I've been asked a lot lately (usually by visitors) what has opened recently that's good, and I've been struggling to enthusiastically support anything beyond the Rusty Spoon and some food trucks. In fact, most of our meals recently have been at tried-and-true mainstays. I suppose that's understandable in this economy, but as someone who loves dining out and the thrill of discovery, it's been a bleak year here in Central Florida.
That's why I was so happy Friday night. We had a fantastic meal at a new place - well kinda new. It is actually an extension of one of our real hidden gems around these parts, but the menu is great, it has a wonderful cocktail selection, and to top it all off it's reasonably priced. I'm talking about the Tasting Room at the Chef's Table at the Edgewater in Winter Garden.
Now, before you see "Winter Garden" and stop reading, I want locals and visitors alike to understand how accessible this historic downtown is to both the tourist areas as well as the rest of the Orlando metro area. It lies within 5 minutes of the intersection of 3 major arterial highways, leaving you a less than 30 minute drive from anywhere. In fact it's a shorter drive from the WDW area than it is to downtown Orlando from the resorts. If you can get to the 429 (Western Beltway), 408 (East West Expressway) or the Florida Turnpike you are within a half hour of a great little old Florida historic downtown with a surprisingly vibrant dining scene. Good options include an outpost of 4 Rivers BBQ, Harry and Larry's and Thai Blossom, but the real gem is the prix fixe meal at the Chef's Table and now it's adjoining small plates option, the Tasting Room.
OK, so now if I have convinced you it's not too far of a drive, let's get into the meal. I think this is the best or second best restaurant cocktail menu in the area (along with Ravenous Pig). I had a Muerto Verde Rita that was pleasantly spicy with Milagro tequila, fresh jalepeno, cilantro and sour mix. My wife had an off-menu cucumber mojito. There are 12 signature cocktails on the menu plus of course an expert hand at making all the classics. The menu is rotated constantly depending on what is fresh and in season. All the drinks are inspired by the artisinal cocktail movement so prevalent in other markets, and the real great thing about them is the use of fresh ingredients rather than a particularly complicated recipe. They also have 5 microbrews on draft (including Cigar City) and a great, well-curated wine list. Have to mention that the cocktails all range from $8 to $10 and are generous in their pour - these are $15-$25 cocktails in Miami or NYC and are at that quality if not better.
I've written this far without even getting to the food yet. It's a small plates style with prices ranging from $5 to $10 and the portion sizes are small but really quite a bargain for the prices. I would say a hungry party of 2 could share 5-7 plates and leave quite full. The menu is updated daily so I'll share what we had as a representative sample, but know that it could be completely different when you visit depending on what's in season and the whims of the chef.
The menu the night we visited had 21 items on it. We started with a few of the dips including a delicious local smoked whitefish and a smoky babagnoush with naan and olives. We moved on to truly awesome oxtail empanadas (with amazing tender slow braised meat and a tangy mango chutney as a counter-point to the richness of the filling) and fried chicken livers in creamy cajun andouille sausage gravy (good but filling - maybe a little heavy on the breading). Another standout were the Boudain Balls (house made pork sausage rolled in panko and fried then topped with a locally source organic egg and served with cajun mayo). The pasta dishes were both fantastic - the goat cheese ravioli consisted of two huge handmade pillows of delicate pasta encasing a delicate goat cheese filling, then topped with sun dried tomatoes and resting in a shitake broth that provided a nice kick of umami to complement the smoothness of the cheese. Also outstanding was the monthly- changing version of mac & cheese - this month featured grilled andouille sausage and a touch of jalepeno. Between us and our dining companions we were also able to sample the New Orleans BBQ shrimp and cheese grits, the muffaleta minis, the fall duck flatbread (with butternut squash and goat cheese) and the grilled pork belly & white bean cassoulet with sweet & savory collards and mustard brown butter sauce. By then we were stuffed, so luckily desserts are the "shot glass" kind that have gotten so popular lately - we had a few at the table and they were good, but not real standouts - I'd feel free to fill up on the food and skip the desserts for now. They do have a great after-dinner drink list though with a great scotch selection as well as ports and other apertifs.
The service was impeccable with a great level of knowledge from our server (he talked with my wife and brought up the cucumber mojito from a previous cocktail menu and once she ordered ran over to fetch the cucumber from the kitchen so the bartender could whip it up for her). The room is tastefully decorated and small - it adjoins the more upscale Chef's Table and shares the kitchen, but none of the dishes are shared save for the fact they are all based on what's in season. It is small so I would recommend reservations (if they take them) on a weekend night though we got in without needing one. Dress is casual - it's Winter Garden after all. All in, after pigging out with 9 dishes, 4 cocktails and sharing a dessert, our total for 2 came to $120 with tax (pre-tip). For a meal of this caliber it's a real bargain, and if you only have one drink and eat less than us (which is plenty for most folks) it would be easy to get out of their for less than $80 a couple with tax and tip.
The place is run by the chef and his wife, so it is a true local family place in a market of chains. As you can tell by his menu he has worked in New Orleans and he has hints of that fantastic cuisine throughout his menu, but this is a place I'd describe as more based on locally-sourced seasonal ingredients expertly and simply prepared rather than Cajun food. He also spent time at Victoria & Albert's at WDW so he knows high end food. But the best thing about it is the great innovative food in an informal setting that is fun and relaxed.
I highly recommend both the Chef's Table and the Tasting Room. It is a great addition to our dining scene and I hope both locals and visitors make the short trip to experience one of the top dining experiences in Central Florida.
99 W Plant St, Winter Garden, FL 34787
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