Best of All Worlds

A harvest of awards, a pinch of sleuthing.

Welcome to the 2016 Dining Awards issue, where we offer 128 must-try eating (and drinking) establishments for your perusal. As in the past, readers have selected their favorites in dozens of categories, and this year Joseph Hayes offers his inaugural critic’s picks for 18 restaurants that caught his fancy. 

So go eat, drink and be merry. I confess I got a head start because I was editing the stories for publication. So after reading Joseph’s assessment of Saigon Noodle and Grill, for example, I woke up on a Saturday in late March and decided to stop in at the restaurant on Goldenrod Road—and enjoyed an absolutely delightful pan-fried noodle dish. At the same time, our readers have made numerous selections I have also put on my list (Winter Garden Pizza Company, The Attic Door wine bar, and Farm-Haus, to name just three.) And there are places I’ve been before but am craving return trips (like Chef’s Table at the Edgewater, deep blu seafood grille, Christner’s Prime Steak & Lobster, and Antonio’s).

Certainly, we are a community fascinated by fine food—and the sight of it, even if it’s not in front of us. Instagram and Facebook are the best examples of that. Recently I posted a photo of a bowl of superb Cioppino (seafood stew) from The Garlic restaurant in New Smyrna Beach that drew the most likes our magazine’s Instagram page has ever had. Who knew? I think the clincher—literally—was the octopus tentacle bobbing on the surface. 

This year’s Dining Awards balloting also provided me with some unexpected private-eye work, although I didn’t get paid extra for it. If you’ve voted, you know that the online ballot is write-in, as opposed to multiple choice from a limited selection. Basically we allow you to vote for whomever you want. 

The only catch: You have to be a real person. A multitude of the voters who supposedly registered on our site weren’t. Sure, there weren’t obviously goofy monikers like Chester Drawers, but even the legitimate-sounding names didn’t turn up in any database. But what made the funny business easiest to detect: strings of 100 or more votes for particular eateries, one a minute, sometimes at 3 in the morning, by “users’’ with non-existent street addresses that repeated at intervals—often with the name of the city changing.  I mean, who knew that “Tetrick Drive’’ existed in Orlando, Lakeland, Winter Park, Longwood, Oviedo and Winter Garden? These votes, generated by what’s called a computer “bot,’’ were tossed out. So the landslide that the techno-culprit tried to manufacture just didn’t happen.

I’m no computer genius by any means. And the Dining Dark Side could outsmart me one of these days. But this time, with an assist from Microsoft Excel, I ate a tasty bot for breakfast.

Categories: Column