A Look Back at the Year in Central Florida Restaurants

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Cask kitchen exteriorThis is the time when columnists do their yearend wrap ups. Only makes sense -- no one expects a year-end wrap up in July. But I actually started mine a couple of months ago as I prepared for the 2013 edition of the paperback Scott Joseph’s Orlando Restaurant Guide (coming soon to Amazon.com and iTunes). 

Cask and Larder was one of the highlights of the past year.


Each year, of course, I go through and strike the restaurants that have closed and add the ones that have opened. This year I counted 24 deletions, and I thought, Wow, that’s a lot. But then I counted up the additions: 64! That’s pretty good, and let’s hope it’s an indicator that things are getting better all around.

Here are some of the highlights of 2012 in Central Florida restaurants:

Best new restaurants:

Cask & Larder: the “Southern inspired” menu and the handcrafted beers at this don’t-call-it-a-brewpub from the folks behind Ravenous Pig is a welcome new tenant to the former Harper’s Tavern/Le Cordon Bleu space. I hope they signed a long-term lease.

Monsieur Paul: the replacement for Bistro de Paris at Epcot’s France pavilion is a tribute to Paul Bocuse and is cheffed by men who were trained at his restaurant near Lyon, France. The classic French food is first rate.

Raga: wonderful new Indian restaurant on Sand Lake Road offers an upscale dining option.

Tamarind Indian Cuisine: Winter Parkers got another good Indian restaurant, too, with this delightful newcomer across the street from Winter Park Village.

Galopin: this Park Avenue restaurant wouldn’t have been included in this list after the initial opening. But an early management and kitchen-crew shakedown improved the quality immensely.

Other notables:

Maxine’s on Shine: finally the neighborhood boite it was always meant to be.

Hotto Potto: odd name but a wonderul little cook-at-the-table place.

Rocco’s Tacos and Tequila Bar: surprisingly good food, but in the evenings the place might be called Raucous Tacos.

Peperoncino: charming place with authentic Italian fare.

Whitewood Mediterranean Grill: new addition to downtown's quick-bite scene.


La Coquina was perhaps the most notable closing, although it had effectively been closed for some time. The once full-time fine dining restaurant at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress went to a brunch-only schedule several years ago, but oh, what a brunch. After its usual summer hiatus, the restaurant failed to reopen. Rumored plans for the place include a spa.

Cafe Italiano, one of the area’s oldest restaurant, also closed, somewhat less surpisingly.

Vega’s, the delightfully grungy Cubanery on Colonial Drive checked out.

Clarkie’s, another old-timer, closes as of today. Wawa has purchased the location.

McCormick & Schmick’s shuttered its Mall at Millenia locale after Landry’s purchased the upscale seafood chain.

Logan’s Bistro closed on Virginia Drive; Lago left Baldwin Park. Finesse, the surprising find in Lake Mary just couldn’t make things work there. Brandywine, a fixture on Park Avenue, closed following a dispute with the landlord. Down the block, the original location of Spice Modern Steakhouse went dark (the one on Lake Eola remains). And Stefano’s Italian Grille in Windermere, not to be confused with the still-open Stefano’s in Winter Springs, also closed.

Also gone: Ichiban, All American Cafe. 

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Burgers continue to be a popular item. We saw Burger 21, BurgerFi and Broadway Burgers open this year. But 2012 wasn’t so hot for barbecue joints not called 4 Rivers. Blackwater, Bubbaque’s and O’boys all went dark.

And what’s ahead in 2013?

Most anticipated opening will be the East End Market, probably in April. That will bring us several food purveyors, including a butcher, seafood market, the headquarters of Cuisiniers Catering, and a new restaurant from the owners of Spanish River Grill.

John Rivers, the No. 1 of the 4Rivers, will open his first full-service restaurant, Cowboy Kitchen, and Darden will take over the vacated McCormick & Schmick’s space with a version of its Capital Grille. And the folks behind The Table will open another restaurant nearby.

Santiago’s Bodega will take over the Logan’s Bistro spot, and the owners of 310 Park Avenue South will offer blu (look for it any day now) in the Spice spot. And what’s this I here about a new concept from the FMI Restaurant Group? (More on that later.)

It’s looking like 2013 will be a busy year for Central Florida restaurants.

Have a Happy New Year of dining!

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