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2012 Silver Spoon Dining Awards

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BEST NEW RESTAURANT


BEST NEIGHBORHOOD EATERIES
WINTER PARK
COLLEGE PARK
MILLS/50
RESTAURANT ROW
DOWNTOWN ORLANDO
NEAR UCF


BEST DISH, HIGH-END

BEST DISH, AFFORDABLE

BEST NEW CHEF (TIE)

BEST VETERAN CHEF

BEST STEAK

BEST PLACE FOR SECONDS

BEST USE OF LOCALLY SOURCED FOODS (TIE)

BEST FRIENDLY FACE

BEST SERVICE, HIGH-END

BEST SERVICE, AFFORDABLE

BEST SMALL PLATES

BEST THEME PARK RESTAURANTS

BEST OUTDOOR DINING

BEST ETHNIC

BEST FOOD TRUCK

BEST FOR ROMANCE

BEST DESSERT

BEST RETAIL BAKERY

BEST CUPCAKE

BEST HAPPY HOUR

BEST CRAFT BEER

BEST WINE LIST

BEST HANDCRAFTED COCKTAILS

READER'S CHOICE

New Establishment
Breakfast
Late Night
Wine List
Dessert
Service
Server
Chef
Take Out
Appetizer
Cocktail
Beer
Deli
Pizza
Burger
Buffet
Coffee
Sushi
Happy Hour
Date Place
Family Place
African
American
BBQ
Brazilian
Carribean
Chinese
Creole
Cuban
French
German
Greek
Indian
Irish
Italian
Japanese
Korean
Mexican
Middle Eastern
Seafood
Steakhouse
Thai
Vegetarian
Vietnames

by the Editors • photographs by Rafael Tongol and Ken Lopez

Welcome to this year’s edition of Orlando Home & Leisure’s Silver Spoon Awards, recognizing excellence among local eateries as judged by our panel of restaurant reviewers and local epicures.

For hard-working owners, chefs and staffers at local restaurants, the Silver Spoon represents a well-deserved round of applause. For hungry diners, it points the way to a remarkable array of good people, places, food and drink.

In most cases, the winners represent a consensus among the judges. When the judges didn’t agree, we either declared ties or recognized multiple winners.

Although this is not a scientific survey, every restaurant, dish and individual has been singled out for recognition by an eclectic, locally rooted array of panel members who are both passionate and knowledgeable about the dining experience. Much of the text consists of direct quotes from those panelists to give you the benefit of their unfiltered opinions.

What it all boils down to is this: We think we’ve managed to assemble one of the best dining guides in town. Hang onto it. Then go forth and enjoy.

  

BEST NEW RESTAURANT (TIE)

The pair of newcomers that went head to head in this category offer decidedly different dining experiences. But both are backed by savvy professionals who already operate highly successful homegrown eateries.

Cask & Larder is an offshoot – some customers are calling it the “love child” – of an American gastropub that has been attracting slavishly devoted followers for the past five years: the Ravenous Pig.

Prato was created by the owners of Luma on Park, a sleek, urbane and equally popular contemporary American restaurant. They’re located within a stone’s throw of one another in Winter Park.

With bloodlines like that, you’d be hard-pressed to pick one culinary offspring over the other. There was nothing for us to do but to call the category a tossup, and give thanks that Central Florida attracts and rewards restaurateur-entrepreneurs of this caliber.

Co-winner of Best New Restaurant Cask & Larder.

Cask & Larder is proving to be an instant hit, thanks in part to the stellar reputation of “the Pig” and its chefs and owners, James and Julie Petrakis. The couple partnered with another wife-and-husband team, Pig veterans Tracy Lindskoog and Dennis Bernard, to open this “Southern-inspired public house” in the erstwhile Harper’s Tavern and Le Cordon Bleu space on Fairbanks Avenue.

C&L’s nostalgic niche is to offer vintage takes on Deep South dishes; hence the 19th-century moniker, (A cask was a barrel for wines or other beverages. A larder was a room where food was stored in the era prior to refrigeration.)

Cask & Larder offers creative takes on traditional Deep South favorites such as a country ham platter, oysters (above), fried chicken and,of course, desserts (below).

The C&L team cures its own bacon, makes its own sausages, brews its own beer, preserves its own fruits and pickles its own vegetables. Many entreès are prepared “snout-to-tail,” with chefs emulating our frugal forbearers by making use of nearly every part of an animal.

Like its porcine progenitor just up the street, the restaurant features a changing menu tied to what’s in season south of the Mason Dixon line. But you’ll always find such traditional Southern favorites as grilled pork chops and duck breast, as well as such unusual offerings as grilled lamb heart with popcorn grits, plums, sorghum and roasted peanuts.

The Cask & Larder ownership team (above) includes (clockwise from left) Julie Petrakis, James Petrakis, Tracy Lindskoog and Dennis Bernard. Ron Raike (below), beer brewer at Cask & Larder, Best Craft Beer.

The ham sampler features country ham imported from Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee and served with farmer’s cheese, pepper jam and buttery biscuits. “Better than the best prosciutto,” avowed one judge.

Seafood choices range from trout to squid to wreckfish. Oysters imported from both coasts, raw or roasted, make a great starter. “The oysters are the best, hands down, in town,” added another judge.

Desserts include indulgent pies and cakes as well as ice creams, sorbets and “fried dough”: beer doughnuts in a citrus-caramel glaze, with soft caramel pudding on the side.

A smitten judge summed it all up nicely: “Exactly what you would expect from James and Julie: It’s Southern cuisine, all gussied up.”

Executive Chef Brandon McGlamery and Chef Matthew Cargo at Prato.

Prato is anything but fancy. The woodsy dining room with a bar running through its center has a rustic edge that suits the fare, all of it robust and hearty: pasta and pizza, salad with sizzling ham bits, potato-leek soup, chicken with bing cherries.

The Luma on Park chefs who designed Prato’s progressive Italian menu did plenty of legwork first. They traveled to Manhattan, San Francisco, Chicago, Oakland, Brooklyn, Atlanta and even throughout Italy, sampling such local delights as gnocchi with rabbit ragu and purchasing state-of-the-art pizza ovens.

Diners might take the plate of shrimp ravioli delivered by a server in a checkered shirt for granted, figuring it’s similar to what they can make in their own kitchens. But they can’t. Home cooks don’t import special flour from Italy or develop exquisitely flavored, labor-intensive sauces for a simple dinner.

The chefs at Prato do. In addition, they’re constantly innovating and adding new dishes. The menu changes so frequently that regulars rush back to taste favorite dishes that could vanish, at least temporarily, before they’ve had their fill.

One recent addition is an appetizer called bone marrow crostini Del Anima, a tribute to the West Soho restaurant that inspired it. The sizzling giant crouton is spread with a magical mash of marrow, ramps and parmesan cheese.

The wine list features a compact selection of Italian labels that pair beautifully with garlic, tomato and pancetta. And the cocktails are scratch-made – not only the mixers but in some cases the spirits themselves.

Kudos, then, to chef Brandon McGlamery and chef della cucina Matthew Cargo for translating Luma’s eloquence into more approachable Italian fare.

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BEST NEIGHBORHOOD EATERIES

WINTER PARK
The Ravenous Pig. “After just five years, this fashion-forward gastropub has changed the way Orlando eats. It offers carefully sourced food, expertly prepared and served in a somewhat casual environment. Before, Central Florida didn’t have a restaurant filling this niche. Competition that has sprung up since is welcome, but none quite pulls it off with the kind of competence you’ll find here.”
Also Mentioned
Luma on Park. “This is the total package: the highly creative food, the wall of wine, the hip atmosphere, the knowledgeable wait staff.”

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COLLEGE PARK
K Restaurant and Wine Bar. “The food is always freshly prepared with local, seasonal ingredients. You can taste the love and great care that goes into each dish. It’s small enough that everybody knows your name. And if you’re there when Rocky Mazza is working, you might get a show tune during dinner.”
Also Mentioned
Infusion Tea. “A great alternative if you’re on a budget.”
Paxia. “They plate up really creative Mexican fare.”

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MILLS/50
The Funky Monkey. “This is a small and, as the name says, funky little escape. The food choices range from sushi to duck, and it’s all good. A great place to grab a bite before a show at the Plaza Live.”
Also Mentioned
Bananas Modern American Diner. “A fun, creative menu. Speaking of fun: Now and then you get service with a flair from waiters in drag.”
Hawkers Asian Street Fare. “Friendly service and excellent Asian street food from seven countries.”
Pho Vinh. “I really enjoy the richness in flavors, from the simple, yet fresh, cha gio – Vietnamese spring rolls – to the signature pho beef noodle soup.”

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RESTAURANT ROW
Peperoncino. “Chef-owner Barbara Alfano plates up familiar dishes such as lasagna in intriguing ways, and offers authentic Italian classics such as fried pecorino cheese topped with honey, filet mignon rolled with prosciutto and an immensely satisfying whole fresh fish baked in parchment paper.”  

 

Barbara Alfano, owner-chef of Peperoncino (above), winner in the Best Neighborhood Eatery category, and one of her dishes, linguine mare e terra (below).
Also Mentioned
Chatham’s Place. “Serving up classic Continental cuisine before Restaurant Row was even a thing, Chatham’s Place is still among the best for its excellent service and its continued dedication to producing the finest dishes.”
The Table Orlando. “You never know what you’re going to get, and since you don’t know your dinner companions, you just might meet your new best friend.”

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DOWNTOWN ORLANDO
The Rusty Spoon. “It’s casual yet upscale. The food is always super fresh and prepared simply. [Owner-chef] Kathleen Blake knows how to highlight the fresh, flavorful goodness of a product instead of smothering it.”
Also Mentioned
Kres Chophouse. “A nice place to bring a client you need to impress over a steak when you’re downtown.”

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NEAR UCF

Sushi Pop. “Led by Chef Chau Trinh and his team, this is one of the most exciting new additions to the Orlando dining scene. Even though it’s located in the outer reaches of Orlando in Oviedo, there always seems to be a line out the door. For a creative, inspiring dinner, call ahead to order the chef’s omakase, a feast of dishes made especially by the chef with the day’s freshest ingredients.”

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BEST DISH, HIGH-END

Grilled Tomahawk bone-in rib-eye at the Bull & Bear at the Waldorf Astoria Orlando. “This 36-ounce hunk o’ beef, dry-aged for 28 days, is hands down the finest piece o’ meat in town. Share it with someone with low cholesterol.” Price: $120 (serves two).
Also Mentioned
My Down Island French Toast at Norman’s at the Ritz Carlton at Grand Lakes, Orlando. “Spectacular time after time – a custard-covered brioche with Curaçao-scented foie gras and savory passion fruit caramel sauce.” Price: $29.
Spaghetti carbonara at Enzo’s. “This is classic, delicious, lick-the-plate, eat more than you should, satisfying perfection.” Price: $18.95.
Rib-eye steak at A Land Remembered. “A juicy, slightly charred cut served perfectly at the desired medium-rare. The beef, sourced from Harris Ranch, is tender and flavorful.” Price: $38.
Seared Barbarie duck breast with port reduction at Jiko. “This dish has the perfect combination of crispy skin and succulent meat.” Price: $39.

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BEST DISH, AFFORDABLE

Bi Bim Bap at Seoul Garden. “A biff-bam-boom concoction of rice, vegetables, meat and a fried egg served in a stone bowl with spicy paste, as well as Korean side dishes and, sometimes, miso soup for $12.  So many delicious flavors in one bowl – and very filling, too.”
Also Mentioned
Fried Green Tomatoes at K Restaurant. “Three fried green tomatoes, humble Southern fare, are elevated exquisitely by virtue of being topped with crab meat and corn.” Price: $13.
Shio Butter Ramen Noodle at Hanamizuki Japanese Restaurant. “Available only during lunch, this authentic Japanese ramen noodle dish is composed of sliced roast pork, bamboo shoots, fish cake, bean sprouts, scallions, and hard-boiled egg in a salty, savory broth.” Price $7.50.
Lobster Roll at K Restaurant. “Tons of fresh lobster meat with only enough herbaceous mayo to keep it moist, and topped with heirloom tomatoes and micro greens or watercress, whatever [owner-chef Kevin Fonzo] gets fresh that week.” Price: $14.

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BEST NEW CHEF (TIE)

Derek Perez at Luma on Park and Matthew Cargo at Prato. “As the Luma on Park empire grows, these two  chefs, training under [Luma on Park executive chef] Brandon McGlamery, stand out. Both gentlemen run ambitious scratch kitchens under McGlamery’s watchful eye, and could well be our next local celebrity culinarians.”

Derek Perez, chef at Luma on Park (above), Matthew Cargo, chef at Prato (below) co-winners of Best New Chef.
Also Mentioned
Dennis Bernard at Cask & Larder.
Joseph Burnett at The Ravenous Pig.
Tony Adams at Big Wheel Provisions.

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BEST VETERAN CHEF

Scott Hunnel at Victoria & Albert’s at the Grand Floridian. “Maybe it’s just that he has access to the best ingredients in the world, but Scott brings it home with AAA’s Five Diamond award every year. His gift for combining flavors, mastering presentation and, of course, wowing with phenomenal flavors, is unrivaled.”
Also Mentioned
Reimund Pitz at Le Coq au Vin.
Kevin Fonzo at K Restaurant.
Khalid Benghallem at The Venetian Room at Caribe Royale.

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BEST STEAK

Bull & Bear at Waldorf Astoria Orlando. “This hotel steakhouse may borrow from New York’s legendary original, but the local culinary and management team makes it their own. They use top-quality ingredients; dry-aged meats are returned when the chefs suspect it’s not aged quite long enough. Personalized service and creative items, such as a dessert called The Lemon, create an all-around satisfying experience.”
Also Mentioned
Vine’s Grille & Wine Bar. “Sadly, service is much better for corporate types than locals, but this Restaurant Row standby offers excellent meals, from chops to grilled octopus and sea bass with lobster risotto. It’s always tempting to linger in the bar afterward to hear live jazz.”
Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar. “It’s a chain, yes. Yet Fleming’s turns out inspiring meals, paired with excellent wines, flawlessly. The responsive service and non-stuffy dining room are other elements that put it a notch above competitors.”
Christner’s Del Frisco’s Prime Steak & Lobster. “Maybe it’s as much nostalgia as quality or service, but Orlando’s long-time, old-fashioned meatery attracts an unusually large and loyal local following with its scrumptious steaks and its timeless dining rooms. There’s even a piano bar. Ask about the periodic steak-and-wine tasting events.”

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BEST PLACE FOR SECONDS

Boma at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. “It’s a buffet, but loaded with top-quality food, and just about everyone returns for second and third helpings of roasts with tamarind sauce, astounding soups – butternut squash, ginger carrot, chicken-corn chowder, coconut-curry – and kalamata hummus with flatbread.”
Also Mentioned
Cask & Larder. “The whole-animal table is a real experience. They bring a whole pig, fish, duck or seasonal lamb, with all the fixins’. It’s a feast.”
Ritz-Carlton Vineyard Grill. “The dessert room during Sunday Brunch: That’s all I’m going to say. Seconds. And thirds. And so on.”
Wild Rice. “It’s brand new and offers the biggest and best buffet in town for the price. The range of Asian and traditional fare is amazing. No skimping on the dessert lineup, either.

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BEST USE OF LOCALLY
SOURCED FOODS (TIE)

Big Wheel Provisions and The Rusty Spoon. “Both taking great care to purchase ingredients from area farms.”
Also Mentioned
Whisper Creek Farm. “This brand new catering venue, run by the Grande Lakes hotels, will grow much of its produce on-site and use it for catered meals held in the space.”
Prato. “The local, seasonal ingredients help the dishes here pop with flavor.”
K Restaurant. Owner-chef Kevin Fonzo “has been using local products for a long, long time and was probably one of the first to recognize local farmers on his menu.”

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BEST FRIENDLY FACE

Courtney Vogelsang, server, Luma on Park. “Even when she’s not waiting our table, she stops by for a hug and a chat.  She’s so warm and personable, she brings a smile to our face that lasts all the way home.”

Courtney Vogelsang, server at Luma on Park, Best Friendly Face.
Also Mentioned
Scott Miller, server, Oceanaire Seafood Room. “Never have I met a friendlier waiter at a high-end restaurant. He’s super-outgoing and gives great service, too.”
Yen Nguyen, owner, Banh Mi Nha Trang. “Although her English is limited, she’s one of the sweetest ladies in town, preparing Vietnamese sub sandwiches to order and with a smile.”
Laurie Tarter, co-owner, Chef’s Table at the Edgewater and its adjacent Tasting Room. “It seems that more guests are greeted with hugs than not because Laurie and her husband, Kevin, develop such warm relationships.”
Rocky Mazza, server, K Restaurant. “He loves his customers. This guy is an outrageous hoot, a floorshow all his own.”

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BEST SERVICE, HIGH-END

The Venetian Room. “Here you’ll find waiters in suits and ties who make you feel like you’ve been transported to the world of Downton Abbey, always courteous, proper and very knowledgeable.”

The Venetian Room, with its formally clad servers, earned top honors for Best Service, High End, and for Best Dessert. The judges lauded the restaurant’s elegant and delectable Grand Marnier Soufflé.
Also Mentioned
Victoria & Albert’s at the Grand Floridian. “His-and-hers servers are paired for a year so they can read each other’s subtle signals and tend to each table seamlessly. You’ll never be asked by one, and then the other, if you want more wine. Ladies receive a small bench on which to rest their handbag, and a rose at meal’s end. Servers are solicitous, polished, professional yet friendly.”
Hemingway’s at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress. “The service team is accommodating, personable and, most of all, knowledgeable.”

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BEST SERVICE, AFFORDABLE

International House of Pancakes on Lee Road. “Awesome pancakes, marvelous omelets, orders taken quickly and accurately, friendly and kind staff and super follow-up once food is delivered.”
Also Mentioned
K Restaurant. “The menu is constantly changing and the wait staff keeps up with the latest. They’re all knowledgeable about the wine and beer, and work incredibly well together as a team.”
Beaches & Cream Soda Shop. “They’re mighty warm and friendly at this Disney restaurant, where the servers tend to be Grandma types.”
Eden Bar. “The folks at the bar outside the Enzian movie theater make you feel like a regular, even if you’ve never been there before.”

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BEST SMALL PLATES

Hawkers Asian Street Fare. “From Malaysian-style curry noodles to roast duck tacos, Hawkers will let you travel to the foodie havens of Asia without leaving Mills Avenue. You’ll love sharing, family style. And many dishes are priced under $7.”
Also Mentioned
The Tasting Room. “There’s so much to choose from. Plus it’s such a unique atmosphere, like you’re sitting in the old saloon from Gunsmoke, although they probably didn’t serve duck fat fries or mini beef Wellingtons in Dodge City.”
Sushi Pop. “They use molecular gastronomy, interesting ingredients and sheer ingenuity to put together fascinating, flavorful small plates meant for sharing.”
Dragonfly. “If you want a chic décor and beautiful people mixed in with your Asian bites, this is the place to be.”

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BEST THEME PARK RESTAURANTS

Sunshine Seasons at Epcot. “A fast-food restaurant with a large selection of really good, affordably priced meals, some made with produce grown in the Land Pavilion. You can get a really satisfying salmon lunch, or noodle bowl, for about $10.”
Also Mentioned
Rocket Garden Café at Kennedy Space Center. “Here’s a shout out to a new eatery at an attraction that’s not often top of mind. Order at the counter and feast on smoky, spicy empanadas, creamy cheesecake bites and other seriously good dishes served on real china within view of the center’s collection of long-grounded rockets.”
Tangierine Café at Epcot. “This fast-food restaurant in the Morocco Pavilion has a great vegetable platter with hummus, tabouleh, couscous salad, lentil salad and marinated olives. It’s delicious, quick and healthy – and only $11.”
Sleepy Hollow at Disney’s Magic Kingdom. “I really enjoy the sweet and spicy chicken and waffle here. It’s made with a lightly fried chicken breast that’s slightly tangy, sweet, and crispy with a touch of black pepper and nicely garnished with some slaw and arugula, stuffed inside a pillow-y waffle.”

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BEST OUTDOOR DINING

Hillstone Restaurant. “You can’t beat the feeling of dining with the breeze off the lake at sunset, plus the great service and always-dependable dishes.”
Also Mentioned
Rocco’s Italian Grille. “I’m fond of that quiet little patio hidden in the back.”
Hannibal Square. “Any restaurant in this gentrified district works. Sitting under the stars surrounded by beautiful old buildings on brick streets, music playing on every corner – you can’t go wrong.”
Park Avenue. “Best people-watching dining in town, by day or by night, from the restaurants along the avenue that offer sidewalk service. My personal favorite: Saturday morning breakfast, sitting at one of the tables outside at Briarpatch.”

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BEST ETHNIC

Saana at Walt Disney World. “This is where the flavors of the Spice Islands are served in a family-friendly, attractive dining room, and views of the savannah allow glimpses of exotic African animals.”
Also Mentioned
Bosphorous Turkish Cuisine. “Try the Doner Kebab and the Iskender Kebab.”
Ming’s Bistro.“Try the pan-fried noodles with pork. They have hanging pork and ducks; great dim sum every day; noodles and hot pots.”

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BEST FOOD TRUCK

Big Wheel Provisions. “Chef-owner Tony Adams locally sources all his ingredients and makes hearty, intriguing creations, such as short rib-bacon rillettes and six-cheese French onion grilled cheese; crispy double-cooked braised pork torchon with pickled ramps, whole grain mustard, roasted bosc pear, grilled jalapeno and white Balsamic; and crispy pesto parmigiana baby artichokes.”
Also Mentioned
Gator BBQ. “Delicious burgers and fries, ribs and sometimes even gator. This is the highest-quality food truck in town.”

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BEST FOR ROMANCE

Chef’s Table at the Edgewater. “The space is tiny, the service is ultra friendly, and the lighting is dim. Plus, every guest gets a three-course meal, so couples are encouraged to linger.”
Also Mentioned
Sushi Pop. “This is a pretty adventurous place for a date night. It’ll awaken the senses. With an open kitchen to view the chefs in action, modern all-white seats and glowing light pink hues, you’ll feel the ambiance of sexy Miami while dining on some uni, Hamachi pop or a pork belly taco.”
Victoria & Albert’s at the Grand Floridian. “Are you kidding? No way this restaurant doesn’t make a list of romantic places. It’s probably the most popular place in town for celebrating anniversaries and popping the question.”
The Venetian Room at the Caribe Royale. “It’s only one of very few restaurants left that’s still quiet enough that you don’t have to yell across the table at your dinner date.”

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BEST DESSERT

Grand Marnier soufflé at The Venetian Room. “A puffy, eggy mountain of heavenly cake is finished tableside, topped off by a gracious waiter with a pour of sweet crème anglaise. You’ll be transported.”
Also Mentioned
Grown-Up S’More at The Rusty Spoon. “Somehow this mix of graham cracker, milk chocolate and marshmallow is just sweet enough, not overdone. Blissful.”
Flourless coconut-chocolate pecan cake with coconut gelato at the Bull & Bear. “Or the butterscotch pudding with housemade toffee. All of the desserts are terrific.”
Almond Pear Tart at Croissant Gourmet. “They are French. They use real butter, real sugar and real everything.”
Chocolate Soufflé at Coq Au Vin. “Order this light, eggy treat before your meal and it will be delivered, piping hot, at just the right moment.”

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BEST RETAIL BAKERY

Croissant Gourmet. “This Winter Park establishment bakes authentic and delicious French pastries, croissants and breads. The aromas tell the story of true French pastries. Get there early if you want to snag a fresh baguette. The croissants are the finest around, and the desserts are exceptional.”
Also Mentioned
Olde Hearth Bread. “Their delicious, artisanal bread is sold to countless high- end restaurants that support locally sourced food. The rest of us can buy it at the Winter Park Farmers Market on Saturdays.”
Yalaha Bakery.
“They churn out dozens of varieties of authentic (and Americanized) German and other European breads as well as a vast selection of sweets, from simple linzer tortes to black forest cakes. It’s great to have a branch in the Ivanhoe District now, so Orlandoans can pick up a loaf or three without making a day trip out of it.”

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BEST CUPCAKE

Banana Love Cupcake at 4 Rivers Smokehouse. “It’s [co-owner] John Rivers’ favorite, too. He said his secret is that he bakes the bananas in their skins to create a sweet, creamy batter.”
Also Mentioned
Red Velvet Cupcake at the Yum Yum Cupcake Food Truck.
Chocolate-Peanut Butter Cupcake at the Bluebird Bake Shop.

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BEST HAPPY HOUR

Restaurant Row in the Dr. Phillips area. “The whole district gets the nod. Fleming’s, Morton’s, Ruth’s Chris, Roy’s, Ocean Prime, Cantina Laredo and Moonfish all have great happy hours. Ocean Prime may be the best, with $6 handcrafted cocktails and decent wines by the glass plus munchies like Manhattan steamed clams, scallion latkes, bacon-bleu cheese Kobe sliders and ceviche. Moonfish, on the other hand, has steeply discounted very fresh sushi. All these places have their charms and specialties.”
Also Mentioned
Mucho Tequila and Tacos. “You just can’t miss with $2 tacos and shots.”
Dragonfly.“$6 sushi, $4 robata, $6 Japanese sliders, $6 cocktails and wines by the glass, $3 beers and some spirits.”
Blue Martini. “How’s this for a bargain? Half off all beverages 4-8 p.m. weekdays, 1-8 p.m. weekends.”

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BEST CRAFT BEER

Cask & Larder. “Ron Raike is a mad scientist in the back room – watermelon beer, ham hock beer. You name it, he’ll brew it with subtlety and skill. His Olde Southern Wit is a Belgian-style wheat beer brewed with coriander, citrus zest and fresh lime. Try beating that.”
Also Mentioned
Shipyard Brew Pub. “Try a small batch special.”  
Redlight Redlight Beer Parlour. “Two hundred bottles of beer on the wall. I’m not singing. I’m counting. That’s literally how big their selection is.”
Oblivion Taproom.“Don’t know about you, but I’m a sucker for pool, darts, and $1 off stouts on Sunday. Good times. Good times.”

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BEST WINE LIST

Luma on Park. “It’s easy to read. It’s not stuffy. They offer a variety of wines from around the world at a darn good price point, and they’re knowledgeable and are always eager to bring you a taste first.”
Also Mentioned
Christner’s Del Frisco’s Prime Steak & Lobster. “There are more than 6,500 wines in the cellar, so surely there’s a just-right bottle for every table.”
Emeril’s Orlando. “They’ve always taken their wine seriously, and frequently earn Wine Spectator excellence awards. The second floor holds a 10,000-bottle wine gallery.”

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BEST HANDCRAFTED COCKTAILS

Negronis at Prato and Blue Martinis at the Blue Martini Lounge. “At Prato, the vermouth is made in house, and the limoncello and amaretto are conjured up by the bar staff, too. A few really special, often seasonal, cocktails are on the menu every night. The Blue Martinis win every time, if only for the olives. They’re as big as golf balls. Actually, they could qualify for the ‘Best Appetizers’ category.”

Prato’s Negroni, Best Handcrafted Cocktail.
Also Mentioned
In this category, the judges seemed as enamored with a pair of bartenders as they were with any of the delectable drinks they serve. So, in a departure from form, they singled out two individuals and suggested that anything these master mixologists concoct will be well worth sipping.
Larry Foor at Cask & Larder. “Larry’s drinks are sippable works of art – but the pristine ingredients are what make them really shine. His purées, infusions and syrups are made fresh and change with the seasons.”
Jeremy Crittenden at Luma on Park. “Jeremy consistently creates the perfectly balanced concoction. The Limelight was our all-time favorite, although it’s not on the menu right now. But if there are pink peppercorns to be found, he’ll whip one up.” 

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2012 Readers’ Choice Awards

Your vote counts too! Orlando Home & Leisure’s Reader’s Choice survey, sent via email, generated more than 1,000 enthusiastic responses. Here are your picks for your favorite dining places in the following categories:

New Establishment
1. Cask & Larder
2. Prato
3. Francesco’s Ristorante & Pizzeria

Breakfast
1. First Watch (multiple locations)
2. Villa de Flora
3. KeKe’s

Late Night
1. Bananas
2. Pom Pom’s

Wine List
1. Victoria & Albert’s
2. Everglades
3. Luma on Park/Seasons 52

Dessert
1. Raglan Road Irish Pub
2. Dessert Lady
3. Everglades

Service
1. Chef’s Table at the Edgewater
2. Citricos
3. Victoria & Albert’s

Server
1. Tie: Victor Ayoub, Christner’s Del Frisco’s / Rocky Mazza, K Restaurant
3. Michelle Rumpler, Jiko

Chef
1. Nathaniel Russell, Cafe de France
2. Scott Hunnel, Victoria & Albert’s
3. Tie: Brandon McGlamery, Luma on Park / Kevin Tarter, Chef’s Table at the Edgewater

Take Out
1. Cocina 214
2. 4 Rivers Smokehouse
3. Tie: Outback Steakhouse / Red’s Deli

Appetizer
1. Guacamole at Cocina 214
2. Mushroom gruyère tort at Chef’s Table at the Edgewater
3. Watermelon and pistachio-crusted goat cheese at Everglades

Cocktail
1. Pop Rocks Rita Margarita at Cocina 214
2. Harvest Sidecar at Chef’s Table at the Edgewater
3. Organic Margarita at 98Forty Tapas & Tequila

Beer
1. World of Beer
2. Cask & Larder
3. Oblivion Taproom

Deli
1. TwoJays (multiple locations)
2. Publix (multiple locations)
3. Jason’s (multiple locations)

Pizza
1. Winter Garden Pizza Co.
2. Mellow Mushroom
3. Prato

Burger
1. 5 Guys Burgers & Fries (multiple locations)
2. Graffiti Junktion  (multiple locations)
3. Ravenous Pig

Buffet
1. Villa de Flora
2. Mission Inn
3. Café Gauguin

Coffee
1. Starbucks (multiple locations)
2. Smooth Java
3. Dunkin’ Donuts (multiple locations)

Sushi
1. Amura
2. Seito Sushi
3. Tie: Sushi Pop / Shari Sushi

Happy Hour
1. Cocina 214
2. The Tasting Room
3. Vineyard Wine Company

Date Place
1. Cocina 214
2. Chef’s Table at the Edgewater
3. Vineyard Wine Company

Family Place
1. Cocina 214
2. Winter Garden Pizza
3. Vineyard Wine Company

African
1. Jiko
2. Boma
3. Sanaa

American
1. Citricos
2. Seasons 52
3. Chef’s Table at the Edgewater

BBQ
1. 4 Rivers Smokehouse
2. Bubbalou’s
3. Harry & Larry’s Bar-B-Que

Brazilian
1. Texas de Brazil
2. Nelore
3. Fogo de Chao

Carribean
1. Bahama Breeze
2. Caribbean Sunshine
3. Shutters at Old Port Royale

Chinese
1. Hawkers
2. Ming Court
3. Winnie’s

Creole
1. Tibby’s
2. Emeril’s
3. King Cajun

Cuban
1. Black Bean Cafe
2. Padrino’s
3. Troy’s

French
1. Cafe de France
2. Le Coq au Vin
3. Chez Vincent

German
1. Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Café
2. Yalaha German Bakery
3. Beirgarten at Epcot

Greek
1. Taverna Opa
2. Tie: Greek Corner / Mykonos

Indian
1. Memories of India
2. Passage to India
3. Woodlands

Irish
1. Fiddler’s Green
2. Hagan O’Reilly’s
3. Liam Fitzpatrick

Italian
1. Prato
2. Antonio’s (multiple locations)
3. La Luce

Japanese
1. Kobe (multiple locations)
2. Amura
3. Seito

Korean
1. Korean BBQ Taco Box truck
2. Bee Won
3. Tie: Shin Jung / Sushi Lola’s / Korea House

Mexican
1. Cocina 214
2. Tacquitos Jalisco
3. Tie: Agave Azul / Tijuana Flats (multiple locations)

Middle Eastern
1. Cedars
2. Bosphorous
3. Tony’s Deli

Seafood
1. Bonefish Grill (multiple locations)
2. Mitchell’s Fish Market
3. Tie: Everglades / Boston’s Fish House

Steakhouse
1. Christner’s Del Frisco’s Prime Steak & Lobster
2. Ruth’s Chris
3. Spencer’s

Thai
1. Thai House
2. Tie: Thai Blossom / Soong Thai

Vegetarian
1. Ethos
2. Dandelion
3. Infusion Tea

Vietnamese
1. Little Saigon
2. Pho 88
3. Viet Garden