Francesco headshotFrancesco Aiello, via Facebook

This weekend – May 20, to be exact – marks the 10th anniversary of Francesco’s Ristorante and Pizzeria in Maitland, and chef/owner Francesco Aiello plans to celebrate a decade of success. On Friday and Saturday, the popular restaurant will feature live music, much food and toasts to those who have supported Aiello and his crew over the years.

Aiello is a native of Palermo, Sicily, and developed a love for cooking at an early age, eventually attending the Instituto Alberghiero, a culinary school in Palermo.

After graduating, he moved to Central Florida and worked in Italian restaurants for several years, including one called the Sicilian on Lee Road and most notably Terramia Ristorante & Wine Bar in Altamonte Springs, working with longtime restaurateur Rosario Spagnolo, eventually opening the Lake Mary Terramia.

“Rosario was a nice mentor for me,” Aiello said. “Nine years I was working for Rosario and watching him.” But Aiello wanted more. “It was my dream to open my own business.” He figured he finally had enough experience, and with his business partner, John Maciewicz, set out to find a place of his own.


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Chefs and restaurateurs in Orlando, Miami and Tampa will learn June 9 whether they’ve made the cut for the first Florida Michelin Guide. The announcements will be made at the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lake at 6:30 p.m.

Representatives of the fabled guide will reveal which restaurants earned one, two or the ultimate three stars or a Bib Gourmand designation, sort of a Miss Congeniality category for restaurants not quite up to star status. (The Bib Gourmand award is named for the puffy Michelin Man mascot, whose official name is Bibendum. Who knew?)

Also at the June 9 ceremony, the Sommelier of the Year and Exceptional Cocktails Awards will be presented.

As with American counterpart guidebooks (Mobil, AAA), the Michelin Guide began in France at the turn of the 20th century to help new motorists find places to eat as they toured the country.

Michelin published its first U.S. guide in 2005, focusing on New York City, of course. Other domestic “red guides” can be found in Washington, D.D., Chicago and California. Toronto was added last week as the sixth North American Michelin city.

Michelin announced its foray into Florida during the pandemic, and numerous restaurants that would be considered star contenders – Victoria & Albert's and Norman's come to mind – have delayed their reopenings. Others are facing supply and staffing obstacles, so the first Florida guidebook may have to be published with an asterisk.

Which restaurants do you expect to earn a coveted star?


Marketplace exterior

Spoleto Italian Kitchen, the Brazilian franchise that entered the U.S. market in 2015 with a location near UCF then closed all Central Florida shops early in the pandemic, is returning with a restaurant at the Marketplace at Avalon Park. It is expected to start assembling pasta dishes in July. Since October, Spoleto has been working out of the Dollins Food Hall ghost kitchen.

The chain – originally known as Spoleto – My Italian Kitchen – was started in 1999 in Rio de Janeiro and opened its first restaurant in the United States in Orlando in 2015 on University Boulevard. It was an assemblage concept that had the customer choose the type of pasta, sauces and other ingredients to be added to a bowl by a staff member behind the line.

The Avalon restaurant will be the chain’s 344th location.

Padrino’s, the upscale Cuban cafe that opened in the Hunters Creek area in 2009, has closed that location. Five other locations remain in South Florida, from whence it came.


Haos bar

Recently, I attended the opening night of Orlando Ballet’s elaborate production of “The Great Gatsby” in the Walt Disney Theater at Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. Next door, in the new world-class Steinmetz Hall, world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma was playing to a sold-out audience. The night before that, Elton John returned to Amway Center for another stop on his “I really mean it this time” farewell tour. And two nights later I was at the old Cheyenne Saloon on Church Street for a riveting production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Assassins.”

The arts and entertainment are back in force and bringing audiences to downtown Orlando.

So where should we eat?



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Cafe de France, one of the oldest restaurants on Winter Park’s vaunted Park Avenue, has closed after 37 years. Owners Dominique and German Gutierrez made the announcement on the restaurant’s Facebook page:

“After 37 years, we are announcing the closing of our beloved Cafe de France. Since 1985 we have gained lifelong friends from our employees, our patrons, and our partners. Our hearts are full of wonderful memories, and we consider our story a very successful one indeed!

Closing this chapter was not an easy decision to make. Like for many of you, this restaurant has been our second home and our second ‘child.’ A place of first dates, engagements, and all kind of celebrations!

“We appreciate you all more than you know for the continued support and love which kept us operating for 37 years - despite a few recessions and a pandemic to boot.”