What's Hot
What's Going On


Search thousands of events in our database.


Search hundreds of restaurants in our database.


Search hundreds of clubs in our database.


OW on Twitter
OW on Facebook
Print Email

Food & Drink

Top tables

It wasn’t easy, but we chose our five fave restaurant openings of 2012

Photo: Photo by Aldrin Capulong, License: N/A

Photo by Aldrin Capulong


Photo: Photo by Rob Bartlett, License: N/A

Photo by Rob Bartlett


There's no arguing that 2011 was a stellar year for restaurant openings in our fair city, what with such well-received eateries as Prato, Armando's, Tamarind, Deep Blu, the Table, the Rusty Spoon, Cocina 214, Tako Cheena, Hawkers and a number of food trucks opening their doors (and windows). Repeating the performance in 2012 was going to be a tall order, a reality reflected in the relatively short list below. We saw a rise in smaller, chef-run restaurants to complement a trend toward smaller portions, not double-down gutbusters. Better burger joints caught our attention, and local sourcing, I'm happy to say, became a de rigueur practice. Here, then, are my favorite restaurant openings of 2012.

Peperoncino Cucina (opened Jan. 7) Prior to chef-owner Barbara Alfano opening her cheerily comfortable Dr. Phillips eatery, replicating a Roman, Venetian, Florentine or Calabrian repast was a next-to-impossible task in Orlando, but Peperoncino's deftly rendered rustic and contemporary dishes from il bel paese have garnered a loyal following among cognoscenti in la bella città. Her daily-changing menu spotlights regional preparations, so on any given day, you can enjoy a wild boar stew with Arborio rice or a branzino baked in parchment paper with acqua pazza. No matter what's offered, Alfano keeps her native Calabrian peperoncini nearby, along with a great selection of Italian wines. The restaurant is so popular that elbow-to-elbow seating is a common sight – and a testament to Alfano's prowess in the kitchen. (7988 Via Dellagio Way, 407-440-2856; peperoncinocucina.com)

Spork Café (opened May 14) Tisse and Joyce Mallon's "Happy Food Café" may occupy a small corner inside Urban ReThink's creative space, but the duo come up big with feel-good renditions of fresh, made-to-order, organic when possible, non-processed fare. Mushroom field soup and vegan corn chowder are eye-openingly good; wraps and sandwiches, be they of the vegetarian portobello or roast beef-and-provolone variety, certainly aren't as hackneyed as they sound; and a fresh raw juice bar is always a plus. But it's the passion the sister act brings to their work and the buoyant mood they foster that makes Spork Café such a draw. You can't help but trust that they truly care for your well-being. (625 E. Central Blvd., 407-476-6250; thesporkcafe.com)

Fresh (opened Sept. 5) Situated among such upscale and settled restaurants as Dexter's, Chez Vincent, Mi Tomatina and Armando's, Fresh offers an anti-establishment alternative to Hannibal Square's trendy dining scene. Gina Bugayong's café is approachable, über-intimate and down-to-earth, and her focused daily-changing menu reflects her and her partner's diverse backgrounds. (Bugayong is Filipino-Italian and her partner Panamanian-Lebanese.) Along with the talent, vision and humility coming from this kitchen is a desire to grow and broaden, and that should keep things fresh on Hannibal Square for some time. (535 W. New England Ave., Winter Park, 321-295-7837; freshcafe-wp.com)

We welcome user discussion on our site, under the following guidelines:

To comment you must first create a profile and sign-in with a verified DISQUS account or social network ID. Sign up here.

Comments in violation of the rules will be denied, and repeat violators will be banned. Please help police the community by flagging offensive comments for our moderators to review. By posting a comment, you agree to our full terms and conditions. Click here to read terms and conditions.
comments powered by Disqus