Moderne bar

The Mills 50 District has always been one of the city’s more vibrant dining areas, even before it was named Mills 50. Before that it was unofficially called Little Saigon because of the many Vietnamese-owned restaurants and businesses.

There have, at times, been some exceptional food to be found in this area, named for the cross section of Mills Avenue and U.S. Highway 50. But for the most part, the dining experiences have historically been decidedly downscale – not drab but seldom anything above casual.

That has begun to change. Tori Tori brought a more urban chic feel to the neighborhood when it opened a few years ago. And now The Moderne has moved in with a fresh, new stylishness of its own.


OWFA22 site

The Orlando Magic-sponsored Orlando Wine Festival & Auction returns this month with events March 24 -26. This will be the third rendition of the festival, which began in 2019 and then, like so many other things, was suspended for the following years. In fact, what was to have been the second annual Orlando Wine Festival was just days away in March 2020 when the pandemic forced its cancellation.

That second edition finally occurred last year with a hastily formed abbreviated version. The decision to go ahead last March was made only 45 days before it took place. Nevertheless, it raised nearly $1 million for the Orlando Magic Youth Foundation, the NBA team’s charity. Orlando Magic CEO Alex Martins hope to top that amount this year with a return to the same roster of events from the first year, including wine dinners held in private homes and exclusive locations on Friday.


Taproom sun

The walls of the entryway at Tap Room at Dubsdread are covered with plaques, awards and citations that the College Park restaurant has received over the years. But even though it’s a big foyer with high ceilings, there isn’t enough room for all of the accolades. Some of the honors include: Best Burger; Best Outdoor Dining; Orlando’s Best.

Other Bests: Power Lunch, Neighborhood Restaurant, Place to Take Company, Brunch.

And in recent years, it has gotten more widespread notice through OpenTable’s lists of Top 100 Neighborhood Restaurants in America, 100 Best Al Fresco Dining Restaurants in American, and Top 25 Hidden Gems in the World.

That’s right, the world.

So how did it get to be so good? Some might assume it’s the uniqueness of the setting, in a storied building with a wraparound veranda overlooking the city-owned golf course. But the location has never been enough to ensure success here. Witness the restaurants that came – and went – before. Average was the best that could be said of them, though the immediate predecessor, operated by American Golf, prompted me in my review for the Orlando Sentinel to coin a new word: Dubsdreadful.


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It seems like the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Food & Wine Classic was just yesterday, and now we have the announcement for this year’s dates.

The popular event will be on Friday, Nov. 10, and Sat., Nov. 11, in and around and in between to two hotels. What’s more, tickets are already on sale and available here.

I know, I know, that’s a long way off. I have a hard time scheduling something for the following week let alone something that's months off. But if you know you’ll be in town that weekend, you’ll want to get your tickets early, especially if you want to attend one of the seminars, like pasta making with chef Dan or the wine blending class. Those have limited seating.

I’ll have more details as the event gets closer.


Tornatore subs

Starting today, Tornatore’s, the College Park Italian restaurant, is back in the business of serving lunch. The popular cafe had suspended its daytime operations in October during while the restaurant was under renovations. (Read about the redo here.) That followed an announcement last May that students under the age of 18 would no longer be allowed in the restaurant without an adult. It seemed that students from the nearby high school were, according to a post by the restaurant, “...continuously disturbing guests, disrespecting staff, tipping servers 1 cent, and causing general disorder[.]” It also stopped serving pizza by the slice.

The age restriction still applies, owner Denny Tornatore told me in a text message, and a small pie is the closest you can get to a slice. The menu also has an array of Italian entrees from executive chef Jason Wolfe and more lunch items like soup, salad and subs (Tornatore’s sub bread is pictured at top.)

Tornatore’s will serve lunch Wed. through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Kudos to another Italian restaurant, Pannullo’s on Park Avenue, which celebrated its 30th anniversary this week. In my Feb 12, 1993, Chow Hound column in the Orlando Sentinel, I wrote about the planned restaurant: