For a glorious 23 days last October, my life was getting lost in cobblestone alleyways, hiking far above the Ligurian Sea, indulging in a diet comprised entirely of pizza/pasta/gelato, trying my best to speak the Italian language, taking thousands of photos and walking absolutely everywhere in a constant state of wonder.
Visiting Italy was a lifelong dream and to be there living it at last was surreal. As soon as I returned home, I immediately began searching for traces of Italy that exist right here in Orlando. From Italian-inspired locales and attractions to authentic cuisine and, of course, mouth-watering gelato, I hope you enjoy this list of Italian delights for your next date night.
PIZZA, PASTA & GELATO
Seafood and pesto in Cinque Terre, bistecca alla fiorentina in Tuscany, cacio e pepe in Rome, tagliatelle al ragú and tortellini en brodo in Bologna…every region and city throughout Italy has specialty dishes best eaten at the source. But pizza, pasta and gelato are universal, and we have some impressive local spots to indulge.
Satisfy your appetite for Neapolitan-style pizza at Prato and Pizza Bruno (because you definitely need to try both if you haven’t already). Prato is a stylish Italian-inspired eatery on Park Avenue where you can dine al fresco, sip wine and have a traditional multi-course Italian meal. Cacio e pepe, gnocchi, and gelato are all on the menu, as is a lineup of drool-worthy pizzas from the piping hot pizza oven. Pizza Bruno is another favorite for Neapolitan pies crafted by chef/owner Bruno Zacchini. Of the 10+ varieties, try the white KBAR pizza (fresh mozzarella, Italian sausage, garlic, mushrooms, rosemary, black pepper and sauce swirl) or classic Margarita (red sauce, basil, fresh mozzarella, pecorino and olive oil). Don’t forget an order of garlic knots.
For pizza al taglio on the go, Pizza Ponte at Disney Springs has an assortment of Roman-style pizza options available by the (gigantic) slice.
Nothing compares to fresh, homemade pasta. In College Park, Adriatico Trattoria Italiana specializes in fresh seafood dishes and fresh pasta paired perfectly with Italian wines. The eatery oozes Italian charm and is owned by husband and wife team Marco and Rosetta Cudazzo. Marco prepares the fresh pasta (they’re only open for dinner to allow for fresh prep daily) and it was the tagliatelle Bolognese that drew me in, as it was a favorite dish I had while in Bologna. You’ll instantly be transported to the warm atmosphere of a traditional Italian trattoria as soon as you enter, and you can linger at your table as long as you’d like. Make a reservation as this spot fills up fast! Also located in College Park, Trevi Pasta is a notable alternative that also specializes in fresh, homemade pastas. Pasta options change daily. They serve delicious gelato, too!
Outside of College Park, Mia’s Italian Kitchen, a newcomer to I-Drive, is a drop-dead gorgeous restaurant with an impressive menu to match. Feast on the Roman pasta dish of cacio e pepe, craft your own Italian cheese board to share, try pizza by the slice, treat yourself to bistecca alla fiorentina (Florentine-style steak), and end your meal with an affogato (espresso poured over a scoop of gelato). The pastas are made fresh in house and cooked al dente. If you’re super hungry, Mia’s offers all-day bottomless dining for $34/person so long as your entire party selects this option.
Gelato became a daily routine during my time in Italy. My daily Facebook update for friends and family back home was a photo captioned with the flavor and gelateria of the day. I made a game of it, visiting a new gelato shop and trying new flavor combinations daily. Eventually, I succumbed to my undying love for pistachio and put my favorite flavor on repeat.
For gelato in Orlando, I felt like I was back in Italy the second I tasted the pistachio gelato from Gelato-go in Winter Park. All flavors are made fresh in house, and the shop was recently awarded Best Dessert in the Best of Winter Park 2019 awards. Pair your cup or cone with an espresso and then stroll Park Avenue to awaken each of your senses. Florence-based La Carraia also has an outpost in Dr. Phillips serving decadent rotating flavors and Italian espresso.
While I haven’t personally tried these spots yet, they’re on my list:
- Rome’s Flavours (they also have homemade gelato)
- Enzo’s on the Lake (a favorite of ODNG founder Kristen Manieri)
- Café Trastevere
- Saporito Italian Restaurant & Bakery (for focaccia)
- Primo at JW Marriott, Grande Lakes
- Sette Italian
MAKE YOUR OWN SEASONAL ITALIAN FEAST
Regional, seasonal fare is a staple of eating the Italian way. This is a concept that translates easily to Orlando thanks to our awesome local farmer’s markets. My personal favorite is the Winter Garden Farmer’s Market on Saturdays from 9am-2pm. I visit every week to stock up on oodles of organic fruits and veggies, fresh pasta, burrata and more. You can pick up fresh pasta and homemade sauce from Orlando City Pasta (I love the spinach garlic fettuccine and tagliatelle; options tend to rotate weekly), fresh burrata from Burrata Dicuru, and fresh bread (they usually have focaccia!) from European Breads. Sprout Up Urban Farm sells Genovese basil sprouts that are an excellent garnish for bruschetta. Savor the experience by talking with vendors and shopping in season while supporting local.
For an assortment of Italian goodies (and an out-of-this-world meatball parmigiana sandwich), Stasio’s Italian Deli & Market in The Milk District is a family-owned market full of authentic Italian goods. Pick up a bottle of Italian wine, queue up Lucio Dalla or Andrea Bocelli on your playlist and get lost in the experience of preparing a meal with love.
GO FOR A STROLL + HANG AT A PIAZZA
Besides scooters, bikes and trains, walking is the most popular mode of transportation in most Italian cities. And who wouldn’t want to walk when such picturesque scenery surrounds you at every turn?
Around Orlando, Winter Park is walkable and full of European charm as well as a few notable Italian eateries for dining al fresco. Let your stroll lead you to a gelato shop, the quieter Hannibal Square area, or to the Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour where you can cruise the Venetian-style canals while dreaming of Venice. Or, hang out in Central Park, a public gathering space somewhat reminiscent of the vibe of Italy’s abundant piazzas. You can also mimic the piazza feel in Dr. Phillips, mainly in the Dellagio plaza area (Pharmacy has a back patio that’s oh so European).
If busy streets aren’t your thing, head to Harry P. Leu Gardens, Orlando’s urban oasis. The manicured rose garden reminds me of the Giardino delle Rose in Florence.
For the ultimate immersive Italian experience though, visit Loews Portofino Bay Hotel. The highlight of this Universal hotel property is the main piazza and harbor, modeled after the real Portofino Bay in Italy. There are Vespa photo ops, Italian restaurants, a gelato shop and more. One of the best times to visit is during Harbor Nights, seasonal events with wine, unlimited eats and live music (there are usually opera singers) under the stars. The next event is on Valentine’s Day!
Soccer is the beloved sport of Italy and it’s quickly becoming one of our most beloved sports here in Orlando, too. Surprise your date with tickets to an Orlando City or Orlando Pride match at Exploria Stadium once the season kicks off in late February.
HAVE AN ITALIAN BREAKFAST
I fully embraced the Italian breakfast of a cappuccino and pastry at a pasticceria (pastry shop) while standing up at the bar. While I haven’t been able to fully replicate the experience here in Orlando just yet, we do have an abundance of quality coffee shops and European cafes that come close. Try Rosallie Le French Café, Axum Coffee, Buttermilk Bakery, and The French Café for coffee paired with a croissant or sweet pastry. Each have pastry display cases that will make you drool.
Making pasta is an integral part of Italian life. After a four hour cooking class in Bologna making tagliatelle al ragú and tortellini en brodo from scratch, I left with a deeper understanding of how to transform cooking into a joyful experience worth investing time into, not just something on my to-do list. Endless wine is of course part of the secret…
Cooking schools like Publix Aprons Cooking School and Truffles & Trifles regularly host pasta-making classes both in hands-on and demonstration-style formats. But if you’d rather learn in a restaurant setting, Terralina Crafted Italian has several upcoming adults-only pasta making classes with Executive Chef Justin Plank. Make your own braised short rib and ricotta tortellini on February 22, or save your appetite for making pici pasta on June 6. Classes are $45/person and of course there’s wine!
Italians typically eat an early breakfast, lunch around noon-1pm and dinner around 9pm. In between lunch and dinner, aperitivo at a local bar or eatery is a means to unwind, whet your appetite and snack on light fare. Typically there will be a spread of finger food that’s free with the purchase of a drink. While there are dozens of happy hours to choose from in Orlando, seeking out a place that serves traditional Italian aperitifs or free food with your drink is worth the effort.
For Italian aperitifs, try Prato in Winter Park or Il Mulino at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin. The latter puts their own spin on the Aperol Spritz with multiple flavor options like blood orange and rosemary lemon berry. For a food and drink combo, The Courtesy typically hosts a weekly Sunday happy hour (3-8pm) where you can nosh on free BBQ from Pig Floyd’s with your cocktail.
Did I miss one of your favorite spots? I will be forever on a quest for authentic Italian eats and experiences around Central Florida so please share your favorites with me in the comments below.
About the Author/Photographer:
Stephanie Patterson is the editor of Orlando Date Night Guide. She’s a talented professional food and travel photographer and writer with a passion for creativity, the beach and great eats. When she’s not taking photos or writing, you can find her exploring the state for her Florida travel blog, Travel Taste Click. Find her online at www.spattersoncreative.com and www.traveltasteclick.com.
Disclosure: Mia’s Italian Kitchen, Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin, Pharmacy and Grande Lakes are some of our valued advertising partners.
All photos by Stephanie Patterson unless otherwise noted