Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants opened its first Orlando location late last month in the Waterford Lakes area. This part of East Orlando is rife with chains and “family style” eateries, none of which would be considered even upscale casual. Cooper’s Hawk is also a chain, albeit a nascent one. The Orlando restaurant is the Orland Park, Illinois, company’s fifteenth. Another on International Drive is scheduled to open in the fall.
I don’t know if Cooper’s Hawk will elevate the dining level for Waterford Lakes — I’ll have my review of the food in coming weeks — but a media preview at least showed signs of hope that it could be a place for a less frantic meal than those offered by the Olive Gardens, Smokey Bones and Bahama Breezes of the world.
The main conceit of Cooper’s Hawk is that it produces its own wines. No, not here in Orlando; in the Chicago area. And yes, you’re right that Illinois is not known as one of the great wine producing states. Cooper’s Hawk buys grapes from other regions that are known for their wines and makes its branded wines from those various fruits. The local Cooper’s Hawk does have a barrel on hand and offers tastes directly from the barrel, the samples extracted using a wine thief.
It’s a gimmick, to be sure, and the gift shop and “tasting room” that serves as the entrance and exit for the restaurant doesn’t do much to instill a feeling that fine food and wine are just beyond the merchandise.
But we’ll keep an open mind.
Cooper’s Hawk is at 529 N. Alafaya Trail, Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily.