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Restaurant review: SoNapa Grille

SoNapa Grille in Maitland offers an impressive and expansive variety of wines and flatbreads.

SoNapa Grille in Maitland offers an impressive and expansive variety of wines and flatbreads.

Josh Garrick

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SoNapa Grille grew – relatively quickly – from a wine club in New Smyrna Beach to a full service restaurant in Maitland, immediately making its mark on Maitland’s new “restaurant row.” This happened because Owner/Manager Adam Barringer has brought a lifetime of experience working with Outback Steakhouse and Bonefish Grill to his new venture along with an MBA and a Ph.D. Add his personal love for wine along with sommelier training, and Mr. Barringer may be the most erudite restaurateur in all of Central Florida.

The happy news is that all that ‘considered effort’ has created a great new restaurant in Maitland run by a charming gentleman who recognizes wine’s endless possibilities for making customers happy – whether served by the glass at the relaxed and welcoming bar, or when serving as the inspiration for great food.

During his training, Mr. Barringer developed a special enthusiasm for California wines – particularly those from Napa Valley and Sonoma County, and the wonderful SoNapa is the result. The large space has the feel of walking into a tasting room in any of the major California wineries. Beige stucco walls, rich dark woods in the booths and tables, and open fireplaces take us to Sonoma and Napa counties before we even see the menu offerings – all of which are named for California wineries and regions.

The Yountville Artichoke Dip is rich and creamy with plenty of artichoke flavor and beautifully served in a bread bowl. The Dry Creek Egg Rolls bring new taste and dignity to the egg roll with perfectly seasoned pulled duck mixed with vegetables and a mango dipping sauce (highly recommended), and the Sea Ranch Scallops are artfully pan-seared, wrapped in bacon and served with a lemon-butter sauce that makes your taste buds decide that scallops should never be served any other way.

We tried two of the flatbreads. The Santa Rosa is my favorite – with chunks of chicken and creamy queso, drizzled with a tastefully spicy chipotle sauce that adds the proper zest to this offering without overpowering the chicken. A new menu item is the Yorkville Highlands flatbread, which is a vegetarian offering (for those who eat cheese) featuring portabella mushrooms, mozzarella, and arugula pesto drizzled with truffle oil – a brilliant combination. And all of the flatbreads are offered in generous portions.

SoNapa Grille is at 640 S. Orlando Ave. on ‘restaurant row’ in Maitland. Open Monday to Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 11:30 am to 11 p.m.; and Sunday 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Call 407-637-2933 or visit sonapa.com

All of the appetizers, flatbreads, soups, and salads are also offered at the bar – a salute to SoNapa’s early wine-club days, but also the closest thing to a real “tapas” bar to be found in Central Florida.

This brings me to an observation I made again and again as I dined at SoNapa – intelligence shows itself. Everything about dining at SoNapa has been well thought out to bring the greatest comfort and pleasure to their guests – from the wine choices to the ambiance to the wine-infused menu.

For our entrees we chose the new-to-the-menu Sonoma Farms Chicken, which begins with a remarkably juicy chicken breast topped with all my favorites – sundried tomatoes, spinach, goat cheese and a chardonnay-infused butter sauce. It’s simply amazing.

At our server’s suggestion we also chose the Calistoga Filet Mignon, which can be ordered in either Sonoma or Napa style. We went with the Napa style which means our beautiful filet was topped with crab meat, grilled asparagus, a chardonnay butter sauce, and something the Chef calls “wine barrel spicing.” It’s a series of tastes that work together beautifully.

And there’s even more good news. Beginning this week, SoNapa introduces its All American SoHappy Hour from 4 to 7 p.m. every day with half-price wines by the glass, specials on beers – including the micro-brewery selections—and special pricing on the ‘tapas’ offerings I mentioned as appetizers.

We didn’t really have room for dessert, but our server strongly suggested the Carneros Cheesecake, and we are so glad he did. Splitting one serving of this crème brule-style cheesecake – complete with caramelized sugar coating – is an experience not to be missed … so I pass along the same strong suggestion to you.

And if you’ve read this far, SoNapa wants to celebrate its one-year anniversary in Maitland by offering you a free glass of house wine (there are several choices) with each entrée for the month of December when you mention this article and tell them “Josh sent me.”

SoNapa’s founders readily admit having “poured many bottles of wine to create the business plan,” and I am happy to report that intelligent planning works in every aspect of this beautiful restaurant earning my highest recommendation.