It hardly seems possible that Soco Thornton Park is approaching its fifth anniversary. The upscale casual restaurant, whose name means Southern contemporary, opened in fall of 2014 in the space that for many years had been Hue restaurant.
Much has happened with restaurants in the Thornton Park area in those years. Soco opened under the aegis of the then newly formed Thornton Park Restaurant Group, which had incorporated its existing Cityfish a few doors down into the group. In that time, Cityfish closed, TPRG opened and closed Baoery in that space, and Jax Thornton Park has moved in.
Around the corner, the Tijuana Flats became Verde Cantina and is now Jinya Ramen Bar. A block away, Mucho Tequila and Tacos became Muddy Waters and is now Menagerie. That’s a lot of change and turnover in a relatively short amount of time.
But Soco has remained a constant.
That’s due in large part to the well-thought-out menu designed by chef/partner Greg Richie. In fact the menu was so carefully crafted that much of it remains the same as on opening day. A few tweaks here and there, but chances are that if you had a favorite when the restaurant first opened, you can still find it on the menu.
The Soco-style “Chicken and Dumplings” is one of mine. I’ve stopped in many times over the years just to have a glass of wine at the bar and nibble on the chicken and dumplings, a stylized version with sliced breast meat and lobster dumplings sauced with soy butter.
If I’m not having the chix and dumps I’m probably having the Truffle-infused Steak Tartare, hand-chopped beef with a bit of truffle essence and the ooze of a quail’s egg.
On a recent visit with friends for a dinner in the dining room, I went for another favorite, the Grilled Meatloaf on Lobster Mashed Potatoes, a solid slab of loaf fashioned out of three types of meat plopped on the rich mashed potatoes and garnished with spears of asparagus gathered in a crispy fried onion ring.
One of my dining companions had Shrimp and Grits, a Saturday special, with good-sized shrimp on cheese infused grits with a tomato gravy. At brunch, the dish also includes a fried egg. Either way, it’s one of the best versions of shrimp and grits in town.
Soco’s atmosphere remains warm and welcoming, and it’s nice having the windows into the kitchen. I’ve always been more a fan of the inside dining area than the outside, but the wraparound patio is still a popular place to sit.
That Soco has thrived when others around it have fizzled is testament to its quality and its concept. It offers good food at a fair price in a comfortable space, which is just what it started out to do.
Soco is at 629 E. Central Blvd., Orlando. It is open for dinner daily and brunch on Saturday and Sunday. The phone number is 407-849-1800.
Disclosure: Before Soco opened, it was a client of Scott Joseph Company’s consulting services. Soco is also an advertiser on SJO.