For the first time since it opened just over eight years ago, Soco, the Thornton Park anchor restaurant “where Southern meets Contemporary,” has a revamped menu. It’s a major redo – chef/partner Greg Richie tells me there are about 20 new items.
I was happy to see one of my favorites, the Soco Style “Chicken and Dumplings,” still on the menu (one of the few original items to remain). But after I was invited to sample many of the added items, I think I’m going to have some new favorites. And many, like the chicken and dumplings before them, capture the very essence of what Soco was meant to be.
None more so than the Southern Style Tacos, which features buttermilk fried chicken with avocado and tomato salsa wrapped in a “tortilla” fashioned out of biscuit dough. You can’t contemporize Southern ingredients much more than that.
(A note: Because I was just sampling the menu items, I was served bites or smaller versions of most of the dishes, so full-sized portions will be larger than those pictured.)
Similarly, the Crispy Chicharrones had a big dollop of house-made pimento cheese on a crispy cracker of cracklings.
Handmade Southern Style Meatballs are another winner, hand-ground and served in a sippable heirloom tomato gravy and topped with a spicy jalapeño slice.
I was a bit dubious when I was served the Chargrilled Street Corn – corn still on the cob is difficult to pull off in a restaurant – but the kernels were still crunchy, and the topping of pimento cheese and Duke’s, the country’s most Southern mayonnaise, plus a dusting of smoked paprika made it a wonderfully gloppy treat. Thought I would have just one bite but I ate the whole thing.
The North gets represented with Maine lobster served with a big ball of burrata along with multicolored tomatoes, croutons and fingerling potato chips.
A rice porridge serves as the base for the Basil Seared Shrimp and Pork Belly, with big hunks of chewy mushrooms and bits of crispy garlic. I can’t remember ever having shrimp and pork belly in the same dish but I want to see them together more often.
Richie offers a special breed of Hushpuppies, covered in a jalapeño jelly and topped with a pickled shrimp and bacon crumbles.
From the Large Plates section of the menu, I sampled the Braised Short Rib Stroganoff (which may sound more Russian than Southern but maybe it’s from the country of Georgia), and the Bronzed Diver Scallop. The former had wide pappardelle noodles and edamame and the latter had a tender-firm scallop on pureed cauliflower scented with truffle accompanied by blistered tomatoes.
For dessert, a Pumpkin Bread Pudding with dulce de leche.
The restaurant itself is also getting a bit of a makeover, though nothing as extensive as the menu; some new carpeting, paints, lights.
It’s been fun to see the creation of Soco – it was a client of Scott Joseph Company’s consulting services – and watch it become not only a neighborhood gathering spot but also a destination restaurant for Central Florida. And now it’s satisfying to see the kitchen keeping things fresh and exciting.
Soco is at 629 E. Central Blvd., Orlando (map). It is open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday and brunch on Saturday and Sunday (new brunch items coming, too). The phone number is 407-849-1800.