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Silver Spoon Awards 2013

WHERE SHOULD YOU EAT NEXT? OH, DO WE HAVE IDEAS FOR YOU.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BEST NEW RESTAURANT

BEST REINVENTED RESTAURANT

BEST NEIGHBORHOOD EATERIES


WINTER PARK


COLLEGE PARK


MILLS/50


RESTAURANT ROW


DOWNTOWN ORLANDO


NEAR UCF

AUDUBON PARK GARDEN DISTRICT   

MILK DISTRICT

THORNTON PARK

MAITLAND

WEST ORANGE

 


BEST DISH, HIGH-END

BEST DISH, AFFORDABLE

BEST NEW CHEF

BEST VETERAN CHEF

BEST STEAKHOUSE

BEST SUSHI

BEST FRENCH FRIES

BEST SEAFOOD

BEST FARM-TO-TABLE

BEST WINE LIST

BEST FRIENDLY FACE

BEST SERVICE, HIGH-END

BEST SERVICE, AFFORDABLE

BEST SMALL PLATES

BEST OUTDOOR DINING

BEST CHINESE

BEST VIETNAMESE

BEST THAI

BEST INDIAN

BEST MIDDLE EASTERN

BEST ITALIAN

BEST FOOD TRUCK

BEST FOR ROMANCE

BEST DESSERT

BEST RETAIL BAKERY

BEST HAPPY HOUR FOR FOOD

BEST CRAFT BEER SELECTION

BEST DÉCOR

BEST HOTEL OR RESORT
RESTAURANT, HIGH-END

BEST HOTEL OR RESORT
RESTAURANT, MODERATE

BEST THEME PARK
RESTAURANT, HIGH-END

BEST THEME PARK
RESTAURANT, MODERATE

BEST THEME PARK
RESTAURANT, QUICK BITE

READER'S CHOICE

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

BEST DINING EXPERIENCE
THAT ORLANDO LACKS

JUDGES

by Rona Gindin • photographs by Rafael Tongol

Ordinarily, we draft a panel of experts to determine our annual Silver Spoon awards, which recognize excellence in cuisine and service among local dining establishments.This year, however, we cooked up something different.

Our panel consisted of what we like to call “civilians.” We found nine extremely well-versed Central Florida residents whose hobby is dining out, though “hobby” is putting it mildly.

They spend their spare hours and dollars sampling pastas, steaks, tacos and cakes at restaurant tables from Winter Garden to Winter Springs. They know their food, from Korean tacos to caviar. They told us about their faves with passion. We reviewed their commentaries, tallied their votes and — ta-da! — our 2013 Silver Spoon winners list was ready to serve up. (For the judges’ identities and bios, click here.)

The favorites, we’re compelled to add, were wildly diverse. We did hear plenty about the usual headliners such as The Ravenous Pig, Luma on Park and Victoria & Albert’s. But these wide-ranging flavor-followers might park their hungry tushes at the local Chinese place one day, a new, highly themed Disney World restaurant the next.

Their collective wisdom is yet another testament to the expanse of gustatory options in Central Florida. (Though, as you will see, they were only too happy to weigh in about the region’s limitations, as well.)

We pared down the punctuation, but be aware that our judges were an enthusiastic lot, whose recommendations filled our in-boxes with quite a few fervent CAPITALIZATIONS and a flurry of downright convincing quadruple !!!!s. And so, as our judges might say, “ENJOY!!!!!”

BEST NEW RESTAURANT

Cocktails reminiscent of the Prohibition era helped propel Pharmacy to Best New Restaurant status.

Pharmacy
Restaurant Row’s New American speakeasy/rustic chic restaurant takes the prize for its deceptively simple-seeming small plates and entrées, plus Prohibition Era-style cocktails. “It’s the closest thing we have to a NYC Lower East Side establishment,” said one judge. Read a review of Pharmacy in the October issue here.
ALSO MENTIONED: Hamilton’s Kitchen; Santiago’s Bodega; Be Our Guest; Carmel Café & Wine Bar

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BEST REINVENTED RESTAURANT

 

California Grill
A refreshing, Mad Men-esque dining room, a creative California-style menu and added outdoor space for watching the Magic Kingdom fireworks made  this Disney World eatery a near-unanimous choice among our panelists.
ALSO MENTIONED: Monsieur Paul

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BEST NEIGHBORHOOD EATERIES

WINTER PARK
Luma on Park
“Luma set the bar long ago, and is still the best,” was how one judge summed it up. “The food is always consistent, creative, seasonally fresh and prepared to perfection.” Said another: “The wait staff is knowledgeable, and there’s not a bad seat in the house,” including the chef’s table.
ALSO MENTIONED: The Ravenous Pig; Prato; Café de France; mi Tomatina Paella Bar

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COLLEGE PARK

Chef-owner Kevin Fonzo - K Restaurant.

K Restaurant
“Homey yet hip,” “consistently delicious,” “comfortable and inventive,” “friendly and knowledgeable.” So went the judges’ plaudits for a place offering upscale, eclectic meals in a welcoming old house with a wraparound porch and backyard garden.
ALSO MENTIONED: Infusion Tea; Adriatico Trattoria Italiana

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MILLS/50
Santiago’s Bodega
Virginia Avenue is home to this newcomer, which specializes in broad-ranging tapas offerings and “is already packed regularly,” as one judge noted. And packed with a diverse crowd: “The bar side has beautiful young people drinking martinis. In the dining room, middle-aged folks sip sangria and feast on all kinds of small plates.”
ALSO MENTIONED: Hawkers Asian Street Fare; Ánh Hông; Da Lan; King Cajun Crawfish; White Wolf Café

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RESTAURANT ROW (Tie)
Peperoncino
Few local Italian restaurants can equal the authenticity you’ll find at Peperoncino, with its delicious dishes and its setting in atmospheric Dellagio Plaza. This smallish eatery drew raves for its menu: “It changes every day, and all the food is made from scratch.”

With its stone walls and cozy booths, the Hawaiian-fusion Roy’s tied for first place as Best Restaurant on Restaurant Row.

Roy’s Wagyu beef sliders helped the restaurant tie for Best Happy Hour Food.

Roy’s
The Hawaiian-fusion cuisine of this destination restaurant earned kudos for “flavors of the islands, beautifully presented,” which will “transport you far from the concrete jungle that lies outside.” Noted one judge: “The staff will treat you like family, and the mai tais are not to be missed.”
ALSO MENTIONED: Chatham’s Place; Pammie’s Sammies; Ocean Prime; Seasons 52

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DOWNTOWN ORLANDO
The Rusty Spoon
This cozy gastropub, which offers European-influenced American cuisine, was crowned No. 1 because of its fresh, well-prepared food that “never disappoints,” with a vibe that’s “tasteful and simple” and “big city yet still cozy.”
ALSO MENTIONED: Kres Chophouse; Citrus

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NEAR UCF

Sushi Pop
“What a fun, fun place!” said one judge. “The sushi is wildly creative and so amazingly full of umami.” The wait staff, all agreed, is colorfully entertaining, “and you get to watch Japanese cartoons while you’re eating.” Bonus: there’s a “super-cool hibachi.”
ALSO MENTIONED: Maria Bonita; Jimmy Hula’s; Lazy Moon

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AUDUBON PARK GARDEN DISTRICT

Blue Bird Bake Shop
Cupcakes, baked fresh daily in small batches, may not really be a meal. But don’t tell our judges that. Cupcakes, brownies, cookies, scones, muffins and other bakery fare — with a house-branded cup of Top Hat Coffee — is plenty, sometimes. “It’s not a meal, but it can be,” said one judge. Added another: “When someone is doing something this good, he or she deserves a prize.”
ALSO MENTIONED: Rainbow Sno-Cones

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MILK DISTRICT
Pom Pom’s Teahouse & Sandwicheria
Judges love the “gourmet sandwiches with great karma.” Specifically, the Seasonal Berry Melt with berries, brie, onions and spicy honey mustard will “leave you with a good feeling.” In other words, namaste and bon apétit.
ALSO MENTIONED: Il Pescatora; Beefy King

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THORNTON PARK
Dexter’s
After years of accolades, this venerable Thornton Park hangout remains as popular as ever. “I always feel at home here, where a nice beer, a bowl of sweet-potato chips and some creative oversized entrée makes a tasty and reasonably priced dinner in a relaxed atmosphere,” said one judge.
ALSO MENTIONED: Shari Sushi; Dandelion Communitea Cafe

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MAITLAND
Francesco’s Ristorante and Pizzeria
It may look like “your typical neighborhood Italian restaurant,” yet it’s a cut above, according to the judges, thanks to a chef who prepares “good, layered, flavored authentic Italian.” Bonus: The “delicious” chicken parmigiana is only $12.50.
ALSO MENTIONED: Lee’s Palace; Ravalia’s Pasta Bar

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WEST ORANGE
Chef’s Table at The Edgewater Hotel
Located in quaint downtown Winter Garden, this decidedly darling eatery, with its prix fixe three-course menus, is “a cozy, romantic step back in time when hospitality was just as important as the meal,” said one judge. Other judges appreciate the fact that “Chef Kevin Tarter will drop by your table.”
ALSO MENTIONED: Yellow Dog Eats; The Tasting Room; House Blend Café

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BEST DISH, HIGH-END

Copper River King Salmon,  Artist Point
This themed restaurant at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge celebrates the culinary heritage of the Pacific Northwest with its signature salmon entrée. “People plan their vacations around this dish,” as one judge pointed out. It’s available seasonally.
ALSO MENTIONED: Seafood cioppino at Deep Blu Seafood Grille; Reconstructed lasagna at The Rusty Spoon

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BEST DISH, AFFORDABLE

Brooklyn Water Bagels
Some of our judges have had their fill — figuratively and literally — of supermarket bagels. Now, however, they’ve found a suitable alternative: “New York bagels (really!) without the flight and hotel. Now that’s affordable!”
ALSO MENTIONED: Fried chicken and waffles at Hash House A Go Go; Squid with spicy pepper and salt at Lam’s Garden; Pad Thai at Tasty Thai Cuisine; Country ham mac ‘n’ cheese at Hamilton’s Kitchen; Grilled artichokes at Hillstone

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BEST NEW CHEF

Christopher Windus, Hamilton’s Kitchen
“It’s the extra added little touches that make his dishes stand apart,” said one judge, citing as an example the datil sauce served with his “delightful” shrimp and grits. Technically, Windus isn’t a “new” chef — he spent 10 years as executive chef of Todd English’s blue-
zoo at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel — but he is new to the Alfond Inn’s Old Florida-themed eatery.
ALSO MENTIONED: Loren Falson at Pharmacy and The Table Orlando

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BEST VETERAN CHEF

Chef-owner Kathleen Blake was named Best Veteran Chef.

Kathleen Blake, The Rusty Spoon
There is an embarrassment of culinary riches in this category, but the judges settle on Blake because, as one put it, “she was farm-to-table before it was cool.”
ALSO MENTIONED: Scott Hunnel at Victoria & Albert’s; James and Julie Petrakis at The Ravenous Pig and Cask & Larder; Brandon McGlamery at Luma on Park and Prato; Norman Van Aken at Norman’s; Khalid Benghallem at The Venetian Room; Kevin Tarter at Chef’s Table at The Edgewater Hotel

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BEST STEAKHOUSE

Christner’s Prime Steak & Lobster
Formerly Del Frisco’s, this Winter Park institution has a faithful following. “The atmosphere may be a little dated, but maybe that’s part of the charm,” said one judge. Another judge was unequivocal: “It serves the best steak dinner there is. Onion rings, house salad, filet with chauteau potatoes and a nice drink. There’s almost never room for dessert, but there’s always next time.”
ALSO MENTIONED: Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar; Morton’s The Steakhouse; The Capital Grille; Kres Chophouse; Linda’s La Cantina

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BEST SUSHI

Nagoya Sushi
One man’s bait? Don’t roll out that old cliché in front of our judges, who awarded the gold ring to this small sushi bar, with locations in Dr. Phillips and Winter Springs. The sushi here, they say, is rolled into beautiful works of art, delighting both the eye and the palette.
ALSO MENTIONED: Shin; Hanamizuki; Shari Sushi; Sushi Pop; Amura

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BEST FRENCH FRIES

Multiple Winners
Although no one mentioned McDonald’s, clearly our judges do, in fact, “want fries with that” at their favorite restaurants. The pimento cheese fries with pickled gypsy peppers at Cask & Larder were singled out, as were the garlic basil gruyere fries at The Fry Bar at the Winter Park Farmers’ Market. The old-school fries at humble Hot Dog Heaven were lauded as “crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, with a special salt that is very lightly flavored.” The hand-cut fries at The Rusty Spoon were favored in part because they come with “two dipping sauces, in case you don’t get enough calories from just the fries.” And as if there weren’t enough spud-centric selections, the truffle fries at Luma on Park were also roundly praised.

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BEST SEAFOOD

Ocean Prime
Orlando isn’t so landlocked that you can’t find delicious, fresh seafood. And our judges say it’s hard to beat Ocean Prime, a supper-club style restaurant that also specializes in steak. “All entrées are very high quality, but the Chilean sea bass stands out because of the champagne truffle sauce,” said one judge. The same judge also lauded the pre-dinner cocktails, and said the “most refreshing” is the cucumber gimlet.
ALSO MENTIONED: Lee & Rick’s Oyster Bar; Deep Blu Seafood Grille; Winter Park Fish Co.

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BEST FARM-TO-TABLE

The Rusty Spoon
Farm-to-table dining is a rapidly spreading trend in the culinary world, and has many adherents locally. But for our judges’ money, this selection was easy. “No discussion!” said one, pointing out that chef-owner Kathleen Blake has “created relationships with farms to grow and raise food for her restaurant.”
ALSO MENTIONED: Dandelion Communitea Cafe; Cask & Larder; alFresco’s; Fresh; K Restaurant, The Smiling Bison

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BEST WINE LIST

Luma on Park
This category also boasted many contenders, but ultimately Luma on Park stood out because it offers “a variety of spectacular wines from around the world, at every price point.” Plus, noted one judge, “if you don’t know what you’d like, the wait staff is well trained to help.”
ALSO MENTIONED: Capital Grille; Eola Wine Company; Carmel Café & Wine Bar

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BEST FRIENDLY FACE

Andy Riddle, The Ravenous Pig
Riddle was described as a “very personable bartender” who not only advises his customers on remodeling but also has a “loyal customer base, which has followed him from the Flying Fish to Seasons 52 to The Ravenous Pig.”
ALSO MENTIONED: Chris Pruitt, Luma on Park; Karen Jemison, K

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BEST SERVICE, HIGH-END

Multiple Winners
Capital Grille tallied up plenty of points for service. “It’s one of the few restaurants I’ve eaten in five-plus times and never been disappointed in,” said one judge. But others felt just as strongly about AAA Five Diamond Victoria & Albert’s, The Venetian Room and Le Coq Au Vin, which charmed the judges with their polished “old-school” style.

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BEST SERVICE, AFFORDABLE

Multiple Winners
Hillstone, which “prides itself” on its tableside manner, was a judges’ favorite in this category. Also earning praise was IHOP — specifically the location on Lee Road — “because they are quick, accurate and supremely friendly,” as well as The Ravenous Pig, K Restaurant, Café de France and Tasty Thai Cuisine.

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BEST SMALL-PLATES

Multiple Winners
Three-way deadlock! Our judges couldn’t choose between Santiago’s Bodega (“Every dish I’ve had here has been scrumptious, and the atmosphere is lively and friendly”); mi Tomatina Paella Bar (“I love the traditional and creative Spanish tapas); and The Tasting Room (“There’s an ever-changing menu offering a variety of small plates”).
ALSO MENTIONED: Le Rouge Wine Bar; Hawkers Asian Street Fare; Carmel Café & Wine Bar

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BEST OUTDOOR DINING

Multiple Winners
It seems our judges dine alfresco for different reasons. Two prefer Hillstone, located on Lake Killarnery, “for the combination of the food and view” and because “the lake sunset is just magical.” For just the view, another opted for Spice Modern Steakhouse on iconic Lake Eola in downtown Orlando. For “amazing people watching,” it’s 310 Park South, while a “real city” feel” is available at Armando’s in Hannibal Square, where “you can hear the music from neighboring establishments” while dining “under the moonlit sky.”
ALSO MENTIONED: Rocco’s Tacos & Tequila Bar; Urban Flats; The Greek Corner

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BEST CHINESE

Chuan Lu Garden
Chuan Lu “offers just what we chiliheads have been searching for — wonderful Szechuan dishes seasoned with the right amount of heat to burn, in a euphoric kind of way,” said one judge. “It has a huge menu with something for everyone, even wimps.”
ALSO MENTIONED: Lam’s Garden; Tasty Wok; Winnie’s Oriental Garden; U & Me; Magic Wok; Lee’s Palace

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BEST VIETNAMESE

Ánh Hông
Every Vietnamese restaurant has its specialty and a variety of eateries, in the ViMi District and elsewhere, earned kudos from our judges. A consensus finally developed around Ánh Hông, which was praised for its “wallet-friendly, flavor-packed” foods like Vietnamese carpaccio, noodle soups and make-your-own summer rolls.
ALSO MENTIONED: Da Lan; Viet Garden; Pho Hoa; Pho Vinh

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BEST THAI

Tasty Thai Cuisine
This family-owned eatery offers some of Orlando’s most authentic Pan-Asian cuisine, including massaman curry, pad thai and tom kha gai coconut milk soup. The judges like the fact that they can order “truly hot Thai food,” especially “red curry chicken to die for.”
ALSO MENTIONED: NaraDeva; Sea Thai

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BEST INDIAN

Memories of India
Start with the assorted appetizer platter, then have the chicken saagwala, the lamb vindaloo or the spinach-cheese paneer at Memories of India, which has been “scratch-preparing aromatic specialties for many years.”
ALSO MENTIONED: Tabla Bar & Grill; Tamarind

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BEST MIDDLE EASTERN

Bosphorous
Fun fact! The Bosphorus, also referred to as the Istanbul Strait, forms the boundary between Europe and Asia. This particular Bosphorous is much more accessible, located on Park Avenue in Winter Park and in the Dr. Phillips Marketplace. There, lovers of exotic cuisine enjoy oversized lavash and praise the “great food and great ambiance.”
ALSO MENTIONED: Aladdin’s Cafe; Cedar’s; Pasha Taverna & Lounge

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BEST ITALIAN

Rocco’s Italian Grille tied for Best Italian Restaurant.

Multiple Winners
Rocco’s Italian Grille & Bar and Peperoncino were “neck in neck,” said one judge. “Both offer beautiful authentic family recipes with plenty of heart and soul.” Rocco’s food is “fresh and deliciously prepared,” added another, who recommended the beef tenderloin with gorgonzola and the gnocchi. Peperoncino’s food, the judges agreed, is “creative” and “finely crafted with love.” Enzo’s on the Lake is “singular for its high-quality food, romantic atmosphere and pretty lake view,” while at Prato you’ll always find “amazing, handmade, interesting, surprising, enlightening pastas.”
ALSO MENTIONED: Ariatico Trattoria Italiana, Il Pescatore.

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BEST FOOD TRUCK

Gator Country BBQ
One of our judges abstained from voting in this category, exclaiming: “OMG — like I eat out of a truck!” The rest, apparently, do. “One of the few trucks that isn’t a gimmick,” said another judge regarding the winning four-wheeler. “This truck has the best food I’ve eaten — amazing burgers, cool gator bites, and a little bit of everything else.”
ALSO MENTIONED: Korean BBQ Taco Box

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BEST FOR ROMANCE

Multiple Winners
It seems our food-fiends take their tête-à-têtes to different tables all over town. One gets in the mood at Chatham’s Place, another at a “dark and moody back table” at Kres Chophouse. Yet another swears by Enzo’s on the Lake, saying: “I can’t think of a prettier site or a more delicious meal for the big proposal, a date night or a couples night out.” But this category would be incomplete without a tip of the hat to über-fine-dining favorite Victoria & Albert’s.
ALSO MENTIONED: Chef’s Table at the Edgewater Hotel; The Venetian Room; Luma on Park

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BEST DESSERT

The Rusty Spoon got kudos as Best Farm-to-Table Restaurant and Best Downtown Orlando Restaurant. In addition, its Grown-Up s’more was among the Best Dessert winners.

Multiple Winners
How sweet they are! La Luce’s butterscotch pudding is “so good, it has its own Facebook page,” one judge pointed out. Other delightful delicacies recommended by the judges were Nelore Churrascaria’s Brigadiero, Peterbrooke Chocolatier’s Refrigerator truffles, The Rusty Spoon’s Grown-up s’more, and Hamilton Kitchen’s Bourbon caramel sundae, described as “decadent, luscious sin in a glass.”

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BEST RETAIL BAKERY (TIE)

Sister Honey’s
As one judge put it, Sister Honey’s baked goods are “yum covered with an icing of yum, filled with gooey rich yumminess.”

Croissant Gourmet
The judges were, not surprisingly, especially partial to Croissant Gourmet’s croissants, as well as its blueberry tarts and aptly named Wonderful Chocolate.
ALSO MENTIONED: Yalaha Bakery; Charlie’s Bakery; Blue Bird Bake Shop

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BEST HAPPY HOUR FOR FOOD

Multiple Winners
Let’s just say our judges were surprisingly well-versed on happy-hour food and speculate no further. Ruth’s Chris Steak House was praised for its “great prices, cool foods,” while Roy’s won acclaim for its “$6 Wagyu beef sliders, lobster potstickers, spicy tuna roll, shrimp rolls and short rib tacos, all ridiculously delicious.” And don’t forget Carmel Café & Wine Bar’s chickpea fries, which one judge described as “sooooo good.”
ALSO MENTIONED: Shari Sushi; Ocean Prime; Fishbones

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BEST CRAFT BEER SELECTION

Cask & Larder
Ron Raike, who has more than 20 years of beer-making experience, is one of just a handful of brewmasters statewide to complete the Cicerone Certification Program (a Cicerone is like a sommelier, except for beer). So it’s no wonder that his employer, Cask & Larder, earned praise from the judges for its combination of house brews and choice outsiders brought in from boutique producers.
ALSO MENTIONED: Red Eye Bar and Grill; Jax 5th Avenue Deli & Ale House; Imperial Wine Bar & Beer Garden

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BEST DÉCOR

Multiple Winners
Our judges enjoy good food, but they generally prefer to enjoy it in a well-designed setting. Hannibal’s on the Square was deemed “fancy, modern and interesting;” Norman’s was described as “the prettiest, most sophisticated and understatedly elegant restaurant in Orlando,” while Deep Blu Seafood Grille was called “hip yet elegant, a perfect balance of soothing hues, exciting accents, perfect lighting and comfortable seats.”

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BEST HOTEL OR RESORT
RESTAURANT, HIGH-END (TIE)

Victoria & Albert’s at Disney’s Grand Floridian
“Of course” V&A topped this category (albeit with a co-winner this year). The elegant ambiance and the Modern American cuisine (despite the European implication of the name) has earned it AAA’s Five Diamond Award, the only Orlando restaurant to be so designated.

The Venetian Room at the Caribe Royale Hotel
Just one AAA diamond behind V&A but every bit its equal in the hearts of some of our judges, this romantic restaurant, known for its classically continental cuisine (despite the Italian implication of the name), is celebrating its 10th anniversary.
ALSO MENTIONED: Emeril’s Tchop Chop at the Royal Pacific Resort; BiCE at the Portofino Bay Hotel

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BEST HOTEL OR RESORT
RESTAURANT, MODERATE

Boma at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
You don’t care for buffets? Give this one a try, say the judges. The food, which features a variety of meats, fish and vegetarian items based on African dishes, is “adventurous and flavorful.”
ALSO MENTIONED: The Bösendorfer Lounge at the Grand Bohemian; Sanaa at Disney’s Animal Kingdom; Mama Della’s at the Portofino Bay Hotel

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BEST THEME PARK
RESTAURANT, HIGH-END

 

Monsieur Paul’s black truffle soup earned Chef Paul Bocuse the medal of Commandeur de la Légion d’Honneur in 1975 at the presidential dinner at the Elysée Palace.

Red snapper in potato scales with rosemary sauce.

Chef Francesco Santin, who has worked alongside the restaurant’s namesake, Paul Bocuse.

Epcot’s Monsieur Paul, which was redesigned for a more relaxed look than that of its somewhat stuffy predecessor, Bistro de Paris.

Manager Philippe Girard.

Monsieur Paul at Epcot
One judge paid this theme-park restaurant perhaps the highest possible compliment: “The French wait staff will make you think you’re not in a theme park.” Added another: “The food is awesome and, if you’re lucky, you’ll snag a window seat to watch the fireworks.”
ALSO MENTIONED: Emeril’s Orlando at Universal Studios

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BEST THEME PARK
RESTAURANT, MODERATE

Sharks Underwater Grille at Sea World
If sharks don’t make you nervous — you’ll be dining right next to a huge tank swimming with them — then the judges say you’ll enjoy this nautically themed eatery, especially if you bring the kids along. With a setting like this, the food doesn’t have to be anything special — and yet, according to the judges, it is.
ALSO MENTIONED: Mama Melrose’s at Disney’s Hollywood Studios; The Crystal Palace at Walt Disney World

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BEST THEME PARK
RESTAURANT, QUICK BITE

Multiple Winners
When our judges are schlepping family around Epcot and don’t have time for a leisurely sit-down meal, they head for the Yorkshire County Fish Shop, particularly for its “crunchy fish and chips.” Plus they recommend “any food from the booths at the Epcot Food & Wine Festival, especially the escargot in France, which provide “the best three quick bites ever.”

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BEST DINING EXPERIENCE THAT ORLANDO LACKS

Not to end on a downer, but we owed it to our civilian foodies to give them a chance to vent about what they can’t find in this town. Here’s a selection of what they’d like to find in their Christmas stockings:

“A place that serves great huevos rancheros.”

“A spot like Caviar Russe in NYC with top chef-type caviar–infused foods with champagne offerings pages long.”

“Supper clubs like the old Pinkie Lee’s, where you can get not only an incredible meal but also world-class entertainment.”

“French bistros like Balthazar, casual restaurants with adventurous cuisine like Alder, and [cutting edge] Asian restaurants similar to Momofuku in NYC.”

“We don’t have even one really amazing American bakery with artisan breads, cookies and cakes.”

“New restaurants that are original rather than copies of food styles that originated in other cities.”

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2013 Readers’ Choice Awards

Your vote counts, too! Orlando Life’s Readers’ Choice survey, sent via email and posted online, gave you a chance to dish out your opinions. Here are your picks for your favorite dining places in the following categories:

New Establishment
1. Carmel Café & Wine Bar
2. Pharmacy
3. RusTeak

Breakfast
1. First Watch (multiple locations)
2. KeKe’s Breakfast Café (multiple locations)
3. Cracker Barrel (multiple locations)

Late Night Place
1. Raglan Road
2. Urban Flats (multiple locations)
3. Maxine’s on Shine

Wine List
1. The Venetian Room
2. Victoria & Albert’s
3. Luma on Park

Dessert
1. Dessert Lady
2. Seasons 52
3. Le Coq Au Vin

Service
1. Victoria & Albert’s
2. The Venetian Room
3. Café de France

Server
1. Shaun Jones, Victoria & Albert’s
2. Kelcy Ward, Prato
3. Matthew Schwemmer, Café de France

Chef
1. Brandon McGlamery, Luma on Park, Prato
2. Scott Hunnel, Victoria & Albert’s
3. Nathaniel Russell, Café de France

Appetizer
1. Tasting Room at Chef’s Table
2. Café de France
3. Cítricos

Cocktail
1. White Linen at Luma on Park
2. Manhattan Fizz at Pharmacy
3. Watermelon Granita at Carmel Café & Wine Bar

Beer
1. World of Beer (multiple locations)
2. Cask & Larder
3. Moon Cricket Grille

Deli
1. TooJay’s (multiple locations)
2. Publix (multiple locations)
3. Cavallari Gourmet

Pizza
1. Mellow Mushroom (multiple locations)
2. Flippers Pizzeria (multiple locations)
3. Anthony’s Pizza

Burger
1. Five Guys (multiple locations)
2. Graffiti Junktion (multiple locations)
3. BurgerFi (multiple locations)

Buffet
1. Boma
2. Sweet Tomatoes (multiple locations)
3. Fogo de Chão

Coffee
1. Starbucks (multiple locations)
2. Axum
3. Barnie’s (multiple locations)

Sushi
1. Seito (two locations)
2. Shari
3. Aji

Happy Hour
1. Carmel Café & Wine Bar
2. Urban Flats (multiple locations)
3. Big Fin Seafood Kitchen

Date Place
1. The Venetian Room
2. Maxine’s on Shine
3. Luma on Park

American
1. Seasons 52 (multiple locations)
2. Urban Flats (multiple locations)
3. California Grill

BBQ
1. 4 Rivers Smokehouse (multiple locations)
2. Sonny’s Real Pit Bar-B-Q (multiple locations)
3. Bubbalou’s Bodacious BBQ (multiple locations)

Brazilian
1. Texas de Brazil
2. Fogo de Chão
3. Nelore Churrascaria

Caribbean
1. Bahama Breeze (multiple locations)
2. Puerto Rico’s Cafe
3. Singh’s Roti

Chinese
1. Winnie’s Oriental Garden
2. Imperial Dynasty
3. Tasty Wok

Creole
1. Tibby’s New Orleans Kitchen
2. King Cajun Crawfish
3. The Big Easy

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

Cuban
1. Black Bean Deli
2. Padrino’s
3. Numero Uno

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

German
1. Hollerbach’s Willow Tree
2. Emmy’s Time Out
3. Bauern-Stube

Greek
1. Taverna Opa
2. Greek Flame Taverna
3. Athena’s Grill

Indian
1. Raga
2. Memories of India
3. Woodlands

Irish
1. Raglan Road
2. Fiddler’s Green
3. Claddagh Cottage

Italian
1. Prato
2. Buca di Beppo (multiple locations)
3. Enzo’s on the Lake

Japanese
1. Kobé (multiple locations)
2. Amura
3. Dragonfly

Korean
1. Seoul Garden
2. Korea House
3. Shin Jung

Mexican
1. Paco’s
2. Garibaldi
3. Agave Azul

Middle Eastern
1. Cedar’s
2. Bosphorous
3. Marrakesh

Seafood
1. Oceanaire Seafood Room
2. Big Fin Seafood Kitchen
3. Ocean Prime

Steakhouse
1. Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse
2. Christner’s Prime Steak & Lobster
3. The Capital Grille

Thai
1. Thai Thani (multiple locations)
2. Orchid Thai
3. Thai Blossom

Vegetarian
1. Dandelion Communitea Café  
2. Ethos Vegan Kitchen
3. Chamberlin’s Market & Café (multiple locations)

Vietnamese
1. Little Saigon
2. Ánh Hông
3. Viet Garden

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MEET THE JUDGES

Jack Biggers and Brenda Giles, retired air-traffic controllers, have been taking Orlando’s restaurants seriously ever since they married and moved to Winter Park 20 years ago. They favor food that reminds them of earlier, earthier days. “We’re both Southerners who grew up in a time when everything was ‘farm to table’ and made by ‘artisans,’” says Brenda.

April Boykin is a social worker living in Winter Garden. An ambitious home cook and avid baker, she dines out several nights a week. She’s especially keen on Greek and southern European cuisines.

John Hampton is an Orlando investment advisor who blames his passion for fine food on his father. “When I was only 4 years old, he insisted on taking me to one of the stuffiest fine-dining establishments in the country at that time, Le Bec-Fin. My mom thought it was ridiculous and was proven right when I spilled an entire glass of red wine on my father’s brand-new silk suit.”

Chele Hipp is a Winter Park homemaker and retired lawyer. “I’m a lot more selective on my restaurant fare these days,” she says. “My current favorite experience is anything with a very high Zagat food rating and a very low Zagat décor rating — supremely excellent food in humble surroundings.”

Judi Wallace, of Orlando, is a native Midwesterner, raised in a food-loving family on good beef and excellent cabernet. She spent more than a decade on the board of directors of the Alliance of Sommeliers doing wine tastings and dinners. Her travels to Europe have broadened her understanding and appreciation of varied cuisines.

Wendy Wallenberg travels internationally as a stylist and producer with minnichphoto.com. The Orlando resident grew up in Washington, D.C., where she lived in a multicultural neighborhood. “I learned to appreciate the spiciness of Indian cuisine, the comforting meat and potatoes my Irish neighbors shared, the subtle sweetness of bottom-of-the-pan burnt cherries in Persian food.”

Amy Winslow, who works at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Dr. Phillips, grew up in a family that celebrated food. Today she watches Cooking Channel shows regularly with her teenage girls. Favorite recent food experiences include a food tour of New York’s Greenwich Village and dinner at Iron Chef Alexandra Guarnaschelli’s renowned restaurant, Butter.

Herbert Woodbury, an Osceola County real-estate investor, dines out “almost every night.” A wine connoisseur partial to California cabernets, he also favors “good happy-hour deals.” When a menu isn’t in English, “I’ll often ask the chef to send out something special, or pick something unknown with the attitude that if locals can eat it, so can I.”

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