Marlin Bar

Written By Scott Joseph On February 29, 2024

Marlin Bar exterior

You know a restaurant has a weird system when the first thing a waiter says to you when he greets you at your table is, “I realize our system is a little weird here.”

This was at Marlin Bar at Tommy Bahama in Winter Park Village. Many of you will remember Tommy Bahama Cafe when it was at Pointe Orlando (it closed in 2018). It was a full-service restaurant and bar next to a Tommy Bahama retail store. About the only thing that’s the same here is that Marlin Bar is also next to a full retail store filled with the high priced (and let’s face it, high quality) silk and linen clothing the retailer is known for. A lot of the clothing bears a logo of a marlin fish, hence the name Marlin Bar.

The big difference here is that the restaurant isn’t exactly full service, though it doesn’t use the term quick service, either. One enters at the bar and is greeted by a cashier. Patrons are expected to order and pay or at the very least leave a credit card on file.

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Bayou Kitchen & Lounge

Written By Scott Joseph On February 22, 2024

Bayou exterior

Just because Mardi Gras has passed doesn’t mean you have to give up eating Cajun and creole food, unless you promised to give them up for Lent. And who would do that?

Nevertheless, I visited the Bayou Kitchen & Lounge in Longwood before carnival season began, so I’m good either way.

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Judson’s Live

Written By Scott Joseph On February 8, 2024

Judson's Live exterior

Judson’s Live, a music venue, officially opened this week at the Dr. Phillips Center, another world-class performance space for the jewel of downtown Orlando. 

It’s a stellar room. Think of any of the well-known clubs in New York – 54 Below, Birdland, Cafe Carlyle, Blue Note – and it blows them all away, with the possible exception of Dizzy’s Club at Jazz at Lincoln Center, which served as the inspiration for the design of Judson’s. (The only thing missing is a vast window overlooking Columbus Circle.)

Judson’s Live bests the others I mentioned because it has better sight lines, isn’t cramped, has a more spacious stage platform that isn’t raised too high, creating a more intimate experience between audience and musicians, and its acoustics are pristine. They obviously took a cue from the sound designers of the amazing Steinmetz Hall.

Another arguable difference: You’re probably going to find better food at Judson’s than in any of those New York clubs. And I’ve eaten in most of them.

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The Local Hen

Written By Scott Joseph On January 4, 2024

The Food Factory Oviedo Local Hen exterior

Oviedo is famously known for its feral chickens roaming about. So a new concept restaurant chose to pay homage to the free-range chickens with its name, The Local Hen.

Actually, it’s known as a micro restaurant and is part of the Food Factory Foodie Collective in the Oviedo on the Park district, where, ironically, there don’t seem to be any chickens wandering about. But maybe that’s just because they’ve met up with the folks at The Local Hen.

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Aurora at the Celeste

Written By Scott Joseph On December 7, 2023

Aurora sign

When Aurora at the Celeste opened three years ago, it brought a new level of sophisticated dining, at least in terms of the food, to East Orlando. That was thanks in no small part to Mike Trudnak, the UCF-located hotel’s opening executive chef. 

But Trudnak parted ways with the Celeste in April, moving to the Daytona Grande – and taking some of his Orlando staff with him. I figured that would be the end to what Trudnak himself referred to as “that Aurora magic.”

But the Celeste management demonstrated its commitment to continue offering high quality food by hiring Ibis Lopez to fill the executive chef vacancy. Lopez, who has cooked at the likes of Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress and Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes, has put his imprint on the restaurant and has made the menu his own.

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Jack & Honey’s

Written By Scott Joseph On November 28, 2023

Jack and Honeys exterior

Jack & Honey’s, the new tenant in the space that most recently was Hawaiian themed The 808 but for decades before that was Dexter’s of Thornton Park, bills itself as an “upscale diner.” What does that mean? Instead of grits they serve polenta? Does the waitress Flo have a French accent?

As near as I can tell, an upscale diner means restaurant. And in the case of Jack & Honey’s, a pleasant one at that.

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Pine & Oak

Written By Scott Joseph On November 16, 2023

Pine and Oak entrance

East Orlando has a new upscale-casual restaurants from the same team that brought you downtown’s Delaney’s Tavern. Pine & Oak, a “modern American tavern,” is in the newly renovated clubhouse at Rio Pinar golf course, which was once, apparently, the area’s premier golf club where links legends played before Bay Hill and other courses appeared. The new owners of the club want to restore some of that cache by reinvigorating the facilities and creating a new, open-to-the-public restaurant.

To that end, they partnered with Delaney’s Tavern principal Greg Allowe, who has created Pine & Oak, bringing with him Delaney’s executive chef, Anthony Albino. 

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Ravenous Pig

Written By Scott Joseph On November 2, 2023

Ravenous Pig exterior

The Ravenous Pig wasn’t the first high quality restaurant in Central Florida, but when it opened in 2007, it seemed to be harbingering a new era. It was, I’m pretty sure, the first in the area to call itself an American gastropub, which gave it a certain mystique with the dining public, even if technically it wasn’t really a gastropub.

The heart of Ravenous Pig was the husband and wife team of James and Julie Petrakis, Central Florida natives who met while attending the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. Both were fans of Manhattan’s Spotted Pig, which may have influenced the name of their first restaurant.

The thing I remember most about my first visits to Ravenous Pig – which was originally located down Orange Avenue from its current location in the space now occupied by Reel Fish Coastal Kitchen – was the enthusiasm of the staff for the food they were serving. They seemed happy to be working there. That sort of attitude almost always trickled down from the top.

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Dinner Party Redux: Hemisphere

Written By Scott Joseph On October 26, 2023

Hemisphere Dinner Party table

The latest edition of Scott Joseph’s Dinner Party was held in conjunction with Hemisphere, the classy restaurant at the top of the Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport overlooking the MCO runways.

Guests arrived via the hotel’s private entrance on the airport’s Terminal B, availing of the complimentary valet parking (a feature always available to Hemisphere diners) and taking the elevator a few steps away to the ninth floor.

As we gathered – the restaurant was closed to the public for our event so we had the entire place to ourselves – we sipped on sparkling wine, then found our places at the elegantly appointed tables.

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Descend 21

Written By Scott Joseph On October 25, 2023

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Descend21 exterior

I finally got out to the Hyatt Regency Orlando to check out Descend 21, which opened earlier this year after an extensive renovation. This is the space that previously was Urban Tide and, before that, Napa, when the hotel was the Peabody Orlando.

The name of the restaurant derives not from an age restriction but rather from the number of steps it takes to reach it down a curving staircase from the lobby level. (Yes, I counted; it’s 21 steps. In both directions.)

What a thorough transformation. Descend 21 is part restaurant, part lounge and part interactive entertainment space. It’s sort of like a high-scale rumpus room, with large-format tiled flooring and comfortable couches and chairs. For entertainment, besides a plethora of televisions, there are full-scale golf-swing suites, electronic darts, and more analog choices like pool tables.

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