To close out the year, we’re counting off five of our most-read stories from 2017. While many of our clicks this year came on stories of tragedy, we’ve left those pieces off this list out of respect for the families. Here’s number one, the final installment in our series. Read the previous installment here. Thanks for reading this year, and have a great 2018!)

Lee County loves its restaurants. Or, maybe it makes more sense to say Lee County loves the restaurants it doesn’t have yet (“they should put an Olive Garden and some nice restaurants there,” we’ve often been told). In any case, the topic is near and dear to our local hearts, as stories and speculation about the new restaurants that came to town in 2017 (or are still coming to town, or announced they were coming to town and then didn’t come to town) were far and away the most-read Rant stories of the year.

January saw an announcement about Toots, a southern-restaurant-slash-sports-bar, in the old Ham’s location on Horner Boulevard, which had stood vacant for years. It took until August to open, but Toots’ seems to have been fairly well-received in its first months.

We announced in February that Marco’s Pizza, which bills itself as the “fastest growing pizza chain” in the U.S., was slated to open at the Shops at Cameron Place on South Horner Boulevard. The store opened in the spring.

Next came word that Beaver Creek Foods of Fayetteville had made a public announcement that it would bring a Duck Donuts franchise to town. This story was widely read and we’ve been asked again and again for an update, but our answer is still the same. We don’t know when they’re coming, or if something has changed with their plans. Local officials have told the Rant that Beaver Creek hasn’t applied for any permits or submitted plans for the location since making the announcement. We’d still like to try the donuts though.

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In March, we asked aloud what it would take for Sanford to have a micro-brewery of its own, and quoted two separate entities saying they hoped to be operational in short order. Within months, both Hugger Mugger Brewing and the Camelback Brewing Company had made official announcements. Hugger Mugger, in downtown Sanford, said at the time it hoped to be open by year end, and a recent Facebook post indicated that things should be operational in “a couple few weeks;” meanwhile a sign outside Camelback’s location in the Spring Lane Galleria shopping center indicates March 2018 as the opening date. And yes, we know a brewery isn’t strictly a restaurant. Hugger Mugger has said it doesn’t have plans to serve food but hopes to attract food trucks, while Camelback plans to have a bar menu.

May brought news that Star House Wings and Hibachi would open in Horner Boulevard’s old Sonic location, while an announcement came in June that the La Dolce Vita Pizzeria had made plans to renovate and move into downtown Sanford’s old Federal Building.

We also brought you news that Sanford had taken up the so-called “Brunch Bill,” which allowed cities and counties decide for themselves whether restaurants would be allowed to serve alcohol before noon. Not a new restaurant, per se, but certainly a chance for new dining opportunities if local restaurants decide to offer brunch in the wake of the expanded freedom to ply you with mimosas after (or instead of) church.

We’re certainly aware that this doesn’t cover all of the new restaurants which came to Lee County in 2017, and we also encourage you to continue frequenting the many excellent dining options which existed in Lee County prior to this year. But if you like to eat out, 2017 made life in Sanford that much better.