Katerina & Vassilis Coumbaros – Taverna Opa Orlando

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“To eat and drink with someone makes them family.” This Greek proverb highlights the importance of the dining experience, and a pleasant experience is just what you will find at Orlando’s own little corner of Greece, “Taverna Opa!”  Just off of International Drive, on the second level of Beautiful Pointe Orlando, “Taverna Opa” provides not only the finest in Greek dining, but also a nightly taste of “Entertainment: Mediterranean Style” where you will be amazed by the belly dancing, dance with the newest members of your “Greek Family” or just drift away to the soothing sounds of Mediterranean music.  Just remember, “the night is not over until the Ouzo runs out!”
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Of course, authentic Greek food comes from authentic Greek people, and the best ingredient is the husband and wife team who own, manage, and most importantly, oversee everything about the experience you will find at “Taverna Opa.
Katerina Coumbaros is the youngest daughter of Greek parents, who emigrated here from the Greek Island of Crete.  “My mother has always been very traditional Greek; always cooking, always entertaining, my favorite childhood memories are of the family gatherings, and of the kitchen!”  A graduate of the “Le Cordon Bleu” College of Culinary Arts, Katerina believes that every dish prepared at “Taverna Opa” is a sharing of Greek culture with their guests.  She also knows that great ingredients are the key to great food, and that great cooking has to happen in a fun environment, “You can taste the difference in food prepared in a fun kitchen!”
Vassilis Coumbaros grew up in Greece, and his fondest memories are being a child surrounded by family and friends cooking, eating, and enjoying each other.  “Every day is a celebration, and the Greek culture teaches you to be energetic, friendly, and to love life!”  Vassilis believes that great cooking is done through “feeling”… that you have to “feel” the ingredients and the preparation of each dish.  “There is a Greek saying: ‘It is the way you breathe, the way you stir… you feel it!’”
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Taverna Opa” specializes in lamb, and only the finest domestic and tender lamb will do.  However, most of the ingredients and spices are imported directly from the mountains and islands of Greece.  Another specialty of the house is seafood, but not just any seafood, only the finest imported Greek fish will make it to your plate.  “The salt and the water in the Mediterranean Sea is different from any other place in the world, and this adds to the delightful taste of our Greek seafood.”
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No traditional Greek dinner would be complete without a special toast to the “Old World.”  In Greece, breaking plates and throwing napkins are a way of showing a “zest for life” and being “free as birds” to enjoy yourself.  While “Taverna Opa” may not carry on the tradition of breaking plates, you will find many napkins thrown with an exhilarating cry of “Opa!” as an exhortation to live your day to its fullest!
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With Belly Dancing and Traditional Mediterranean Music spun by a DJ seven nights a week, “Taverna Opa” is the perfect place to celebrate a special occasion, relax after an adventurous day, or just enjoy being part of a traditional Greek family.  Deep in the heart of “Pointe Orlando,” celebrate life at “Taverna Opa!”
Taverna Opa on Urbanspoon

Chef Luis J. Negrón – Mingos

Chef Luis J. Negrón was born and raised on the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico in the city of Ponce, the birthplace of the world famous Don Q Rum. Inspired by his family and TV Chef Martin Yan of the show Yan Can Cook, Chef Luis decided to move to Florida to pursue a career in Culinary Arts.

After graduating from the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, he worked in several restaurants in South Florida, as well as a restaurant owned by Celebrity Chef Douglas Rodriguez in New York City. His experiences in NYC contributed greatly to the knowledge and techniques Chef Luis implements in his kitchen today. In 2005, he moved to Orlando to work for Loews Hotels, where he focused on their numerous restaurants within the Universal Orlando properties. Today, he is the Executive Chef of the destination restaurant Mingos, located at 100 S. Eola Drive, Suite #105 in beautiful downtown Orlando.

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Mingos is a fast growing chain of restaurants, specializing in classical dishes prepared using locally-grown fresh ingredients with Chef’s unique touch in every creation. From steaks and sea food, to salads and desserts, menu items are designed to please every palate. Stop by for their Sunday Brunch, voted Best Brunch in Orlando by OpenTable Diner’s Choice Awards.

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If you find yourself in the Thornton Park area, come meet Chef Luis and his staff at Mingos. With amazing food, attentive staff and friendly atmosphere, I guarantee your first visit there won’t be your last.

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Mingos on Urbanspoon

Escape to Margaritaville with Chef Daniel Murray

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Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville is located in Universal City Walk in Orlando, Florida. If you are looking for great margaritas, island-inspired dishes, and live entertainment, you are in the right place. From a live band on stage to an acoustic guitar on the terrace to a stilt walker making balloon hats for the children, young and old alike will enjoy the relaxed, family-friendly atmosphere.

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Featuring Jimmy Buffett tunes, an airplane replica, and an erupting volcano, Margaritaville was voted 2014 Best Theme Park Restaurant by Orlando Weekly Best of Orlando.

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Executive Chef Daniel Murray has been with Margaritaville since 2005, where he enjoys working with his team. We had a chance to sit down with Chef Daniel and learn more about his background and experiences.

The Landshark Lager Fish & Chips are hand dipped in Landshark batter, fried and served with jalapeño tartar sauce, French fries and cilantro lime coleslaw. The crispy batter and fresh fish makes this dish one of my personal favorites.

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You should also try the show stopper Volcano Nachos with house-made tortilla chips topped with chili, cheese, fresh guacamole, sour cream, jalapeños, tomatoes and scallions. This mound of Nachos is a great appetizer to share.

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Of course, margaritas are featured on the bar menu, voted Best Bar Menu by Orlando Sentinel Foodie Awards 2013.

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Don’t forget the  award winning Burgers in Paradise, voted 2014 Best Burger by Orlando Magazine.

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Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville on Urbanspoon

25th Annual Taste of the Nation Orlando

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On August 9th, 38 Chefs, including Food Network celebrity chef Melissa d’Arabian, along with 2,000 attendees have raised over $300,000 in the 25th Annual Taste of the Nation Orlando. All of the proceeds from the event are going to help end childhood hunger in Central Florida, benefiting Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida and Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida.The Coalition will use the funds to provide food, shelter and services to more than 150 children and their families each night in the coming year. Second Harvest will direct the funds to Benefits Connection, one of their primary feeding programs. P1040740_Fotor_Collage_2

What a successful event! Thank you to everyone who participated – all of the chefs, sponsors, volunteers and guests! For more information on how to become a part of this great cause, please visit www.tasteofnation.org/orlando.

Christner’s Prime Steak & Lobster

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We visited one of the oldest steakhouses in Orlando, Christner’s Prime Steak & Lobster, formerly known as Del Frisco’s, located at 729 Lee Road in Orlando. Opened in 1993, this fine dining experience is known for its meticulous service and fabulous steaks.The family owned and operated restaurant is legacy of founders Russ and Carole Christner.

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Keeping the tradition, guests are still warmed by Christner family members in the dining room. On any given day you can find Carole, Russ’ wife and the next generation of the Christner family, David – son of Russ- and wife, Alice, greeting familiar faces of the many repeat customers. We spoke with  Alice Christner about the restaurant’s history and future plans for Christner’s.

Chef Zoli Davis began his career at Christner’s at the age of nineteen. In our interview, he speaks about becoming a chef.

Homemade delicacies set the pace – each meal begins with piping hot bread and personal touches continuing throughout, from the salad dressings to signature desserts such as the award-winning Mandarin Orange Cake. Each ingredient is carefully selected with a serious focus on beef – every serving is the U.S.D.A. Choice. Attention to detail doesn’t end there, cold water lobster tails are imported from Australia and New Zealand and the restaurant boasts a wine portfolio of more than 5,500 bottles.

Christners Del Frisco Steak & Lobster

As the old adage goes, what’s old is new again, and in the case of Christner’s Prime Steak & Lobster, they get better with age.

Christner's Prime Steak & Lobster on Urbanspoon

Lee St. John – Gigi’s Cupcakes

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Cupcakes are not just a treat, they are a celebration!  Lee St. John, owner of Gigi’s Cupcakes, recalls his youth in small-town Georgia, where cupcakes meant a special event was happening.  “You don’t bake cupcakes to sit on a shelf, you bake them for a reason… and we take our cupcakes seriously!”  Treating each customer as family is Rule #1 at Gigi’s Cupcakes,  something that Lee learned while growing up in rural America. Upon retiring from the large corporate world, St. John felt drawn to a business that would allow him not only to connect with the local community but also provide an opportunity to lend a helping hand.  This has grown to an involvement in many Central Florida charities, such as Gigi’s Cupcakes partnership with Give Kids the World in their Ice Cream for Breakfast campaign, among others.
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The only way to bake a cupcake is from scratch, every morning, and Gigi’s Cupcakes also adds the secret ingredient of LOTS of love and care!  Whether your favorite cupcake is Carrot Cake, Strawberry, Wedding Cake cupcakes, or if you have a special order in mind, let Gigi’s Cupcakes know and they will “Bake to Taste.” 
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And the goodness doesn’t stop at cupcakes: Gigi’s Cupcakes specializes in cookies, cakes, cheesecakes, or just about any confection that you can dream up, from the special-themed birthday or wedding to graduation displays! If you have never experienced a “Photo-Finish-Frosting,” then just bring them a favorite picture, and soon you will be eating the results.  For the busy-party-planner, for a small fee, Gigi’s Cupcakes will special deliver your order to your party or event, saving you time, trouble, and a panic attack!
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At Gigi’s Cupcakes, you are not just another customer, you are family.  Lee St. John enjoys providing that “special touch” that each order needs… plus, if you join the Gigi’s Cupcakes Loyalty Club, you can treat yourself to a free Birthday Cupcake on your own special day… when was the last time family did that for you?  Enjoy!

Gigi's Cupcakes on Urbanspoon