BEST SOUL FOOD
692 W. Robinson St., (407) 841-0717
This is the place to go to nourish the small-town country person in you, even though you'll be in big-city company. People from all walks of life — from NBA players to Grammy-winning musicians to congressional leaders — eat here regularly. Johnson's is such an intimate little eatery that you'll feel like you're dining with neighbors. To get the full effect, drop your lunch plans for the coming week and make a daily trip to Johnson's instead to sample from their set weekly menu. Don't miss the smothered pork chops and turnip greens on Tuesdays and the fried chicken on Fridays. Cook Earlean Taylor's lemon cake and sweet-potato pie are the best around and (thankfully) probably nothing like your proverbial mom used to make.
14 W. Washington St., (407) 650-8859
There's something to be said for a pizza shop located directly across the street from not one, but two, downtown bars. But affection for Planet Pizza goes beyond drunk munchies. The fact is, those big slices come out of the oven warm and so heavily packed with toppings that you'll want to grab an extra paper plate on your way out. And the service is friendly and quick, even on nights where you have to deal with the swarm of Tabu-clubbing college kids who think falling down drunk is sexy (on certain nights, we'd agree). We suggest the white pizza, which comes smothered with mozzarella and ricotta cheeses. But honestly, it's all good. Especially after a good bender at the bar (or bars) across the street.
N.Y.P.D. Pizza and Delicatessen
373 N. Orange Ave., (407) 872-6973;
2589 S. Hiawassee Road, (407) 293-8880;
BEST ITALIAN FOOD
651 N. Primrose Drive, (407) 896-6763
Ultra-friendly management and staff (who are both accommodating and pleasantly gregarious) along with a uniquely cozy interior design are just bonuses when it comes to Il Pescatore. We'd allow ourselves to be loudly berated while sitting in their back parking lot if that's what it took to be able to dig into their generous portions of mind-blowing Italian staples. Rich sauces and unique combinations of standards make every meal here a joy.
Carrabba's Italian Grill
BEST INDIAN FOOD
12541 State Road 535, (407) 827-9080,
Oh, Dakshin, how we love you, but we long for you to be closer. Your proximity to Disney may mean more tourist dollars (or not), but surely you must know how we pine for your lusciously spicy seafood dishes and hard-to-find Goan preparations, but shrink from the thought of battling T.G.I. Friday's customers for a parking spot. All of it is served in such a classy way in such a beautiful environment … those sun-pinked Ohioans surely don't love you as much as we do. Come closer, Dakshin, and we will reward you with the banana-leaf hugs you deserve.
1275 S. Highway 17-92, Longwood,
BEST PLACE TO EAT WITH YOUR POLISH GRANDMOTHER
3586 Aloma Ave., Winter Park, (407) 671-4424
A Polish grandmother is really the only person with whom to eat blintzes. But since everyone is not invited to dine with their Polish grandmothers on a regular basis, try eating blintzes where a Polish grandmother would go if she didn't want to make them herself — Polonia. And it's not only the blintzes, recent research suggests the same for the golabki — the stuffed cabbage.
Bubbalou's Bodacious BBQ
Back Yard Burgers
BEST FRENCH RESTAURANT
Le Bon Appetit
1575 Maguire Road, Ocoee,
Forget everything you thought you knew about French restaurants. Snotty waiters? The Marlot family (mère et père, and their son and daughter-in-law) will gamely converse with you in your stumbling high-school French — you don't really have a choice, since there's very little English spoken here, so it's make a fool of yourself or starve. Tiny, fussy food? Try the hearty homemade country pâté, served with gherkins and grainy mustard — hardly delicate fare. Your entree (sure to be a generous portion) will occupy a plate groaning with Provençal sides: potatoes Anna, ratatouille, stuffed broiled tomato. And every bite will be classically balanced; not obnoxiously gastronomique, just perfectly seasoned and cooked according to centuries of French wisdom.
RUNNER(almost a tie)
Le Coq au Vin
4800 S. Orange Ave.,
Whole Foods Market
1989 Aloma Ave., Winter Park, (407) 673-8788,
We like ringing a doorbell to get our smoothies, and Whole Foods is the only place in town that we get to do that. Ice-cold fruit and spirulina only mix together in so many different ways, but the diffident coolness with which the bell-summoned staff blends 'em here at least makes us feel less guilty about not wanting peanut butter in a drink. Plus, wheatgrass shots and carrot juice are yours for the asking.
Austin Coffee & Film
929 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park, (407) 975-3364,
Austin Coffee & Film is exactly what a coffeehouse should be: relaxing. There's food to munch on, coffee and beer to drink, music to listen to and a general atmosphere that makes us feel at peace with the world. What else do you want?
Multiple locations, www.starbucks.com
BEST SUB SHOP
223 N. Magnolia Ave., (407) 423-0123
Next year we should skip the formalities and rename this category the "Primo Hoagies" award. There's no one else who competes. Primo's is simply that good, day in and day out. Try the Italian Market (swiss, cheddar and provolone) or the eggplant parmigiana or the Roman Empire (prosciutto, mozzarella, plum tomatoes) or the Milano (mozzarella, sweet peppers), and tell us we're not dead-on. Go ahead, we dare you.
BEST ICE CREAM SHOP
Marble Slab Creamery
Never before has an ice cream shop given us such input in creating our own dessert than at Marble Slab Creamery. After choosing one of the shop's homemade ice cream flavors, you're given the option of adding some of the 37 different "mixins" into your frozen work of art, which the employees hand-mix into the ice cream over a frozen marble slab, hence the name. Choices range from pineapples and raspberries to Ding Dongs and Whoppers. Soon enough, the newest feature in Cosmo will be, "What your man's ice cream mixin says about his lovemaking style."
BEST OUTDOOR DINING
4201 S. Orange Ave., (407) 240-2557,
Herons, raccoons, gators and hapless waterskiers … what else do you need to look at while you're scarfing down dishes from Julie's surprisingly diverse menu? Gut-busting all-you-can-eat fish fries (on Tuesdays and Fridays) will test your consumption abilities, but decent salads and wraps as well as odd treats like lobster nuggets and toasted ravioli round out a stellar surf & turf menu. And hey, you can bring your dog!
Sundays at Gargi's Lakeside, 1414 N. Orange Ave., (407) 894-7907
The fairy godchild of Julian Bain and Sam Singhaus recently relocated to the newly-lakefront Italian eatery, Gargi's, and has shifted moods. Where it was once bawdy, it's now just picturesque. Better food and a better view make it still the place to drown your sorrows on a Sunday afternoon.
1108 S. Orange Blossom Trail, (407) 422-7115,
Two words: boots and bikinis. Oh, and one other word: rednecks. This Orlando institution is a behemoth of Southern-fried abandon. With country music seemingly on a redneck rebound ("I'm a Redneck Woman," is charting, people), this joint package store/honkytonk is putting its 15,000 square feet to some good-timing, line-dancing use, even hosting a weekly teen night for rednecks in training.
The future is upon us. And it will be dripping Skoal-spit.
BEST LIVE THEATER
Carr Performing Arts Centre
401 W. Livingston St. (407) 849-2020,
National tours of all the Broadway shows are at the Bob Carr..from Phantom, to Oklahoma, to Cats, to Les Mis.
Mad Cow Theatre
105 S. Magnolia Ave., (407) 297-8788, www.madcowtheatre.com
In its first year as its own landlord, Mad Cow finally got to do things its way, presenting nine shows on two stages (often in overlapping runs)
2nd Runner-up: Theatre Downtown, the upper-Orange Avenue mainstay that after 15 years is still undervalued as a resource for dramatic art with heart.
Outta town ICEHOUSE Theater
Mt Dora 352-383-4616
Yours trully Michael_D has done 28 plays there to date;-)
As an alternative to Orlando's many hotels, the villas on offer make an excellent base for an...more
I stayed at Cypress Harbour with my kids and we all loved the place. The resort is beautiful and has...more
Nice, warm greeting at the Front Desk, with comfortable accommodations. We chose the 1-Bedroom...more