Best of Orlando® 2021: Brendan O'Connor's Picks

Brendan O'Connor is the editor-in-chief of Bungalower Media and a former editorial staffer of Orlando Weekly. He came to Orlando from Sault Sainte Marie, Ontario, and graduated from Rollins College. (He paid his way through school by working in Disney's International Program, "saying 'Eh?' to tourists while serving them steak" in Epcot's World Showcase.) Brendan is the co-host of the weekly radio show "Bungalower and The Bus" on Real Radio 104.1-FM, a practicing artist, and will play the role of "Dumpster Merman" in this year's Immerse festival in downtown Orlando.

2020 saw small business owners across the nation being forced to pivot, not just to save their businesses but to support their communities. Restaurants that once didn't even have websites were forced to modernize and digitize, and to look at their operations through new lenses of pandemic-colored glasses.

So let's shout it out to some local pivot pioneers who went the extra mile during the pandemic to make an impact AND make a living, and have really set themselves up as the best of the best of Orlando.

4 Rivers Smokehouse, a local chain and arguably one of the most successful barbecue restaurants in the southeast, transformed its parking lots into pop-up drive-through and pick-up lanes for not just doctrinal brisket sandwiches, but also hard-to-find items like toilet paper, milk and eggs very early in the pandemic. They transitioned from restaurant to crisis centers for their devotees and cemented their role as a community leader. Now their 4Roots Foundation has expanded state-wide with government contracts to feed the food insecure and their restaurants are spreading like locusts.

The New Standard's to-go meal kits were welcome, but they were also one of the only venues in the region to continue to employ live musicians during the pandemic via their near-nightly streaming concerts.

The City of Winter Park set the pace for local municipalities to get creative in supporting their downtown businesses with mindful, socially distanced outdoor events, designated curbside pickup locations with concierge services, and a recovery task force that lived that #OhanaLife and left no business behind.

The City of Orlando's parklet program was great, albeit curiously limited to Thornton Park, but the creativity shown by businesses like Maxine's on Shine to completely transform their parking lot into an outdoor dining room, complete with pop-up wooden scaffolding, was much more impressive than picnic tables and planters in a parking space, and deserves all the slow claps we can muster.

And lastly, let's hear it for all of our pop-up foodies who made delicious, decadent feasts from kitchens, tents, and the backs of broken down cars to keep us fat and complacent at home with special nods to Soseki, the Foreigner Experience, Yugiri Ramen Project, Orlando Meats, Brad's Underground Pizza, Jeff's Bagel Run and Meng's Kitchen.

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