The picturesque stretch of East Central Boulevard across from Lake Eola hasn't yet realized its potential of being a culinary destination for the city's food-obsessed. I never understood why. It's got great bones, but not very much meat. Compared to the heavy hitters sitting a couple of blocks down, where South Eola meets Thornton Park, the restaurant offerings here are noticeably weak. Sure, Eola Wine Co. has been a longtime fixture but, for the most part, its eats are limited to charcuterie boards, salads and handhelds.
Next door at Dolce, a small restaurant with a decorative, if cursory, nod to the Jazz Age, they follow a similar approach — make what you can in a hoodless kitchen. But apart from the salads, handhelds and rice bowls at Dolce, the dolce, no surprise, are the real draw. Dessert, in fact, is the hook that forms the restaurant's identity.
"It's never too late to be whoever you want to be," reads the quote on the wall inside the restaurant. It's falsely attributed to F. Scott Fitzgerald — Brad Pitt, in fact, utters the line in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, but the line doesn't appear in Fitzgerald's short story version at all.
Nevertheless, it wasn't too late for us to be whomever we wanted to be — or wherever, and we wanted to be outside. Clearly, others seated at the tables along the sidewalk on this gorgeous April day felt the same.
It was happy hour, which runs Monday through Friday from 4-7 p.m., and we took full advantage of the half-off shareables with two savory stacks: one with barbecued jackfruit over avocado and roasted tomato salsa (regular menu price $12.99) and another with ahi poke over avocado and caramelized pineapple salsa (regular menu price $13.99). Shreds of the young, green jackfruit absorbed the smoky essence of barbecue in the former, though it was served with ciabatta toast points, not tostadas as stated on the menu. At $4.99, the ahi poke stack posed a helluva deal during happy hour — not a 50 percent saving, but almost 64 percent! And it wasn't even a Monday.
But it was the trio of braised chicken confit tacos (regular menu price $9.99) that elicited the biggest reaction. That pulled chicken was juicy, not wet, and while there were a lot of toppings — cotija cheese, purple cabbage, cilantro, lime juice, avocado, roasted tomato salsa and a chipotle aioli drizzle — they comprised a proportionate embellishment.
Now onto the sweets — the first being a panini with brie, apple and fig ($13.99). No, it wasn't technically a dessert offering, but that fig jam was sah-weeet, and using Red Delicious instead of Granny Smith apples made this sandwich come close to cloying. It was just as sweet as the waffle cone stuffed with cheesecake ($9.99), a solid capper with the photogenics to match. It even came with a couple of addicting little brownie brittle bites that I wanted more of.
But that was before the enormous crêpe platter was plopped onto the table. Everything from strawberries and banana slices to chocolate sauce, Nutella, dulce de leche and apple crisp were spread onto the eight individual-sized crepes. Our sole complaint — the crêpes were too thick. Not pancake thick, but still too thick to call crêpes. JillyCakes proprietor Jillian Hopke offers a rotating selection of her cupcakes at Dolce, but the Cadbury egg cupcake ($4.25) we sampled wasn't worthy of the Cupcake Wars Season 6 champion. This sweet nuthin' was too dry and crumbly, and both the cream cheese buttercream and the custard filling were ice-cold.
I should mention that Dolce serves breakfast items (waffles, avocado toast, scrambled eggs, bagel sandwiches and the like) all day every day. They even offer unlimited mimosas for $15. Ultimately, though, Dolce is a place for dessert lovers. I'll come back to try the 10 or so other confections I noticed, including the "Hotsie Totsie Affogato," "Key Lime Garbo Parfait" and Hopke's other cupcakes, but I'll likely pass on the savories.
Needless to say, future visits will be short, but sweet.