Walt Disney, the godfather of Orlando’s tourist industry, once said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” If the area’s chefs and restaurateurs were looking to turn that phrase, they might say, “If you can dream it, we can cook it.” Whether you’re a strict vegetarian or a card-carrying carnivore, Orlando’s hundreds of restaurants are bound to have something to satisfy your cravings and budgets. To help you supplement NBAA’s lavish menu of business aviation at the convention center, here’s a selection of restaurants that are anything but “Mickey Mouse.”
9801 International Dr.
You might find yourself suffering a case of technology overload with all
the offerings on the NBAA Convention floor, so if that happens, head on over to
the Peabody Hotel’s B-Line Diner. From the black-and-white-tile floor to the swiveling stools at the counter and the nonstop ’50s rock-n-roll playing on a jukebox, any time you step into this 24-hour eatery you might be taking a trip back to the glory days when the Howard 500 was considered heavy iron. The B-Line specializes in kicked-up comfort food–burgers and shakes and that sort of thing. One of its specialties is a throw-back to grandma: a chicken pot pie with generous chunks of the bird, fresh carrots, celery, onions and peas warmed in a luscious gravy topped by an elegant puff pastry. Recently featured on the Food Network, the B-Line’s bounty may prompt you, too, to declare: “It’s just like mom’s!”
Christini’s Ristorante Italiano
7600 Dr. Phillips Blvd.
If you’re looking for a truly first-class Italian dining experience don’t miss Christini’s Ristorante Italiano. Celebrating its 25th anniversary, the combination of outstanding food and truly old-world service continues to set Christini’s apart. “We make sure people want to tell their friends about it,” said owner and executive chef Chris Christini. One patron who did just that was iconic late-night television host Johnny Carson, who raved about its signature veal chop–Costata Di Vitello–and it’s been the most popular dish ever since. In addition, the five-star ristorante’s menu features other veal dishes. Try the Vitello Con Funghi Morel–veal scaloppine sautéed with morel mushrooms, julienne of prosciutto, a touch of cream, brandy and dry sherry; another, Vitello Al Sette Colli, is topped with sweet roasted peppers, prosciutto and provolone, flambéed with sherry and brandy. Also popular is Costata D’Agnello, rack of lamb seasoned with fine herbs and a Sardinian sauce. Reservations are recommended.
(located in the Rosen Centre Hotel)
9840 International Dr.
While many area restaurants strive to make you feel like you’re anyplace but Florida, the Everglades Restaurant is dedicated to paying homage to southern Florida’s vast expanse of water, sawgrass and wildlife. By artfully blending traditional Florida flavors with not-so-traditional meats and seafood, owner Harris Rosen and head chef Michael Rumplik have created a unique dining experience. The Everglades’ signature soup is the alligator bay chowder, similar to a Manhattan-style clam chowder, but made with farm-raised Florida ’gator. For a mouth-watering entrée try the pan-seared buffalo tenderloin or venison pepper steak.
One appetizer that might tempt your tastebuds is the San Marco shrimp cocktail served with Uncle Mike’s remoulade and guava barbecue sauce. For an interesting side dish, try the wild mushrooms sautéed and dressed with a Pinot Noir démi-glaze.
If you’re not adventurous, the Everglades menu features more traditional selections, all prepared with Chef Rumplik’s memorable touches. And, if you don’t have room for a large dessert, try the miniatures: a sushi roll–yes!–a soy wrap with sweet sushi rice and pastry cream, papaya and kiwi; or key lime pie made with lime and honey-baked mousse, graham cracker crust, topped with key lime and kiwi–very Floridian. Reservations are recommended.
Funky Monkey Wine Company
912 North Mills Ave., Downtown Orlando
9101 International Dr./Pointe Orlando
Located in Downtown Orlando’s eclectic Mills 50 neighborhood, dinner at the Funky Monkey Wine Company is a true 180-degree alternative to the touristy restaurants. Owner Eddie Nickell describes the Funky Monkey as a refreshing approach to casual fine dining and the wine experience, with more than 140 labels on the list and 40 wines by the glass.
Because Nickell is committed to supporting local and organic producers, the Monkey’s menu is ever-changing with a daily mix of vegetarian, vegan and untraditional meat dishes such as fresh ostrich, buffalo and venison. Also on the menu is a revolving selection from the sea and a cornucopia of sushi rolls and other Japanese treats–funky indeed! If you visit the Funky Monkey, Nickell suggests the ostrich with berry sauce and goat-cheese mashed potatoes; it sure doesn’t taste like chicken.
Reservations are recommended. Its second location in Pointe Orlando opened just last month.
Lucky Leprechaun Irish Pub
7032 International Dr.
There’s something special about a wee Irish pub. You know the kind of place where “everybody knows your name”– apologies to Cheers! Even if you’ve not been there before, the minute you enter the Lucky Leprechaun Irish Pub it feels as if you have. “My husband is from Dublin. We’re the only Irish-owned and -operated pub in the area,” said co-owner Georgiann Browne. “We serve the absolute best Guinness in Orlando. In fact, we’ve received the Perfect Pint award and the Golden Tap awards from St. James’s Gate Brewery.” Here’s where you go to truly unwind–some of the beer is served by the pitcher.
As for the menu, it’s good ole American bar food: burgers, chicken wings, fish and chips and “proper chips”–and the best shepherd’s pie this side of the Atlantic! Karaoke starts at 9 p.m. every night. Oh, before you order another Black-and-Tan, remember the old Irish proverb: “A drunk man’s words are a sober man’s thoughts.”
9188 International Dr.
While “authentic” has become a cliché when describing Chinese restaurants, in
the case of the Ming Court it is a true and accurate description of the care and dedication given to ensuring that each dish truly replicates the original. “Our owners are passionate about creating excellent food,” said spokesman Paul Steiner. “Not just traditional Chinese, but innovative approaches to Cantonese, Szechwan, Hunan, Japanese, Korean and other Asian cuisines.”
Steiner stressed that this is home-style Asian and Oriental cooking and certainly not your typical takeout. With more than 200 items, including dim sum and sushi, choosing can be a challenge. Appetizers such as the spicy conch or crunchy Ebi (Japanese spiny lobster) are interesting.
The six signature specialty dinner-for-two menus might appeal to some, while others might like to share Singapore rice noodles and Taiwanese rice noodles. One doesn’t think of Indian curry chicken as an Oriental offering, but this menu is a paean to Asian cuisine as well. Suggested main courses are the chicken with basil in flaming wok or shrimp with glazed walnuts. And then there’s the proverbial roast Peking duck served in two courses.
The Capital Grille
9101 International Dr./Pointe Orlando
Looking for an impressive destination to help close a big deal during NBAA? Then dinner at The Capital Grille should be top on your list. “The Capital Grille is known for its dry-aged steaks, fresh seafood and professional, attentive service,” managing partner Randy Cook noted with pride. “Our staff strives to ensure that every experience is exceptional.”
When you’re at The Capital Grille, the only thing better than the service is the food, which can lead to an enjoyable dilemma, namely, what to have? The porcini-rubbed Delmonico with 12-year aged balsamic sauce is an odds-on favorite. Or if you want an upscale version of surf ’n’ turf, try the seared tenderloin with butter-poached lobster. You may be tempted by the bone-in Kona crusted sirloin adorned with caramelized shallot butter, or the popular sliced filet mignon served with cippolini onions (usually a fall seasonal specialty) and wild mushrooms. Seared tuna with gingered rice is tasty if you want to depart from the carnivorous fare.
The Capital Grille’s delightful dessert menu features homemade ice creams and sorbets. Reservations are recommended.
9101 International Dr./Pointe Orlando
If you’re one of those folks who associates any trip to Florida with finding great seafood, then set your course for The Oceanaire Seafood Room. Spokesman Ron Studdard describes its art nouveau décor, ambiance and first-class service as reminiscent of the great ocean liners of the 1930s.
And, while the setting is unique, what draws most people to The Oceanaire is the freshness and variety of the seafood. It’s so fresh that the menu is printed daily depending on what has arrived that morning. The number-one favorite is the Chesapeake Bay-style jumbo lump crab cakes: “They’re 99 percent crab meat,” Studdard boasted. The Oceanaire’s raw bar is billed as “an altar to ultra-fresh seafood,” and the variety of oysters on the half shell are a testament. On any given day you may find dozens of varieties on the menu: Wellfleets from Massachusetts, Malpeques from Prince Edward Island, Kumamotos from Oregon–and on occasion, Washington’s tiny Olympia. The Oceanaire has 16 siblings found in 15 states. Reservations are recommended.
Texas de Brazil
5259 International Dr.
Looking for a truly memorable dining experience? Be sure to stop in for lunch or dinner at Texas de Brazil. This Brazilian churrascaria (steak house) is a roving meat buffet. Gaucho-clad carvers bring large skewers of perfectly seasoned meats to your table and you choose what and how much you want. “It’s authentic Brazilian flair with American service,” claims general manager Aaron Beyah. “We have
15 different meats on our menu, but by far the most popular is the picanha–the top portion of the top round–considered by some to be better than a filet mignon.
Joining this star at the churrascaria is fraldinha, a bottom sirloin; costelas–ribs (ox, pork and sheep), cordeiro (leg of lamb), frango (chicken), linguica (Brazilian sausage) and others.
While Texas de Brazil is a carnivore’s paradise, it also offers a salad-bar-only option. For dessert: lip-smacking Brazilian flan and Brazilian papaya cream. Reservations are recommended.
Restaurant & Bar
9101 International Dr./Pointe Orlando
Tommy Bahama’s mantra is: “Life is one long weekend,” so what better place to unwind after a day on the convention floor? Located just north of the Orange County Convention Center in Pointe Orlando, Tommy Bahama’s Restaurant & Bar features laidback-lifestyle-inspired beverages made with its own branded white or goldensand rum.
General manager Andy Donato said, “We make everything fresh daily except for the ice cream and French fries.” You can’t go wrong with Tommy’s rib rack: grilled baby back ribs glazed with Tommy’s own blackberry brandy barbecue sauce. Also tasty is Shoal Bay Snapper: fresh Gulf snapper encrusted with macadamia nuts, served with wasabi soy butter sauce and grilled broccolini seasoned with lemon garlic oil. For interesting side dishes (large enough to share with the table) try Dr. Mambo’s plantain combo: sliced plantain crisps dusted with cinnamon sugar, served with black bean-charred corn salsa and lime sour cream or the whipped bayou sweet potatoes, baked and whipped with honey, cinnamon, allspice and sweet cream butter, topped with graham cracker toasted nut crust.
The Tommy Bahama’s name is emblazoned not only on restaurants and cafés throughout the U.S., including Hawaii, it also graces men’s and women’s apparel stores and home-furnishing establishments across the country.
Dale Smith has been actively involved with business and personal aviation for 30 years and a professional aviation journalist for the past 18. He currently splits his time between aviation and golf–and exploring new restaurants. Smith says, “If I weren’t an aviation writer I’d probably be a struggling food writer. Love to cook and eat...I guess I’m a foodie want-to-be. We’re frequent visitors to Orlando as much for the food as the House of the Mouse...”