I counted myself among the skeptics when it was announced that a developer planned to revitalize the area at Curry Ford Road and Bumby Avenue with new restaurants, brewpubs and other boutique businesses, unofficially dubbing it the Hourglass District. There was encouragement when Claddagh Cottage relocated the popular Irish Pub to one of the blocks. And a Foxtail Coffee bar moved into a small strip mall, but heck, Foxtail seems to be following a Starbuckian business model with plans to put them everywhere.
And there were initial signs of hope when a pizza restaurant, Peppino’s Organic Italian Pizzeria & Kitchen moved into a freestanding building that had been home to a long line of short-lived culinary concepts, most of them Latin American focused, that couldn’t make the inexpensive menu and low number of seats a successful combination. A pizzeria made sense because it supplement its dine-in business with takeout or even delivery.
But Peppino’s closed faster than many of those Latin restaurants — less than six months — due, I’m told, to the owner’s health (though mediocre food and stunningly dismissive service didn’t bode well for its longevity).
Then the people at F&D Kitchen in Lake Mary announced they would take it over, also with a pizza concept. I was skeptical again. My experiences with F&D have been mixed. The original F&D Kitchen brought only a shrug. I had a wholly unpleasant experience at its Mexican concept, F&D Cantina, when it first opened in Waterford Lakes, but then quite enjoyed the food, service and surroundings of its second location, also in Lake Mary. (The original Cantina closed.)
So what would I find at F&D Woodfired Italian Kitchen? A cozy atmosphere, an exuberant staff, and a well-thought-out Italian menu that goes beyond basic pizza with pastas and even full entrees.
Though open only four weeks, F&DWIK already has a comfortable homeyness about it. The inside dining area is still too small — about 32 seats — for a profitable business model. But the outdoor patio has been expanded, covered and will eventually have a companion bar to the one inside.
The patio wasn’t very appealing on a recent cold evening, so all of the individual tables inside were taken. My companion and I were seated at one end of a six-person hightop that doubles as a communal table. (There is a small bar that overlooks the expanded and open kitchen but no seats were available there, either.)
We started with an appetizer of Meatballs al Forno, dense orbs fashioned out of sausage and various spices in a pulpy puddle of marinara and topped with grated pecorino. They were delicious and a bargain at $10 for two. A better bargain is $12 for three. Might as well get the extra one and take it home for later.
We were gifted with the Pignola ala Porchetta, a salad of spicy arugula on top of a platform of thinly shaved porchetta tossed in a sherry vinaigrette and sprinkled with toasted pine nuts. I don’t usually order salads but this is one I would have again.
I ordered the Due Carni pizza, with sausage (uno) and pepperoni (due) plus mozzarella and just a soupçon of tangy sauce. It was cooked in the imported oven, upgraded since the Peppino’s days (or months) and had wonderful scorch marks on the bottom of the crust. It’s a Neapolitan style pizza, so the edges of the crust are a bit thicker and puffed out. But it was all cooked through and not at all doughy, a pleasure to eat even without the toppings.
My friend had the Wild Mushroom Pappardelle, the pasta supplied by Trevi Pasta in College Park. The wide noodles were cooked al dente and tossed with meaty chunks of mushrooms and bits of spinach in a porcini cream sauce that clung to the pasta. Satisfyingly vegetarian if not vegan. (There are three vegan pizzas on the menu.)
I’m no longer skeptical about the future of the Hourglass District (though the city’s Main Street program would rather you call it West Curry Ford). And you can now count me as a fan of F&D. It obviously cares about the quality of its food and the enjoyment of its guests.
F&D Woodfired Italian Kitchen is at 2420 Curry Ford Road, Orlando. It is open for lunch on Saturday and Sunday and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-751-5697.