalou’s Bodacious Bar-B-Q
12100 Challenger Parkway, 407-423-1212, alafaya.bubbalous.com

These cheese grits are ridic. Choose them over the pedestrian fries and coleslaw and you’ll never look back. Creamy, cheesy, spicy – a dish of the stuff is full up with every flavor and texture that’s a perfect foil to smoky, sauced protein. The other Bubbalou’s locations don’t serve jalapeño cheese grits, so you’ll have to make a special trip to the UCF-area location to taste them. And you should.

Lavas at Bosphorous Turkish Cuisine
108 S. Park Ave., Winter Park, 406-644-8609, bosphorousrestaurant.com

Comfortably ensconced on Park Avenue in Winter Park, Bosphorous Turkish Cuisine produces quality dishes, but it’s a simple yet show-stopping appetizer that blows the rest of the menu out of the water: their version of the Mediterranean bread called lavas, aka hollow bread or balloon bread. The crisp, puffy loaf towers over the plate and can be shared by four or five people. Choose from a variety of six cold appetizers to give the hollow dough some flavor – we suggest baba ghanoush and hummus as worthy dipping options for this Turkish delight.

Soy mocha with lavender syrup at Stardust Video & Coffee
1842 E. Winter Park Road, 407-623-3393, stardustie.com

There are rows of flavored simple syrups lining the walls at Stardust, and they’re not just for show. It might sound nutso, but stay with us here: The lavender syrup is totally worth adding to your soy mocha (or any mocha, for that matter). The subtle floral fragrance is intoxicating, and added to coffee, chocolate and soy milk’s faintly fruity vibe, it’s a magical wake-up potion. So satisfying, you’ll forget about the calories.

Burrata mozzarella at Santiago’s Bodega
802 Virginia Drive, 407-412-6979, santiagosbodega.com

It doesn’t break any new culinary ground, but the plump, creamy sphere of burrata on Santiago’s cold tapas menu is simply, perfectly satisfying. Sitting in a tiny pool of walnut pesto, drizzled with balsamic and served with crispy-soft grilled pita triangles, this is an ideal appetizer to split with a friend along with a nicely chilled bottle of rosé. Just keep in mind that what’s deliciously rich and buttery in small amounts can be trouble in larger ones, so don’t be greedy – share.

The Sweet Shop at 4 Rivers Smokehouse
multiple locations, 4rsmokehouse.com/sweet-shop

For some, drooling over the rows of bar cookies, chocolate-covered Oreos, mile-high cakes, pudding parfaits and generously frosted cupcakes at the 4 Rivers dessert enclave is enough. For others, all that excess sugar is just the beginning. It’s yours for the asking – if you want extra frosting on that already-weighted cupcake, no problem. A little more whipped cream on that cakey milkshake? Done. There’s no request your sweet tooth might make that will give the Sweet Shop pause.

Sichuan wontons at Chuan Lu Garden
1101 E. Colonial Drive, 407-896-8966, chuanlugardenorlando.com

The love affair continues. Among the list of excellent dishes at our only local true Sichuan resto, like the dan dan noodles and “mouthwatering” chicken, there are these little gems. It’s fun to order something different every time you visit Chuan Lu Garden, but these little purses are a must every time: perfectly balanced, tender hand-folded wontons, savory pork filling, swimming in chili oil and dusted with citrusy, numb-spicy Sichuan peppercorns. 

Best Entrance

Smoked duck under glass
Scratch, 223 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park, 407-325-5165, scratchtapas.com

The waiter approaches, bearing a white plate topped with a glass cloche filled with an opaque white cloud. The cloche is removed, the smoke shimmies above the plate for a moment in a fragrant swirl, and then as it disperses, all heads turn toward your table, seeking the source of that woodsy aroma. Listed somewhat unassumingly on the menu as “smoked duck,” this stunning dish is a high point of Scratch’s menu. The succulent lavender-cured duck breast medallions sided with maque-choux and scattered with pea tendrils are delectable on their own, but the high theater of its arrival puts it over the top.

Smoked grouper tacos at Cress Restaurant
103 W. Indiana Ave., DeLand, 386-734-3740, cressrestaurant.com

Trust us: These tacos are worth the trip. You won’t find a better fish taco than the one Hari Pulapaka fashions at Cress. Seriously. You won’t. Fresh Florida grouper is marinated in a Creole blend, smoked over hickory wood chips, then loaded into grilled home-style corn tortillas along with shredded cabbage, candied Fresno chilies, lots of cilantro and a roasted poblano crema. The result is nothing short of mind-blasting. Who’s driving?

Best Little Debbie Impersonators

Se7en Bites
207 N. Primrose Drive, 407-203-0727, se7enbites.com

OK, admittedly, Little Debbie didn’t invent the classic snack cakes most kids grow up either eyeballing or inhaling. But when you encounter the Swiss rolls and nutty bars behind the glass at Se7en Bites, we’ll be shocked if you aren’t transported back in time to feel that same uncontrollable urge to indulge. We love the oatmeal pies best, but maybe that’s just predictably Southern of us. And if you aren’t so nostalgic to pad your pantry like Mama used to with the store-bought stuff, their bakery case hosts a wealth of more sophisticated pastries that would probably make Hostess cry for its mom.

Best Local Brew

Lineage Roasting
East End Market, 3201 Corrine Drive, lineageroasting.com

The gleaming white tiles and the row of shiny silver coffee drippers lend Lineage, snugged into the back corner of East End Market, a laboratory atmosphere – which, given the seriousness of purpose displayed by owner Jarrett Johnson, is not far from the truth. Johnson and his staff go deep, experimenting endlessly with roast times and brew techniques to bring out the very best from each single-origin, limited-edition bean. When you tire of burnt-black roasts or utilitarian road-trip juice; when you outgrow caffeinated milkshakes topped with whipped cream; when you are ready to truly taste what you’re drinking and only that, Lineage will brew you the most modern cup of coffee Orlando has to offer. And if you’ve got that summertime sadness, a bottle of Lineage cold brew – black or white – will chill you right out.