Food and DrinkBEST OF ORLANDO 2007 - FOOD AND DRINK
Best not-really-a-“dive” bar
Wally’s Mills Avenue Liquors
1001 N. Mills Ave., 407-896-6975
For years, Wally’s has been a dependable winner in our “best dive bar” category, to the point that we decided to do away with the distinction in this year's balloting. Not because the preternaturally strong drinks they pour have fallen out of favor with us; simply because Wally’s isn’t a dive. Sure, there are some interesting characters propped up on the barstools and the place’s early-morning opening hours do resonate with our seedier side. But it’s clean, safe and friendly, three things utterly uncharacteristic of a true dive. Plus, when a place is both welcoming to blue-collar/overnight workers and patient with the clueless folks who flock there to “slum it,” well, that just means it’s a good bar.
Best place to get lingonberries
Coming Fall 2007
You don’t know what lingonberries are, do you? They’re tart and red, like cranberries, and they’re popular in Sweden. You mash ’em up, mix ’em with a little sugar and you have yourself a compote. As of this fall you’ll be able to score them in Orlando at our own Ikea, the Swedish home-furnishing store/cult that’s already got hybrid drivers wetting themselves in anticipation. There will be an in-store restaurant that serves Swedish meatballs and other Scandinavian foodstuffs, including lingonberries. Might as well queue up now.
11301 S. Orange Blossom Trail, 407-856-5970
Fried tetrahedral pockets of seasoned potatoes, onions and peas are staple snack items from Mumbai to Kolkata. Here in the West, no Indian meal is complete without ordering a samosa as a starter, and the crispy numbers served at Ahmed Restaurant, a mom-and-pop outfit in the curry corridor of South OBT, just can’t be beat. Keema (ground beef) versions are also top-notch, and the side of green chutney pops your palate with a peppery wallop.
Best wacky dessert
2923 Vineland Road, Kissimmee
Avocados, red beans, palm seed and grass jelly – not exactly ingredients found in your everyday dessert, but at Asia Bagus, cool and refreshing es teler is a curious gorge. The Indonesian indulgence, also comprising shaved ice, coconut chunks, jackfruit, sweetened condensed milk and rose syrup, all mixed up in a large bowl, will challenge your notion of what a toothsome meal-capper should be.
Singh’s Roti Shop
5812 Old Winter Garden Road, 407-447-3447
When expats from Trinidad, Guyana and Jamaica hanker for goat, conch, chicken or channa (chick pea) roti, they call on the Lords of Flatbread, aka Singh’s Roti Shop, where they know they’ll get real deal. Rotis (unleavened Indian flatbread) come in three types here – sadha (similar to pillowy naan), dhalpouri (made with a fine layer of yellow split peas) and basupshut (thick, buttery and torn like a “busted-up shirt”) – all of which can be ladled with a pungent curry, then folded. Flaming Scotch-bonnet hot sauce is a must.
Best 3 a.m. dessert
9801 International Drive, 407-345-4460
When a craving for key lime pie, tiramisu or triple chocolate cake hits you at 3 a.m., satisfying it can be a near-impossible task in this town. Enter the B-Line Diner. Located in the Peabody Hotel on I-Drive, the slick, ’50s-style diner is open 24-7, and its on-site patisserie preps a bevy of fresh-baked cakes, pies, tarts and cookies, not to mention house-made ice cream and sorbets. Among the best desserts: strawberry shortcake, banana cream pie and the chocolate Aladdin. Eat your heart out, Steak ’n Shake.
Best gay chandeliers
1913 N. Orange Ave., 407-898-6766
While the general atmosphere of this (last remaining) Antique Row queer watering hole has shifted dramatically since its inception, its décor retains its sense of foyer grandeur largely due to the lighting fixtures. Giant, ornate chandeliers of the Phyllis Diller variety still hang there like reminders that eventually we all get old and tasteless. And no matter how many shirts are removed from no matter how many buff bartenders, or how much porn glows out from the flat-screen TVs, the feeling that you’re doing something naughty in your grandmother’s sitting room inevitably prevails. Which is kind of hot.
Best $3 lunch
Caribbean Sunshine Bakery
2528 W. Colonial Drive, 407-839-5060
922 Silver Star Road, 407-578-0068
4863 W. Colonial Drive, 407-447-5444
Cheap food doesn’t always equate to good, or even palatable, food, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find a decent nosh for under $5. But at the Caribbean Sunshine Bakery, buttery coco bread, a flaky, fresh-baked spicy Jamaican beef patty and a tropical beverage (ginger beer, Ting, Sorrel) will run you 300 cents. Irie. Pass on the bread and get two patties and a drink, and you’re still talking $3 and change. Go on, let the sunshine in.
Best place to smoke a hookah
Ali Baba Restaurant
1155 W. State Road 434, Longwood
There’s a hookah craze sweeping the city, and since you need to know where to buy, how to use and the best place to smoke your hookah, we thought we’d give you a leg up: Try Ali Baba. In addition to a cool outdoor hookah-smoking area, there’s interesting music. And if you go at night on a weekend, you can peer through the glass at scantily clad belly dancers.
Best tom yum soup
1237 E. Colonial Drive, 407-896-4154
One spoonful of this dark-red, fiery, sweet-and-sour concoction and you’ll finally know why God gave you taste buds. From the slightly gritty texture to the subtle-yet-unmistakable undertone of lemongrass, this soup is a masterpiece. The giant, succulent shrimp (or chicken) and whole mushrooms are just gravy. Some people will complain that it’s too spicy; then again, some people complain that Michelangelo’s David is naked.
11865 E. Colonial Drive, 407-658-6615
Tons of cheese and your choice of toppings cooked to a golden brown in a super-flaky and crispy crust. Not to mention quick service. Need we say more? If you’re not on a first date, we recommend starting with the garlic knots.
Best failed resurrection
The city’s mismatched tube socks lost the last of their elasticity when the beer-drenched Will’s Pub finally met with the bulldozer. But there was – for a short time – a glimmer of hope that perhaps the tradition might continue a few blocks over on Colonial Drive, in the eyesore-ish Cruises Only building. Papers were signed, plans were drawn and expectations were sprayed with a healthy film of hops and guitar feedback, as the Christ-like (well, he sorta looks like that legendary J.C.) Will Walker prepared to roll away the stone(d) and tape the lowbrow back on Orlando’s face. But complications arose – apparently there’s a school too close by – and Walker ended up taking his blurred vision to College Park’s Taste Restaurant. Which is fine. But it’s not Will’s.
Best unconventional breakfast
Pom Pom’s Teahouse & Sandwicheria
67 N. Bumby Ave., 407-894-0865
Breakfast at Pom Pom’s, currently available weekends only, is an eclectic affair. No filler, no “basics,” no scrambled-eggs-white-toast-bacon-on-the-side. Like her lunch/dinner menu, Pom Moongauklang’s a.m. selections reflect a sense of humor and a down-to-earth chic. The “One-Eyed Wong” (an egg fried under a slice of bread with a hole cut out for the yolk, also known as toad-in-the-hole or bird-in-a-nest), shakes off its homely status and goes sophisticated under Hass avocados and delicious hollandaise. Potato pancakes are layered with meat, veggies or fruit in a “Napoleon.” Freshly made crepes top out the prices at $5.95.
Best cheap toot
The Wine Room on Park Avenue
270 S. Park Ave., Winter Park
The arrival in Winter Park of the wine-by-the-ounce automated dispensers that have so enraptured West Coast vinophiles has been a true blessing. Being able to sample half-glasses of that $80 bottle is a great way to expand your palate. Even better? The social lubrication that comes with you and your friends experimenting with the many one-dollar pours the Wine Room offers.
Salt-and-pepper tofu at Chinatown Seafood Restaurant
1103 N. Mills Ave., 407-896-9383
The fresh seafood from Chinatown’s adjoining fish market is always a good bet. But if flesh isn’t your thing and you’ve grown weary of bland, fake-out renditions of “normal food,” the salt-and-pepper tofu here is simultaneously the simplest and the most succulent thing you can wrap your mouth around. The soy cubes are generously seasoned with the titular ingredients (and not much else) then lightly fried, resulting in a flavor that’s clean and straightforward, but surprisingly rich. Spoon some of their garlic-seasoned water spinach onto the plate along with it, and meat will seem unnecessary.
Best meat feast
7048 International Drive, 407-354-4404
At $26.95 per person, Crazy Grill is considerably less expensive than its more well-known churrascaria neighbor, Texas de Brazil; it’s also quieter, friendlier and more conducive to a relaxing meal. And relaxation is the key when it comes to coping with the cavalcade of meat skewers that emerge from the kitchen. While salads and sides (mmm, cheese bread) are on offer, the star of the show is the variety of grilled steaks, sausages and chicken cuts, all of which are prepared perfectly and delivered by one of Orlando’s most hospitable and enthusiastic wait staffs.
Best night-life move
Smoking ban at Redlight Redlight
535 W. New England Ave., Winter Park
We wrote about it April 12 [“Dropping the smokescreen”], so we won’t belabor the point: The smoking ban at Redlight Redlight is the best thing to happen to beer-drinkers with eyes, lungs or a throat in a loooong time.