505 N. Park Ave., Winter Park | 407-673-3354 | albacio-florida.com | $
Hearing the staff banter ever so jovially in Italian was a sure sign that the delicatessen days of this space were but a distant memory. Since Al Bacio moved into the Park Avenue address back in March, the place feels as though it’s come alive, especially after the quick expiration of its previous occupant, Tiffany’s Deli, and the untimely death of the space’s original long-term tenant, Brandywine’s Deli. Al Bacio means “a kiss” in Italian, and after the fine brunch we enjoyed here, our fingertips were the recipients of many a lip smack.
But first, a small complaint: Our lattes and cappuccinos were drizzled with chocolate syrup. Please don’t drizzle lattes and cappuccinos with chocolate syrup. Right then, let’s move on. Our meal commenced in typical Roman breakfast fashion – said cappuccino and a cornetto ($6.99). In this case, the Italian croissant-like pastry was filled with pastry cream, topped with powdered sugar and referred to on the menu as a colazione. Satisfying, yes, but I wished the pastry was flakier and the filling not quite so piping-hot.
Thick pancakes ($7.99) made from coarsely ground sweet corn and filled with white cheese are called pannocchia here, but these are really Venezuelan cachapas in disguise. Owner Antonio Spagnolo ran Dolce in Kissimmee before selling his stake in the sleek, modern bakery-café and opening a nearly identical one here in Winter Park. The focus at Dolce was Italian and (given Kissimmee’s concentration of Spanish speakers) Venezuelan dishes and pastries as well. Spagnolo thought to carry over some of the Latin dishes, and his decision, as far as these griddled and folded half-moons are concerned, was a good one. Other pre-noon dishes, like the “Al Bacio” frittata ($9.49), couldn’t have been better. The circular asparagus-and-cheese omelet came sided with fresh turkey, slices of Brie, two pieces of Italian-style bread and a ramekin of fresh fruit.
From the panini selections, we relished every bite of the meaty “Park Ave” ($9.49) with its Angus pastrami, Brie and tomatoes, though it was the raspberry-walnut dressing that really made this panino pop. The sandwich came with sweet potato griddle fries and a small salad. The arancini siciliano ($4.75), a bulbous orange-hued rice ball stuffed with ground beef, was enormous and filling. Because the one given to us broke when presented, our good-natured server (and avowed “self-hating Italian”) refused to charge us for it. If that wasn’t generous enough, he also offered us a complimentary pastry or dessert, just because it was our first time dining at the restaurant. The bounty of cakes, tarts, pastries and cookies stacked in two large display cases made it difficult to choose, but we ultimately settled on a fruit-forward strawberry tart with a sublimely buttery crust. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to going back and sampling more sweets.
It’s no secret that the northern end of Park Avenue hasn’t been kind to restaurants in recent years, but Al Bacio has all the ingredients to make it work, not the least of which is the bright, inviting digs. It’s a fresh face on an established strip, and as smooch-happy as it appears to be on the surface, Al Bacio is more than capable of avoiding the kiss of death.