Unpretentious Atlantic Beer & Oyster needs to shake off the doldrums 

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Rob Bartlett

Atlantic Beer & Oyster isn't destined for longevity. That's not meant as a statement of blunt provocation, not when you consider that a) AB&O is housed in the most jinxed locale in Winter Park; b) on any given night, the place seems to have no shortage of open tables; c) the food was entirely unremarkable; and d) the servers appear to possess a spirit of inertia that hinders their drive to tend, while feeding their appetite for idle chitchat.

Like its predecessors, AB&O, in the Hidden Garden Courtyard off Park Avenue, serves as an unassuming watering hole to its adjoining restaurant – which, as of press time, happens to be the decidedly more flashy Boca. (In previous years, the space served as a pub to higher-end eateries Circa 1926, Galopin and Matilda's on Park, all of which closed prematurely – or quickly, anyway.) Atlantic Beer & Oyster, Boca and Park Social, the bar upstairs, are owned and operated by the same folks – BE-1 Concepts – and it seems employees of all three make the beer and oyster joint their after-work hang. That said, when servers do engage with paying customers, they can be extraordinarily plain-spoken, as in: "Don't have the oyster shooters with the lemon-infused tequila – they're no good." Refreshingly forthright, yes, but the remark also aroused a slight discomfort, particularly given that oysters are the main attraction here.

So we pondered the options on AB&O's limited menu, but not until switching from a wobbly-wheeled industrial-chic table to a more stable one. It made slurping the server-endorsed oyster shooters (one for $4; four for $15) with horseradish-infused vodka and gazpacho a little less precarious. The shooters were far too intense, but the fish dip ($7), a smoky mélange of citrus, chilies and gribiche (an emulsion of egg yolks and mustard) served with saltines and pickled jalapeños, hit the mark. Neither blew us out of the water, mind you, but, to be frank, nothing we ate here really did. Most of what we sampled was simple yet unexceptional, which, I suppose, is to be expected from an unpretentious oyster bar.

Apart from one gritty mollusc, the dozen bluepoint oysters ($19) were all fine – six were enjoyed raw with a cucumber-jalapeño mignonette; the other six were raw and served with cocktail sauce. Peel-and-eat shrimp ($8 for a half-pound; $15 for a pound) spiked with Old Bay were pleasantly plump, though a side of vinegary cole slaw left an unpleasant tang in our mouths.

Seeing a burger with fries ($15) on the menu was a bit surprising, given there's not a grill or deep-fat fryer on the premises. Turns out Boca's kitchen supplies and fashions the burgers, and this one, featuring Meyer beef on a brioche bun, was goopy but sufficient.

The lone dessert listed on the menu – Mason jar Key lime pie ($7) – is no longer served at AB&O, but they offered us a beet cake ($6) from Boca, with candied pumpkin seeds and cinnamon frosting, that adequately served our need for a sweet ending.

There's a decent selection of canned and draft beer (no bottles) to complement your meal, and a happy hour weekdays from 3-7 p.m. that seems to attract barflies.

With the backing of BE-1 Concepts, and its affiliation with Boca and Park Social, Atlantic Beer & Oyster's inevitable demise could be postponed. A stiff kick in the ass is really what's needed to breathe some life into this oyster joint and jolt it out of its doldrums. That's my pearl of wisdom.

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