Vote for Orlando’s Best Restaurants

Love breakfast at your corner diner, the waitress at a particular Italian restaurant or the happy hour specials at an Asian-fusion place? Let your neighbors know. Orlando Life Magazine’s Silver Spoon Awards issue is in production, and it invites the community to vote for its No. 1 spots in the Readers Choice poll. Here’s the link.


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Chip, Chip, Hooray!

I spotted pickle-flavored potato chips in London in 1994, and was so intrigued that I remember the siting still.

American chip-makers have gotten creative in the last few months, placing flavors as odd as cappuccino on supermarket shelves.

Scotland beats that. Not the oddity, maybe. Cappuccino-flavored potato chips sound offensive. But in terms of variety, Scotland’s “crisp” manufacturers are pretty fearless. Here’s an assortment of what I eyed last week.


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Don’t Touch that Plate!

It happened again on Saturday night. I was sitting in a restaurant with my husband, chatting and enjoying my salad.


Suddenly a waiter swooped in and took Hub’s plate away. The server stayed around a bit, sweeping crumbs off the table.

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In My Backyard? Yessum. In Seminole County

Last week, I dumped my clients for three days and joined a media tour of Seminole County. I’d always thought of Seminole as a bedroom community just north of Orange County, home to Orlando and Walt Disney World. It is that, but it’s also a multifaceted destination with natural attractions and art. Continue reading

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Immerse Yourself in Nature: Geneva Wilderness Tour Area

Under an hour from Disney World, the Geneva Wilderness Area is a retreat from civilization. It’s 180 acres of pretty scenery, including mixed hardwood swamp, mesic flatwoods, scrubby flatwoods and a lake system. I don’t know what all that means; it’s mostly from the website. But I know this: It’s beautiful. And, it’s adjacent to other wildlife areas like the Little Big Econ State Reserve. Continue reading

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Call It Quirky. Call It Pretty. It’s Danville

“Not another hotel ballroom!” brides and meeting planners beg. “Please!” If you’re looking for a gathering spot that’s entirely different from any you’ve experienced before, take a tour of Danville. Its own website calls Danville a bed-and-breakfast, and its two bedrooms are popular choices on AirBnB, but that’s not the point. Danville is an events venue. And, as we writers joked during a recent media tour there, we never use the word “unique,” yet Danville is, indeed, unique. (Ach! The exacting editorial elite will come crashing through the sky and beat my keyboard into mush! Visit Danville, I’ll challenge them. Then tell me “unique” doesn’t apply.) Continue reading

Posted in Orlando restaurants | 2 Comments

Here’s a Sneak Peek at the Ritz’s Highball & Harvest

Like all Ritz-Carltons, Orlando’s luxe hotel is known for its fine dining. The food will still be fine at the RC Grande Lakes’ newest restaurant, but a different kind of fine. Instead of frou-frou, the new restaurant, Highball & Harvest, will go for earthy. The menu will be thoughtfully created and the foodstuffs carefully sourced. But the offerings will be relaxed, more like a farm-to-table restaurant and less like a sophisticated coffee-shop-slash-steakhouse. The dining room tables will be stained hickory. Continue reading

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A Manly Meal, an Italian Feast, and Dinner with the Philharmonic — Have We Got Dining Deals for You

Orlando – Compensate for the searing summer sun by having truly good food at a lower price than usual. These three so-called Dining Deals offer value at places with great food. I talked about them recently on Orlando’s Fox 35 with David Didzunas, executive chef of the Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport, and anchor Lauren Johnson. Here’s the clip. Continue reading

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B Resort Orlando — Value-Priced Chic at Disney World

Orlando will welcome B Resort next week, a Lake Buena Vista property a short walk from Downtown Disney. B Resorts are cheap-chic. In other words, they have a suave, contemporary flair, yet they’re midpriced. The decor is a spiffy, bold white palette with vibrant splashes of color. Continue reading

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Craft Cocktails, Orlando-Made

“We would love to hear your opinion of our drinks,” said an email that came through my website. “We are a small business here in Florida that is providing a culinary experience by way of our line of premium cocktail mixers.”

And so I came into possession of three colorful bottles of Bungalow 23 cocktail mixes, each in trendy, inventive flavor:

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An Elegant Food & Wine Experience — at Publix

A spiffy contemporary kitchen with several work stations. Tables set with linens and sparkling wine glasses. Chefs in crisp whites offering warm welcomes. You’d expect this kind of polish at a professional cooking school, maybe, or a high-end restaurant’s wine-pairing repast. But this is an educational four-course dinner at Publix.


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Posted in Cooking, Dining, Florida travel, homemaking, Orlando dining, Orlando restaurants, Travel | 2 Comments

Gear Up for Orlando’s 2014 Chef’s Gala

Orlando — Chefs are cooking and vintners are pouring at Chef’s Gala, an annual food-and-wine extravaganza. Attendees don cocktail dresses and heels, or jackets (don’t worry gents, you can leave your ties at home). They peruse silent-auction items, then sample all the appetizer-size creations they want from more than 20 local restaurants. Paired wines are poured generously.  It’s fun, and the proceeds help our neighbors in need.


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Three Orlando-Area Chefs Are James Beard Award Nominees

Chefs of three Central Florida restaurants are up for the James Beard Foundation‘s Best Chef: South award for 2014. They’ve all been nominated before, as have some others, who didn’t make the list this year. No one from the area has yet snagged the actual title, or others like Best New Restaurant or Outstanding Bar Program.

Here’s a hearty congratulations to the nominees:

James and Julie Petrakis, The Ravenous Pig and Cask & Larder, Winter Park


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Hearty Winter Meals – Yes, Even in Orlando

If we can’t fuel up over a bowl of steamy, solid, soul-comforting foods in February, when can we?

These three restaurants do an especially good job with wintry entrees. I’d sure rather eat them without having to shovel snow first. Wouldn’t you? Continue reading

Posted in Dining, Florida travel, Orlando dining, Orlando restaurants, Travel | 2 Comments

So Now I’m Telling You to Eat McDonald’s Food … sort of

I felt sorry for the best chefs in town, truth be told. They
were tasked with creating appetizers so delicious that folks would spend $250
to eat their creations, along with others, at a gala event. The catch? Some
ingredients had to be the same as those used in the kitchens of the McDonald’s
fast food chain.
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Posted in Food bloggers, Orlando dining, Orlando restaurants | 3 Comments

I Beg You, Windows 8.1. Bring Freecell Back. Please!

It’s not an addiction, not really, my compulsion to play Freecell. Just like Facebook — or Pinterest, or Progress Book, or my online library account — Freecell is simply a distraction. It’s a tool for procrastination.

I lied. It’s more. The simple on-screen card game is a path to calming down. If my head throbs during a writing struggle, if I’m miffed at family, if I just absolutely can not send out one more pitch letter, I call up that green screen with its stacks of virtual cards. I move cards left, right and up, in all kinds of configurations, until the few remainders float up to the top. Glory!

I did, anyway. Then I got a new computer that came loaded with Windows 8, a horrifying software program. And, much to my surprise, the laptop did not come with Freecell. After upgrading to 8.1 so I can at least use the darn machine, I searched endlessly, knowing the pastime has to be somewhere reachable by Windowsign/Search. After all, Freecell has been part of a games package with every computer I’ve purchased in at least the last decade.

Thanks to a google search, I learned that Freecell is gone. Poof! Apparently corporate clients don’t like their employees killing time playing the game so Windows took it out. 

I understand that reasoning, in theory. But I’m in my own office in my own house, so I should have the option to play. And those cubicle workerbees? Trust me, they’re blowing off responsiblity with some sort of taboo procrastination. It’s not as if with Freecell missing they can’t amuse themselves using their smartphones. Scramble, anyone?

Several Freecell variants are available for download via the Internet. I tried a couple. They stink. Fuzzy cards, oversized screens, tiny letters … . Humbug. I occasionally get going on my iPad, but that version has two flaws: It flashes all the cards that can be used, and I do not want that assistance. And it doesn’t state when I’ve blown the game and need to give up. It would be nice to know to stop trying or to start the game over. So I use it, but I feel gypped.

In the meantime, I’ll fill my anxiety-ridden time writing blogs. Until the itch hits. Then I’ll run to the iPad for the subpar Freecell game.

Posted in Procrastinatoin | 2 Comments

All I Want for Christmas … Is to be Served in a Restaurant

Roasts, nogs, chestnuts … mess. Maybe you’re exhausted by holiday prep and prefer to dine civilly this year, seated at a restaurant table, with prepared foods delivered to you, the clean-up not your concern. Here are three tempting options. And here’s a video of Rona talking about all three with Lauren Johnson of Fox 35.

Café de France

Café de France is an intimate French restaurant right on Winter Park’s main drag, with seats in the small dining room and tables on the avenue. Owners Dominique and German Gutierrez treat their guests as friends, welcoming them warmly and sincerely.

On Christmas Eve, they’ll be serving dinner. The menu is still being decided, but you’ll have four or five choices each for appetizer and entree. Likely selections will be foie gras; two fish entrees, including possibly (but no promises) Dover sole; game of some sort, maybe buffalo or venison; and lobster tail.

Festive holiday touches — tinsel and such — will adorn the walls, and a holiday Pandora mix will play.

This is a photo of the cozy restaurant’s interior on an ordinary day.

526 Park Avenue South, Winter Park, 407-647-1869,

Raglan Road

Raglan Road is an upbeat spot at Downtown Disney, where hearty, higher-quality Irish fare is served as dancers perform. It’s a family spot yet, with three antique bars and loads of beer taps, fitting for adults-only groups too.

On Christmas Day, guests can buy a full turkey dinner for $27.95.

The menu looks terrific: mead (mead!)-glazed turkey, butter-whipped potatoes, sage and sweet onion dressing, brussels sprouts, and a cranberry-plum chutney.

This is the official menu.

These are the dancers. The show is impressive, and you’ll see it as you dine.

Here’s the restaurant’s interior.

Downtown Disney, 1640 N Buena Vista Dr., Lake Buena Vista, 407-938-0300,

Bull & Bear

If you’re up for a splurge this Christmas, book a table at Bull & Bear. Bull & Bear is a stately steakhouse within the Waldorf Astoria Orlando. It’s beef is superb, but, unlike many of its competitors, this meatery has real chefs in the kitchen and they tend to get creative.

For Christmas, Bull & Bear is serving a five-course tasting menu. The centerpiece is chateaubriand, an old-timey classic that is essentially an amazing thick and tender beef filet, here served a Bernaise-like sauce called foyot. Brioche toast and potato pave will share the plate.

Preceding the chateaubriand, you’ll receive Jerusalem artichoke bisque, lobster salad Napolean, and a pork rib and loin combo with suc de cuisson, which google tells me is the meat’s own juices. Side dishes will be served family style. Dessert will be an heirloom apple clafoutis. Here is the full menu. Honestly, I think it sounds like a value at $105. 

Here’s the Bull & Bear dining room. It’s posh.

Waldorf Astoria Orlando, 14200 Bonnet Creek Resort Lane,

Happy holidays, and eat heartily, friends.


Posted in Dining Deals, Disney World, Orlando dining, Orlando restaurants | 21 Comments

Autumn in Orlando – Four Harvest Festivals

Now that our air has gone from sultry to seductive,
Orlando-area chefs are stepping outdoors and firing up their stoves. Among the
best events are four that celebrate the season. I talkied about these
events on Fox 35 on October 20. Those of you with Facebook can see the clip here. CLIP 

Edible Orlando Field
to Feast Dinner

The editors of Edible Orlando happen to also be co-authors with
Heather McPherson of the groundbreaking cookbook Field to Feast. They’re
teaming up with yet another all-star group – Disney World’s very top chefs – to
host the Inaugural Edible Orlando Field to Feast Dinner.
proceeds will benefit the Kids Café program at the Second Harvest Food Bank.

The Sunday supper will have eight courses, each prepared by
a different notable chef and paired with a specific wine. The menu starts with Lake Meadow chicken sausage with Zellwood corn succotash and ends with squash
beignets served with habañero-corn ice cream with Madeira glaze and cocoa dust,
plus chocolate pot de crème with bosc pears and rye bread tuile. Here’s the full menu.

Sunday, October 27

Long & Scott Farms, Zellwood

$175 each / $325 per couple


East End Market’s Fall
Harvest Dinner

The East End Market is soon to open, bringing Orlando a
compendium of locavore-oriented food vendors in one place, plus a restaurant
and a caterer. The new venue will make a splash with its Fall Harvest Dinner,
where local chefs will cook foods from the area. Beer, wine, a specialty
cocktail and  live music will be part of
the fun.

Saturday, November 16

East End Market, Orlando



Cows ‘n Cabs

Once a year on a big field in Winter Park, under a grand
tent, folks dressed casually in Western wear sample foods from several
restaurants during the Cows ‘n Cabs fundraiser. It’s a low-key, upbeat and
tasty way to spend an evening. Proceeds benefit Community Food & Outreach Center and Elevate Orlando. In addition to foods from restaurants including 4 Rivers Smokehouse, The COOP, Cask & Larder, Christner’s Prime Steak &Lobster, and Cress – which earned the No. 1 spot in the Zagat Orlando City Guide. Guests will also be free to sample 200 wines, spirits and craft beers.

Saturday, October 26

West Meadow, Winter Park

 $110/VIP $140

Harvest Celebration
with Melissa Kelly

The chefs at Grande Lakes, the massive property that’s home to
Orlando’s upscale Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott resorts, has long been keen on
homegrown and locally raised food. A few months ago it opened an event venue
called Whisper Creek Farm. It’s an actual farm, growing fruits and vegetables.
And it’s the setting for grand parties (and intimate ones).

On evening in November, locals are invited to experience
this truly distinctive space without being invited to a wedding or corporate
to-do there. They’re urged to attend the Harvest Celebration with Melissa Kelly. Kelly is the chef-owner of Primo, a progressive Italian restaurant in
the JW Marriott that has had an on-premise garden for several years. The foods will
be cooked on site, as you watch, so you’ll always have hot and fresh tastes for
your plate.

The JW Marriott’s executive chef Chris Brown will be joining me on Fox 35. Tune in to hear the details of this incredible event.

Saturday, November 16

Whisper Creek Farm at Grande Lakes Orlando


Reservations: 407-393-4683

Eat well, my friends.


Posted in Dining Deals, Disney World, Florida travel, Orlando dining, Orlando restaurants, Travel | 26 Comments

The Lemon Pledge

On Rona’s rarely used WordPress blog, she will post photos showing how different restaurants respond to, “Can I have lemon with my water–a lot of lemon?”

Take a look at the first entry:
Eat heartily, my friends,

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The Newest Bites: 18th Epcot International Food & Wine Festival

The mania builds for months before the six-week Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, which, on September 27, will start its 18th year. You’ll find all kinds of seminars and classes and lunches and dinners, all well-run and well-done.

My favorite part is the simplest: the marketplaces. All around Epcot’s World Showcase, little kiosks serve up a trio or so of ethnic foods along with appropriate beverages. This year we travel from Africa to France (always a sure bet for garlicky phyllo-wrapped escargot) and from South Korea to the park’s Florida home base. Prices are generally $3 to $7 per dish. I like to arrive just at 11 and stroll, and eat, calmly before the crowds surge. Surge they do, although many folks like making a leisurely evening out of eating, walking and, between tastes, watching the entertainers at the international pavilions.

As always, the marketplaces for 2013 will dish up a mix of popular long-timers and newbies. As a member of the press, I was invited to sample some of this year’s debut food and beverage items. Here’s what I learned.

Love Me Some Lobster
The Hops & Barley Marketplace will have a lobster tail. Calls for an exclamation point, right? The Griddled Lobster Tail with Garlic Herb Butter will be grilled “on stage,” so you’ll get a waft of the aroma before digging in. It’s quite tasty, but a challenge to pull out of the shell–so snag a table before eating this one.

Belly Up to Brazil
My absolute favorite dish of the tasting was Brazil’s Crispy Pork Belly with Black Beans, Avocado, Onions and Cilantro. Oh my. Disregard my unflattering photo. This is tender, flavorful meat that has been cured for three days, then cooked in front of you until it has a crisp and caramelized exterior. Add a little refried black bean, avocado and such, and you’ll be quite satisfied. Go for the black beer paired with it. They’re quite the match.

Be Frank
At the South Korea showcase, you can pick up a hot dog … sort of. The playful Kimchi Dog with Spicy Mustard is made by an Epcot master butcher, nestled into a soft sweet bun, and enhanced with kimchi, which is this case is a flavorful spicy slaw. This picture is of half a portion.

Give Me S’More
I’m not much of one for gloppy super-sweet things, but the Frozen S’Mores may convert me. The yummo fixtures like graham crackers and marshmallows are blended into a sweet drink and ooh-la-la.

The Trio Trifecta
Let me end by introducing you to the Trio of Desserts: Cherry Pistachio Mousse, Chocolate/Orange Cupcake and Hazelnut Cheesecake. Say yes.

Or, as they’re presented in the official Disney World photograph,

Add dozens and dozens and dozens and dozens more items, and you’ll begin to get a feel for the 18th Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. For a full listing of Marketplace tastes and such, click here.

Eat enthusiastically,

Posted in Dining, Disney World, Florida travel, Orlando dining, Orlando restaurants, Travel | 9 Comments

The Door Bore

So now it’s doors. Every three hours, it seems, I must replace part of my home.

Blame Florida heat and humidity, cheap 21-year-old builders’
materials or plain old age. Whatever the culprit, a sinister house demon siphons off loads of cash
I’d rather keep. And is, specifically, no fun. At all.

Today’s project is the front door to my house. It’s a
double-door, wood, painted green right now, with little glass panes. The glass
gets filthy, the wood is weakening, the color is cracking off, and the ledges
below each window are perpetually filthy no matter how many times I drag a damp
rag across them.

The doors’ multiple windows also let in that brutal Florida
sunshine. As new homeowners,  we adopted
quaint cloth coverings on the interior that kept the sun from warping the floor. They had the secondary benefit of adding an embarrassing Midwestern DIY feel. Years later, a decorator
insisted we replace the kitschy cloth with pricey wooden shutters. At the time,
homemaker genius that I’m not, I didn’t realize I could install new doors for
about the same price.

Now we have a dog, Gigi. She’s a cutie. But she was left
alone too long one day and broke the shutters. Plus, she digs her nails into
the wedge things (louvres?) whenever she wants to look out.

When she’s done with her alfresco escapades, she claws at
the other side to come back in. She does that a minimum of three times every day. That makes the window panes even filthier and
scrapes the paint off the wood, so you can see the original red under the green.

A friend-who-knows-stuff saw the shutter damage and gave me
the name of a company that will fix them.

I called. The salesman showed up —
and told me it would cost so much to fix them that I should buy new doors

We’d been planning to repaint the house’s exterior, so this would be a
logical time to either replace the doors or slather on another coat of Porter.

I posted a plea on Facebook and got two recommendations for trustworthy
local door guys. The first came. He carries one brand of doors. One. He said my
doors are unusual in size (30 inches by 8 feet) and can be replaced with only two models in the
entire universe. Both are meh — so meh that my homeowners’ association would holler a neighborhood-wide NOOOOOO if I asked for the go-ahead. Still, I chose a design and was told he’d call for a quote. Day 8: still waiting.

So, I called the second company, requesting a home visit
from a rep. “We have so much more in the store than we can show you with a home
visit,” a guy said. “You should come in. We’re open on Saturday.” You know what
happened, right? I cajoled my husband — who does not want a new door, but
instead wants the shutters miraculously and inexpensively repaired — and drove half
an hour to the showroom. One salesman. Fourth in line. I told him my situation,
wrote down all my contact info at his suggestion … and haven’t heard back. Day 5.

So. Online, I found a bunch of doors I could actually get
excited about. 

After pinning them to my Pinterest page, I realized many are by
the same company. I emailed. I corresponded. I was assured the doors can be
custom-made to fit my opening. I wrote back with rough measurements, the door
of my choice, and the request for a quote. Is the door $2,000 or $20,000? I’ll
get serious with the tape measure once I know if I’m wasting my time and that
of the rep.

No answer. Day 3.

Here’s the plan: Paint the dowdy door, knowing the dog will scrape off the paint, so we’ll soon see green and red under the new hue. Leave the broken shutters and shudder every time we walk by. Buy a new door in 15 years when we’re ready to sell. Someone may as well enjoy it.

Eat well, live well, leave the decorating to the competent,


Posted in homemaking, Housekeeping | 1 Comment

A Funky Local Food Joint, in Jerusalem

Jerusalem has a seriousness about it. The holy sites, the prolific white-stone buildings, the religious folks in assorted traditional attire … the place is magical, but it gives off an aura of somber. Yet the city has a hipper side, and the restaurant Mahneyuda represents it well.

According to Fodor’s, Mahneyuda is “considered one of the best in Jerusalem, possibly the country.” So of course The Hub and I sent the kids off for pizza and hauled our curious tushes across the city.
We found what here in the States would be called a farm-to-table concept, although the marketing materials don’t mention that the food is fresh from local farms. 
The table settings create a down-to-earth feel. Look at this: dishtowels with utensils. Homelike, no?

The menu is creative but fun. I especially like the menu names “Lamb interior parts, can you handle it?!” “Sweetbread and malawach like in Yemen” and, in the second photo, “Jew – York cheese cake, deconstructed.”

I foolishly either didn’t take notes or lost them, but we enjoyed our meal and here are some specifics. We were given bread — sliced white bread, in a brown paper bag — with what I believe was a tahini dip. 

And we were invited to mush ingredients together with a mortar and pestle.

These may or may not have been part of a signature appetizer, Shusterman tartar. The “tartar” was a dozen ingredients that we were free to mix and match at will. 

I was still stuffed from the ginormous Israeli breakfast we’d had hours earlier, plus lunch, so I ordered an appetizer for dinner. It was huge, and wonderful. It’s called “pizza on a lafa with mincemeat.” It was basically a large, tasty and filling flatbread pizza.

I guess I was beyond functioning at that point because i have neither photos nor memories of Hub’s entree or, if he ordered one, dessert. But I can say this: the tartar was fun and fresh but only OK taste-wise. Everything else we had was phenomenal. So if you’re headed to what my devout evangelical friend calls “The Holy Land,” make a reservation (long in advance), settle into the rustic space, and have a satisfying, fun, if not kosher, meal.

By the way, the restaurant is right outside a market called Machane Yeheda. It has a mix of produce, treasures and junk. It’s worth going just to see this halvah stand.

I’m glad I got that photo in. The only halvah in Orlando is prepackaged mediocrity in the supermarket, and a wonderful but super-expensive version in the cooler at Whole Foods.

Eat well, my laptop eater-travelers,

Posted in Dining, Travel | 5 Comments

Here’s Where to Get Great Food for Less in August

As I prepare to talk about three great amazing food deals in Orlando for Fox 35′s Good Day on August 11, let me share the details with you. (On August 13 or so, you’ll be able to find the interview here; simply search for “dining deals.”)

Who knew? you’ll ask. Bar Harbor Seafood is an odd little hideaway, but one you’ll want to seek out. 

It’s a tiny little fish vendor in an office/industrial area. At lunchtime, the retail shop also sells meals–good meals. 

The “dining deal” for the Rona Recommends/Fox 35 show is a lobster roll for $6.95. It’s usually $9.95, and even that is a low price for a freshly made sandwich filled with lobster salad. You can get that $6.95 price on Mondays and Tuesdays through the end of August. Tell them Rona Recommends sent you.

Chef Keith Esbin, who’s the culinary creator in Bar Harbor’s kitchen, offers another lobster steal. You can buy a whole cooked lobster, from 1 to 1.25 pounds, for $4.99. He says people drive from as far as Tampa to buy 20 at a time. If you just can’t wait to eat it, ask and, for an extra $2, the staff will heat one up, along with drawn butter, and serve it to you there and then with a side dish of your choice. You gobble it up on one of the picnic tables outside.

For a fish store, the lunch menu is impressive. It lists 17 items. Among them: clam chowder, a clam strip plate, blackened salmon, and panko-crusted cod sliders, all under $10.
2000 Premier Row, Orlando, 407.851.4001,

Big Fin is a seafood restaurant too, yet it’s the opposite of Bar Harbor. It’s a grand space on popular Restaurant Row. 
The menu is enormous, the service doting, and the bar popular (especially for happy hour, which offers terrific specials).
On Mondays, you can get a terrific deal on lobster dinners. For $17.95, you’ll receive a 1.25-pound steamed Maine lobster. Add on corn and red=skinned potatoes for another $3.
Separately, Big Fin is participating in Visit Orlando‘s annual Magical Dining Month. Its offerings are such a value for $33 that last year 3,600 people took advantage. Read more soon when my feature about it is published in the September 2013 issue of Orlando Life.
Dellagio Town Center, 8046 W. Sand Lake Rd., Orlando, 407.615.8888,

The Tasting Room always offers value. It’s a romantic spot in historic Winter Garden. 
The menu features scratch-made small plates that change regularly, some Creole and Cajun,others entirely different. The wine list is nice and the cocktails are hand-crafted.
On Tuesdays through the end of the August, the owners are offering a dinner special, of sorts. You receive three (small) courses, with four selections per course. You also receive wine, beer, a soft drink or coffee. The price is $49.99 for two (basically $25 per person), a $20 savings of a la carte prices.
The offerings change weekly, so I’ll share menu options from a couple of weeks ago. Among them: beet salad with goat cheese; smoked fish dip; an eggroll with shrimp,Tasso ham, and spicy peach mustard; jerk grilled Cornish hen with Caribbean coconut rice; mini Wellingtons; and barbecue shrimp with heirloom grits. In other words, it’s satisfying food.
Here are a couple of food photos. I promise you the food looks better (and tastes good) in person.
That’s it for August, my friends.
Eat well, save $,

Posted in Dining, Dining Deals, Florida travel, Orlando dining, Orlando restaurants, Travel | 2 Comments

Our (Temporary) Ultra-Jewish Immersion

Once I got to Tel Aviv, I found the Israel I expected — a
bunch of brunettes who looked like me and my family living lives similar to

That’s not what I encountered traveling to Israel.

Our ultra-Jewish adventure began in the Newark airport as we
waited for our connecting flight. After a lunch we didn’t need in case the
airline meal was awful, we packed up the remaining half of my son’s Subway
turkey and cheese sub on Italian Herbs & Cheese Bread and strolled over to
the gate.

Along a corridor, a bearded gentleman in Orthodox attire –
black jacket and pants, wide-brimmed hat – stopped my 20-year-old and talked
quietly. “I think he said something about Cleveland,” Josh reported upon taking
his leave. Then we looked at a sign posted near a table the gentleman manned:
It said Tefillin, referring to the prayer boxes observant Jewish men tie around
themselves at certain times. Apparently the guy was inviting Josh to buy, rent
or borrow Tefillin before boarding the plane. Tefillin sounded to the untrained
ear like Cleveland.

We don’t know people who use Tefillin. We never did. We’re
secular Jews who have had little contact with the Orthodox, even the modern
Orthodox, based, I guess, on where we’ve lived and the lifestyles we chosen. So
this was Step 1 into our ultra-Jewish emersion. And, we wondered, why didn’t
the Teffilin vendor also talk to my husband or 16-year-old? A mystery.

The waiting area, and then the plane, were filled with
Orthodox from various sects. The women wore 
long skirts and wigs or scarves. The men were dressed in long jackets
and special hats. Upon boarding, the overhead bins had little room for suitcases
because so many wide-brimmed hats had taken up residence. One man must have
been a hat maker, since he carried with him a plastic form of the traditional
black head coverings.

How do Christians and Muslims fly to Israel? I wondered. Do
they boycott El Al?

Before receiving our dinners, we saw about half the plane
get what seemed like “special meals.” On another flight I would have assumed
those meals were kosher, since they were given to the Orthodox. But, again,
this was El Al, the Israeli airline. And when the flight attendants plopped
down our awful chicken in pineapple sauce, we saw Glatt Kosher stickers on every
item on the tray. Surely our fellow flyers are not all vegetarians?
Rastafarians? Gluten-free dieters? Paleos? Is there a
more-kosher-than-Glatt-option? I can’t imagine.

Once the meal was done, and the woman sitting beside me nudged
me out of my aisle seat once again — the see-saw thing was a theme, even when
she had to wake me. She took her and her husband’s mostly empty trays,
disappeared, and returned empty handed.

Awhile later I peeked into the flight attendants’ cabin. Lo
and behold, its small counter was overflowing with discarded meal trays,
toppling left and right. This airplane, it turns out, was filled with balabustas
who wouldn’t tolerate unwanted half-eaten food on their seat-back tables. Woman
after woman had gotten up and removed their families’ smelly plastic and foil
messes themselves.

Luckily, they were so busy tidying up that they failed to
notice Josh’s overtly unkosher turkey and cheese sub on Italian Herbs &
Cheese Bread. Had they caught him happily noshing, there would have been a

Travel safely and eat well,


Posted in Teenagers, Travel | 13 Comments

How to Stay Connected While Traveling: Brilliant Kid Version

We were four over-connected Americans traveling to Israel. Between us we had three iPhones, one regular cell phone, one laptop, one GameBoy, one Kindle, and three iPads. Cheapy me, though, refused to buy a new converter for plugging American devices in overseas outlets. Two is enough, I insisted. We’ll share.

Not enough! my 16- and 20-year-olds agreed. So they came up with a solution: a circuit breaker with space for plugging in several devices at once.

Here it is, at the airport — before we even needed the converters.

Once we arrived, we split the converters, one per hotel room, and stayed way too connected for all ten days. (P.S. For long trips, Nir the amazing Israeli tour guide turned on WiFi in his minivan. I could have lived without my teenage son playing League of Legends instead of looking at the landscape, but he never kvetched.)

Travel safe, eat well, and, if you can’t help it, stay connected,

Posted in Parenting, Teenagers, Travel | 8 Comments

Try Lunch at Cask & Larder

I rarely blog after a media meal. I think it’s cheesy to fill space with free publicity for a restaurant just because I fueled up on its dime. If the food is worthy, I’ll write about the flavors, the portion sizes, and the plate presentations in magazines, books, and online features as opportunities arise.

But oh my heavens, I just returned from sampling a few items off Cask & Larder’s lunch menu, which debuts tomorrow. I’m so excited that I absolutely must share the highlights. I admit my enthusiasm might be due to the dreary fact that I usually gobble up lousy lunches while home alone, slapping together a sandwich or nuking leftovers. I won’t go into details about sardines. But hey. Get hungry.

I started with a Public House bloody Mary ($10). Like everything at Cask & Larder, the cocktails are crafted by hand. That means no harsh Mr. & Mrs. Ts chemical crap. I’m not sure where the juice is from, but it tastes uber fresh, and it’s perked up with pepper-infused Deep Eddy vodka, a small-batch spirits maker in Texas. Lemon, lime and and olive were skewered across the top.

You need a nosh with your cocktails, right? So my friend and I dove into a platter of pimento cheese fries ($6). Oh yes. A soft, creamy version of pimento cheese completely covered curly hand-cut fried potatoes. Gypsy peppers and scallions added subtle zing.

So, really, we needed no more. But we can diet when we’re dead, true? So then we received our entrees. Mine was called Southern Picnic ($15). On a metal cafeteria tray, I saw deviled eggs (arguably the best I have ever had), two slabs of grilled summer sausage atop whole grain mustard, ham butter (who ever heard of that, right? Maybe if you’re from the South …) with bread, a stick of Van Sormon cheese, and pickled cauliflower (it has a wisp of curry, methinks), string beans, and okra with onions. Oh yes, that good.

My friend went for the brisket melt ($13). It’s a hearty sandwich on white bread filled with sweet caramelized brisket thanks to a barbecue “gastrique,” plus pimento cheese, caramelized onions, and fried green tomatoes.

So you’d think we would have slapped down the tip and wobbled back to work. Nuh-uh. Not when housemade ice cream was to be had. This trio: salted caramel, crazy-fresh blueberry, and white chocolate on pecan brittle. Yes please.

Cask & Larder is at 65 W. Fairbanks Avenue in Winter Park, Florida. 321.280.4200.

Eat well,

Posted in Dining, Orlando restaurants | 7 Comments

In Israel, Itching for a Cure

We were hustling through Tel Aviv to get to the Palmach Museum, where we were scheduled for a tour to learn about the young men and women who worked underground to help Palestine become Israel. We didn’t yet know that we’d grow attached to the characters in a sort-of re-enactment (and that I’d cry. Twice.), or that we’d see a photograph of Nir the private tour guide’s father, who was among this elite group.

We did know that our son had a bug bite. An itchy one. We stepped into a pharmacy and, while I hurriedly sought out the first aid section, Nir stood on line at the pharmacy counter.I couldn’t imagine why. I tried to ignore him, sure that I’d find a Solarcaine spray or somesuch, pay a few shekels and be done.

“The Band-Aids are here,” I announced, not that my husband or sons cared. “The spray must be nearby.” I said that about 20 times, searching the same shelves over and over. Where else would an anti-itch spray or cream be?

Nir called me to the counter, handed me a tube — not a spray, mind you, a tube — of a product called Life. I came in a serious-looking box, the type you expect from a prescription product. And it cost a crazy $15.

Rushing, I handed over my credit card and hurled the box at my kid. He dabbed a bit on, tried again, and found the stuff useless.

But then …

I broke out in a rash from slathering too much potent sunscreen on my arms over the course of the week. I doused my skin in this mystery concoction — and had immediate relief. Miraculous. Most of text on the box and tube is in Hebrew so I had no idea what this product was, why it had to be purchased from the pharmacy counter, or how Nir knew to ask for it there. But the ingredient list is repeated in English. This magic potion seems to be more holistic than medical. Extracts of aloe vera, onion and garlic are among the ingredients.

I’m hanging onto this tube. When I run out, I’ll have to beg traveling friends to stand on line for me in Tel Aviv pharmacies. Who knew?

Travel safe,

Posted in Travel | 7 Comments

Israel, in Bits and Pieces

So clearly my plan to blog about Israel isn’t bustling along. I’ve been home for nearly three weeks without posting a word. So let’s do this in bits.

Bit No. 1: Instead of touring on our own or with a group, we splurged and had a private tour guide. A cousin recommended a guy named Nir Nitzan, who owns a company called Nirtours4U. The name doesn’t appeal so much in America, but Nir does. (Note: I do not and did not get anything for this endorsement. I paid full price.)
Here’s Nir.

Nir is not imitating Jesus on the cross. He was making ancient ruins interesting, which is tough to do with my family. The cross bit fits right in, though, because Nir pointed out a cross-shaped tree on a mountain above the ruins.

As it turns out, that tree is a fake. It was bolted to the ground during the filming of the movie Jesus Christ Superstar. One Christian group didn’t believe that so Nir actually took those faith-focused doubters up the hill so they could touch it and learn for themselves.
And that’s the thing about Nir. He knows cool stuff.
We had a set itinerary. We asked for your basic American Jewish tour, but he will tailor every tour. In fact, he swings through the United States two-three times a year to meet potential clients and find out what interests them.
Once you get going, your trip is stress free. Nir held the itinerary, and beelined us to the most interesting parts of each site and museum. Then he entertained us with the big facts and the fun ones, such as the tale behind the random dramatic tree peering down at the partly unearthed ruins of a Roman city.
Not all our stops were serious, though many were. We canoed, we swam in the Dead Sea, we shopped at markets. More on that as my energy surges.
The banter continued along the way. We traveled in Nir’s minivan, which is equipped with WiFi, FYI. As we drove, he talked about “cultural differences,” politics, architecture, military matters, and on and on. Nir is a third-generation Israeli, a long-time tour guide, and a 30-year active/reserve military veteran. He knows his country and the people who comprise it. The conversation was so fascinating that I could have skipped Israel’s intriguing must-sees and just listened. 
That’s it for now. In my next blog, I will share an Israeli miracle potion.
Travel safely,
Posted in Travel | 1 Comment

This Chick Has No Need for Speed

I’d made it three times around the track already, heart
thumping, sincerely scared. Yet I hadn’t knocked over any orange cones or
barrels, hadn’t tipped the $270,000 Lamborghini LP570-4 Superleggera on its
side, hadn’t accidentally bloodied the bored young man in the passenger seat.

This is the Lamborghini I drove.

This is an official photo of the Lamborghinis available.

“I can go faster,” I thought. “This is a race track, after
all.” So I pressed harder on the stiff gas pedal. And I zoomed along a straight
stretch of the Daytona International Speedway
. I panicked at the next bend, whammed
on the brake, then took two more cautious mile-long laps around before being
told to return to home base. But I’d done it: I’d donned a helmet, climbed into
a powerful and sexy automobile, and had my way with the road.

This adventure was thanks to Exotic Driving Experience,
which was kind enough to invite members of the media to drive sports cars
around the Daytona track. Exotic sets up shop there regularly, and offers the
same opportunity at the Walt Disney World Speedway year-round. Prices begin at

Most of my fellow drivers were men, and they were excited, envying
the instructors for having the best job in the world, practically panting for
their turns behind the wheel of a Ferrari, or maybe a Porsche.

We had a classroom lesson on what to do. The thrust: “Stop
when the pro next to you says to, without pause.”). Then we hopped on a shuttle and waited our turns.

I’d never dreamed of driving a sports car. I’m happy with my
Prius station wagon, the world’s least-sexy car. But, come on, I had to take
this offer. An elderly employee picked up on my panic and gently helped me
place a heavy helmet on my head, and gave me a gentle hug while telling me to calm
down and enjoy myself, thus confirming that I am pathetic. And that was before I noticed the ambulance parked at
the edge of the track.

I got in, and as I started driving I slammed into the
headrest repeatedly. It shows in the video I took home with me: My head kept kapowwing
against the seat top, over and over. Smooth? Not for me. But gradually I bumped
less and rode more, and proceeded along with the allotted six laps.

This is the beginning. Watch my head bump. And bump. (I can’t figure out how to insert the actual video.)

Upon my return, I went to a tent under which a woman printed
out my riding scores. The young men who’d gone before me were gleeful. Glowing,
ecstatic, practically  jumping and clapping,
“That was the experience of a lifetime!” They had numbers to back up euphoria “I
went 104 miles per hour!” one said, pointing to his printout. “ I went 107!” another

This is one of the guys’ printout. Note the top speed of 109 mph.

I’d been too terrified to enjoy my ride the way they did
theirs, but surely my computerized report would make me feel better. Think of
what I could tell my sons I’d done. Until I looked. “63 miles per hour.” Yes,
my fastest speed in a sleek black Lamborghini Superleggera was a piddly 63 mph.
I got there by driving 74 on the highway to Daytona. Faster, in the Prius,
within the legal limit, than on the road that hosts the thrilling Daytona 500.

This coming Saturday I’ll be flying in a hot air balloon.
Thankfully, I won’t be at the wheel.

Keep life fun,


Posted in Disney World, Florida travel, Travel | 25 Comments

No, Publicist, I Will Not Guarantee Ink for Your Client

An editor asked me to represent his magazine at a media dinner next week. The meal will be a gathering of journalists and bloggers at a new farm-to-table restaurant within a major Orlando hotel. Sure, I said. I’m a food and travel writer so I need to keep up with the area’s newest kitchens. This magazine, among others, might be able to use an article about it.

I RSVP’d yes and filled out a form stating my affiliation. The paper, sent by the restaurant’s publicist, asked me to pledge that — Ach, I can’t even paraphrase without wincing. Here, just read it yourself: “I confirm I am on assignment for the outlet listed above and will produce a feature/review as a result of my dining experience at {Restaurant X}.” The form required a signature.

That is the sleaziest, most unprofessional invitation I have ever received.

Let me back up. Restaurant and travel writers who work for the upper echelon of publications do all their research independently, on their own or their company’s dime. The rest of us accept invitations to media events, where we’re wined and dined so we can get a general idea of what the establishment is like. In my case, if I like the experience a lot, I return anonymously, with my credit card, to do research for a critique or feature article. I’ll use what I learn repeatedly in various forms for any number of respectable magazines, books and websites, local and national. In other words, media dinners help me weed out top places without going broke–and potentially lead to extensive media coverage.

This pig head is part of a whole-animal dinner for eight I hosted, anonymously, as research for a feature at Winter Park’s Cask & Larder. If the new hotel restaurant impressed me, it might have gotten similar coverage. Now I will never write about it.

If the restaurant is meh but has a noteworthy feature, I find another way to give it press. Maybe I include its custom glass flower wall art in a design piece or scoop the chef into a round-up about where local culinarians dine on their nights off. I never trash a restaurant based on a media dinner. I only do that if I visit undercover on my own and have a horrid experience. If based on the media dinner I find the restaurant hopeless, I slink home and stay quiet.

Restaurants gamble a bit when they host a media event because they’re spending money on food, wine and labor that, at most, they won’t get back in publicity. Usually they get plenty of ink. They take a chance. That’s the game.

Clearly Restaurant X’s management–or its publicist–would rather not chance it. Thus, the form.

No ma’am. No sir. A journalist does not guarantee, promise, pledge in writing, with a signature, that s/he will spread word of your glory because s/he ate a pork chop with slaw as your guest.

I understand the caution. Journalists and bloggers enjoy freebies, especially freebies they can use to write new articles. Many accept every request that comes their way. I don’t. I turn down invitations that won’t be useful for my business. I am not what I call the freelance schnorra who accepts a seat at any table (although I do not blame anyone for trying; media events are terrific for networking).

It is the publicist’s job to learn who’s who in the market and invite the writers most likely to help her client.

A signature? A promise? That’s not the way.

I wrote back “Count me out.” I wonder how many of my colleagues will sign the form and show up. I wish they’d all boycott.

Eat well,
Posted in Journalism | 19 Comments