When the editors of Orlando Home & Leisure couldn't fit all my "best of" suggestions into their next issue, they generously agreed to let me share the remainders here. These are sensational tastes and such in and near Orlando. Get in those cars, locals! For more -- the ones that did make the cut, check out the magazine's May 2012 issue.
Best Reason Never to Order Fried Mozzarella Sticks Again We used to battle over appetizers at casual Italian restaurants. “Why can’t we order the fried mozzarella sticks?” “Because they have no flavor so you’re the only one who’ll eat them.” At Peperoncino, the whole gang wants this starter — every visit.
Using chef-owner Barbara Alfano’s recipe, the cooks prepare Pecorino fritto by cutting imported Pecorino romano cheese into small cubes. Then they dip it in eggs, coat it lightly in flour, fry it, drizzle on a bit of honey, and sprinkle on spicy powdered pecorino. These beauties are gentle to the bite and amazingly flavorful. Each mouthful is subtly sweet and hot at once, enhancing the the powerful pecorino zing. The fried pecorino is one of many good dishes at this casual new European-style Italian in Dr. Phillips.
Most Indulgent Steak in All of Orlando “Fat equals flavor,” dietitians dictate when explaining why fat-free versions of traditional desserts are unsatisfying. So imagine how sated you’ll feel after sharing the Tomahawk steak for two at Bull & Bear, since the 36-ounce hunk of beef is served with extra “flavor.”
Here’s how it works at the Waldorf Astoria Orlando’s signature restaurant. Once you order, a server will discretely place a candle that is in a stainless steel gravy boat on your table. When the 28-day dry-aged Four Diamond Harris Ranch steak arrives, your server will pick up that gravy boat with the candle in it and pour some of the “wax” onto your meat
As it turns out, the Bull & Bear candle is made of beef fat, seasoned with the mix that chefs sprinkle onto steaks in the kitchen. As it melts, a “gravy,” let’s call it, accumulates at the bottom of the gravy boat. And it’s that luscious liquid that tops your Tomahawk. This subtle surprise enhances the Tomahawk significantly — not that this expertly aged hunka flesh needs improvement.
Here's a photo:
Best Place to Watch a Farmers Market Grow Just a couple of years ago, Winter Garden’s weekly farmers market was a sad affair with a few vendors spread around a nondescript parking lot. Fast forward to 2012: Under an attractive new pavilion, partially covered, just southwest of historic Plant Street, this same weekly gathering has become a bustling must-do for area residents.
Up to 90 vendors a week sell their wares to hordes of shoppers. Produce local, hydroponic and otherwise, fresh cheeses, Lake Meadow eggs, artisan breads, organic coffee, and our newest find, jars of Orlando-made Fran’s Specialty Foods savories (sold by Fran) like Tuscany Blend and Spinach, Artichoke and Parmesan Blend, are on offer. Jewelry, cutting boards and other nonfood items are also for sale. With live music playing, and food trucks doling out crepes and other meals, the Winter Garden Farmers Market doubles as a fix for grocery needs and a destination-worthy event.
Best Meals on Wheels When five, 10, even 25 food trucks gather into “pods” at a time, it’s tough to single out the special from the so-so. For us, there’s no need to guess which mobile restaurant’s fare to choose. Big Wheel keeps on churning out great meals, week after week, so we play it safe and choose that line for our alfresco suppers.
Big Wheel’s truck is run by Tony Adams, who makes “provisions” (such as long pepper hot sauce, bacon salt, and onion jam) and manages a catering company under the same name. His shtick is locally sourced food, and Big Wheel’s menu changes regularly based on what goodies Florida farmers are harvesting at the time. On a recent evening, the truck’s menu included crispy curry tots with garlic crema; Brussels sprouts with honey-siracha-lime sauce; spicy deviled eggs with crispy cornmeal-fried Apalachicola oysters; and pheasant cacciatore.
Best Way to Make a Lousy Dinner Delicious Admit it: You serve your family pathetic dinners sometimes. We all do. For us, the quickest fix is to open a jar of Sunchowder Emporia’s corn relish. A couple of tablespoons of this sweet-spicy concoction helps us deal with dullards like (dare we admit we prepare this?) those awful frozen turkeyburgers and chickenburgers.
The Pop Corn Spicy Relish’s flavor is bright and lively, so much so that you can ignore the pedestrian fare sharing your fork. Proprietor Wendy Read gets her kernels from Mount Dora’s Long & Scott Farms. She blasts them with red pepper, jalapeño, ghost chile, apple cider vinegar, sugar, salt and a bunch of strong flavors like coriander and celery seed.
Read actually started preparing Sunchowder condiments as a way to gain entrance to the Winter Park Farmers Market, since it already had a jam specialist. Her specialty is the sweet stuff — zucchini-ginger, raspberrypepper, pineapple-tangerine, which surely can all do wonders to a blasé slice of toast. She makes her goods in Longwood and sells them at Homegrown LocalCo-op and the Winter Park and Lake Eola farmers markets.
Best Bread Where You Would Never Expect It Winter Parkers flock to Shipyard Brew Pub for its boutique beers and chef-made bar food. But to buy a loaf of bread? You bet. The eatery’s biggest draw, to some of us, is the hearty crusty loaves that are displayed for sale at the retail counter.
We generally pick up three varieties of Arby Gonzales’ creations every visit: the spicy jalapeño-cheddar, which we get sliced and pull out of the freezer in twosies for sandwiches; the walnut, which we slather with farmers’ market salted butter for breakfast; and the hearty multigrain, which is as versatile as it is satisfying. Pick up even one loaf and you’ll know what Orlando has been missing all these years.
Most Eagerly Awaited New Restaurant The Ravenous Pig can do no wrong in the seasoned eyes of Orlando’s die-hard food fanatics. Now owners Julie and James Petrakis are opening a second den of delectability: Cask & Larder, which will be a micro brewery with a casual yet locally sourced, made-from-scratch menu — just a very different locally sourced, made-from-scratch menu than its sister restaurant.
Pig alum Dennis Bernard will run the kitchen as chef de cuisine, embracing Southern cuisine in the form of country ham. Guests can share a 15-seat communal table or book it for a group and order a whole roasted animal such as pig, goat or lamb. At an oyster bar, guests will be invited to try east and west coast mollusks wrapped with seaweed into burlap and steamed over an open fire. Bernard’s wife, Tracy Lindskoog, will transfer her exacting dining room management skills from one Petrakis restaurant to the other.
Overseeing the cask side of things, brewmaster Ron Raike will work his magic with hops and barley here as he did until recently at Shipyard Brew Pub. There will be five beers on draught and one in cask. Additionally, southern-inspired beverages such as mint juleps, and an all-American wine list, will be available.
Cask & Larder will take over the beleaguered Harper’s Tavern space.
Best Place to Score Some Sauerkraut Buoyed by the success of his German restaurant Hollerbach’sWillow Tree Café, proprietor Theo Hollerbach decided to sell groceries for those who prefer to eat their Eastern European foods at home. Enter MagnoliaSquare Market, which stocks 2,500 items, from spatzle noodles to sausages, from fresh brochen bread to Bavarian potato pancake mix, black forest cake mix, and a candy called Mozartkugeln.
“We specialize in German Dry goods, like pickles, noodles, potato mixes, spices and chocolates you would find on a German grocery shelf,” says Hollerbach. “We have our own bakery, sausage, cold cuts, cheeses and sandwich counters along with gluten-free products, beer and wine, and home brewing supplies.” Roast beef, turkey (including herb and gypsy-spice varieties) and pork roasts are made in –house.
Best Way to Start the Day the Caribbean Way Breakfast in the West Caribbean isn’t quite so, um, fattening. In Trinidad and Tobago, locals often pick up a morning fix of doubles from street vendors. The spicy breakfast is a sandwich of quickbread rounds layered with mashed chickpeas.
In Orlando on Old Winter Garden near Kirkman, Singh’s RotiShop & Bar specializes in the exotic foods of the West Indies, from roti (a flaky bread) rolled around curried meats to beverages like mauby (the foundation is a tree bark) and sea moss, which is reputed to be an aphrodasiac.
But it’s those doubles that seem to be on everyone’s tray throughout the day, along with whatever else makes them appreciate the restaurant’s slogan, “Home away from home.” They’re only $1 each, making them that much more of a treasure.
Best Little Lunch in Dr. Phillips, Japanese-Style If you have a yen for tuna of the raw variety, head to Bonsai Sushi, Dr. Phillips second-worst-kept secret. Those in-the-know order the signature Bonsai Lunch Bowl. It’s a mix of cubed raw salmon and tuna plus spicy chili sauce. It’s served over rice, topped with “tempura crunchies,” and frizzled with spicy mayonnaise, wasabi mayonnaise and eel sauce. For $12.95, it comes with soup and salad. (It’s filling. You won’t need dinner.)
In its seventh year, Bonsai is owned by Chun and Giselle Kim. Chun has been a sushi chef for seven years, and Kim is a graduate of the Florida Culinary Institute.
Best Way to Get a the Kids to Eat Chinese In New York’s Szechuan restaurants, you’ll find cold sesame noodles on nearly every table. Long round noodles are tossed with a peanut, and slightly spicy, sauce, then topped with bean sprouts and cucumber slices.
A decent version — heck, nearly any version — was hard to find in the City Beautiful. But now Hawkers, a Mills 50 restaurant featuring the street foods of Asia, plates up a bowlful of ridiculously addicting ones. Plan to order two if you’re dining with children because otherwise you’ll be battling chopstix. This, together with the marinated beef skewers with satay sauce, tend to be a hit with the under-12 set. facebook.com/hawkersstreetfare
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