Using the term "neighborhood" to describe an eatery inside Pointe Orlando is like describing Area 51 as a suburb of Las Vegas. Yes, marketing-speak has its place in promoting a restaurant, but Marlow's is no "neighborhood" anything. What it is is an antidote to the many monstrous and boisterous bars and grills occupying the Pointe – joints like the Pub, Taverna Opa, B.B. King's, etc. In fact, not since Dan Marino's Town Tavern shut its doors many years ago has there been a place at the Pointe to go for a proper burger and a cold one. Marlow's fills that need and does so without the pretense.
Chicago-style brick walls lend a workingman's air, the music is played at an acceptable volume level, and, like other restaurants at this tourist trap, the proprietors recognize the importance of drawing in locals. At one point, chef de cuisine Blake Upchurch popped by to ask how our meals were, then later handed us a voucher that took care of our parking. "Something I like to do for locals," he said. That kind of gesture can only help foster loyalty, but when it comes to customer retention, food quality is what'll keep them coming back.
Our response to the food was favorable, as we sampled lightly battered asparagus fries ($5), served with a tarragon-citrus aioli, and the "hot and sweet" wings ($10): five Buffalo-style, five honey-mustard. The menu is reflective of a blue-collar palate, but that doesn't mean Marlow's bar food staples are fashioned from grease and spoons. The "Everything and the Kitchen Sink" burger ($12), while loaded with wild mushrooms, caramelized onions, bacon, crispy onions, chipotle-barbecue sauce, cheddar, lettuce and tomato, was no slippery mess.
Rather, it was impressively composed in its sesame-brioche bun, had a smoky essence and was big enough to cut down the middle to share (or save for later). The burger came with perfectly adequate fries, but for $3 more, a side of jalapeno corn grits added a complementary bite and weight to the meal.
From the "Tavern Favorites" portion of the menu, the shrimp and grits ($15) appeared to be rich and filling – and it most certainly was (c'mon, it's shrimp and grits!) – but it wasn't heavy on the ribs and didn't have us feeling glutted after two bites. Two squares of white-cheddar grit cakes centered a moat of average-sized curls of shrimp slathered in a roasted-tomato beurre. It was comfort food done exactly the way comfort food is supposed to be done.
Of the three dessert choices available, we went with the warm chocolate Toll House pie ($6), an ending big enough for two. Innovative it wasn't, but I appreciated the salty pretzel bits crowning the vanilla ice cream. As I perused the drink choices and took note of the handful of craft and local beers available, I saw the following written near the top of the menu: "Remember, you don't have to go home, but you can't sleep here." Judging from the relaxed posture of the patrons sitting at the bar overlooking the lighted Christmas tree outside, I'd say the sentence was included for good reason. Funky Monkey next door can lay claim to the wine snob demographic, but, with the exception of its much pricier other neighbor, Tommy Bahama Café, you'll be hard-pressed to find a more chill, laid-back and, dare I say, "neighborly" vibe.
9101 International Drive
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