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.
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.
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
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
“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
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
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
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
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
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. Continue reading
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.
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, lecafedefrance.com
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, raglanroad.com
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.
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. The
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
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
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
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
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
Eat well, my friends.
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?”
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.
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
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,
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.
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.”)
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
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
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
Should you fear that Charlotte County, Punta Gorda and the surrounding areas are good only for eating food, you’re mistaken. You can also learn about where food comes from. We saw injured birds including two bald eagles, quite close up. The highlight was wading in Peace River. The adventure is held periodically and anyone can sign up through the Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center. After learning about the creatures that live in the water, such as blue crabs, snails, hermit crabs and way more, we waded in with nets on sticks and caught a bunch. Here’s a horseshoe crab, which is more spider than crab, apparently. We had one of our very best meals, a take-out crispy eggplant burger with pepper salad and goat cheese spread with sweet potato chips from River City Grill. Here are cherry tomatoes on the vine. Take an educational hayride of the property, and time your visit to hear a seminar, such as on vegan cooking. Three more teasers, then I am off to take a walk on the beach. The evening’s final tasting was of truly spectacular desserts at an upscale restaurant with a well-coiffed clientele called The Perfect Caper. Based on the sweets, I’d try it for dinner in a flash. Here is the gingerbread ice cream sandwich filled with dulce de leche gelato drizzled with caramel sauce.
We travel writers began Day 3 at the Peace River Wildlife Center.
The produce for the lunch was grown at Worden Farm, a sizeable, impressive, organic enterprise owned by two PhDs, husband and wife, who are committed to changing the way the world eats.
We had cocktails on the roof of the sleek Wyvern Hotel – live music, martinis, rattan-ish sofas and chairs.
Next up was a phenomenal meal at the playful, rustic Peace River Seafood. The business is also a wholesaler and retailer, so the shrimps and crabs from local waters could not be fresher.
As a teaser, here are some stone crab claws.
The shrimp are unusual, and from local waters. Phenomenal.
Crabs are the house specialty, so get messy with the blue crabs or the garlic clusters. These plates are only about $15 each, which is a tremendous bargain given the quality.
I’m off for that walk now. As if it’ll make a dent in the waistline.
Next and final stop: Opus restaurant, an urban-looking retreat in downtown Punta Gorda. Brunch. Bring it on.
We saw injured birds including two bald eagles, quite close up. The highlight was wading in Peace River. The adventure is held periodically and anyone can sign up through the Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center. After learning about the creatures that live in the water, such as blue crabs, snails, hermit crabs and way more, we waded in with nets on sticks and caught a bunch.
Here’s a horseshoe crab, which is more spider than crab, apparently.
We had one of our very best meals, a take-out crispy eggplant burger with pepper salad and goat cheese spread with sweet potato chips from River City Grill.
Here are cherry tomatoes on the vine. Take an educational hayride of the property, and time your visit to hear a seminar, such as on vegan cooking.
Three more teasers, then I am off to take a walk on the beach.
The evening’s final tasting was of truly spectacular desserts at an upscale restaurant with a well-coiffed clientele called The Perfect Caper. Based on the sweets, I’d try it for dinner in a flash. Here is the gingerbread ice cream sandwich filled with dulce de leche gelato drizzled with caramel sauce.
My journey around Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf lslands turned out to be a gorge-a-thon — which is a lovely way to see Punta Gorda and its environs.