News & Events

Winter Garden’s alFresco offers gourmet fare with unparalleled freshness

Local and sustainable ingredients in upscale, modern digs

Photo: PHOTOS BY ROB BARTLETT, License: N/APhoto: , License: N/A

 By Faiyaz Kara

Published: October 2, 2013


 146 W. Plant St., Winter Garden | 407-654-5889 | | $$$

There’s no questioning the pedigree  behind Winter Garden’s alFresco – chef Edwin Martinez was, respectively, executive chef for Villa de Flora at the Gaylord Palms Hotel and Lynn Kasten was the director of food and beverage. What I do question is the restaurant’s appellation – “alFresco” seems to be a bit of a misnomer considering there’s really no outdoor or open-air dining space, so we’ll overlook the “al” and focus on the “fresco,” as keeping it fresh seems to be the foundational ethic of this merry band of culinarians.

The “aqua-dynamic” garden on the roof of the renovated historic building, where various produce, herbs and even fish are grown and farmed by Green Sky Growers, is a testament to the restaurant’s dedication to sourcing local and sustainable ingredients. What they don’t get from their roof, they’ll source from local farms (including Lake Meadow Naturals), bakers (Douce France Bakery) and suppliers (the lady who makes their flan and tres leches cake). In fact, the kitchen only has one small freezer, and it’s used to stock desserts, which negates leftover ingredients.

The grilled chicken spiedini ($8) was notable not for the skewer of citrus-marinated chicken, fine in its own right, but for the fattoush salad on which it sat. Martinez’s version, with its medley of vegetables including red and yellow heirloom tomatoes, green beans, eggplant and peppers, gave the starter its true appeal. Another starter, chorizo al vino ($7), is a traditional tapas item of mild, smoky Spanish chorizo (not spicy Mexican) in a light sauce fashioned from shallots and tempranillo wine. Both starters were impressive, and when we were done, the marinated olives ($5) served in a longboat dish provided sufficient pecking power to hold us until our mains showed up.

When they arrived, we took a moment to marvel at the crisp skin of the pan-seared cobia ($27), a special for the evening, then savored every soft crunch. The fish came atop a heap of Israeli couscous – an ideal complement to the mild fish. While the plate of cavatelli and braised short ribs ($18), crowned with a large basil leaf from the rooftop garden, could’ve used more salt, that hardly took away from the comforting aspects of the pasta dish. Biting into the plush shreds of beef elicited a string of happy grunts and ecstatic eye-rolls, though things quieted down considerably after sampling the lousy passionfruit flan ($6). The dessert’s rough texture – more grainy than smooth – earned it failing marks, but thankfully a luscious chocolate tres leches ($6) prevented this match from ending on a double fault.

I should note that the restaurant’s accomplished servers ensure proper pacing. They seem well aware of how annoying it is when entrees arrive just as you’re halfway through your appetizers, or when servers subtly pressure patrons in order to turn a table.

No, ensconced in alFresco’s upscale, modern digs, we felt thoroughly relaxed, even if we were one of the last parties to exit the restaurant. It’s the sort of vibe Kasten is keen on fostering at alFresco, and in the current restaurant climate, that’s a breath of fresh air.

On The Edge of our Seats

Furniture is going in at alFresco and we’re excited to open our doors by the end of the month! The photo below showcases alFresco’s mix of yesterday and today — a column featuring original, exterior brick from The Garden Building contrasted by our new, modern banquette seating.

And here’s a shot of The Gioia’s, Executive Chef Rob and his better half Melissa, assembling chairs.

Can’t wait for our customers to grab a seat and experience alFresco! Come back to this page for the latest news and be sure to like us on Facebook for inside access to special deals and events. See you soon …

Pre-opening Prep

On Thursday, April 5, we will officially open alFresco’s doors and our team’s been hard at work preparing to welcome and wow you. This is a shot from a training session last Saturday during which Chef Rob reviewed our menu items.

Our team is rather like our menu. Fresh, kissing with oral herpes memorable and sure to please. O.K. that’s a bit cheesy … but so true. We can’t wait to introduce ourselves beginning this Thursday!

Our First Month Flew By!

Our first month at alFresco has been a whirlwind! It’s been a thrill to welcome so many friends — both old and new — into our new home. We’ve met lots of people who share our passion for food and we’ll continue to shape our menu and overall experience based on your feedback.
Check out this shot we snapped of Chris, Emmanuel and Lynn sampling a dish featuring charred watermelon, strawberries, gorgonzola, red onions and romaine tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette. This simple, savory dish was created using local ingredients at their peak that day. We all taste new menu items to ensure we can properly describe them to you.

Vote for alFresco by Wed., June 27!

It’s been nearly three months since we opened alFresco and we’re so appreciative of our customers who’ve been spreading the word about our fresh and friendly dining experience.
If you’re an alFresco fan, we’d be honored to receive your vote in Orlando Weekly’s Best of Orlando 2012 Poll, which ends Wednesday, June 27.
Participants can vote for alFresco in up to five categories. Popular categories so far have been Best Kept Secret, Best Burger, Best Sandwich, Best Hummus and Best Produce.
Just click here www. and follow the instructions to vote.
Thank you for your support and see you soon!

A Bright Future for alFresco

Sunday’s Orlando Sentinel featured a great review of alFresco by Orlando Sentinel Food Editor Heather McPherson.
She summarized our restaurant by saying, “An excellent fit for downtown Winter Garden, alFresco has a bright future in the Central Florida dining scene.”
Click here to read the full article on the Orlando Sentinel online.
We couldn’t be any more proud of our team and appreciative of our alFresco customers, partners and supporters!

Photo credit Joshua C. Cruey, Orlando Sentinel / July 29, 2012