Bergamo's Closes After Serving and Serenading Patrons for 20 Years

Written by Scott Joseph on .

The fat lady has sung for Bergamo’s.

The Italian restaurant that for two decades entertained tourists in the International Drive corridor has closed. Darren Shepherd, general manager of Festival Bay Mall, confirmed that the restaurant closed two weeks ago and “it doesn’t look like they’ll reopen.”

Bergamo’s, which featured waiters who would take turns at the piano in “center stage” of the restaurant to sing everything from opera to Broadway show tunes, moved to the Festival Bay Mall in 2007 after its original location in the Mercado shopping complex farther down I-Drive, where it had been since 1990, was slated for demolition. Bergamo’s offered a unique entertainment opportunity: to enjoy an Italian dinner and be serenaded by talented singers, some classically trained and supplementing income while striving for a stage career.

Several Bergamo’s alumni have gone on to work in musical theater. Malena Mesa, who worked at Bergamo’s in the past, said she is still in touch with several former co-workers who now work in opera and theater. Kristin Chavez, a mezzo-soprano, works primarily with overseas opera companies, and Kristin Patterson, another mezzo-soprano, lives in New York but travels throughout the U.S. to perform. Wren Harrington went from serving pasta and singing at Bergamo’s to play Carlotta in Phantom of the Opera on Broadway.

For me, Bergamo’s was more about the entertainment than about the food. But in my 2007 review, after the move, I found the food had improved greatly, and the new venue, a grandiloquent rotunda, was the perfect venue. A restaurant like Bergamo's was just the sort of thing tourists look for in Orlando.


Cabbage Shortage Causes Kimchi Crisis in Korea

Written by Scott Joseph on .

South Koreans are experiencing a crisis that affects nearly every person in the country. A shortage of Napa cabbage, the main ingredient in kimchi, and a spike in the price of available heads -- as much as $14, up from $2.50 -- is making kimchi scarce. Now, to most Americans, that doesn’t seem like such a big deal, and some might even see it as a blessing; kimchi is certainly an acquired taste. But all Koreans have acquired it: kimchi is so ubiquitous that most Koreans eat it daily, many at every meal. A story in today’s New York Times chronicles the horrors.

I can’t think of anything in this country to compare. No food is so ingrained in the daily diet of such a large part of the population. Not grits, nor Boston baked beans -- not even having “fries with that.” Sure, there are lots of things that many of us choose to have regularly, I suppose even daily. I, for example, begin almost every day with a single hard-boiled egg. But that’s just me. I doubt there are many others in my neighborhood with the same ritual, let alone the entire country. And even though there are millions of people in the U.S. who undoubtedly include eggs as part of their daily diet and would be affected by a shortage (indeed many were by the recent salmonella outbreak), to have it compare with the kimchi shortage the entire population would have to be eating the same style egg every day as second nature. And, to make it even more comparable to kimchi, those eggs would have to have to be spicy-hot and have a startling pungency from long fermentation.

What do you think? What foods are part of your daily diet that you’d miss if you had to give them up?


Rothmann's Steakhouse and Matteo's Ristorante Planned for Orlando

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Two more restaurants have been announced for the International Drive corridor.

Matteo’s Ristorante, a New York restaurant with nine locations in New York, Connecticut and South Florida, will take over the space at 5350 international Dr., previously occupied by a Brazilian churrascaria (it was Nelore’s first location before moving to Winter Park). The restaurant group was founded by Salvatore Sorrentino and his sons Andrew and Matthew over 25 years ago. Specialties include baked clams, penne amatriciana, linguine with white clam sauce and veal chop Valdostano. Most dishes are served family style on platters to pass around. Craig Bloom, managing partner for the new restaurant, says he hopes to be open early November.

Matteo’s will seat approximately 350 patrons and will have two private dining rooms that can seat up to 40 people each. It will employ a staff of 65 to 70 workers. Current Florida locations include Hallandale, Jupiter and Boca Raton.

The other restaurant planned for I-Drive is Rothmann’s, an upscale steakhouse with two other locations: East Norwich on Long Island and midtown Manhattan on East 54th Street. Rothmann’s will occupy the space most recently vacated by Salt Island. (Other previous occupants include Ronnie’s Steakhouse and China Coast, the legendary failed concept from Darden, but we’ll entertain no discussion about a curse on the location. No we will not.) Rothmann’s most likely will not open until after the first of the year.

Both restaurants are under the same corporate umbrella and are owned by two families, including the Sbarros (yep, his family started the pizza chain).


Sand Lake Road Urban Flats to Become City Fire American Oven & Bar

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Exclusive - As I reported earlier, well-known restaurateur Manny Garcia has brought suit against the founder of Urban Flats in which he is an investor. I also told you that in August a group of investors that included Garcia had purchased the Urban Flats at the Dellagio on Sand Lake Road’s Restaurant Row. Moving forward, Garcia has announced plans to rebrand that restaurant with a new name and concept.

Garcia, whose previous restaurants have included Pebbles, Harvey’s Bistro and Manuel’s on the 28th, all now closed, said the new restaurant would be called City Fire American Oven & Bar. The name, he said, would emphasize the stone hearth oven manufactured by Wood Stone Corp. that is the centerpiece of the current Urban Flats open kitchen. The new menu, which is still in development, will endeavor to make better use of the versatile oven, said Garcia, with such things as a burger wrapped a la chateaubriand and baked in an iron skillet placed in the oven. The menu will also feature items that will be familiar to old Pebbles devotees, including the Nutty Cheesy Salad and Chicken Vesuvio.

The physical space, which, like all the businesses at the Dellagio, is fairly new, but will undergo renovation. Garcia said the main entrance to the restaurant will be moved, and the interior will feature raised seating areas and a copper wall around the oven.

City Fire will be officially owned and operated by Garcia’s daughter and son-in-law, Gina and Michael Buell. The Buell’s also operate an Urban Flats in the Villages as franchisees. The new restaurant will also have Benj Ray on its staff. Ray has been involved with Garcia’s restaurants for many years and was the manager of Manuel’s on the 28th when it closed in 2009. Garcia said other members from the old restaurant crews may also join the new operation.