Auld Acquaintance

Be forgot? Hardly. Here are some highlights during the past year, as we look toward an equally magnificent 2018.


What a year! Twelve months full of amazing dinners (and some so mediocre I didn’t bother to mention them) and fascinating conversations with the best of Orlando’s culinary scene. Here are the highlights:

January: DoveCote brought new sophistication and an impressive chef to Downtown Orlando, with a simple credo. “Just do it the way it should be done,” says Chef Clayton Miller. And I dined at Bulla, where great buñuelos de bacalao and one of the best bowls of gazpacho in town were to be had.

February: My trip north to Amelia Island and Fernandina Beach introduced me to the dynamic ‘cue of Kenny Gilbert and one impressive chef, Daven Wardynski at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort.

In March I was privileged to discover chef Carlos Castaño at Strong Water Tavern at Universal’s Sapphire Falls hotel, and his dishes still reverberate in my memory. And meeting Simon Zanotto, the Canadian football-playing, opera-singing, ex-musical theater performing executive chef at Earls Kitchen + Bar  at The Mall at Millenia introduced me to unexpectedly good “mall” food.

I pride myself in uncovering the personal side of people I interview, and my conversation with Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto in April brought out some very intimate stories as well as a real passion for sushi. I liked him very much. Another enjoyable visit was at Pizza Bruno and with its enthusiastic chef Bruno Zacchini, unveiling a very welcome player on the Orlando pizza scene.   

In May, I gave my Critic’s Pick Dining Award to John Calloway of Black Rooster Taqueria for Best Chef, DoveCote for Best Newcomer and 1921 by Norman Van Aken as Best Restaurant.

June’s investigation of Flying Fish led to a fascinating conversation about sustainability and seafood, and some great eating with Chef Tim Majoras.

July: James Petrakis opened The Polite Pig at Disney Springs this year, bringing his locally sourced culinary treats to ThemeParkLand. “This is the most satisfied I’ve been in the past two years,” he told me of the result.

August took me to New Orleans via chef Bernard Carmouche and Muddy Waters , and Florida fish features courtesy of Reel Fish Coastal Kitchen.

September: Food TV pioneer Rick Bayless (who, it turns out, is three days older than me) cranked Disney’s  Mexican food offerings to high at Frontera Cocina at Disney Springs. He boasted, “I like to think of myself as a pied piper. We like to seduce people.”

Ah, the journeys that led to my Food Adventures in October resulted in dozens upon dozens (upon dozens!) of discoveries in and around Central Florida, from Reuben hot dogs and a rainbow of mushrooms to blueberry brandy and a chocolate piñata that was mentioned in Facebook posts from here to Australia and back.

November: Pat Kennedy, A.J. Haines and Matt Wall turned a neglected roadside fish camp into casual seafood excellence at The Waterfront. I’ve been there several times since, just for pleasure. And one of our leading restaurateurs, Jason Chin, took his empire in a new direction with Reyes Mezcaleria, inspired appropriately enough by the food served at Rick Bayless’ Frontera Grill in Chicago. “The flavors haunted me,” he told me, and those of Reyes should do the same.

I rounded out the year in December with the bright young chefs of New Urban sushiya Yuki Hana, and a seasoned master, Tim Keating at the helm of Urbain 40, who brings a world of experience to a decidedly American brasserie.

As I look forward a most pleasant and peaceful New Year, I can’t imagine what pleasures await in 2018. I hope you’ll join me.

Resolving to visit new restaurants in 2018?  Comments? Questions? Recommendations? Stay in touch with Joseph at You can access a comprehensive list of his print and online reviews–including the restaurants mentioned above —here!


Categories: Savor Orlando