We’re privileged to witness our city in the midst of a culinary renaissance. A whole new crop of devoted craftsmen and women are reshaping the gastronomic landscape by fusing the ethical with the artisanal to elevate the craft of cooking and mixology to exquisite levels. Their will to transcend by pushing the boundaries of our historically conservative palates is reflected in the names of the establishments listed below – establishments dedicated to crafting and serving the finest in food and drink. Here, in order, are my picks of the best places to eat and drink in Orlando.
Perhaps no other establishment in this city places a greater emphasis on both food and craft cocktails than the Pharmacy, the concealed Prohibition-era boîte from the same folks who brought us The Table. Pushing the green button opens the faux elevator doors, allowing entrance into this thoroughly fab speakeasy. Deliciously intense (and high-quality) drinks complement a menu catering specifically to gastronomes. Believe me, the roasted bone marrow paired with a stiff East Setauket Job cocktail is a healing prescription. (8060 Via Dellagio Way,407-985-2972; thepharmacyorlando.com)
What Pharmacy does for cocktails, Cask & Larder does for beer. Brew maestro Ron Raike’s sudsy creations (love me some Hammer Time!) are unparalleled in this city, and while the James Beard award-nominated duo of James and Julie Petrakis have tamed down the menu somewhat, their dishes still give new meaning to the term “Southern comfort.” (565 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park, 321-280-4200; caskandlarder.com)
Perhaps best replicating the vibe and all-round camaraderie you’d find at a tapas bar in Seville, Santiago’s Bodega has already become an established destination for food-loving revelers, even after just six months in existence. Some may balk at the pricing, but there’s no bull coming out of the kitchen – and the house red, the least expensive bottle on the list, is nothing to sneeze at. (802 Virginia Drive, 407-412-6979; santiagosbodega.com)
Sure, the healthy selection of craft beers is enough to warrant a visit to this popular Mills Avenue resto, but when you can pair a specialty beer with the exotic flavors of Malay, Chinese, Viet and Indian cuisine, while maintaining the animated atmosphere of a Singapore-style hawker stall, it all adds up to a formula for success. With or without stinky durian fruit. (1103 N. Mills Ave., 407-237-0606; facebook.com/hawkersstreetfare)
If you can’t get a seat at Cask & Larder, you might find some of Ron Raike’s brews being poured from Smiling Bison’s founts, and downing a beer alongside one of chef (and sausage king) Josh Oakley’s kielbasas or currywursts is a match made in culinary heaven. The meat-centric menu dished up in the former Redlight Redlight space is perfect hearty drinking food. (745 Bennett Road, 407-898-8580; thesmilingbison.com)
The “Jewel Box” – a two-story wine vault stocked with 7,000 bottles of 80 intriguing varieties – is quite the attention-grabbing lure for bon vivants, but it’s James Beard nominated chef Brandon McGlamery’s flawless dishes that makes wining and dining at Luma an unparalleled experience on Park Avenue. For more frugal sorts, one lavish appetizer and a balloon of red make for a high-end experience that won’t pop your buttons, or your wallet. (290 S. Park Ave., Winter Park, 407-599-4111; lumaonpark.com)
Even without experienced sommelier and sake expert Michael Ring patrolling the colorful room, the sometimes goofy, often wacky, always first-rate Sushi Pop continues to take libations as seriously as its sashimi. At any given time, you’ll find as many plates of sugi sugi rolls as you will creative sake-infused cocktails at the sushi bar. (310 W. Mitchell Hammock Road, Oviedo, 407-542-5975; sushipoprestaurant.com)
Of three tapas joints on this list, Iza might be the least Spanish, but it’s also the least showy. Even with its modest selection of wines and beers, you can’t beat sitting on Iza’s outdoor terrace enjoying lamb sliders with a glass of sangria and taking in the Thornton Park scene. (712 E. Washington St., 407-999-0199; izatapasbar.com)
Draft and bottle crafts join the heady mix of reds, whites and sparkling wines offered at the former Diva Wines & Desserts, but its transformation to NOPA (“Not On Park Avenue”) has added some competently executed modern “urban-rustic” dishes to the mix. (155 E. Morse Blvd., Winter Park, 407-740-4040; nopagrill.com)
This Hannibal Square standout offers the most refined and, along with El Bodegon, authentic tapas experience in town. Now with the addition of an outdoor bar, patrons can enjoy slow-braised oxtail or baby squid with a glass or two of sherry out front on a sidewalk table, or in relative seclusion out back at BARcelona. (433 W. New England Ave., Winter Park, 321-972-4881; mitomatina.com)
On any given Friday and Saturday night at Barnie’s CoffeeKitchen, the small plates churned out by chef Camilo Velasco are as good as any you’ll find on Park Avenue (yes, they’re really that good). While their limited beer and wine selections are perfectly serviceable, the quaff of choice here is coffee, and there’s no better place to get your buzz on. (118 S. Park Ave., Winter Park, 407-629-0042; also CityArts Factory, 29 S. Orange Ave., 407-722-8363; barniescoffeekitchen.com)
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