It was supposed to be different, 2021. Which is to say it wasn’t supposed to be different, not the way 2020 was. It was meant to be the way things used to be. And for a time it was. We were able to get back to dining inside, new restaurants opened and some, of course, closed. But there were fewer closings this past year than in the previous year, which, even at the height of the pandemic had a more or less normal number go out of business.
Now, here at the end of ’21, things are looking iffy again. Maybe it’s just a case of two steps forward, one step backward – a temporary blip on the road to recovery. We’ll know soon.
In the meantime, let’s take a look back at past year’s reviews, notable openings, notable closings, trends, transitions and what’s to come.
Besides several of those listed above, these restaurants also bowed in 2021:
- Orlando Meats moved to Winter Park
- Ghost Kitchen Orlando
- The 808
- Bombay Street Food
- The Pass
- North Italia
- Brad’s Underground
- Deli Desires
- Shin Jung reopened following a fire
- Willy’s Original and Frenchy’s Wood-fired Pizza Bar
We also returned to re-review some favorites, including:
George's Cafe (in its new location)
The Catfish Place of Apopka (before it became Nauti Lobstah)
- Perla’s (became Ziggie's Pizza)
- New Standard
- Jaber Lebanese Cuisine
- Lombardi’s Cafe (seafood market continues and will concentrate on packaged foods in the cafe space)
- Palma Maria (closed following the death of the owner)
- 310 Nona
- Original Bubbalou’s Bodacious Bar-b-que (to be take over by Pig Floyd's)
- Bad As’s Winter Park
- Pepe’s Downtown
- AJ’s Press
- MidiCi Pizza, which announced its Grand Closing (still waiting for someone to hold a soft closing)
The local culinary community lost several restaurateurs this year, including:
Sam Meiner, Bubbalou’s Bodacious Barbecue
Chuck Cobb, founder of Git-n-Messy Barbecue
Chico Mendonça, Bem Bom
Peter Rosinola, Jr., Palma Maria
Sal Lauro, the former Cafe Italiano
Food Halls – We’ve seen the opening of The Marketplace at Avalon Park; Milkhouse; Gatlin Hall Brewing; Henry’s Depot; and Hall on the Yard. In the works are Bumby Arcade Food Hall; South Orange Provisions (those two within a block of each other on Church Street); and Southern Box Food Hall.
Chicken, chicken, chicken – It felt like I was noting the opening of a new restaurant specializing in chicken or chicken sandwiches every week when in reality it was more like every other week. Chicken Guy opened its second location, in Winter Park, and brought traffic to a halt on Orlando Avenue; also Chicken Fire; Itsa Chicken, bb.q Korean chicken; Jollibee, Filipino chicken; and PDQ.
Ghost and Virtual Kitchens – The Pass, Brad's Underground and several others operate in collaborative kitchens or out of warehouse space that offer food for delivery or pickup only. And Virtual Kitchen Concepts uses the facilities of existing restaurants to offer menus of restaurants that don't exist.
What’s to Come?
There shall be pizza, including Piggza and Alfo’s Pizza Fritta, both from Stasio’s Italian Deli and Market, the former in partnership with Pig Floyd’s; and a possible pie partnership between The Pass’s William Herrera and Matthew Cargo, pizza pals from their Prato days.
There will be Mexican, or something like it. F&D Cantina is set to open next month in Thornton Park; Oro will open on Park Avenue; Añejo Cocina Mexicana will move in to the New (now old) Standard; Cantina Catrina will take space at Florida Mall.
We’re looking for a new restaurant in the Monsieur Paul space at Epcot’s France pavilion; Norman’s has a good chance of finally fruitioning on Restaurant Row; Hangry Bison will open its second location, in Winter Garden; Cafe-Boutique Piano is still slated for Hannibal Square; and John Tesar will open a Knife Burger at Grande Lakes.
Brooklyn Dumpling Shop will bring an automat concept to the area, and Ava MediterrAgean will open in the former Luma on Park address. Winter Park Fish Co. may reopen, but it’s not looking imminent.
Already open are Amare at the Swan Reserve hotel and Four Flamingos in the Hemingway’s house at Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress.
Watch for those reviews as we head into 2022, along with new food halls and, I’m sure, a chicken sandwich shop or two.