Rocco’s Italian Grille & Bar

Rocco’s Italian Grille & Bar

Roccos bar

Ever since I first reviewed Rocco’s Italian Grille & Bar, in October of 2006, I’ve considered it to be one of the finest Italian restaurants in the area. And since I don’t get the chance to return often enough, I jumped at the invitation to dine there recently to try some of the dishes that owner Rocco Potami rotates through his menu.

Roccos burrata1

Potami started by serving my guest and me an appetizer of Bresaola, the air-cured beef that is a specialty of Northwest Italian, and fresh Burrata, often known as a creamier mozzarella. The cheese was topped with shaved Parmesan and fresh arugula leaves. Potami admonished us not to put any pepper on the burrata, which I probably would have done to perk up the mild cheese. But with the peppery notes of the arugula, nothing else was necessary.

Tony Roma

Roccos agnolotti1

Next came Agnolotti, similar to ravioli, filled with delicious short rib meat and coated with a creamy pesto.

Roccos risotto1

Paired on the plate was a Scallop Risotto with saffron and asparagus. The nutty rice had bay scallops mixed in and the presentation was topped with a tender bay scallop, perfectly seared. (We were served tasting-size portions.)

Roccos filet1

The main course was a Filetto with porcini mushrooms and grape tomatoes. The mushrooms were sauteed in white wine, created and proper sauce for the perfectly grilled beef.

Roccos dessert

For dessert there was Italian Cheesecake with that wonderfully crumbly texture, and a well-executed Tiramisu.

Roccos dining room

Service, as it has always been, was first rate. The main dining room is subdued elegance, with tables covered with fine white cloths and set with classy stemware. (Have your server fill one of the stems with some Falanghina del Sannio DOP Janare, an Italian white with a forward tastes of apples and citrus.)

When the nearby Mount Vernon Inn and its Red Fox Lounge were razed to make way for the myriad chain restaurants that line the boulevard, Potami started hosting Red Fox entertainers in his lounge. So on the evening we dined we could hear the music of a singer at a piano and see couples dancing. That’s the kind of relaxed atmosphere Rocco’s offers, and that’s the kind of gracious host Potami is.

Rocco’s Italian Grille & Bar is at 400 S. Orlando Ave., Winter Park. It is open for dinner Monday through Saturday. The phone number is 407-644-7770.

Nona Social Bar + Kitchen

Nona Social burger

Nona Tap Room is gone and Nona Social Bar + Kitchen has taken its place. Except for the variation of the name, I can’t see a whole lot of difference between the two.

It’s still a neighborhoody place that is more bar than kitchen. Still a bit on the small, cozy side. It still features a menu that is burgercentric. And the kitchen still can’t cook a burger to a medium-rare temperature. Or perhaps just refuses to.

Too bad because the burger I had when I visited recently, the Bacon Bleu, was a good burger than could have been better if it had been cooked properly. The patty was a decent size and had a nice char. It was topped with a smear of blue cheese that was half melted, plus a couple of thick-sliced bacon rashers. The bun was plain but fresh.

Tony Roma

The accompanying fries were better than average. I give them a B.

Nona Social Bar

As I said, the bulk of the menu is burgers, though there are also tacos, sandwiches and salads. Nona Social’s website features a photo of what appears to be a salmon entree, but I’ll be darned if I could find one on the menu.

Speaking of photos, if you were to visit the website and Facebook page you’d probably come to the conclusion that Nona Social wants to be known as a breastaurant. I thought we were entering a more enlightened age but apparently not.

Nona Social Bar + Kitchen is at 9145 Narcoossee Road, Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily, including late nights. The phone number is 407-674-7818.

Rusty Spoon

Rusty Spoon interior

In the nearly eight years since she opened her restaurant in downtown Orlando, Kathleen Blake has established it as one of the premier restaurants in Florida and herself as one of the area’s most prestigious chefs.

She was recently presented with the Beacon Award by the Foodservice Council for Women; is a leader in the national organization of Women Chefs and Restaurateurs; and has  been nominated four times for a James Beard Foundation as Best Chef South Region. And on Nov. 9, she will be one of the featured chefs at that organization’s annual gala, a $500-a-ticket dinner held at the swanky Pierre Hotel in New York.

And, like so many in the local culinary community, Blake is a generous contributor to area food events for charities, most recently as one of the chefs serving at Cows ’n Cabs (a delicious smoked mullet on fried cracker was her offering).

Still, with all that activity and civic participation, she, along with her husband, William, manages to keep the quality of the food and service at the Rusty Spoon top notch. And if she’s not at a local charity event or Manhattan fund raiser, you’ll find her, usually in her signature bib overalls, cooking in the kitchen of the Rusty Spoon.

Tony Roma

The overalls are a nod to Blake’s farm-to-table manifesto. That term has become an almost trite — and often unprovable — addition to many menus. But Blake was one of the local pioneers of the movement, first as the chef de cuisine at Melissa Kelly’s Primo at the JW Marriott. That’s where she began working with local farmers to source her ingredients, and when she opened Rusty Spoon in 2011, she did so with a dedication to continuing to use local ingredients.

I returned to Rusty Spoon recently to see how things are going. Despite its Church Street location, it has maintained a homey feel. And the food is every bit as creative and expertly crafted as it has always been.

Rusty Spoon board

My companion and I started with the Butcher’s Board, a chef’s whim selection of Scotch Eggs with a grainy mustard, Rillettes, pickled vegetables and Lamb Meatballs. I liked it all but the eggs were a favorite.

Rusty Spoon seafood

For an entree, my friend had the Dirty South, a bouillabaisse-like dish of local grouper, littleneck clams and large, head-still-on shrimp from Port Canaveral on an island of cheese grits surrounded by a moat of shrimp peanut broth. The shrimp and fish were tender and fresh tasting. A couple of crostini served with the dish were perfect for soaking up the flavorful broth.

Rusty Spoon chicken

I chose the Early Fall Chicken Schnitzel, an airline breast sporting a crispy golden crust (perfect for early fall) and topped with sauteed Brussels sprouts, bits of apple and golden raisins. The chicken was juicy and the breading was seasoned just right.

Rusty Spoon pictures

Service was attentive and helpful. The dining area is large yet has a warm tone to it. Walls that aren’t floor to ceiling windows have whimsical up-close photographs of farm animals. There is a wide doorway to the kitchen where Blake and her crew busily work. The bar is a favorite spot for a well crafted cocktail and a bite to eat before or after an event at the Amway Center or Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.

Much will be happening in downtown Orlando in the coming months, including new restaurants. Rusty Spoon has set the standard they should strive to achieve.

Rusty Spoon is at 55 W. Church St., Orlando. It is open for lunch Monday through Friday and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-401-8811.

Taste of Chengdu

Chengdu sign

If you hear people call Taste of Chengdu the hottest restaurant in town, you should probably know that they may not be referring to its popularity, though popular it certainly is.

It’s also serving some of the hottest, as in spiciest, food you’re likely to find in Central Florida.

Geography geeks will recognize Chengdu as the capital of China’s Sichuan province. Culinary nerds will know that Sichuan cuisine (also sometimes spelled Szechuan or Szechwan) is known for its liberal use of fiery hot peppers, particularly the Sichuan pepper, which has an initial taste that is slightly metallic but then spreads like a wildfire through tinder. It does not make your tongue tingle, it makes it throb.

And that leads, I suppose, to its popularity. Yes, there is a certain sector of the dining public with a masochistic tendency to sear their tastebuds. They’d probably lick a branding iron just out of a campfire if it was sprinkled with Sriracha. But we’re also seeing a new appreciation authentic Asian cuisine in general and Chinese food in particular. The west side of town has become the de facto home to many of the restaurants offering more than Americanized versions of Chinese dishes.

Tony Roma

Chengdu interior

Taste of Chengdu isn’t as far west as most of them, those that occupy a repurposed strip mall dubbed Chinatown. Chengdu is in a Best Western motel on West Colonial Drive just past Tampa Avenue. It does not look like a stereotypical Chinese restaurant, but then it doesn’t look like a stereotypical Best Western coffeeshop, either. It’s a bright and open space with a peaked ceiling. The wood-tile floor is spotless and the booths and chairs at the granite-topped tables are comfortable. That’s good because service isn’t exactly speedy here.

It is helpful, however, and if you’re unfamiliar with Sichuan cuisine your server will be happy to guide you. You might be steered toward the Cold Noodles with Spicy Sauce, or the Five Spices Pork with Pancake. Or maybe the Spicy Hot and Sour Pig Intestine.

Intestines didn’t sound very appetizing to me, so I ordered the tripe.

Chengdu Tripe

Tripe with Roasted Chili Sauce, to be exact. As with most of the appetizers at Chengdu, the tripe was served cold. But make no mistake, it was hot. It was mixed with thin slices of what may or may not have been ox tongue (those words had a line drawn through them on the menu) and it was all bathed in the oil based sauce that was dotted with chopped peppers. After two bites it didn’t matter what I ate because my tongue had gone numb.

Chengdu beef

But I could tell that the meat in my Stir Fried Beef Flank Steak in Cumin Sauce was quite tender. And the onions and red and green bell peppers were still crispy on the bite. There were also chunkier bits of chili peppers mixed in. A small bowl of white rice was served with the dish but the fluffy grains could not counteract the spicy sauce.

By the way, because of its motel affiliation, Taste of Chengdu also serves breakfast but, as a sign out front says, it’s an American menu in the morning.

According to my server, the foods on the lunch menu are American, too. You know, dishes like General Tso’s Chicken and Kung Pao. Look to the main menu for a real Taste of Chengdu.

Taste of Chengdu is at 2030 W. Colonial Drive, Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday. There is no website. The phone number is 407-839-1983.

Shiraz Market

Shiraz counter

The last time I was at Shiraz Market it was Torterilla la Mexicana. The name is different, the cuisine has changed from Mexican to Middle Eastern, but the experience is pretty much the same.

It’s a small storefront that’s mostly store. There are shelves of Middle Eastern canned and dry goods mixed in with everyday essentials.

One one side of the shop is a counter with some refrigerated items. And behind that is a menu board displaying the few items available to order and eat at one of the rustic tables in front. There are the usual kebabs and gyros but there are a couple of more interesting items, such as the Gheymeh that I selected.

Tony Roma

Shiraz stew

Shiraz rice

Gheymeh is an Iranian stew with lamb and tomatoes, some split peas, onions and a little dried lime. Shiraz served the stew in a foam bowl, which made it easy to take home the leftovers. It was topped with shoestring potatoes and served with a hefty portion of rice sprinkled with saffron. The young woman behind the counter admonished me not to dump all the stew on top of the rice at once but rather to spoon a small bit of it a little at a time. (She probably identified me as a serial dumper.)

The stew was milder than I had expected it to be, and in retrospect I wish I had grabbed some of the paprika from the table next to mine to spice it up a bit. But I did enjoy it spooned over the rice and would have definitely dumped it all at once if the lady hadn’t been watching me so closely.

But her admonition was good spirited and she seemed to have a friendly relationship with several of the people who came in while I was there.

Shiraz Market is at 185 S. County Road 427, Longwood. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. There is no website. The phone number is 407-951-8084.

Stasio’s Italian Deli & Market

Stasio exterior

I sort of get the impression that Stasio’s Italian Deli & Market is a work in progress and that the people doing the work aren’t exactly sure themselves what the final product will be.

But for all the tentativeness in the air, the food that I’ve sampled so far is solidly good.

I dropped in for an order to go because one of the things that is still uncertain is whether Stasio’s wants people to dine in. There’s a marble ledge at the windows for people to eat at, and a couple of outdoor tables. But it definitely isn’t a linger-over-dinner spot.

Stasio interior

The menu is mainly sandwiches, though a couple of hot items, including a baked ziti dish, were pointed out to me at the counter, which is where one places an order. I chose the sandwich named after the place and another called The Package.

Tony Roma

Stasio stasio

The Stasio was a cold sandwich with prosciutto, capicola, soppresata, roasted red peppers and mozzarella cheese in a very large but fresh roll. Actually, the sandwiches aren’t so much served on rolls than on loaves. And the size has a lot to do with the cost: $13 for my Stasio. The meats were plentiful and it was a good sandwich, though if I’d been dining in I might have asked for some extra oil and vinegar to oomph it up a bit.

Stasio meatball

The Package featured meatballs, spicy Italian sausage smothered in marinara and covered with a cloak of melted mozzarella. You know, a package. Good spicings in the sauce, and I liked it better than the Stasio, though I found the meatballs a bit too moist.

Staff were helpful in pointing out the process, such as it exists now. Menus on the counter, place your order there, pay over there, wait for someone to call your name.

While you wait, you can stroll through the few shelves that warrant the market designation. I liked seeing several upscale imports that aren’t available in most neighborhood markets.

But would I think to come there to shop for ingredients for an Italian dinner? Probably not, nor would I think to make it a destination to enjoy one.

But like I said, Stasio’s seems to be figuring things out as it goes. I like the way it’s going so far.

Stasio’s Italian Deli & Market is at 210 N. Bumby Ave., Orlando. It seems to be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday, though that information is neither on its Facebook page nor its website, which it does not have. The phone number is 407-277-7755.

Stasio menu 1

Stasio menu2

Poke Hana

Poke Hana bowl

Poke popularity proceeds apace.

Poke, pronounced poh-kay but not spelled with an accent mark, because Hawaiian, is the meal in a bowl option that usually features fresh raw fish as its prominent protein.

Poke Hana is one of the more recent entries among the the local poke providers. It occupies a rather spartan but colorful spot in a storefront on East Colonial Drive in the Mills 50 district. One supposes the decor is meant to approximate a beachside shack somewhere in Hawaii. There are long narrow tables (too narrow, really, for two people to sit across from one another) with yellow and white metal chairs that no one would ever look at and think, “Boy, those sure look comfortable.” Touches of neon, ceiling fans with a rattan look, and a projector splashing a video of surfers on one of the walls completes the Maui-like mien.

Tony Roma

Poke Hana counter

Like most poke places, Hana is an assemblage concept. That means you must place your order at the counter and choose all of the components that will go into your bowl: The base (white rice, brown rice or greens); the protein (fresh ahi, fresh salmon, hamachi, tako (octopus), fried tofu); and the sauce (Maui, shoyu, spicy, kimchee). I guess you’re supposed to know the differences among the sauces because no explanation is written anywhere.

I went white, half ahi/half hamachi, and kimchee. The bowls also include thinly sliced pickled cucumbers, seaweed salad and big green edamame beans, all served with a sprinkling of sesame seeds.

It was a prettily assembled bowl and an ample amount of food. I had intended to eat just a few bites then take the rest home for later, but I enjoyed the freshness of the fish and the just spicy enough kimchee sauce that I pretty much finished the whole thing off right there.

Poke Hana musubi

And I even had room to nibble on a Spam Musubi, a compact presentation of a slice of Spam, the meat that has somehow managed to live on in a world that hates its email namesake, compressed sushi rice, within a wrapper of crisp nori. A pleasant nibble.

There were a few young people staffing the restaurant on the evening I visited but apparently only one had been designated to be the friendly one to greet customers. But even that young man seemed lost in how to communicate with strangers. The others largely ignored the fact that people had come into their establishment to give them money.

I’m fine with the continuance of the poke fad. I hope it becomes more than that. It reminds me a little of the period when non-Japanese Asian — Thai, Chinese, Korean — restaurants started offering sushi because sushi was suddenly very popular. At first I was annoyed, thinking that sushi should be left to well-trained masters. But then I realized that introducing fresh fish to a menu — any menu — was a good thing.

Poke restaurants are a good thing, too.

Poke Hana is at 1225 E. Colonial Drive, Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-601-0283.

Poke Hana chairs

Jinya Ramen Bar

Jinya black

With the popularity of ramen at a height, it was only a matter of time before we’d see a chain noodle its way into town. It happened with Vietnamese, it’s happening with poke, so why not ramen?

Jinya Ramen Bar is the company with a new franchise in Orlando, its first in Florida (oddly, the website lists the names of the cities for locations in other states but the Florida listing is Thornton Park). It took over and remodeled that space in Thornton Park Central that had briefly been Verde Cantina and, before that, a Tijuana Flats.

Jinya kitchen 1

As with many chain operations, Jinya’s corporate connections bring advantages and disadvantages. It brought money to turn the space into a moody urban noodle bar with an open kitchen inside the front door, a central bar with seating on three sides, and a sunken dining room at the back.

Nothing I sampled at Jinya on my two visits was less than acceptable. Some things were delightfully better than I expected, some less so.

Tony Roma

It wasn’t until my second visit that the ramen itself reached a higher level. That was the time I had the Jinya Tonkatsu Black, pictured at top, a large bowl with a pork broth base that had a wonderfully luscious mouthfeel. Despite having major billing in the dish’s name, the tonkatsu — chasu here, or pork belly — was only part of a larger ensemble of ingredients that included mushrooms, garlic chips, fried onions, a whole soft-boiled egg seasoned in soy, and of course the thin noodles that make ramen so much fun to eat.

I didn’t think the two large squares of nori that were slid down the side of the bowl added anything but decoration. But I was impressed that the cooking of the egg had been calculated to include the time to come from the kitchen to my table, sitting in hot broth, but yet still with a soft and oozy yolk when I chopsticked into it.

Jinya q 1

Jinya chicken

The ramens I had on my first visit, the Sukiyaki Q and the Jinya Chicken Ramen didn’t have the same character. They seemed flat. Both had plenty of ingredients and were quite filling and sufficiently edible. But still.

Jinya taco

From the list of small plates, my companion and I shared an order of Pork Chashu & Kimchee Tacos. Served in crispy shells fashioned out of fried wonton wrappers, the braised pork belly was amply applied — more so than the kimchi — and topped with ls handfuls of fresh cilantro. Not the most thoughtful garnish placement you’ll ever see, but I liked the soft tartness of the leaves.

Jinya brussels 1

The appetizer of Tempura Brussels Sprouts was winning in its simplicity. They wore light and delicate jackets of tempura batter and were deftly fried and spritz with a thankfully small amount of truffle-flavored something. I could have noshed those all night.

Jinya interior 1

There’s another thing that chain restaurants can provide: training. The young staff at Jinya have obviously been given training tips, but it could have been taken further. The young woman who served me on my second visit did many things right, and I appreciated the extra attention. But I wanted to tell her that there wasn’t anything about the food I ordered, the beverage I selected or the fact that it wasn’t my first visit that was awesome, as she declared each to be.

And the practice of having the servers and everyone in the kitchen yell some unintelligible Japanese phrase whenever someone is shown to a table is silly, and sounds about as sincere as “Welcome to Moe’s.”

But then, it is a chain.

Jinya Ramen Bar is at 8 N. Summerlin Ave., Orlando. It’s open for lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-704-1825.

Muzzarella Pizza and Italian Kitchen

Muzzarella pizza

This is good pizza. No, this is very good pizza. Dare I commit to say that this is the best pizza in town? I’ll need more research, but it’s certainly among the best.

It’s Muzzarella Pizza and Italian Kitchen on Lake Underhill Road just past Goldenrod Road on the east side of town.

Muzzarella dining

It’s a small storefront operation with an open kitchen at the front where pies are displayed in clear cases, just as you might find in a New York pie shop, and a small dining area down one side of the narrow space.

I had called in an order to pick up, a pizza called Assisis, which had sausage, bacon, meatballs and pepperoni. I suppose it got its name from the saint, who also loved animals, though I don’t know if he had them on pizza (though he was Italian, after all). I also ordered a Meatball Sub and a cup of Pasta Fagioli.

Tony Roma

When I arrived I was greeted warmly by a pleasant young woman. My order was ready to go, I paid and was on my way.

The pizza was impressive on a number of fronts. The crust had a perfect thickness and the dough a proper elasticity without being doughy. The sauce was not slathered too thickly and had a good balance of herbs and spicing. The meaty topping were plentiful and graced with only a soupçon of cheese, just enough to make a showing. And it was $9.99.

Muzzarella sub

The sub was delicious, too. This time the sauce and cheese were appropriately more prevalent, but they didn’t overwhelm the dense balls of meat. As with all subs, the roll is key to its success, and this one was fresh and toasted and delicious.

The soup was the only disappointment. Pasta y Fagioli is a soup open to many interpretations. This one was a tad too thin for my preference, but it also lacked much flavor. It needed salt, it needed a sprinkling of cheese, it needed a drizzle of olive oil.

But, as they say, two out of three ain’t bad. And when the other two are so good, you forget the third.

Muzzarella Pizza and Italian Kitchen is at 7780 Lake Underhill Road, Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. The phone is 407-930-1102.

Muzzarella ext

Bem Bom

Bembom sign

Bem Bōm’s Francisco “Chico” Mendonça is the latest chef to use his popular food truck as a conveyance to a land-bound restaurant. He recently opened a wheelless version of Bem Bōm, which features a Portuguese menu, in a freestanding building in Audubon Park.

The food truck business has proved a bumpy road for many who have tried and failed. Bem Bōm, however, has enjoyed a healthy popularity since 2012 and was once featured on Food Network’s “Eat St.” Heck, Bem Bōm has lasted longer than that tv show.

Tony Roma

Bembom bar

Bembom int

The new restaurant is attractively casual. There is an ample patio out front with a bar that looks into the small dining room. A tiled wall lends a Portuguesian flair while woods, including a wall of end caps from wine cases, give a rustic note.

Bembom burger

The Lamb Burger was a favorite of mine from when I reviewed the food truck in January of 2014. It’s still good, a freshly-ground and thickly shaped patty, grilled to the requested medium rare, topped with pico de gallo and piri piri sauce. The piquancy of the piri was a nice complement to the gaminess of the lamb. I wasn’t a fan of the hard Portuguese bun it was served on, but it’s a Portuguese restaurant, so you roll with the roll you’re given.

Bembom tacos

My friend had the Carnitas Tacos, a trio of corn tortillas stuffed with moist shredded pork, matchstick radish and fresh cilantro leaves. A squish of avocado-tomatillo sauce was mildly spiced.

Bembom fries

Our side order of Bomb Fries, with flash-fried basil, chilies, truffle oil and parmesan reggiano shredded to a fluff, was a dud. (And way overpriced at six bucks.)

Bembom dessert

Pastel de Nata, the Portuguese tarts filled with egg custard, were delicious, even the next morning when I enjoyed them with my coffee.

Service was appropriately friendly and helpful, from the young fellow pouring water to the woman who took our order and delivered the food.

I took the suggestion from a line on the menu to “ask your server about our daily special.” She said there wasn’t one that day. I asked why.

“Because the chef is at an event with the truck tonight,” she replied.

Bem Bōm is at 3101 Corrine Drive, Orlando. It is open for lunch Thursday through Sunday and for dinner Tuesday through Sunday. The phone number is 407-960-5101

Tutto Caffè

tutto caffe ext 1

Popped into Tutto Caffè one recent morning for liquid and solid fuel.

Tutto Caffè is an unassuming little coffeeshop in downtown Baldwin Park. It’s set up as a sort of gathering space to sit and sip, read or work, perhaps at the stone-topped counter in the center of the room.

I was taking a day off from work and was wandering the neighborhood with my dog. I tied Toby to one of the outside tables and went inside to order, all the while keeping an eye on Tobe, who’s still very much a puppy and not used to being tied up outside of strange places.

Tony Roma

tutto caffe counter

The young woman behind the counter noticed my anxious looks outside and said, “You’re welcome to bring your dog inside.” I loved the place immediately.

tutto caffe frittata

I ordered a cup of hot coffee, a rich roast with smooth notes, and a breakfast frittata, a muffin-like device with eggs, ham and cheese backed into an easily handled meal.

tutto caffe fudge

I also tried a gooey wedge of chocolate topped with caramel squizzles and some pecans. Dense and delicious.

At lunch time you have sandwich, salad and flatbread options. And gelato at all times. It’s a pleasant little place, and even better, dog friendly.

Tutto Caffè is at 4833 New Broad St., Orlando. It’s open for breakfast and lunch daily, closing at 6 p.m. (Although the cafe has been open since February, its website still states that a grand opening is coming soon, and several of the photos there don’t seem to be associated with the space in Winter Park.) The phone number is 407-930-0152.

Selam Ethiopian & Eritrean Cuisine

Selam interior

If you were looking for further validation that Central Florida’s culinary scene is becoming more diverse, consider this: Not only do we have an Ethiopian restaurant, Nile, in its second decade of operation, we now have a second one operating simultaneously. What’s more, the new restaurant, Selam, features the cuisines of Ethiopia and Eritrea. (Though that’s a fine line; more on that in a moment.)

Like Nile, Selam is situated in the Tourist World part of town. That’s a pretty smart choice. Nile was not the first Ethiopian restaurant in the area. Two or three others tried to introduce the foods from the Horn of Africa over the past 25 years or so but never lasted more than a few months. Location, I assumed, had something to do with it. They had opened in a location next to the 33d Street jail and on a sketchy stretch of South Orange Blossom Trail. But an argument could also be made that the dining public wasn’t yet quite ready to be more adventurous.

Tony Roma

Selam bar

Selam will not win any awards for its decor or ambience. It occupies a large, open space in a Williamsburg strip mall. The lighting is harsh, and a television playing an episode on Ethiopian cuisine from some food and travel related network was annoying and loud.

Tables are covered with cloth but then topped with clear plastic. If you’ve eaten Ethiopian food before you have a pretty good idea why a drop cloth might be needed.

You may have eaten Eritrean food in the past, too, and not known the difference. There aren’t many distinctions between the two — after all, the two countries were one until the 1990s. One of the few differences involves tomatoes. Eritreans use them and Ethiopians do not.

Selam appetizer

That’s why I ordered the Timatim Fitfit as my appetizer, it was one of the few items on the menu that included tomatoes. I should mention that one thing that is similar in the two cuisines is the use of injera, the spongy flatbread made of teff. Main courses are served on a large platter lined with injera accompanied by rollups of the bread for diners to tear off and pick up wads of wat. (If you’re uncomfortable eating with your hands, this cuisine is not for you.) Anyway, a typical Ethiopian/Eritrean meal will include a lot of injera.

So did my Fitfit appetizer. In fact, it was a bowl of torn injera (the menu describes it as scrambled) tossed with tomatoes, green chilies, onions and garlic, served cool. It would have been fine by itself — a nice option in these restaurants that specialize in meals in a bowl — but knowing I had lots more injera in my future I did not eat but a couple of bites.

Selam samosa

Better were the Beef Samosas, pastries filled with ground beef and onions, a little jalapeno for spice, and deep fried so the fillings were hot and the pastry crust a flaky golden.

Selam platter

For our entree, my guest and I chose the Selam Meat and Veggie Combination Special, a large round platter with ample samples of several of the menu’s highlights.

It included chicken tibs cooked in the hot and peppery berbere sauce that is a staple of many of the wats, or stews. The beef tibs were served mild and spicy, the spicy the better. Key Wet beef had a bit of lamb in it, stewed with butter, onion, ginger and turmeric.

The vegetables included wonderful collard greens, called Gomen, stewed lentils and chickpeas. The platter was served with rolled up injera for us to tear off, but the best part was the injera that the wats were sitting on. Scooping that up with the last bit of meats and vegetables was perfect.

Selam tej

The combination platter came with a small bottle of tej, a traditional African wine made with honey and is as sweet as you’d expect it to be. (The wine list includes other, more recognizable wine varietals from Ethiopia. The chardonnay wasn’t too bad.)
The staff of Selam couldn’t have been more welcoming and gracious. They gladly indulged questions and offered suggestions. And the woman who came through the dining room to share the aroma of the beans that were roasting in the pot she carried was kind enough to stop at our table so we could breathe it in.

I can do with a little less ambience when the service and the food are both so good.

Selam Ethiopian & Eritrean Cuisine is at 5494 Central Florida Parkway, Orlando. It’s open for lunch and dinner daily (though oddly its menu has breakfast items). The phone number is 407-778-3119.

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  1. Miami/Brickell Festival of the Arts

    October 20, 2018 @ 7:00 pm - January 15, 2019 @ 6:00 pm UTC+0
  2. Comedian Gerry Dee World Comedy Tour in Naples, Florida

    November 21 @ 7:00 pm - 9:30 pm UTC+0
  3. Ocala Balloon Glow

    November 23 @ 5:00 pm - November 25 @ 10:00 pm UTC+0
  4. 9th Annual Shopapalooza Festival, Part 2

    November 24 @ 10:00 am - 5:00 pm UTC+0
  5. Lake Helen Christmas Parade & Santa’s Village

    November 24 @ 4:00 pm - 9:00 pm UTC+0
  6. Christmas in the Country – Lights Display, Hay Ride & Festival

    November 24 @ 6:00 pm - 8:30 pm UTC+0
  7. Soul Beach: The Outdoor R&b / Jazz Concert & Comedy Show on the Water

    November 24 @ 7:30 pm - November 25 @ 1:00 am UTC+0
  8. 15th Annual X-Country Marathon, 30K, Half-Marathon & 5K

    November 25 @ 7:30 am - 2:30 pm UTC+0
  9. FREE TICKETS! Tampa Improv 11/27 Stand Up Comedy Show

    November 27 @ 8:00 pm - 10:00 pm UTC+0
  10. FL Orchestra Happy Hour Concert – Nov 28

    November 28 @ 6:30 pm - 7:30 pm UTC+0

Upcoming Events

  1. Miami/Brickell Festival of the Arts

    October 20, 2018 @ 7:00 pm - January 15, 2019 @ 6:00 pm UTC+0
  2. Comedian Gerry Dee World Comedy Tour in Naples, Florida

    November 21 @ 7:00 pm - 9:30 pm UTC+0
  3. Ocala Balloon Glow

    November 23 @ 5:00 pm - November 25 @ 10:00 pm UTC+0
  4. 9th Annual Shopapalooza Festival, Part 2

    November 24 @ 10:00 am - 5:00 pm UTC+0
  5. Lake Helen Christmas Parade & Santa’s Village

    November 24 @ 4:00 pm - 9:00 pm UTC+0
  6. Christmas in the Country – Lights Display, Hay Ride & Festival

    November 24 @ 6:00 pm - 8:30 pm UTC+0
  7. Soul Beach: The Outdoor R&b / Jazz Concert & Comedy Show on the Water

    November 24 @ 7:30 pm - November 25 @ 1:00 am UTC+0
  8. 15th Annual X-Country Marathon, 30K, Half-Marathon & 5K

    November 25 @ 7:30 am - 2:30 pm UTC+0
  9. FREE TICKETS! Tampa Improv 11/27 Stand Up Comedy Show

    November 27 @ 8:00 pm - 10:00 pm UTC+0
  10. FL Orchestra Happy Hour Concert – Nov 28

    November 28 @ 6:30 pm - 7:30 pm UTC+0

Join our Fun Network

  1. Miami/Brickell Festival of the Arts

    October 20, 2018 @ 7:00 pm - January 15, 2019 @ 6:00 pm UTC+0
  2. Comedian Gerry Dee World Comedy Tour in Naples, Florida

    November 21 @ 7:00 pm - 9:30 pm UTC+0
  3. Ocala Balloon Glow

    November 23 @ 5:00 pm - November 25 @ 10:00 pm UTC+0
  4. 9th Annual Shopapalooza Festival, Part 2

    November 24 @ 10:00 am - 5:00 pm UTC+0
  5. Lake Helen Christmas Parade & Santa’s Village

    November 24 @ 4:00 pm - 9:00 pm UTC+0
  6. Christmas in the Country – Lights Display, Hay Ride & Festival

    November 24 @ 6:00 pm - 8:30 pm UTC+0
  7. Soul Beach: The Outdoor R&b / Jazz Concert & Comedy Show on the Water

    November 24 @ 7:30 pm - November 25 @ 1:00 am UTC+0
  8. 15th Annual X-Country Marathon, 30K, Half-Marathon & 5K

    November 25 @ 7:30 am - 2:30 pm UTC+0
  9. FREE TICKETS! Tampa Improv 11/27 Stand Up Comedy Show

    November 27 @ 8:00 pm - 10:00 pm UTC+0
  10. FL Orchestra Happy Hour Concert – Nov 28

    November 28 @ 6:30 pm - 7:30 pm UTC+0