New Zagat Guide & Young Chefs Spur Orlando’s F&B Scene to New Heights

The Table Orlando
The Table Orlando

Zagat’s first ever Orlando dining guide is only validating what we knew all along. Orlando is becoming a serious Florida foodie capital with a wealth of big name restaurants vying for planners’ affections.

“What surprises them are the celebrity chef-owned fine dining options found within the resort they’re staying at, many within close proximity to the Orange County Convention Center,” says Tammi Runzler, senior vp of convention sales/ services for Visit Orlando.

Cat Cora, Todd English, Don Shula, Emeril Lagasse and Wolfgang Puck are just some of the well known names contributing to the city’s burgeoning reputation. But Runzler says it’s the rising local stars that give it an edge.

Fresh sourced Florida seafood and organic ingredients are the stars on the menus at James and Julie Petrakis’ Ravenous Pig and Scott Hunnel’s Victoria & Albert’s at Disney World Resort’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. These semi-finalists in 2012’s James Beard Awards for Best Chefs in the South are funneling the latest food trends and dishing them out to groups. Hunnel’s reputation for Modern American haute cuisine has earned him four previous nominations in that category. Meanwhile, two-time ‘Cupcake Wars’ winner Hollis Wilder recently opened Sweet!, a bakery where America’s favorite pastry is turned into an art form.

This August, the Petrakis duo unveil Cask & Larder, a new micro-pub with Southern artisanal food and hand-crafted beer in a 6,000-sf space in the tony Winter Park neighborhood, just north of downtown. Also, Rocco’s Tacos & Tequila Bar opens on Restaurant Row near the convention center. Rocco’s will get some stiff competition from chef Johnny Rivers’ phenomenally successful 4Rivers Smokehouse. One of the latest restaurants to draw corporate groups, The Pub is located in the trendy Pointe Orlando arts and entertainment complex, home to restaurants ranging from fine dining at Capital Grille to fun casual joints like Cuba Libre Restaurant & Rum Bar. The Pub features kilted hostesses, two pour-your-own beer walls and traditional fish & chips, Scotch eggs and bangers ‘n mash.

We asked what are some of the other emerging food trends in Central Florida?

“Small plates, because people want to sample multiple dishes, skinny cocktails, and open dining options instead of planned group dinners,” says Runzler.

She adds that alternative dining settings are all the rage, too. Planners are booking art galleries, wine rooms and cozy restaurants like The Table, seating a maximum of 22 diners. In this intimate setting, the James Beard nominees Tyler Brassil and Loren Falsone offer up to 4-hour meals based on local ingredients available that day.