Trivia Question: Where can you get a good Italian meal, a nice glass of wine, partake in some good people watching, and do a little window shopping at some of the swankiest stores in Orlando?
Answer: Brio Tuscan Grille at the Mall at Millenia
The setting: Brio has multiple locations around Florida, and while I've been to two of them, I think I've officially decided on the Mall at Millenia location being my favorite.The ambiance is, well, perfect in many different aspects. The dining room is large and open, but segmented into different dining areas with half walls and a variety of seating options. (My preferred seating is the straight-backed chairs with very comfortable back covers on them.) No matter where you're sitting, you pretty much have the ability to see the entire dining room; there are two extremely large mirrors located on the side wall that not only open up the space, but allow you to see what the diners sitting behind you are eating. The colors are bold yet muted at the same time, and the overall feel reminded me of the movie "Under the Tuscan Sun", which I guess is pretty appropriate. The kitchen is also open and takes up one side of the dining room, and we all know this makes for a fun show.
People watching: Probably the highlight of this restaurant is its version of al fresco dining. Instead of seating guests in the sun during 95 degree weather, the restaurant features seating just outside the dining room inside the Mall of Millenia. Located just by one of the main entrances of the mall, this is a pretty high foot traffic area, which makes it perfect for people watching. The small patio area is blocked off with a little half fence, and the large fountain in the mall provides some nice background noise.
The food: We were at Brio for a Sunday brunch treat, and were one of the first tables seated. (And, for the record, the place was hopping when we left about an hour later.) I've been to brunch before at this location and had the crab and shrimp crepes. I knew they were fantastic, yet super rich. So I decided to go for a lighter crepe option and ordered the fruit and ricotta crepes. I love ricotta. And I love crepes. But while I loved this entree, it was a bit too sweet. The crepes were filled with a rich ricotta and topped with not just fruit, but also chunks of buttery granola and a rich vanilla cream cheese. The overall consistency of this dish was a bit gooey, but the granola did provide some crunch. So if you need a little bit of sweetness in your brunch, I'd highly recommend this option.
The wine: The wine list provides a nice variety of options. Years ago, this was actually the first restaurant where I saw a Gavi offered, and they have some other obscure Italian options as well. They even have a few Italian chardonnays, which are relatively new to the market and are the result of serious varietal experimentation. I know, I know, it was brunch. So we didn't have wine. But we did have bellinis with Prosecco (Italian bubbly) and peach nectar. Refreshing and absolutely delicious.
Brio can be enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. Located just down the road from Universal Studios property, this restaurant is only a 7 minute drive from the resorts such as Universal's Royal Pacific. So, whether you're a local fighting the crowds over at Ikea on a Saturday, or vacationing and doing some shopping at the Millenia, stop by Brio for a bite. Or maybe just a drink and some people watching.
-- Kate Higgins of Kate's Kitchen [Photo credit: Kate Higgins]