Aroma Italian Cafe and Wine Bar has Surprisingly Good Food
I say surprisingly because Aroma is housed in a little slip of a place that you wouldn't think could possibly muster up anything more than some ciabatta slathered with marinara and melted mozzarella. But the food here is not only substantial, it's also quite good.
"Housed," by the way, is the appropriate word because Aroma is in what used to be someone's home on Washington Street.
This is not the first time I've written about Aroma. I reviewed it in a Chow Hound column for the Orlando Sentinel almost exactly one year ago in the Dec. 14 issue of Calendar. Back then it was known as Aroma Coffee & Wine Bar, and was a new venture by the former owners of Babbo Italian restaurant on Edgewater Drive (which is now the Fonzo brothers' Nonna).
The new owners of Aroma, Jeff and Gloria Pattishall, have dropped coffee from the name and are focusing on the Italian cafe and wine bar aspects. And the food that I sampled recently indicates they're wise to do so.
It should be mentioned that this still isn't much of a restaurant, or even a cafe, in terms of service and overall experience, though don't get me wrong -- the Pattishall's are lovely hosts, it's just that the service is more casual. The tables are small, more suited to glasses of wine and small plates of appetizers than full-sized dinner plates. But there are bigger tables on the terrace out front, which is a nice place to people-watch in charming Thornton Park.
I liked Eustacchio's lentil soup, though I don't have the foggiest notion who the heck Eustacchio is. (The menu has a picture of an older man next to the soup entry, so we'll just assume that's Eust himself.) The soup was an entree-sized serving with multiple levels of flavors and lots of little lentils with fresh veggies. I thought it was a bit pricy at $9.95, but it did include a small salad and lots of fresh ciabatta bread.
(I asked Gloria who made the bread, though I knew the answer before she confirmed it -- Olde Hearth continues to make the finest breads in the area.)
One of my companions had lasagna, house-made with layers of perfectly al dente pasta and rich red sauce, with meatballs and sausage blended in.
The penne served with another companion's Italian sausage plate was not as nicely cooked. It was a bit over-boiled and had a mealy texture. But the sausage was wonderful, with terrific spicy notes. The meatball entree was tasty too.
It would be wrong to say that Aroma is a welcome addition to the neighborhood since it's been around for over a year. But let's just say the Pattishalls are a welcome addition to the neighborhood, and they're bound to make Aroma -- and Thornton Park -- an even better place to eat and drink.
Aroma is at 712 E. Washington Street, Orlando. The hours are 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday (as long as there are people there, they tell me, or else they'll close earlier), and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. The phone number is 407-426-8989. The cafe does not have a Web site yet, but you can download the menu pdf right here. Download the new Aroma Italian Cafe menu (227.9 kB)
We had started with the antipasto misto, which had olrives, roasted red peppers, wonderful hunks of asiago and parmesan cheeses, as well as fresh mozzarella, with prosciutto and salami. It was a feast in itself.
The wine list is extensive given the size of the place, and there are dozens of selections by the glass, which is how it should be in a wine bar.