By Joe Crews
For Hometown News
In a David-and-Goliath-like showdown, Cress restaurant in downtown DeLand received the top spot in Zagat Survey's 2013 Orlando City Guide, which includes rankings of restaurants in the greater Orlando area.
Cress nosed out the posh Victoria & Albert's in Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa for top honors in the area, although the latter took top honors for service.
Zagat Surveys, the respected consumer-driven rater of restaurants and other attractions, awarded Cress 29 points (out of 30) for its food, 26 points for its décor and 28 points for service.
The Zagat listings show the average price for a dinner -- defined as one entrée, one drink and tip -- was $41 at Cress; a dinner at Victoria & Albert's was listed at $136 on average.
"We're elated about the ranking," said Executive Chef Hari Pulapaka a tenured math professor at Stetson University who co-owns the eatery with his wife, Jenneffer Pulapaka, a podiatrist with a practice in DeLand. "It's gratifying that enough people think we're worth trying. I'm proud of our team, and it's always a good thing to bring attention to our community."
His wife echoed the sentiment.
"It's excitement for a job well done," she said. "We're humbled when looking at the group we're in."
Zagat blogger James Mulcahy, in announcing the release of the 2013 Orlando City Guide earlier this month, said the guide "covers 360 restaurants, 75 nightspots, 152 shops, and 57 sites and attractions. The spots were reviewed and rated by 5,614 local consumers."
It's the first time Cress has been listed in the Zagat Survey.
Cress, which seats 35 diners inside and another 14 outside, prides itself on serving globally-inspired and locally-sourced food, with a menu that changes with the seasons. The menu lists eight suppliers from Central Florida from Orlando to Ocala, including Tomazin Farms in Samsula, Vo-LaSalle Farms in DeLeon Springs and Planted Earth Vegetables in DeLand, as well as many smaller local vegetable growers.
"It's important (to use local sources) because it always results in a fresher tasting dish," Chef Pulapaka said. "It's the only way I know how to do things. I wish there was more available locally, but I'll take what I can."
Zagat also ranked Cress tops for its wine menu, which Jenneffer Pulapaka oversees.
"Our wines are diverse and paired with the food," Ms. Pulapaka said. "I'm trying to make those tastes blend as much as possible. Our prices are very reasonable, compared to other restaurants out there."
Cress has been operating since late August 2008, even as the Pulapakas continue their "regular" full-time jobs as college professor and podiatrist. Chef Pulapaka grew up in Mumbai, India, where he was exposed to "bold and vibrant" food flavors of not only his home country but an array of other nations as well. He is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Orlando, which he attended while continuing to teach at Stetson.
The Pulapakas said they will use the Zagat results to keep improving.
"It will inspire us to do better and to push the envelop more," Ms. Pulapaka said. "I'm looking for more low-production vineyards that produce very good wines at a reasonable cost, like the farms who produce very good products for us."
"It's not going to change what we do, or the attention we give our customers," Chef Pulapaka said. "We're always trying to improve, and the award won't change that process."
Cress is at 103 W. Indiana Avenue in DeLand and serves dinner only Tuesday throuigh Saturday. Its website is www.cressrestaurant.com. Reservations may be made by calling 386-734-3740 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.