Food Adventures – Dining

Our dining critic journeys into the bizarre, healthy, spirited, "who knew?" and just plain cool and delicious. Lobster ice cream anyone?


Must-Try Oddities

Mini blooming onions (crispy fried cipollini onions), The Dapper Duck, Downtown Orlando.

Tuna BLT (seared tuna, bacon jam, microgreens, local lettuce, tomatoes, aioli, grilled sourdough), Millenia 106, Shoppes at Millenia.

Bennie's Brew (mead with dark roast Sumatran coffee), Odd Elixir Meadworks, DeLand.

The on-tap absinthe and house-made root beer cocktail. DoveCote Brasserie. Downtown Orlando.


Spotlight: Steampunk Dining

Toothsome Chocolate Emporium. Aside from the vaguely Victorian stylings of Disney Springs, true steampunkiness can only be found at Universal CityWalk’s own chocolate factory, sort of a cocoa-colored Cheesecake Factory. Shepherded by Ms. Penelope Toothsome (as if Willy Wonka had a slightly naughty sister), robot helpers and brass and leather interiors complement menu items like pistachio hummus; the “May Contain Bacon Burger” with thick slab bacon and pork belly; a $47 filet mignon; and milkshakes topped with a slice of pie or a whole cupcake.

The Chain You’ve Never Heard of

Culver's. Home of the “butter burger.” Aside from serving Midwest beef and Wisconsin cheese, this area newcomer from Sauk City, Wisconsin, makes fresh frozen custard every day, New York lemon ice, hand-battered North Atlantic cod sandwiches, and pot roast. Pot roast! And should I mention straight from the farm, deep-fried cheese curds? Six Orlando-area locations.

Healthy AND Good

The Sanctum Café. Chelsea Savage has the best name in town. She also has a restaurant that draws the yoga/workout/young mom/athlete/former hippie/current hipster/meat-avoidant/just plain healthy crowd for plant-based pleasures like tempeh-walnut “meetballs,” harissa-roasted cauliflower salads and roasted sweet potato “sushi” bowls. The cold-pressed juice and wine cocktails are a plus. Fern Creek Avenue at East Colonial Drive.

Best use of Fusion

Krungthep Tea Time. I'm still dazzled by the brilliance of classic Thai dishes served as sandwiches: green curry gai gra pow chicken on Olde Hearth bread; shrimp tom yum goong soup as a handheld amusement; a chicken larb salad sammie. The traditional-meets-modern theme at this eatery carries through the understated decor, the international flavored and street-food themed tea list, and Pan-Asian desserts like the now-legendary "brick toast." At Krungthep, they're all delightful and delicious. Winter Park. 

Comfort Food

Meat loaf with lobster mashed potatoes at Soco. Also, great buttermilk biscuits. Thornton Park.

Potato pancakes … well, it’s comfort food to me, at Hops Boss Brewery. Winter Park.

Brisket—Gotta be 4 Rivers Smokehouse, whose brisket was recently enshrined in our Dining Awards Hall of Fame. Multiple area locations.

When you marvel at the dusting of powdered sugar on the onion rings at The Rusty Spoon, you have this writer to thank; I suggested the idea in my review back in 2011. Downtown Orlando.

Apple pie at Blue Bird Bake Shop is a little bit of cinnamon-scented heaven. Audubon Park.

Growing Trends

Tacos. More tacos. Poke bowls. Asian street food. Mexican street food. Peruvian street food. The Italian food revival. Turkish cuisine. The seemingly unstoppable craft breweries behemoth. Fresh roasted and ground coffee that has nothing to do with Starbucks. Food halls. Saturday brunch. The celebrity dining juggernaut of Disney Springs. Locally brewed artisan kombucha. Edible insects (Reyes Mezcaleria at the head of the wave by serving fried chipotle-spiced grasshoppers). Fine and funky dining outside the Orlando/Winter park corridor—DeLand, Sanford, Mount Dora.

On a Different Plane: 3 Extraordinary Reasons to Head to the Airport 

Hemisphere. Perched on the ninth floor of the Hyatt Regency. Executive Chef Jeffrey Powell, a 16-year Hyatt veteran, takes advantage of seasonal sourcing to concoct menu items like locally made prosciutto atop squid ink linguini from Trevi Pasta, and lamb chops from Palmetto Creek Farms. Main Terminal.

Crimson Tavern.  At Orlando Airport Marriott Lakeside, just a couple of miles north of the airport. Executive Chef Cesar Acevedo brings locally sourced charcuterie, small-catch coast-fresh seafood and Angus beef to the table, and his chef’s garden overlooks Lake Michelle. Augusta National Drive. 

Cask & Larder. Breakfast, lunch and dinner that's so good, travelers check through security early to eat, even if they’re not at the Southwest gates. Burnt ends meat loaf, Nashville hot chicken and early morning shrimp and grits join craft cocktails and beer from the C&L Winter Park brewery. Airside Terminal 2.


My Favorite Sandwich: The Reuben

Origin myths differ for this classic New York combo of corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing on rye, but it sure is good in all its variations.

One of the best in town can be found at North Quarter Tavern, with house-made beef and kraut.

Chef John Collazo at Bad As’s Sandwich in the Milk District combines corned beef, pastrami and Havarti cheese with house sauerkraut for his IRA sandwich.

Hot Dog Heaven has a Reuben Dog with Swiss, kraut and Thousand Island.

Reel Fish in Winter Park subs grouper for beef, adding remoulade dressing and fried pickles.

Perennial spot Andrea Quality Cheesecake, in business for almost 35 years, features a grilled Reuben made with catfish or cod (a Coben?).


Spotlight: A New Definition of Hip

New General. Tracy Liffey and Christine Mitchell’s stylish Winter Park refuge combines refined coffee shop and café with shopping pared down to chic essentials. Here one finds a small, tasteful menu, local drinks from Lineage Coffee and Peterbrooke Chocolate, breads from Olde Hearth and, unless they sell out, goodies from local baker Orlandough. The $15 poke bowl is a beautiful taste combination of cubed yellowfin tuna, paper-thin cucumber, a citrus and sesame oil dressing, and jalapeño, topping chewy brown rice. Liffey says the original vision of the place was to present curated retail with “coffee for the community, so they could sit and enjoy the space.” The community decided New General was a coffee shop that also sells stuff. Elegant hard goods reminiscent of England’s legendary Objects of Use shop grace the pristine white space, including handcrafted tableware from Japan, American-made clothing and canvas goods from Orlando’s Makr studio. “We’re still evolving,” Liffey says. They’re starting off from a lovely place. New England Avenue, east of Park Avenue, Winter Park.

Mobile Food—Hulkified!

900 Degreez Pizza. The 900 Degreez vehicle is hardly a food truck; it’s more like a food RV, built from a converted 35-foot shipping container, complete with 10,000-watt diesel generator and wood-fired Italian brick oven. Orlando native Drew Soifer, with pastry skills learned at the New England Culinary Institute and in the kitchens of master chefs Charlie Palmer and Jean Louis Palladin, can make a Margherita pizza in 90 seconds. Soifer says he sat in a Starbucks for a year designing the vehicle, and now, 3 ½ years and “more than $200,000” later, the rolling pizzeria is on the road seven days a week. From his station in the 33,000-pound truck (“It’s like a gym in there,” he says. “It’s hotter than hell.”) he turns out pie creations such as the Tika Masala with house oven-roasted chicken, and his E.I.E.I.O Pizza of Fuji apples, rendered apple bacon, garlic and mozzarella.

Categories: Dining, News and Features