ORLANDO, Fla. — I’m no food connoisseur but I will be the first to tell you how much I like to eat and eat well. I can’t say I disagree with the fact that Orlando was recently ranked to be less fun than Poughkeepsie but I can say that the City Beautiful will never be short on dining options. From southern comfort food to fine dining, we have it all. If you’re willing to venture out of the chain comfort zone you find yourself gravitating to because they are close to your hotel and eat like this local, you just might be willing to try something new in your own town.
Harmoni – Market Bistro Wine Bar
If you just happen to be craving local, fresh ingredients in a causal bistro scene look no further than Harmoni. Mediterranean based dishes provide a great range guaranteed to satisfy everyone with a motto of “Better is better” each meal is nothing short of delicious. With a majority of their items coming from local vendors, farms and fisherman it doesn’t get much fresher.
Open for brunch on Saturday and Sunday, 10-3pm, you can experience Cinnamon Challah French Toast with vanilla cream sauce ($7.50), that is sweet enough to not require maple syrup. Lump crab Benedict served with seasonal fruit and roasted red breakfast potatoes ($11). The mixture of the abundance of crab that is melt-in-your-mouth good paired with the roasted potatoes and of course the sauce make this breakfast decadent. Breakfast Panini’s, flatbreads and omelets’ with the locally blended coffee, and a low key setting with just the right amount of live music playing set the mood for a great way to start or end any weekend. If you happen to stop in for dinner try the fresh Baba Ghanoush as a starter($4), Gumba flatbread with rib eye, mushrooms, caramelized onions, tomatoes and bleu cheese ($10.50), Mediterranean Cobb salad ($9), Scallops with tomato parmesan couscous and wilted spinach ($16.50), and Basil Pesto pasta with their very own house made mozzarella ($10). Harmoni also has an impressive wine list with over 150 different varieties, locally brewed beers, occasional live music and a full bar round out this unexpected find at either of their two locations.
Lunch on the run
I discovered the Black Bean Deli many years ago while working down the street from their Winter Park location and it has since been a favorite. Rated “Best Cuban Food” and “Best take out” by Orlando Weekly and Orlando Sentinel for 5 years straight along with being ‘ZAGAT RATED’ and best of AOL CITY SEARCH is proof this little gem has managed to win over a few others too. To avoid the lunch rush, it’s best to call your order in ahead of time because it’s typical for the line to snake out the door of the small order/pick-up area. With a menu of simple yet delicious Cuban favorites, I hardly ever deviate from the lunch special which is served daily until 3pm. It features a hot pressed Cuban that is always perfectly toasted and never fails on providing the exact balance of salty, sweet, crunchy, and melted cheese goodness that you come to expect when you think of a great Cuban. It comes paired with a small cup of black beans and rice ($5), which beats any value meal for the same price. Other favorites include Papas Rellenas, a mashed potato ball stuffed with Picadillo served with rice, beans, plantains’ and salad for ($6.75), and Flan ($2) to cover your sweet craving.
Olde Dixie Fried Chicken, an Orlando landmark since 1962, has been serving up anything but mediocre fried chicken since the day they opened their doors. The decor hasn’t changed since that day either it seems with the original vintage sign still out front but neither has the menu. Their chicken is always fresh, never frozen and delivered daily. Their chicken is the definition of good fried chicken; crispy, juicy, perfectly seasoned and delicious. 3-pc chicken dinner with choice of two sides (potato, coleslaw, baked beans or macaroni salad, mashed potatoes, fries), hot rolls ($6.10) which is just basic good eatin’. Bucket o’ shrimp which features 25 large hand breaded shrimp, coleslaw, hot rolls, and their own tangy shrimp sauce ($22.95) claims to be able to feed 5-7 but I’ve seen it devoured by less. Fish or chicken sandwich ($4.10) are also just as equal in providing the love you feel after consuming any fried food.
I’ve become quite the sushi snob after my neighborhood was blessed with Nona Sushi. Set at the end of a nonchalant strip mall they have managed to set the bar high on serving up fresh delicious rolls in a very casual environment with excellent service that has me basing any other establishment off of. Edamame ($3.95), Tuna Kobachi ($8.95), and Seaweed Salad ($5.25) are my favorite ways to start. A wide variety of traditional and exotic rolls fill the menu but the Mexican that features shrimp tempura, avocado, cream cheese, jalapeno and eel sauce($10), Fresh Salmon Roe($5), Spicy Tuna roll with cucumber($8) and Dynamite roll with salmon, imitation crab, cucumber, battered and fried, topped with spicy hot sauce($8) are my favorites. A daily menu that offers new options from rolls to entrees for something different but entree list that doesn’t disappoint is always available. Chilean Sea Bass that is steamed with ginger & scallion soy sauce ($23.75) or Walnut Shrimp with mayo-flavored sauce and candied walnuts ($19.75) each entree is served with rice and your choice of Miso Soup or Ginger salad. Desert isn’t debatable with the Tempura cheesecake ($7.95) that is perfect for sharing.
Bull & Bear Steakhouse
If you really want go all out, a night at Bull & Bear is the way to go because the statement "go big or go home" is what they are all about. Even though Orlando is a far cry from New York City, we’re more than appreciative when not only the renowned Waldorf Astoria Hotel opened their doors in late 2009 bringing with it original creations such as the Waldorf Salad, Veal Oscar, Red Velvet Cake, Thousand Island Dressing and of course the Manhattan but introduced us to the several award winning Bull & Bear. From the attentive service, the plush gentleman’s club interior, fresh daily selections, and lengthy wine list; their promise of an extraordinary dining experience follows through.
Start with the Iced Shellfish Platter that features chilled Maine lobster, oysters, crab cocktail and gulf shrimp that are quite the statement on the oversized silver platter ($56) and Heirloom tomato salad with Burrata cheese and arugula ($15). Rack of Colorado Lamb features double cut loin chops ($42) cooked medium rare are not in the least gamey which just might have those reluctant to try something other than the norm. Broiled Diver Scallops that were almost the size of a half dollar in Tarragon scampi butter ($38) are nothing short of divine. Though Bull & Bear is known as the first restaurant on the East coast to first serve Certified Angus Beef which they display on five of the six beef selections, there is also the 10 ounce American Kobe skirt steak ($52). The skirt steak is not known for being a tender cut but if a butter knife could do the job then you know it’s good. Mac and cheese with pancetta ($8) that is so rich it is nearly impossible to consume more than a few sinful bites and Seasonal fresh mushrooms ($8) completed the meal.