The latest buzz generator in downtown Orlando restaurants is Soco, the first "from scratch" restaurant from Thornton Park Restaurant Group. TPRG also has Cityfish, which it acquired from Urban Life Restaurant Group. Soco — the name means Southern contemporary — is also the first restaurant where Greg Richie can claim top billing. Richie is a partner in TPRG and is also Soco's executive chef (Cityfish's, too, but more about that another time). Previously, he was leading the kitchen at Emeril's Tchoup Chop for celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse, and before that he opened the Restaurant Row Roy's, named for Roy Yamaguchi.
Although both of those restaurants might be called chef driven, Soco is the first where Richie is clearly behind the wheel.
But let me stop here. As I've mentioned in previous articles about Soco, TPRG is a client of Scott Joseph Company's consulting services, and therefore it would be inappropriate for me to offer a review. So here's what I've done instead: At the annual gala for the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, I was auctioned off to the highest bidder. Actually, dinner with me was the auction item. And there were three bidders who matched the "buy it now" price. For its part, Soco donated the dinners.
My dinner companions on the first visit were Arlen and Diane Chase, archeologists with UCF. On the second visit I was joined by John and Rita Lowndes and Mike and Marian Peters. John, of course, is the Lowndes of Lowndes, Drosdick, Doster, Kantor and Reed; Rita is the force of nature behind Orlando Shakes. Mike is the Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist who draws the Mother Goose and Grimm strip. I recorded their comments through the dinners.