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On an afternoon in late June, visitors huddled under umbrellas in a downpour to discuss what and where for late lunch or early dinner at Disney Springs’ newest restaurants.
Three on the west side of the sprawling shopping and entertainment complex have traditional Italian flavor. There’s also a wine bar, a steam punk American cafe and a new take on Planet Hollywood.
All have opened within the past six months. More, including the huge Wolfgang Puck’s, will open in months to come.
The latest, Terralina, replaces one of the oldest continuously operating restaurants on Disney property here, Portofino, and it’s propped as if the place were a set rather than a restaurant.
“When you have been here 29 years, (making changes) is a tricky thing,” said Chicago cooking luminary and James Beard Award-winning Chef Tony Mantuano, who is “curator” of Terralina for Levy Restaurants. “You don’t want to get too radical or you’ll completely alienate your diners. But you don’t want to get too settled in your ways either. You’ve got to change things up.”
So Terralina is not that much different from its predecessor, with a big bar as centerpiece and pizzas fired in a wood-burning oven, but with a new menu that includes vegetable and pork dishes, among other things, as well as the favorites that brought people back year after year.
The other two (or two and a half, really) Italian restaurants are completely new, and if Terralina is heavy on propping, they represent a whole play, and it fits into the Disney Springs storyline ever so neatly. It was devised by Patina Restaurant Group, which also owns Morimoto Asia, around the corner.
Disney Springs, of course, is supposed to be a “restored Florida waterfront town,” according to Disney, and the cavernous, two-story Maria & Enzo’s is its abandoned airport terminal from the 1930s, complete with deco art and motifs that extend to the restrooms. The view is of the lake, and although it can be less than quiet, dining may be made more serene with a table in the First-Class Lounge.
The menu is brief and careful, with emphasis on the Sicilian: pastas, chicken and veal Parmigiana, oven-baked pizzas and entrees, bread sticks in paper envelopes and crusty, country-style Italian bread.
You can get a dry-aged ribeye steak for $44, not a terrible price at Walt Disney World, and the place prides itself on its wines and specialty cocktails. The espresso is as it is in Italy, plain, with lots of crema. The servers grin when you say “Grazie mille,” because that is their language.
Pizza Ponte, which is adjacent to Maria & Enzo’s, is Disney’s newest pizza vendor, but definitely nothing on the order of a delivery chain. This is more like Italian (or Little Italy-an) street food, with crusty, bubbly pizzas, sandwiches and coffee beverages, as well as pastries you do not get elsewhere in the Springs. Bombolini (Italian doughnuts) are here, and so is sfoglia di riso (rice cream-filled pastries).
It’s supposed to represent the stuff immigrant restaurateurs Maria and Enzo enjoyed during their Italian childhoods, although sfoglia di riso and pignoli cookies pretty well represent the stuff of childhoods spent in Italian neighborhoods too.
Under all this is yet another act in the play: Enzo’s Hideaway, accessible from a landing up a flight of stairs, across from steakhouse STK and Maria & Enzo’s.
It’s supposed to be a speakeasy-type place Enzo operated in a tunnel, which is authentic because the place really formerly was a tunnel, one of cast members’ underground accesses to entertainment venues in what was Downtown Disney. It has that dark, tunnelly look too, with “graffiti” on the walls and a laid-back vibe that includes large-party dining and an after-hours menu.
It also has a deco-style bar with a world-class collection of rare and unusual spirits, including rums, bourbons and malt scotches, maybe the only place in Orlando where no one raises an eyebrow when you order a glass of Caol Ila, neat.
Still, the food is the star, and in this instance, it is supposed to represent Roman cuisine rather than that of southern Italy, with salume e formaggi (charcuterie), pastas and entrees quite similar to Maria & Enzo’s, including a snapper dish.
Finally, upstairs again, there is the Edison, the designers of which imagine as being set in an old power plant, Gothic-industrial style and kind of steam punky, with multiple bars and bartenders referred to as “master alchemists.”
An entertainment as well as food venue, nights at the Edison feature acts that are unusual even by Disney Springs standards, including contortionists and aerialists. The food is American comfort-style, its signature dishes being Pork Belly Pops and the gigantic Edison Burger, made from a blend of beef cuts and served with Cabot cheddar.
Finally, across the way is Wine Bar George, where one of the great wine experts of the world, George Miliotes, is in charge.
If you like a certain wine, chances are very good that you will find it there, properly bought, stored, chilled (or not), aerated (or not), corked and poured (or tapped), along with the ones yet to be tried, on George’s ever-changing bill. He also serves fine beers, ciders and mixed drinks.
There’s food too: creative, artisanal meat and cheese trays with local honey, jams and other delights, as well as small plates like house-made meatballs with triple-cheese polenta; and beef, chicken and seafood plates for two or more.
Finally, there’s the re-done, re-imagined Planet Hollywood, now under the guidance of television chef Guy Fieri, still with its American-casual menu, but with more “grille specialties” and sandwiches, Fieri’s “big bite burgers,” as well as the likes of “Cosmic Cotton Candy” milkshakes.
On the rainy afternoon, the diners kept coming, shaking heads, pointing, checking guide maps.
Some shook off the water and walked into the three new restaurants to dine; others headed back out into the “street” in the directions of what have become old faithfuls in little more than three years: Paradiso 37, Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar, Boathouse, Raglan Road, Paddlefish, Art Smith’s Homecomin,’ Frontier Cocina and the fast-casual Polite Pig, D-Luxe Burgers and Blaze Pizza as well as Amorette’s for sandwiches, salads or desserts.
And then there are those food trucks and stands, and the remnants of Downtown Disney: Earl of Sandwich, Bongos Cuban Café, House of Blues, T-Rex, Rainforest Café and Wolfgang Puck Express.
Dining destination indeed.
“(We) eat there often,” Susan Gioia Grella of Grant wrote in FLORIDA TODAY’S Facebook group, 321 Flavor: Where Brevard Eats. “I like Paradise 37, the Edison, the Boathouse and the Hangar Bar (and have reservations for Terralina and Wine Bar George next. Love the variety and fact that every restaurant has selections specific to them.”
In another time and place, the rain fell.
“So many choices. I don’t know where we should go,” a woman told the man she accompanied, shaking her head as the water ran off the hood of her Ohio State jacket.
“Pick a place,” he said. “We’re getting wet.”
Where do Brevardians dine at Disney Springs
In an informal poll conducted among members of FLORIDA TODAY’s Facebook group, 321 Flavor: Where Brevard Eats, the majority of Brevardians who responded said their favorite restaurant at Disney Springs is Morimoto Asia, followed closely by Art Smith’s Homecomin,’ D-Luxe Burger, the Polite Pig and Raglan Road.
“We really enjoy Morimoto’s and Frontera (Cocina, the Southwestern-style restaurant fronted by celebrity chef Rick Bayless). We go once or twice a month,” said Julie Pangburn Shipley, herself a restaurant owner in Melbourne.
“Homecomin! Biscuits are great! Morimoto! Go with friends and all order things to share,” said Kathy Lott.
Boathouse, Bongos Cuban Café, Paradiso 37 and the food stand the Daily Poutine also received multiple votes.