Sanderson says his paintings reflect how he sees the world. If that’s the case, then his world is a vibrant place indeed. Notes the artist, who lives in Lake County but finds inspiration in Winter Park: “I just paint whatever brings me happiness.”

BOLD AND UNBRIDLED BRUSHWORK

Sanderson says his paintings reflect how he sees the world. If that’s the case, then his world is a vibrant place indeed. Notes the artist, who lives in Lake County but finds inspiration in Winter Park: “I just paint whatever brings me happiness.”

Edward Sanderson Jr. sold plenty of paintings during the Winter Park Autumn Art Festival, held last October. Buyers were drawn to his buoyantly colorful cityscapes, many of which depicted downtown Winter Park.

Among the many attendees drawn to Sanderson’s display was Theresa Swanson, group publisher and director of sales for Winter Park Magazine, who purchased a print and asked the artist about his career.

Sanderson, a 54-year-old resident of Clermont, said his paintings had been adopted as the official posters for art festivals in Casselberry, Celebration, Heathrow and West Palm Beach. 

His goals, he added, included creating the official poster for the spring Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival and having his art featured on the cover of Winter Park Magazine.

“Well,” said Swanson, who had not yet identified herself. “I can’t help you with the first goal, but I’m pretty sure I can help you with the second one.” One thing led to another, and soon Sanderson’s painting entitled Wish You Were Here, a depiction of sidewalk diners on Park Avenue, was selected for the magazine’s fall issue.

Although he lives on acreage in Lake County, Sanderson says “I never fail to be inspired when I come to Winter Park.” Something about the city’s ambiance, Sanderson says, lends itself to his dynamic compositions and fearless use of color.

A native of Philadelphia, Sanderson moved to Altamonte Springs with his family at age 5, the youngest of four siblings. He was inspired to pursue art by his father, a BellSouth executive who was also a master model builder. He went on to earn an A.A. degree from Valencia College and to enroll in UCF with the intention of studying painting.

But formal art education quickly went by the wayside when Sanderson was hired to sketch pastel portraits for tourists at Walt Disney World, where an artist who was fast and could churn out a good likeness might haul in hundreds of dollars per day. 

However, when Sanderson’s mother died of cancer in 2001, he turned his focus to fine art and entered the festival circuit. By 2007, he was selected as the poster artist for the Celebration Art Festival. 

Sanderson would go on to complete nine more hot-selling official posters for local festivals, and to attract a national and international following of serious collectors as well as people who just felt better when they saw his ebullient contemporary impressionistic images adorning the walls of their homes and offices. 

“It’s the color,” he says. “I’m not afraid to use it. If my work was photo realistic, I’d feel like a human copy machine. My paintings are interpretations of how I see the world, where I prefer to use bold and unbridled brushwork without regard to reality. I just paint whatever brings me happiness.”

Many local artists know Sanderson already. Since 2010, he has been the senior framing manager at Sam Flax in Orlando, the building on East Colonial Drive that looks as though it was assembled from Legos. It’s a major purveyor of art supplies and an unofficial gathering place for artists of all genres.

“We’re all artists here in one form or another,” says Sanderson. “I’m surrounded by creative people and surrounded by beautiful art every day. “I love to mentor and encourage young artists who come in.” 

In addition to daily immersion in an arts-oriented environment, Sanderson says his work is energized by his wife, Christi, “who inspires me to be a better artist and a better person.” The couple has two children: Emily, 13, and Edward Jr., 15.

“I invite the viewer to look at life on a daily basis as a gift filled with fleeting moments,” Sanderson says. “In this sometimes-tumultuous world of uncertainty and darkness, I encourage the world to seek out the beauty that we’re blessed with each day, often found in ordinary places.”

Art, Sanderson notes, is “cheaper than therapy” for both creators and consumers. To see if you agree, visit originalsbyhenderson.com.

With roots in ancient Chinese medicine, qigong is practiced by adherents — Artt among them — for exercise, relaxation and overall health. Some studies have shown that qigong does appear to lessen chronic fatigue and improve mood disorders such as depression. Artt believes that qigong, which is introduced in The Guardians of Peace, can be especially effective for overstressed children.

A VIDEO GAME FOR THE SOUL

Artt, a technologically challenged grandmother, became alarmed at the rise in violence among young people. So she decided to do something about it by creating The Guardians of Peace, a science fiction adventure game with all the high-tech bells and whistles but rooted in traditional meditation and healing techniques. Photo by Blakesberg Photography

This is the unlikely story of a video game creator who readily admits to being technologically challenged and whose only video game acquaintance is with Pac-Man, that hungry yellow orb who did nothing more than chomp his way through a maze with multihued ghosts in hot pursuit. 

Could Pac-Man now really be 30 years old?

Even when Nintendo’s mustachioed Mario burst onto the scene several years later, Debbie Petry Artt says, “We wanted our kids outside doing stuff” rather than sitting inside, playing video games. “We kind of saw, even back then, that it wasn’t a good idea to have them get addicted to that.” 

Fast forward a few decades. As the value of the global gaming market approached $200 billion, Artt, a 63-year-old grandmother, came to realize that video games could be used for good. 

Horrified by increasing gun violence, and especially shaken by school shootings, she wanted to share a story that taught children about love and kindness and how to be the very best version of themselves. 

So she created The Guardians of Peace, a science fiction adventure game that she describes as a response to violence and an alternative to games that “provide a blueprint for teaching children how to take a gun and blow heads off.”

The story underpinning the game, which gradually took shape on the pages of a composition notebook, describes the positive energies of strength, passion, life, love, mind, sight and spirit battling the opposing forces of laziness, fear, hate, poison, ignorance, lies and cruelty.

Not sure how to proceed but believing that what she had could be impactful, Artt tucked the story away for safekeeping. Until one evening about two years ago, over Mexican food and a sangria at a local restaurant, when she described the concept to her friend Holly Camorata, a real estate salesperson and a former public-school teacher.

As it turned out, Camorata had contact information for someone in the gaming industry: Bret Wright, a Full Sail University graduate who in 2013 had earned a master’s degree in game design. In 2019, Wright started Toolshed LLC, a small (15 employees) company based in Cut Bank, Montana, that produces apps and video games. 

The tech whiz — who had worked as a designer and content director for several game developers prior to starting his own company — spoke on the phone with Artt. He was intrigued with what he heard. 

Three days later, they met in person at Artt’s home. “I showed him my little composition notebook,” Artt recalls. “He read the story and said, ‘I love this. Let me take it back to my video game world and show everybody.’” 

Wright, from his studio in Cut Bank, says his involvement with The Guardians of Peace has offered a welcome change of pace. “Most of my career has been working on, maybe not ultra-violent, but violent stuff,” he says. 

Adds Wright: “We definitely feel the need every day to get this out. I truly believe it will help kids cope with things like division, hate, racism and bullying — among other issues we all face daily.”

The Guardians of Peace story revolves around nine key words — purpose, gratitude, love, meditate, soul, energy, qigong, blessing, kind — and a young squire’s quest to become a Guardian of Peace. The game’s mentors — including one modeled on Artt — are inspired by her family members.

TAKE CARE OF YOUR QI

Artt subsequently contracted with Tool Shed to develop the game, which she hopes will change the world in part by exposing young players to qigong (pronounced chee-gong), a system of coordinated body-posture and movement, breathing and meditation. 

With roots in ancient Chinese medicine, qigong is practiced by adherents — Artt among them — for exercise, relaxation and overall health. Integrative medicine specialist Dr. Yufang Lin of the Cleveland Clinic says that qigong does appear to lessen chronic fatigue and improve mood disorders such as depression.

“According to traditional Chinese medicine principles, a person’s qi (energy) must flow throughout the body in order for people to feel their best,” Lin adds. “If qi becomes stagnant in a certain area, health problems can occur.”

The Guardians of Peace, designed for kids ages 6 through 12, launched its first episode as a free app available through the Apple App Store for iOS, Google Play for Android and Steam for PC. More than 100,000 games were downloaded and positive player reviews piled up.

Two other episodes followed, including a Spanish version. Soon The Guardians of Peace will be available for purchase through Playstation and Xbox. Artt says a game with Chinese subtitles is also in the works, as well as revised iterations aimed at older players.

CONQUER WITH KINDNESS

The story revolves around nine key words — purpose, gratitude, love, meditate, soul, energy, qigong, blessing, kind — and a young squire’s quest to become a Guardian of Peace. The game’s mentors — including one modeled on Artt — are inspired by her family members.  

The squire — players may choose “Diego” or “Sienna” — must pass the Seven Sacred Trials, waging epic battles to save the kingdom of Hastina-Poora and vanquish Commander Selfish and his menacing darklings once and for all.  

Special enhancements to the squire’s abilities can be added along the way by pausing to join the monks in meditation. That’s how qigong is introduced. “I think it will help with our drug epidemic,” says Artt. “If you find your purpose, you don’t have to numb your feelings.”

Though the accent is likely to provide a clue, Artt grew up on Long Island, New York, one of three children of Bill and Faith Petry, whom she remembers as “the golden ticket when it comes to parents.”

Tech whiz Bret Wright, a Full Sail University graduate with a master’s degree in game design, had worked as a designer and content director for several game developers prior to starting Tool Shed LLC, based in Cut Bank, Montana. Wright was intrigued with Artt’s idea and sympathetic to her mission. “We definitely feel the need every day to get this out,” he says. “I truly believe it will help kids cope with things like division, hate, racism and bullying — among other issues we all face daily.”

After serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, Bill Petry returned home and took a job working alongside United Parcel Service founder Jim Casey. Petry, capitalizing on a ground-floor opportunity, was instrumental in helping open new UPS hubs around the country before he retired at age 55. 

Artt’s parents celebrated 69 years of marriage before her father died in 2014. Her mother followed in 2019. The opening screen on The Guardians of Peace is dedicated to the couple, “who taught me that love can conquer all obstacles.”

Clearly, being a video game entrepreneur is not for the weak of knee or the shallow of pocket. Wright, while not revealing Artt’s investment in Guardians of Peace, says that comparable games — with polished graphics, a large cast of characters and a multilayered story — could easily cost seven figures to develop.

Artt, though, will only say that it’s the message, not the money, that really matters. Her successful career in real estate — and “the empire built on love and kindness” by her parents — has allowed her to pursue projects that capture her passion. And her three daughters, who live in three different states, have all pitched in.

Daughter Sydney Artt helps make business decisions, while daughter Jenna Zell, a qigong instructor, wrote the game’s meditations. Daughter Amanda Pate, whose Almost Naked Swimwear was featured on the cover of last August’s Sports Illustrated, is designing a “Faith Collection” of clothing and jewelry inspired by the game.

Jenna, Artt says, started the family on a spiritual journey about a decade ago when she battled anxiety and depression. Seeking answers, she discovered books and videos by inspirational author Panache Desai and qigong master Robert Peng. 

“Jenna started coming back to us with information about energy healing and meditation,” says Artt, who believes that her video game venture is divinely inspired. “It took us years to really jump on board with her.”

Judging by the celebrity endorsements on Artt’s Facebook page — sandwiched as they are between proud mama and doting grandma moments — the message is resonating. 

If there’s any doubt, just listen to the video testimonials from, among others, Jon Bon Jovi, Priscilla Presley, Deepak Chopra, Drew Pinsky (“Dr. Drew”) and Artt’s good friend and gym buddy singer Dion DiMucci. 

“Give me something of substance and you’ll entertain me all day long,” says DiMucci, who is perhaps best remembered for “Abraham, Martin and John,” a plaintive megahit in 1968. “This app instills real good stuff in your soul, if you know what I mean.”

For someone who thought she was entering retirement, Artt finds that her world has become very busy over the past couple of years. But if anyone can keep all the plates spinning it’s Artt, who splits her time between homes in Winter Park, Boca Raton and Costa Rica.

With roots in ancient Chinese medicine, qigong is practiced by adherents — Artt among them — for exercise, relaxation and overall health. Some studies have shown that qigong does appear to lessen chronic fatigue and improve mood disorders such as depression. Artt believes that qigong, which is introduced in The Guardians of Peace, can be especially effective for overstressed children.

“When you find your purpose, you know,” she says. “It just feels so good what I’m doing.” She does, however, believe that it’s important to take care of herself first. 

She begins each morning by checking in with her kids. Then she settles in for her spirituality and meditation practices, followed by celery juice and a cup of herbal tea. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, it’s off to the gym. 

Other mornings, she indulges a previously unrealized fondness for tennis, a game she began playing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Very much in character for Artt, her love of the game led her to open a tennis camp for underprivileged children in Costa Rica. 

What lies ahead for The Guardians of Peace? “I won’t stop until it’s a ride at Disney,” says Artt, who also has long-range visions of creating meditation centers for children and seeing the concepts that underpin the game taught in schools. 

After all, anything’s possible. One can almost hear Artt’s voice in the game as mentor Faith tells young squire Diego: “Meditate on it. Dream it. Will it. And it will manifest.” 

One thing is certain: Artt’s grandchildren will grow up knowing that their grandmother did everything within her power to make the world a better place for them to live. 

“We all have to do our part,” Artt says. “If you just have a positive thought once a day, that negates a thousand negative thoughts, creating a shift in the world.”

Spoken like a true Guardian of Peace. 

THE FRENCH RESISTANCE

Photography by Rafael Tongol

German and Dominique Gutierrez are seasoned restaurant veterans who also do the seasoning (and the serving) at Café de France, a longtime favorite among local Francophiles.

In the past couple of years, Dominique Gutierrez has stepped into the Café de France kitchen not only make a weekly terrine, as she has for 36 years, but to do whatever tasks the chef can’t handle alone. 

Chopping, mincing, sautéing — the 60-year-old entrepreneur tackles whatever is urgent. Her husband, German, also 60, sometimes waits tables himself these days instead of quietly managing the restaurant and selecting the wines — his main jobs for the past three dozen years. 

The couple, who bought the restaurant as energetic and ambitious twentysomethings, kept Winter Park Francophiles fed through good times and bad times, such as the pandemic. 

Now entering their 60s, the restaurateurs are seasoned veterans who do the seasoning as well as the serving and, ultimately, the surviving. “It’s a small business,” Dominique says. “We carry on. We keep doing what we do. And the restaurant has been busy lately.” 

Café de France likely had a dash of panache back when it opened in 1982, when the Gutierrezes joined the team in 1985 and still when they became the owners the following year. 

Café de France’s pan-seared striped bass is plated in a broth of saffron, fennel, celery, tomato and onion with baby potatoes. Dishes like this have helped the restaurant retain a strong local following.

Now it’s a bit of a throwback. The tablecloths are white linen, as you would expect. Otherwise, though, the décor could use some freshening. The menu evolves based upon trends and seasons, yet the essentials remain familiar — if subject to tweaks. 

You’ll always find roast duck and rack of lamb, for example, although the sauces and sides change periodically. The roasted chicken breast may have a wild mushroom sauce, while the salmon may sit on a bed of risotto made with sun-dried tomatoes and Parmesan. Or maybe there’ll be a slight but equally favorable variation.

It doesn’t really matter. Café de France, which somehow combines unfussiness and formality, has a faithful following for sure. Families celebrate milestones here, often three generations at once. 

 Business is conducted, with familiar power brokers hobnobbing over beef Bourguignon at a back table. During a recent visit, we saw a wheeler-dealer whom most Central Floridians would recognize engaged in deep discussion with her associates. That same night, we saw young parents at a nearby two top crack the tops of crème brulêès to cap off their date night.

“Seventy percent of our guests are regulars,” Dominique estimates. “German, the servers and I know them well. We know what they eat, we know what they drink and we know where they like to sit. That’s part of what you get by visiting a small restaurant. We have that little je ne sais quoi presence. It’s customer service.”

Those regulars ordered take-out when the restaurant was closed by COVID-19. Then they dined at sidewalk tables and later returned indoors — often up to two or three times a week. 

Such support is part and parcel of the give-and-take at Café de France. The long timers, in fact, have aged in place with the Gutierrezes. They kept the kitchen busy after the 2008 recession all but brought fancy dining to a halt. They parallel parked along Park Avenue for several years following the crash, when the neighboring storefronts were vacant. 

The French onion soup (facing page) is made with sweet caramelized onions. The crouton is freshly sliced French bread from Olde Hearth Bread Company, a local artisan baker. It’s topped with Gruyère cheese.

“We were the only ones left on our side of South Park Avenue,” Dominique points out. “We went almost two years without neighbors, and we had a new landlord from one day to the other. The rent went up — you have no idea; it almost tripled. There were moments we barely had our heads out of the water.”

Recent challenges brought more of the same. “We survived by going back to the basics,” Dominique says. “My husband waiting on tables, me cooking. That’s it in a nutshell.”

While the Gutierrezes postponed the décor refresh they’d hoped for, their restaurant settled back into normalcy. The kitchen now has two chefs preparing the menu that Dominique conceives. Chef Abi Rios handles the prep and hot line now, freeing his boss to prepare the terrine (similar to a pâté). 

Using whatever looks tempting in the fridge, from mushrooms to nuts and berries, Dominique lovingly creates the menu staple just as her mother did back in Vendee, France, during the restaurateur’s rural childhood. 

Start your lunch or dinner with that terrine for the true Café de France experience. The version we tried was a veal and pork blend served on a wooden board with gherkins and dots of Dijon mustard. 

A good way to start your lunch or dinner is with the terrine maison (above). This version is a veal and pork blend served on a wooden board with gherkins and dots of Dijon mustard. The rack of lamb (below) has a hearty bleu cheese and horseradish cream sauce that sits atop a purée of rosemary-flavored roasted butternut squash with Brussels sprouts on the side.

Not surprising at a French restaurant, escargot is another forever favorite. The shelled snails swim in a sauce of housemade garlic butter, fresh herbs and other flavorings that Dominique describes as “our own tricks.” A little wine and a dash of cream complete the starter. 

The French onion soup is conscientiously made without sherry. “Nuh-uh! That’s an American thing!” Dominique insists. “The caramelized onions are sweet. We use lots of butter, of course, because it’s French, with fresh thyme and bay leaves. We put red wine into the beef broth, and we use real Gruyère on top because the cheese has that nutty flavor.” 

The crouton within the classic soup is freshly sliced French bread from Olde Hearth Bread Company, a local artisan baker.

The entrée menu features one of each popular protein. During a recent visit, the roasted half mallard duck came with a sauce of wild berries, thyme and shallots and was served with bourbon-laced mashed sweet potatoes plus asparagus. 

The rack of lamb had a hearty bleu cheese and horseradish cream sauce that sat atop a purée of rosemary-flavored roasted butternut squash, with Brussels sprouts on the side. One piece of lamb was cooked medium-well, as requested, but the other was too rare. Still, we cut some slack to chefs during these sort-of post-pandemic times. 

The day’s catch was striped bass, pan-seared and plated in a broth of saffron, fennel, celery, tomato and onion. The “baby potatoes” in the broth seemed canned to us. If not, someone erred in the kitchen because these were pasty, tasteless orbs.

For sweet endings, we selected a dark Belgian chocolate fondant cake with warm lava in the center, presented with a playful squiggle of ganache. The tarte tatin, an upside-down French apple tart served warm, was a comfy yet elegant finale with a side of housemade vanilla ice cream.

For a sweet ending to your meal, the dark Belgian chocolate fondant cake (aloe) has warm lava in the center and is presented with a playful squiggle of ganache. The tarte tatin, an upside-down French apple tart served warm, offers a comfy yet elegant finale with a side of housemade vanilla ice cream.

Café de France, even without décor upgrades, will likely keep welcoming guests young and old, new and faithful, for years to come.  

“We do the best we can without complicating everything,” Dominique says. “We want to just keep on pleasing our customers. We want everybody to be happy. We want to be good restaurateurs. We just want to be what we have always been.” 

Café de France
526 Park Avenue South, Winter Park
407-647-1869
lecafedefrance.com

A COZY ESCAPE OFF-BROADWAY

Photography by Rafael Tongol

The welcoming husband-and-wife team of Fabio Perricelli and Paula Gamba say their Mediterranean fare with Brazilian additions has “the Vinia personality.” Another delightful Vinia personality is their daughter, 2-year-old Olivia.

When you’re sitting at a simple wooden table or high top at Vinia Wine & Kitchen, listening to Brazilian music and sipping a small-batch wine that pairs perfectly with the scratch-made food, you won’t be thinking “goat farm.” 

But you could. The owners of this low-key, deliciously grown-up getaway in Hannibal Square eased into the restaurant business via an array of careers, one of which involved raising goats and selling goat meat. It’s one of many behind-the-scenes tidbits that add intrigue to an already intriguing destination. More on that in a moment.

First, let’s gush about Vinia’s cozy vibe — the space is, shall we say, intimate — and about its friendly proprietors, Fabio Perricelli and Paula Gamba, the husband and wife team who opened the restaurant in 2018. 

One or the other is frequently in the dining room, visiting every table, explaining the food and urging the tasting of, say, roasted shishito peppers with aioli or a glass of red Portuguese wine. 

We usually don’t care for hovering. But Perricelli and Gamba are so hospitable — and so genuinely warm and welcoming — that they seem more like old friends who happen to know a lot about food and wine. Their personalities are reflected in the cuisine they serve.

The menu is designed as small bites — mini-platters of Mediterranean flavors with Brazilian-influenced fare tossed into the eclectic mix. The shareables are presented with Instagram-friendly panache, and each recipe is unique to Vinia. 

For such a tiny menu, Vinia’s bill of fare has plenty to boast about. A must-have is the Pasta ai Gamberi e Limone — prawns atop pasta with lemon cream sauce.

Perricelli, who usually wears suspenders as something of a personal trademark, is determined that everything he serves be something that his guests (guests, not customers) haven’t experienced before — which is tough to accomplish when a particular guest is someone who dines out for a living. 

Still, he comes up with ideas, brainstorms with his culinary team, tests and retests his creations and, if all goes well, proudly parades the resulting fare into the dining room. “Our foods have the Vinia personality,” Perricelli says. 

That personality, I’d say, is quirky, enthusiastic and eager to please with an undercurrent of perfectionism. “I want people to recall a dish they tried here at another time, then say, ‘OMG, let’s go have that again,’” adds Perricelli. “The tomato sauce is my tomato sauce; the pesto is my pesto. Of course, the name is the same, but they never taste the same as they do somewhere else.”

Perricelli and Gamba make weekly visits to seven retail food stores to personally select ingredients, and use specialty suppliers only for hard-to-find items. That’s how they came to have fresh lump crabmeat for the crab cakes and flaky, flavorful crust for the flatbreads.

They take a similar approach to wine. “We only have wines from small producers,” Perricelli notes. “There’s always something different on the menu. If you want to drink a Caymus, don’t come here. Visit for my wine from Puglia [in Southern Italy] or my special Greek wine.”

Vinia has a small but eclectic wine list that includes two champagnes as well as a handful of wine cocktails such as seasonal mimosa and bellini.

It’s all part of the plan to make guests feel at home. “Food and wine bring people together,” Perricelli says, noting that the bossa nova-themed ambient music contributes to the aura. “All the senses come together in a very cozy environment. You eat with your eyes and ears, not just your mouth. And your heart, too.” 

Although the dining room is small, Perricelli adds, turning over tables is never his goal, and no one is rushed or pressured to finish up. “I want guests to enjoy their night out,” he says.

Perricelli and Gamba’s route to becoming restaurateurs was an unconventional one. Perricelli was born in Southern Italy and moved to Brazil at age 8, when his father joined his grandfather in operating a cattle ranch and coffee farm. Over time, the ranch branched out into raising goats. 

After his father’s passing, Perricelli took over the business. “I selected the animals to buy, and I researched the best ways to process the meat,” he says. “I used to sell the best goat meat in São Paulo.” He also did gig work in video post-production. 

Gamba, born and raised in Brazil, worked in publishing before the couple decided to change their lives, careers and country of residence. Florida seemed ideal since it was close enough for quick trips home. 

Perricelli and Gamba visited 17 Florida cities in 10 days and weren’t particularly impressed — not even with Orlando. “We couldn’t find a place we really loved,” Perricelli says, until they sought out Gamba’s favorite fast-food joint, Shake Shack, and visited the chain’s location overlooking Lake Killarney. 

“We fell in love when we got to Winter Park,” Perricelli says. “My God, this is not the Orlando of the theme parks.” 

They began looking for a good restaurant location. Park Avenue was too pricey, they decided, but they were interested in Hannibal Square and its array of eateries. “It’s kind of like off-Broadway,” Perricelli notes. He found the space vacated by the footwear retailer Sugar Shoes and soon began a nine-month construction process.

After Vinia opened, Perricelli stationed himself on the sidewalk to lure potential customers. “I stayed outside of the restaurant every day, talking to everyone who passed by,” he recalls. “A quality I appreciate here in Winter Park is that people know each other — and word began to spread.”

While the COVID-19 pandemic certainly put a kink in Vinia’s growth, less than a year after opening the restaurant was already in a strong enough position to remain viable until locals began dining indoors again.

The determination of the owners, the quality of the food and the variety of the wine selections — as well as the mellow environment — combined to help Vinia establish itself. 

Now, about the food. Among the highlights of the one-page menu is oxtail, served two ways — over gnocchi or salad greens. Originally plated over polenta with bones intact, today the specialty is a velvety, bone-free meat cooked sous-vide with wisps of fennel, celery, carrot, onions and herbs. 

The potato-based gnocchi (dumplings found in many Italian dishes) are made in-house with Italian flours. “People think of gnocchi as very heavy, but that’s not the way they should be,” Perricelli explains. “They can be light, fluffy and tasteful.” That’s what he prepares.

Pasta Fresca con Rabo de Toro (above) is oxtail served over gnocchi (or another pasta) with wisps of fennel, celery, carrot, onions and herbs. Vinia’s Dessert Flight (below) is a trio that includes an affogato (espresso with ice cream), a dôme au chocolat and a sorbet paired with dessert wines.

Cod isn’t usually on the menu in restaurants with gourmet ambitions, yet here it’s worth ordering. The fish was chosen to represent Portugal, where it’s a staple. A chef formerly on staff suggested pan-roasting a fillet and pairing it with butternut squash, which was then in season. 

“That would be terrible,” Perricelli responded. But the chef suggested a flan version of the vegetable, and that’s what guests get today when they order Bacalhau ao Forno. The fork-tender fish sits atop a silky round of slightly sweet, honey-roasted butternut squash flan. The lemon sage nage (a broth reduction) brings it all together.

Some guests requested more familiar foods, so Perricelli went all in for crab cake. “Not a bread cake, a crab cake,” he emphasizes, throwing some shade at versions too heavy on breadcrumbs. 

To jazz up his offering, dubbed Crab Cake Vinia, Perricelli added a side of all-American succotash — then took a wacky detour and substituted edamame for lima beans.

For such a tiny menu, Vinia’s bill of fare has plenty to boast about. For example, there’s the bite-size pissaladièr — pizza-like flatbread topped with anchovy-flavored oil, pureed garlic, and fresh herbs and vegetables. Another must-have is Pasta ai Gamberi e Limone — prawns atop pasta with lemon cream sauce.

We also love the meat, veggie and combo flatbreads, which have no sauce and four-ingredient tops that provide a pop of intense flavor without overdoing it.

There are empanandas with mixed veggies, cod cream, and meats and cheeses as well as charcuterie and fromage boards. And the trio of desserts — usually with fruit and chocolate options — always includes an affogato (espresso with ice cream). 

There’s a small but eclectic collection of white and red wines and champagnes as well as several cocktails, including a seasonal special and such fruity favorites as a mimosa and a bellini, which combines peach puree, prosecco and champagne. 

Are there misses? For sure. But there are more hits — and every dish is at the very least interesting. You’ll come out ahead, absolutely.

You won’t be able to try them all at one sitting, but worry not. You’ll be back. Once you discover this quiet little wine bar along the “off-Broadway” equivalent that is Hannibal Square, you’re sure to become a regular.  

Vinia Wine & Kitchen
444 West New England Avenue, Winter Park
407-925-7485 • viniawinebar.com

MOM, GOD AND A CHILD’S ART

Photography by Rafael Tongol
Photo restoration by Will Setzer at Circle 7 Studio

Jerome Donnelly (above), a retired UCF English professor and former Winter Park City Commissioner, took on the monumental task of reviewing his late mother’s voluminous journals and “commonplace books” (below). In doing so, he learned more about her than he expected.

Jerome “Jerry” Donnelly wasn’t raised in the 19th century. But the retired UCF English professor and former Winter Park City Commissioner (1972 to 1980) recalls a childhood home that seemed to exist in a kind of intellectual time warp, where family time involved taking long nature walks and reading to one another aloud. In addition, poets and philosophers occasionally gathered in the library for impromptu salons at which weighty topics were considered.

It sounds comparable, in some ways, to an 1840s home in Concord, Massachusetts, where transcendentalists — Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, Louisa May Alcott — and other unorthodox thinkers gravitated and gathered.

Only it was Ann Arbor, Michigan, where Donnelly, 85, and his two brothers were raised by what he describes as “unconventional parents” who were disinterested in material acquisitions except for a few paintings and thousands of books — many of them modern first editions. They also encouraged their offspring to pursue creative outlets.

Donnelly’s parents were Walter Donnelly, editor of the University of Michigan Press, and Dorothy Boillotat Donnelly, a poet and essayist who earned recognition and prizes for her published work. 

Mrs. Donnelly wrote six well-reviewed books and numerous articles, commentaries and poems for highly regarded “little magazines” — a genre of prestigious but small-circulation periodicals in which writers of new, unusual and often movement-spawning work could get into print. 

“I can recall being lulled to sleep by the faint clicking of the typewriter downstairs as my mother typed her first book,” says Donnelly. That book was The Bone and the Star (1944), described by philosopher Mortimer Adler as “a study of primitive man, looked at from the points of view of Christian theology … Mrs. Donnelly has that rare ability which can penetrate myths to the truths they contain.”

Mrs. Donnelly died in 1994 at the age of 91. And recently her middle son — with the encouragement of his two brothers — undertook the monumental task of going through his mother’s voluminous journals and two “commonplace books” of the sort popular during the Victorian era. Many writers — from Emerson through Auden — used commonplace books to record snippets of information or germs of thought that might be referenced later.

Dorothy Boillotat Donnelly was a poet and essayist who earned recognition and prizes for her published work. “I can recall being lulled to sleep by the faint clicking of the typewriter downstairs as my mother typed her first book,” says Donnelly. Later, fans of his mother’s books would sometimes show up unannounced at the family’s home.

“It gave me a warm feeling going through these old things,” says Donnelly, who remembers that his mother’s fans would sometime show up unannounced but admits to not fully appreciating her work until he was in college at the University of Michigan. “I hadn’t realized that she could be that good.”

Donnelly was struck by a passage from one of his mother’s unpublished essays, which he says “seems to me to be the basis for her poetry.” The excerpt, which discusses how Christians should view the world, reads:

“The Christian consciousness sees all things raised to their highest in their true direction, which is Christward … By means of the Christian consciousness the whole world and all things in it are seen to be a burning bush; everything pulses with the thrill of the electric force of the finger of the Creator, which means that everything, even the ground under our feet, is holy.”

In addition to revelations about his mother’s writing, the exploration of her papers also rekindled in Donnelly fond memories of her reading aloud as the family sat around the dinner table. Although she read many books to her children (and to her husband), the youngsters couldn’t hear enough of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

“In response to requests from my brothers and me, my mother read The Hobbit a number of times over the years — often enough that I could almost recite snatches of it,” Donnelly says. 

That a writer with the sensibilities of Mrs. Donnelly would appreciate Tolkien is no surprise since he, like she, was a serious Roman Catholic and his work, like hers, had moral and theological undertones. 

Donnelly recalls that his mother once paused when she came to a passage in The Hobbit that describes goblins cracking their whips at the hobbits and dwarves who were their prisoners. The goblins seemed like Nazis, she said — an observation that her son would recall decades later when he wrote an academic paper about Tolkien’s satire of Nazism in The Lord of the Rings. (The article can be read by entering “Nazis in the Shire” in any search engine.) 

In contrast to her poetry, most of Mrs. Donnelly’s prose was religious, most notably God and the Apple of His Eye (1973), which she described in the foreword as “a little book of observations and reflections on God and people and what they have to do with one another.” An earlier version of the book, says Donnelly, was to be titled A Letter to My Sons.

Donnelly also remembers the informal salon-like evenings that his parents hosted, although as a child he didn’t appreciate the significance of the luminaries who assembled. Poet Dylan Thomas, for example, spent an evening there, and regular visitors included authors, philosophers and prominent visiting scholars from other universities. 

Once, during a raging thunderstorm, the Donnellys welcomed a stranger who had taken refuge on their porch. The young man was Robert Hayden, then a student at the University of Michigan who in the 1970s would serve as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress — a role today known as U.S. Poet Laureate. He would be the first person of color to hold the office.

It was just another day at 612 Lawrence Street, which was surely among Ann Arbor’s most interesting addresses.

• • •

Mrs. Donnelly, a native of Grosse Pointe Park, a comfortable suburb of Detroit, attended the Detroit Teachers College (now Wayne State University) and began teaching school at age 17. She later earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Michigan and married Walter Donnelly, then an instructor of rhetoric. 

Her acclaim as a writer grew, culminating in 1976, when she was presented with the international Christian Culture Gold Medal at Assumption University (Windsor, Ontario), joining the ranks of such historically significant figures as philosopher Étienne Gilson, media theorist Marshall McLuhan and social activist Dorothy Day. The university’s board of governors cited Mrs. Donnelly as “an integral humanist, an outstanding exponent of Christian ideals.”

But she put family first and took joy in raising sons Stephen, Denis and Jerome. “My mother was a stay-at-home mom and declined repeated teaching opportunities from the university,” says Donnelly, who adds that despite her stature in the literary world, his mother was in other ways a traditional homemaker who prepared meals, did laundry and doted on her children — at times finding poetic inspiration while doing the dishes.

Most of the prose written by Dorothy Donnelly (below) was religious, notably God and the Apple of His Eye (above), which she described in the foreword as “a little book of observations and reflections on God and people and what they have to do with one another.” She also published books of poetry, and her work appeared in prestigious magazines and was anthologized in several collections. Although Mrs. Donnelly’s acclaim as a writer grew, she repeatedly turned down offers to teach at the University of Michigan and took joy in being “a stay-at-home mom” for sons Stephen, Denis and Jerome.

Mrs. Donnelly’s nurturing nature was demonstrated in a special way when her professor-turned-archivist offspring, while sorting through stacks of handwritten journals and other ephemera, found that she had kept one of his childhood drawings scrawled on a tiny piece of note paper — and had immortalized it in a poem.

“My mother encouraged my brothers and me to draw,” says Donnelly. “But I had absolutely no talent for drawing.” Nonetheless, this childhood work of art — created when he was 7 years old — endured and was discovered carefully tucked inside a small envelope.

Measuring three inches in height and two inches in width, it’s a pencil and crayon rendering of a smiling little girl with rosy cheeks and pigtails. She’s wearing a green dress and her arms are thrown open as if reaching out to embrace the world. On an accompanying piece of paper, in Mrs. Donnelly’s handwriting, is the note “Done by Jerry, 1943.”

It’s true that the drawing doesn’t reveal young Jerry to be any sort of artistic prodigy. But something about the image’s exuberance — perhaps it reflected his mother’s humanist worldview and her philosophy about even common things being holy — prompted her to hold onto the drawing and to write a poem about it that was published 15 years later in The New Yorker. The title of the poem is “Drawing of a Little Girl by a Little Boy.” 

A hug from mom is always comforting. If it’s true that “everything pulses with the thrill of the electric force of the finger of the Creator,” then it isn’t a stretch to believe that through the rosy-cheeked little girl hidden away for nearly 80 years, Mrs. Donnelly had hugged the son who is working so diligently to preserve her legacy. 


DRAWING OF A LITTLE GIRL BY A LITTLE BOY

Suddenly there on the paper air,
all élan, like a Victory-figured prow
blown into view on the prow of a wave,
she balances, arms straight out like a snowman’s;
no hands, no feet, no neck, but a head,
quite ample, and cheeks, very strawberry red.

Everything’s new in his child’s-eye view,
unmuffled by cliché or clue,
like the first school-day and the red letter A
strangle alpha of every readable APPLE,
or the number 1 with its invitation
to follow ad infinitum.

And when SHE appears, formed on a rib
of fancy (the fledgling female seen
in the portrait) the figure of Beatrice lightly
enters his sky; he feels her starry
breath, and is stirred; and greenly, within,
the first little bean-leaf of love.

The “Beatrice” reference is to a character in Dante’s Paradiso, the third and final part of the Divine Comedy. As Dante’s guide through the afterlife, she represents divine revelation, theology, faith, contemplation and grace. Beatrice is thought to have been inspired by a real person, Beatrice Portinari, with whom Dante became infatuated at age 9. She married another man and died at age 25, but continued to be the smitten writer’s muse for as long as he lived. “My mother seems to have used the allusion to suggest that I made the girl in the drawing something similar,” says Donnelly, who believes the image came entirely from his imagination. “The reference to Dante’s Beatrice compliments the little boy, who has made his Beatrice out of love.”

Architect Cram believed that a college education “should develop all the intellectual and spiritual qualities of young people.” Perhaps this stance influenced his suggestions for elements that should appear in the rose window, which was designed by William H. Burnham of Boston.

DON’T PASS THE GLASS

Circular stained-glass windows — often referred to generically as “rose windows” because many are adorned with rose-like petals — originated with medieval gothic cathedrals. Such windows, including the one at Knowles Memorial Chapel at Rollins College, are meant to symbolize the spiritual beauty and power of the heavenly vision through geometric patterns and brilliant colored light. Photo by Rafael Tongol

Knowles Memorial Chapel, designed by renowned architect Ralph Adams Cram and dedicated in 1932, is justly recognized as one of the nation’s most beautiful college chapels. Whether you’re a member of the Rollins College community or a visitor to the campus, the chapel is well worth a few minutes of exploration. 

When you enter the building, continue through the vestibule and walk 20 paces into the nave, then turn and look high up beyond the balcony. Your eyes will fall immediately upon a central feature: the circular stained-glass window that overlooks the sanctuary and the campus. 

If it’s a sunny day, you’ll be astonished and perhaps even reverentially moved by the light pouring through the multicolored glass.

Look closer. Unlike traditional geometrically designed circular windows, you’ll notice the chapel window is filled with human figures as well as lettering and unusual ornamentation. Why did the artist design this style of window and, beyond its decorative qualities, what do all those figures represent? 

Circular stained-glass windows — often referred to generically as “rose windows” because many are adorned with rose-like petals — originated with medieval gothic cathedrals. They’re meant to symbolize the spiritual beauty and power of the heavenly vision through geometric patterns and brilliant colored light. 

Every element in a rose window has a degree of meaning, and all the elements come together in a single cohesive theme that encompasses both the real and the symbolic. Nothing is placed randomly, and even the number of images shown usually has significance.

Think about the importance of specific numbers in the Bible. There’s the Trinity, or the concept of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit as three in one. Think, too, of seven as a symbol of completeness and perfection, and 12 as a symbol of faith, the church and divine rule. 

Yes, there’s logic, but also majesty that doesn’t require much analysis. Scholar Charles Jay Connick wrote that rose windows are “based upon a belief in the spontaneous emotional appeal of pure color alive in light. … A great window against the sky is like an orchestra of bells and harps in the wind. It is of the color of the weather, and its symphonic splendors vary with the passing hours.”

Knowles Chapel’s window, like most of its genre, contains plenty of symbolism and numeric specificity: seven liberal arts, seven doves, seven pillars — and the window is divided into 12 sections. It was the content, however, that created a substantive deviation from conventional practice. 

Jack C. Lane, professor of history emeritus at Rollins College, has researched just about every aspect of the college’s history. He says visitors need not follow the rose window’s complex symbolism to appreciate its sheer beauty: “If it’s a sunny day, you’ll be astonished and perhaps even reverentially moved by the light pouring through the multicolored glass.” Photo by Rafael Tongol

The window was intended to serve a didactic function for the college community. That is, it was to provide a permanent visual tutorial on the origins of the liberal arts and to symbolically instruct the college on the moral and sacred purposes of a liberal education.

College benefactor Frances Knowles Warren’s original donation for the chapel didn’t include enough financing for such an elaborate creation, so architect Cram left a circular space high above the west entrance to be filled when additional funds became available.  

Mabel Knowles Gage, Frances’ sister, soon came to the rescue and the window was installed in 1934, two years after the chapel’s dedication. The finished product was the result of a  collaboration between Cram and William Herbert Burnham, one of the nation’s most renowned stained-glass artists.

Burnham had been working with stained glass since 1904 and, like Cram, was entranced by gothic cathedrals. Prior to World War I, he had traveled extensively in Europe, sketching rose windows and eventually mastering the unique techniques required for their construction. 

In 1922, he founded William H. Burnham Studios of Boston and immediately attracted the attention of Cram, then the country’s leading neo-gothic architect. By 1932, Burnham had become Cram’s favorite stained-glass window designer.

Burnham’s first work for Cram was in St. Mary of Redford, a cathedral in Detroit. His studio eventually designed 17 windows for the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D. C.; and all the windows and murals for Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria, Illinois. Add to that impressive portfolio 10 windows for the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine and five windows for the Riverside Church, both in New York City. 

According to Burnham, Cram chose the Renaissance version of the seven liberal arts as the Knowles Chapel window’s theme and provided some general guidelines about the elements that should be pictured. Perhaps his choices were influenced by their compatibility with the chapel’s Mediterranean Revival architecture, which borrows from gothic as well as Spanish and Italian Renaissance styles.

The concept of the “liberal arts” originated in ancient Greece and Rome, then was revived in the Late Middle Ages and reached its classic form during the Renaissance. 

Throughout this evolutionary process, the fundamental premise of a liberal arts education remained the same: to provide young people with a general course of study that gave them the wherewithal to live flourishing, productive lives rather than a “mechanical” education intended for a vocation. 

By the time of the Renaissance, the liberal arts had been narrowed to encompass seven subjects: the Trivium (grammar, dialectics and rhetoric); and the Quadrivium (geometry, music, arithmetic and astronomy).

For the window’s central image, Cram selected “Wisdom,” which he believed to be the paramount purpose and aspirational outcome of a liberal arts education. Burnham depicts Wisdom as a “regal, heroic” female figure and places her at the design’s very center. 

College benefactor Frances Knowles Warren’s original donation for the chapel didn’t include enough for an elaborate stained-glass window, so architect Ralph Adams Cram left a circular space high above the west entrance to be filled when additional funds became available. Mabel Knowles Gage, Frances’ sister, came to the rescue and the rose window was installed in 1934. Photo by Winter Park Pictures/winterparkpictures.com

Silhouetted against a ruby-colored curtain that hangs from three pillars, Wisdom holds the lamp of knowledge and has an owl at her left hand. The lamp fits nicely with the college’s motto, “fiat lux” — which translates to “let there be light” — while owls often symbolize wisdom and erudition.

Wisdom is crowned with a golden wreath of laurel and clothed in a silvery white robe with gold and blue highlights. According to Greek mythology, the wreath symbolizes triumph, while white is often associated with purity and goodness. Her over-mantle is in soft, green hues.

The seven liberal arts, also represented by female figures, are arranged around Wisdom, each holding the applicable attributes. Following is Burnham’s explanation of the Trivium figures:

“Grammar” holds an ivory ruby case containing a bottle of ink, a pen, a scroll and a file in sections, symbolizing the parts of speech; “Dialectics” holds a serpent, symbolizing the wiles of sophistry (fallacious arguments); and “Rhetoric” holds a sword and shield, symbolizing the power of persuasion.  

And then the Quadrivium: “Geometry” holds a globe and compasses; “Music” plays a lyre; “Arithmetic” holds an abacus; and “Astronomy” holds an astrolabe (an early instrument used by astronomers and navigators) through which she gazes at the stars.

The conventionalized acanthus leaf is used as a motif for the rich border of rubies and golds. In Mediterranean countries, the acanthus leaf represents immortality.

After absorbing this extended explanation of the window’s design, the reader may be excused for wondering: What do all these secular symbolic representations have to do with a chapel designed for religious services? Wait! There’s more. 

Although it’s less obvious, the window does contain an important religious component. Hovering above Wisdom are seven doves, and behind her are seven pillars, both representing the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. 

These gifts, an early Christian set of beliefs taken from the Book of Isiah 11:1-2, include wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. As explained by Saint Augustine — who, incidentally, occupies the northern stained-glass window in the chapel’s apse — the gifts correspond to personal virtues of charity, faith, reverence, prudence, courage and hope.

On the window’s lintel above Wisdom are the words “Wisdom is better than strength” from Ecclesiastes 9:16. At her feet are the words “Wisdom hath build her house she hath hewn out her seven pillars” from Proverbs 9:1.

These Biblical texts and the seven gifts were, of course, appropriate for a Christian chapel, but they were intended for an even larger purpose. Cram believed deeply that religious instruction was an essential element in a liberal education. 

A college education, he once declared, “should develop all the intellectual and spiritual qualities of young people.” The most effective way to achieve this, he argued, was immersion in religion.

Architect Cram believed that a college education “should develop all the intellectual and spiritual qualities of young people.” Perhaps this stance influenced his suggestions for elements that should appear in the rose window, which was designed by William H. Burnham of Boston.

It was a “damnable opinion,” Cram contended in 1914, “that education [and the inculcation of ethics] may be divorced from religion. We have pretty much learned by this time that there is no effective education that is not interpenetrated by religion at every point.” 

Burnham agreed, saying that the window’s words and the seven gifts symbolized by doves and pillars “signified the sanctification of the liberal arts by spiritual force.” 

Thus, for Cram, the window played an essential role in the larger meaning of Knowles Memorial Chapel. The beautifully designed chapel was mainly a venue for religious services — but just as importantly, in an age of growing secularism, it served to emphasize the centrality of religion at Rollins — which was, after all, founded by the Florida Congregational Association and had as its first president a Congregationalist minister.

The window functioned symbolically to tie the chapel’s religious purpose to the college’s academic life and stood — indeed, still stands — as a constant visual reminder of the liberal arts-cum-religious roots of the college’s traditional liberal education mission.

At the dedication of the window, then-President Hamilton Holt, in his customary poetic style, captured the beauty of the work and revealed its meaning to the chapel and the college community: 

“The rose window, gathering the rays of the Southern sun, is like a luminous jewel upon the breasts of this beautiful body of the chapel. It is appropriate in a college that the dominant, central theme of Wisdom be identified with both education and religion.” 

For Holt — and for Cram — the window united the sacred and the secular, faith and reason, the liberal arts and divine wisdom. But, deeper meanings aside, it can be enjoyed strictly for its sheer beauty. 

Just look up and you’ll see what I mean. 

The Park Plaza Hotel topped the list of places Abby Ober wanted to capture with her brush during the 2020 Paint Out, sponsored by the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens.

AN INTERLUDE AT A HISTORIC HOTEL

The Park Plaza Hotel topped the list of places Abby Ober wanted to capture with her brush during the 2020 Paint Out, sponsored by the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens.

Cover artist Abby Ober today lives and works in St. Michaels, Maryland, on the Chesapeake Bay. But she graduated from Rollins College in 1980 with a degree in fine arts and has a special place in her heart for Winter Park and the historic Park Plaza Hotel.

As a student, she worked as a prep chef at the hotel’s restaurant, then The Palms (later Park Plaza Gardens and now Bovine, which is unaffiliated with the hotel).

“I felt a real connection painting the hotel,” says Ober, who did the vibrant image for the 2020 Paint Out sponsored by the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens. “I stayed at the hotel in 2004 with my best friend from college, so had the chance to view Park Avenue from that balcony.”

So the Park Plaza topped the list of places Ober wanted to capture with her brush when she was in town for the annual invitation-only plein air event. Mindy Spang Livingston, daughter of longtime owners John and Cissy Spang, bought the finished product to hang in her home.

 Ober, a native of Illinois, spent her youth abroad as the daughter of a foreign service officer and lived in Poland, Germany, Russia, India and Greece. She dreamed of becoming an artist since childhood and attended the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C., after graduating from Rollins. 

After a career in advertising Ober moved to Pennsylvania, where she raised two children and began teaching art to adults and children — including those with disabilities — at Wayne Art Center in Wayne, Pennsylvania.

She also began a career as a fine artist, painting both in her studio and at plein air events across the country. She’s looking forward to returning to Winter Park for the Polasek’s 13th annual Paint Out in October.

Ober’s work has been featured in exhibitions and is held in many private collections. She accepts commissions and does many personalized paintings for homes and businesses. She may be reached through her website, abbyober.com.

Part restaurant, part bar, Financier combines the elegance of a comfortable café with the casual nature of a neighborhood eatery. It’s a light-filled space ideal for long lunches of shared dishes or the perfect spot for late-night dinners perfectly complemented by the restaurant’s wine list.

BECOMING A BISTRO

Photography by Rafael Tongol

Executive chef and general manager Théo Goupil and his wife, Danielle, opened Financier primarily as a purveyor of pastries. The reimagined concept is quite different — and quite impressive.

If we all learned one thing this past year, it’s that we can be flexible. Stay home. Dine outdoors. Ditch stiff clothing. Winter Park’s restaurateurs adapted along the way, too, perhaps none more than Financier, a comfy French eatery that opened on Park Avenue in December 2019 — three short months before you-know-what.

By the time this petite purveyor of Parisian breakfasts and impressive pastries emerged from the worst of the year-long travails caused by the pandemic, the operation had been entirely transformed. 

Financier now has Bistro & Bar à Vin after its name instead of Patisserie & Café. Its menu is smaller, heavy on “bistro classics” and entrées, with baked sweets all but absent. 

The hours of operation, once 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., are slimmer too, as breakfast is no more and lunch — originally a brief menu meant to accompany coffee — is the main meal of the day (although it is often consumed during brunch hours). An abbreviated dinner menu is served on select evenings.

“Financier was a New York-style bistro where you could come for your breakfast, then come for your lunch then come for a nightcap,” says Executive Chef and General Manager Théo Goupil, who runs the restaurant with his wife, Danielle.

That concept is gone, and that’s OK. Today, Financier is a charming bistro with familiar Gallic staples and a curated wine selection plus mimosas and wine cocktails — all served at shaded outdoor tables and in a dreamy, Old World-style space with dark woods and ruffly lamps. The back wall is covered in wallpaper resembling old books. 

 

Entrées at Financier Bistro & Bar à Vin include steak frites— strip steak, french fries and herb butter — with a choice of several side salads.

Financier survived the shutdown and the COVID-19-era’s light crowds like most of us did — by adapting. The restaurant was meant to be a clone of the several Financier Patisserie & Cafés serving French pastries and light meals in New York City. 

Théo ran the pastry production kitchen for the chain — owned by Manhattan-based HPH Hospitality Group — which at times has had as many as 14 restaurants under its umbrella. Eager to relocate with their young children, the Goupils — 27 (Théo) and 28 (Danielle) — arranged to scout a location for a Financier outpost in Central Florida, then run it. 

And so they did, selecting a storefront most recently vacated by The Rustic Table. The space was designed by Prototype Design Lab, the same firm that conceptualized the interiors of several other HPH-owned eateries, including Harry’s, a classic Big Apple steakhouse just a block from Wall Street. 

So iconic are Financier’s green and white stripes that New Yorkers in Winter Park could tell what the restaurant was going to be before the sign even went up. That pre-sold following among erstwhile Big Apple denizens boded well for the Goupils, who were pleased that all went according to plan — for not quite three months. 

The son of a French pastry chef and a food industry veteran himself, Théo is no stranger to chaos; pandemonium is built into that profession. He pivoted into survival mode and today, candidly and humbly, shares his trials, errors and experiences as he continues to rebuild his newbie bistro like a schoolboy relentlessly reworking a Lego creation. 

Just as Financier was finding its footing, it had to close for two months. Then it reopened with six staffers instead of 20 — with Théo and Danielle comprising two of the six. Also, the Goupils found that customers didn’t want sacher tortes, almandines, raspberry white chocolate mousse and chocolate eclairs anymore. Mon dieu!

Remember how we all tucked into comfort foods in the pandemic’s early days? We cooked beef stews and mac ‘n’ cheese, baked our own breads and generally sought out treats that we fondly remembered from our childhoods.

The croque monsieur or madame (above) is basically a French ham and cheese sandwich made with country ham, Gruyère, parmesan and a simple béchamel sauce on sourdough bread. The madame version gets a poached egg on top. A bistro classic, the eggs Benedict (below) includes poached eggs, thick cut Canadian bacon and hollandaise sauce, served with smashed potatoes.

Financier, however, was selling artistic edibles in an era of peanut butter cookies and financiers (small French almond cakes, for which the restaurant is named) when folks craved fluffernutters. “Something changed, and people seemed uncomfortable with elegant, fancy desserts,” Théo notes. “So the pastry program kind of died a little bit — which was hard because that’s my roots.”
That’s when the savories began to take center stage. But Financier’s non-sweet dishes really, truly, need to be eaten on the premises — and at that time, to-go meals were all the rage. 

“The only things on our menu good for takeout were the burger, the croque monsieur sandwich and the bacon croissant,” says Théo. “I would never order a steak frites to go. Eggs Benedict would be a mess in a box.” 

Be that as it may, Financier made it through — and business is picking up as vaccinated people have become more comfortable dining indoors. Those who come in should experience a much-appreciated treat after a year of eating easily transportable foods from styrofoam containers.  

The menu offers bistro classics, including that croque monsieur (or madame). It’s basically a French ham and cheese sandwich made with ham (naturally), Gruyère, parmesan and a simple béchamel sauce on sourdough bread. The madame version gets a poached egg on top.

Monsieur or madame, either way it’s quite a production. The kitchen team stacks the sandwiches in advance, lets them “rest” in the fridge and then bakes them — finishing by bubbling up the cheese under a gadget called a salamander.

Other bistro classics include eggs Benedict, quiche lorraine, salmon fumée and avocado toast. Sharable items include prosciutto, burrata, shrimp cocktail, tuna tartare, baked brie and ratatouille. Entrées include the bistro burger, lobster brioche, seared salmon, poulet rôti (roasted chicken) and steak frites (strip steak and french fries). There’s a choice of several salads.

After two independent visits at which I was floored by how fabulous Financier’s food was, I returned with a posse of tasters before reaching out to the Goupils for this feature. Our experience was mixed, but not enough to sway me away. 

The Dijon brussels sprouts (above left) are roasted, tossed in the deep fryer so they crisp up and then drizzled with mustard vinaigrette. The smoked salmon (above right) is served on sourdough bread and topped with crème fraîche, cucumber, dill and lemon juice. The baked brie (above) is baked to gooey glory then topped with fig jam and enhanced by bits of walnut and served with a warm sliced baquette.

We ordered a whole lot of food, and most of it arrived at our sidewalk table lukewarm — likely because of the logistics required to prepare and transport it all from the small kitchen. The culinary skill, the quality ingredients and the heart behind it all were evident. 

I’ll try that steak frites again — although I’ll request to have it delivered to my table the second the chefs finish plating it. I’m an unapologetic medium-steak gal, and my sliced strip steak came out just right. There was a pool of ruby-brown liquid at the bottom of the plate that combined steak drippings and the extras that enhance the beef. 

“Most restaurants cook their steaks on a flat-top grill,” Théo explains. “Mine are seared in a pan, dry, then once it’s gotten a sear we add a nice amount of butter and continue cooking the steak in the butter — which browns, almost to a nutty flavor.” 

That butter, incidentally, is laced with herbs de Provence, salt and pepper. The french fries alongside are addictively thin and crispy, but not house made — yet. Théo speaks wistfully about from-scratch fries, lamenting his lack of space and staff so sincerely that I suspect he’ll find a way to make them over time.

The smoked salmon is notably excellent at Financier. I first had it on a toasted croissant and was obsessed with having it again. A frustrated smoked-salmon shopper myself, I understand how Théo must have scoured Central Florida for a worthy source of this tasty fish before turning to a supplier in New Jersey who offered a spectacular product. 

Part restaurant, part bar, Financier combines the elegance of a comfortable café with the casual nature of a neighborhood eatery. It’s a light-filled space ideal for long lunches of shared dishes or the perfect spot for late-night dinners perfectly complemented by the restaurant’s wine list.

We had started our feast with baked brie, here baked to gooey glory then topped with fig jam and enhanced by bits of walnut. My troupe wanted more walnuts — and toasted walnuts at that. Let’s just say that by the time you read this, Théo will likely be using crisper, darker nuts once again. He’s more than willing to listen to feedback and adapt accordingly.

As for the Caesar salad: It’s just OK. It needs some bite, both crunch-wise and flavor-wise. The croutons, though, are lovely housemade bits of sourdough bread that have been lightly toasted, then pan-fried to golden in olive oil and topped with salt and herbs de Provence. 

Whatever you order, add a side dish called Dijon brussels sprouts. Théo roasts the sprouts then tosses them in the deep fryer for a second or two so they crisp up. Then he drizzles mustard vinaigrette over the toasty brown orbs. He does the same with baby spuds for the “smashed” potatoes served with some dishes. Another reason to return.

One more tip: A crab cake has been wildly popular as a special for a few months. It’s loaded with jumbo lump crab, baked and served with a smear of lemon cream made of butter, shallots, garlic, salt, pepper, pearl onions, crème fresh, lemon juice, lime zest and segments of lemon and lime. I’ll try that next, along with the smashed potatoes.

See you on the Avenue. Just look for the outdated “Patisserie” sign. Yes, it will be swapped out when the Goupils can get around to it. But we’re being fluid in 2021, remember? 

Financier Bistro & Bar à Vin
212 North Park Avenue, Winter Park, FL 32789
321.972.2284 | financierbistrobar.com

DESIGN THAT’S UPSIDE-DOWN

Photography by Uneek Image

According to Kean, who has become something of a showcase home guru, he approaches every project by asking a simple question: “Would I want to live there?”

If anyone knows about the potential pitfalls of high-profile showcase homes, it’s Phil Kean, president of Winter Park-based Phil Kean Design Group. Kean’s team has designed and built four such homes, and Kean was the architect on one other.

“It’s an adrenaline rush, doing these homes,” says Kean, 59, who was among the first builders to introduce sleek, modern residential architecture to a city where more traditional genres had long predominated. “It’s fun and cool because you’re using all these new products that people haven’t seen yet. Not everybody’s into that, but I am.”

Showcase homes are the centerpiece of the International Builders’ Show (IBS), sponsored by the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB). The projects are intended to demonstrate the latest technologies and most leading-edge building materials for the confab’s 65,000-plus attendees.

IBS descends upon Orlando and Las Vegas in alternating years. For nearly four decades, there’s been a New American Home — and more recently a New American Remodel — for attendees to scrutinize and real estate writers to critique.

That fact alone is daunting enough. But the 2021 New American Home — located near the corner of Morse Boulevard and Pennsylvania Avenue alongside The Coop restaurant in Winter Park — was under construction during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Supply chain disruptions and labor shortages hampered progress, while construction crews had to observe social distancing and practice other unaccustomed safety measures while racing against the clock to complete the home in time for its worldwide debut.

As the virus persisted, however, the in-person show — slated for February at the Orange County Convention Center — was canceled and held virtually. Consequently, the 2021 New American Home could only be seen by taking an online 3D tour accessible to registrants via the IBS website.

The 2021 New American Home is centrally located in picture-postcard Winter Park’s downtown corridor. The three-level structure, which encompasses 5,536 square feet counting the terraces, was originally intended to be two smaller adjacent townhomes. Kean, however, decided to combine the units based on customer feedback.

Perhaps cancellation of the show was a mixed blessing since, pandemic be damned, most builders were much too busy churning out homes to spend a week cavorting in Orlando. One of the anomalies of this health crisis has been a booming real estate market even during COVID-19’s pre-vaccine rampage. But that’s another story altogether.

In any case, New American Homes have been over-the-top mansions on sprawling suburban homesites. Impressive, perhaps, but risky for the builder, who must sell to recoup his or her costs. Kean’s project, however, is a dandy departure from the norm — and likely won’t be on the market long. 

It’s a vertical three-level structure on a 1,969-square-foot homesite that anchors the south end of his company’s most recent local development — which is billed as townhomes but in fact encompasses three tightly packed single-family homes and four attached townhomes.

The IBS home, which has 4,390 square feet of air-conditioned space — 5,536 square feet counting the terraces — was originally intended to be two smaller adjacent townhomes. Kean, however, discovered that many buyers wanted to combine units or to have single-family options. 

Other single-family offerings on the same infill parcel — which stretches all the way from Morse to Shady Park — have more conventional floorplans. But Kean describes the featured design as “upside-down” because the main living space is on the top floor, where views of Winter Park’s lush tree canopy are spectacular. 

There are technically four bedrooms — if you include two rooms that have been repurposed — as well as 4.5 bathrooms, a back-entry three-car garage and terraces on each of the top two floors: one on the second floor and two on the third floor. “It’s about as urban as you can get in Winter Park,” says Kean.

Each floor offers a unique living experience. The first floor, with an art gallery entrance, encompasses a guest bedroom with an en suite bathroom. All the home’s toilets, by the way, include bidets — a change inspired by the pandemic. 

There’s also an office, which was originally another bedroom but ended up being outfitted as a workspace because of COVID-19. Doing business from home will clearly remain a preference for many even after the pandemic abates. 

How’s this for a wow factor? The custom-built floating staircase in the first floor entry area is enhanced by clear glass balusters and lighting under each tread. Of course, if you’d rather look at a staircase than climb one, there’s a hydraulic elevator to get you to the upper levels.

The second floor is dedicated to the owner’s suite, which is anchored by a large master bedroom. (The king-sized bed has a padded leather headboard that takes up most of a wall). The master bathroom connects to an expansive walk-in closet. And there’s a generous lounging area, a laundry room and a bedroom-turned-gym with an en suite bathroom and sauna. 

The third floor is an ideal place to entertain — whether it’s in the great room or the music room, which has a niche that can accommodate a baby grand piano or a small combo of musicians. In fact, it’s difficult to find an excuse to leave the third floor other than an aversion to wasting two floors of space.

There you’ll also find the kitchen, with an array of handy built-ins and a variety of finishes to add interest. It’s a beautiful space, highlighted by the warmth of dark walnut — especially notable on the floor-to-ceiling china cabinet — and a high-contrast color scheme that includes creamy white, soft black (the tone is called “charcoal”) and shiny taupe. The adjacent dining area offers easy access to the wet bar and wine storage units.

On the main terrace there’s another kitchen — of the outdoor variety — and an intimate dining area, where retractable screens keep the pests at bay. Notes Kean: “There aren’t that many places in Winter Park where you can see the sky the way you can from the upper terrace.”

The second floor is dedicated to the owner’s suite (above), which includes a large master bedroom in which the king-sized bed boasts a padded leather headboard that takes up most of a wall. The master bathroom connects to an expansive walk-in closet (below).

Kean and husband Brad Grosberg, a principal in Kean’s company, are dog people and their household includes a pampered basset hound. So it should come as no surprise that the home has plenty of doggie doors and a first-floor room specifically for dog grooming and the storage of dogfood, leashes and other canine paraphernalia. 

That’s a small but endearing touch. If you’re looking for a wow factor, though, get a load of the custom-built floating staircase, enhanced with clear glass balusters and lighting under each tread. Of course, if you’d rather look at a staircase than climb one, there’s a hydraulic elevator to take you to the upper levels.

As you might expect in a home that’s touted as state-of-the-art, this one exceeds the National Green Building Standard’s requirements for Emerald certification. There are numerous high-tech systems to enhance energy efficiency, including solar panels on the roof that help the home to generate its own power. 

As for the exterior, Kean — who attended Harvard University as an undergraduate and later earned both an MBA and a Master of Architecture degree at Washington University in St. Louis — doesn’t believe it fits any particular style except “modern” or “urban modern” with an industrial vibe.

However you label it, you can tell who designed it thanks to its clean lines and white stone veneer highlighted by metal cladding. Early on, Kean and Grosberg planned to occupy the home before eventually selling it. Says Kean: “The way we approach everything we design is by asking, ‘Would I want to live there?’ Well, I definitely would want to live there.” 

Kean and Grosberg had, in fact, lived in two previous IBS showcase homes designed and built by Kean — one in Winter Park and one in Lake Nona Golf & Country Club. Instead, however, they decided to put the New American Home on the market. The anticipated price: $4.25 million. 

In the meantime, Kean — who was named 2013 National Custom Builder of the Year by NAHB and 2014 Contractor of the Year by the Orlando Chapter of the American Institute of Architects — is looking forward to being the architect for the 2022 New American Remodel, which will be in Rose Isle, adjacent to Winter Park. 

The kitchen offers an array of handy built-ins and a variety of finishes to add interest. The space is highlighted by the warmth of dark walnut — especially notable on the floor-to-ceiling china cabinet — and a high-contrast color scheme that includes creamy white, soft black (the tone is called “charcoal”) and shiny taupe.

Moviegoers at Enzian have long met around the bar and at outlying tables, before films or after, for drinks or meals in a congenial and relaxing environment. Now, the alfresco Eden Bar is a dining destination in its own right regardless of what’s on the theater’s marquee. Many guests are attracted by the outdoor setting and the sprawling space that allows for easy distancing and enhanced safety.

FOOD BOLSTERS A CHERISHED CINEMA

Photography by Rafael Tongol

Eden Bar’s Food and Beverage Manager Darren Shakespeare (left) says, “Everyone is pushing for outside dining — and Eden Bar obviously fits right into that niche since we’re exclusively outside.” Chef Marcus Mahone (right) has added a handful of elevated menu options available only outdoors.

Admit it. You fretted about the potential impact of COVID-19 on your health — as most all of us did — then worried about how the virus would impact your job. Would you still have a job? And if so, would you be required to work from home forever?

Peripheral concerns also crossed your mind, such as what the persistent pandemic would mean for your favorite local hangouts — particularly Maitland’s cherished Enzian Theater. Well, it certainly crossed my mind.

The charming art-house cinema is universally acknowledged as a Central Florida treasure, with its off-center films and restful Eden Bar. But, like most businesses and nonprofits, Enzian — which closed from late March to early June last year — has struggled to offer new ways to deliver content and remain viable. 

Watch-at-home options and limited in-person seating have allowed a return of the eclectic flicks for which the theater is known — although it may be a while before 200 guests at a time can once again gather at their favorite tables for a screening and a meal.

The drink vibe at Eden Bar is tropical, using infusions and fresh fruit juices. So why not throw caution to the wind and swap your pinot for a fruity Birds of Paradise, an Old Fashioned made with Kirk & Sweeney 23-year aged rum or a Freaky Tiki (front right), which consists of vodka infused with fresh jalapeños blended with guava, apricot, demerara sugar and lime juice?

Enzian is alive and well not because people are suddenly flocking to movies — but in large part because of the food. Those flatbreads and chicken fingers we ordered showing after showing? Such familiar staples, plus spirited beverages and a few new menu items, have allowed fans of the theater to contribute to its coffers without ever stepping inside the building. 

Enzian is located on three acres, and its open-air Eden Bar has occupied part of the hilly outdoor expanse since 2008. Moviegoers have long met up around the bar and at outlying tables, before films or after, for drinks or meals in a congenial and relaxing environment. 

Now, the alfresco food service establishment is a destination on its own, regardless of what’s on the marquee. Many guests show up for the express purpose of eating, attracted by the outdoor setting and the sprawling space that allows for easy social distancing. The restaurant, for now, is the tail wagging the dog.

“Everybody’s pushing for outside dining — and Eden Bar obviously fits right into that niche since we’re exclusively outside,” says Food and Beverage Manager Darren Shakespeare. “We were very fortunate to have enough space on the property to spread everything out very quickly.” 

The Eden burger (above) is 100% grounded Wagyu beef with lettuce, tomato, aged cheddar cheese and pepper mayonnaise on a Kaiser roll. It’s served with your choice of fries, soup, mac and cheese or house side salad. You’ll also find three kinds of tacos (below), including blackened mahi tacos served on corn tortillas with coleslaw and avocado.

Still, we won’t call Eden Bar a hot spot since the term connotes unseemly crowds, which you’re unlikely to encounter as of now. Yet, the eatery is emerging as a beacon of sorts for those who simply can’t stand another night at home but remain uneasy about indoor dining. 

Naturally, then, the food operation is getting steadily busier. And why wouldn’t it? It’s just so darned pleasant — especially when the weather is temperate, as it is now. 

Settle in and keep your mask handy for when the server approaches; that’s the only time you’ll need it. Other precautions: touchless menus accessed via QR codes and smartphones and signs on every table asking guests to mask up when servers approach. All servers wear masks all the time.

“This is the comfort level of our customers at this point, and they’re not wrong,” adds Director of Operations David Whitfield. “They come here once a week, like regulars. A lot of people have actually said to us, ‘I don’t go anywhere else, but I’ll come to you.’”

Chef Marcus Mahone has added a handful of  “elevated” menu options available only outside. These items take too long to prepare for moviegoers, since the kitchen must churn out up to 100 meals — half the pre-pandemic number, but nonetheless daunting — to a sold-out (and socially distanced) theater crowd before the show ends. 

The pace is more leisurely at Eden Bar — and the menu is more interesting. Outdoor diners, for example, can enjoy the Eden Burger, made of ground Wagyu beef and served on a Kaiser roll topped with aged cheddar cheese, pepper mayonnaise and lettuce and tomato. 

Another outdoor-only option is the blackened mahi sandwich. The grilled fish fillet sits on Olde Hearth butter bread along with gouda cheese, banana peppers and chipotle aioli. You’ll also find three kinds of tacos — the pulled pork trio stands out — as well as two pasta meals: penne with marinara sauce and a version with blackened chicken and creamy-cheesy alfredo sauce. 

The blackened mahi sandwich is grilled and served with gouda cheese, banana peppers, chipotle aioli, lettuce and tomato on Olde Hearth butter bread, served with your choice of soup, fries,
a house salad or mac and cheese.

Thankfully, at Eden Bar you won’t be battling others for table space. Nor will you be dipping warm pretzel sticks into nacho cheese dip while leaning against the bar. When Enzian reopened, it added extra tables to the grassy area near where early ticket holders used to wait in line. 

Concurrently, a construction project doubled the size of the brick patio near the theater’s iconic fountain. The new tables were placed there, so there’s generally plenty of seating — at least until this article appears and the number of regulars swells even further. (Oh, well, reviewers are obligated to spread the word, I suppose.)

The horseshoe-shaped Brazilian walnut bar itself is different, too. To get a drink you’ll stand in line — six feet apart, please — and order when it’s your turn. The barstools are gone, as is the privilege of hanging out by the colorful Bill Plympton wall mural that depicts Florida wildlife. All but two of the two-seat, high-top tables in the covered bar area are packed away. 

It’s always been not quite a secret that you can order a cocktail at Eden Bar and carry it into the theater if you prefer something more intriguing than the wine and beer offered inside. Cocktail options include the tiki-bar-style handcrafted creations that Robert Carter and Andrew Boesch added after becoming mixology managers two years ago. 

The drink vibe is tropical, using infusions and fresh fruit juices. Some of those labor-intensive libations are too time-consuming to make frequently these days, yet several are still available. So why not throw caution to the wind and swap your pinot for a fruity Birds of Paradise or an Old Fashioned made with Kirk & Sweeney 23-year aged rum?

Moviegoers at Enzian have long met around the bar and at outlying tables, before films or after, for drinks or meals in a congenial and relaxing environment. Now, the alfresco Eden Bar is a dining destination in its own right regardless of what’s on the theater’s marquee. Many guests are attracted by the outdoor setting and the sprawling space that allows for easy distancing and enhanced safety.

Carter and Boesch also create concoctions inspired by films being shown in the theater. Such offerings are made in big batches so moviegoers can get them delivered to their tables on a timely basis. The Dog Island, for example — made with gin, pineapple, almond, lime and bitters — was served during the run of Isle of Dogs, a 2018 animated sci-fi movie from Japan. 

Look for similarly clever cocktail offerings for major holiday seasons and, notably, during the 30th annual Florida Film Festival, which will run from April 9 through 22 and feature a combination of in-person and online screenings.

Here’s another Enzian extra: Fountain Features. Every Wednesday through February, the theater set up a screen and showed a film on the expanded patio area. Because guests — particularly members — were pleased, the outdoor experiment will continue intermittently through spring. 

“It’s our opportunity to still show movies to people who aren’t comfortable going indoors yet,” says Director of Development Janie Pope. “We have such a loyal group of patrons who are looking for ways to support us.” 

Additionally, Enzian pairs with the City of Winter Park to screen a Popcorn Flicks movie once a month in Central Park. Guests reserve their 10- by-10-foot pod, then arrive with blankets or chairs to watch the movie in a socially distant setting. 

The bottom line? Inside or outside, locals can still get an Enzian fix when they want one. And now, you can think of your Eden Bar meal as an unusually tasty charitable contribution to a community institution that adds immeasurably to the area’s panache. 

Enzian/Eden Bar
1300 South Orlando Avenue, Maitland
407-629-1088
enzian.org/food

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