Renowned Central Florida chef Josh Oakley leaving 1921 Mount Dora for the Monroe

The Monroe, Jason and Sue Chin's restaurant concept slated to open on the ground floor of the Julian Apartments in Creative Village, will have one of Central Florida's best-known culinarians manning the kitchen.

Josh Oakley, the talented chef who wowed at the Smiling Bison in Orlando and Sanford before doing the same at 1921 Mount Dora, will serve as executive chef of the Monroe when it opens next year.

Oakley's last day at 1921 will be Nov. 3.

"My time at 1921 has been amazing and a real honor," Oakley says. "It's a really special place. I've never worked for nicer people, and I'll be thankful beyond words for all they've done for me for the rest of my life. It's not going to be easy to leave, but I just can't bring myself to pass up this opportunity."

The Monroe, part of the Chins' Good Salt Restaurant Group that includes the Osprey, Seito Sushi Baldwin Park and Reyes Mezcaleria, will be a 6,000-square-foot space with an expansive front porch overlooking Creative Village's Central Park, and a backyard patio with a social lounge for outdoor dining and drinking.

Inside, the main dining room will incorporate a bar/lounge area, study, game room (shuffleboard!) and semi-private dining area.

There will also be a coffee bar near the entrance for quick grab-and-go items.

Oakley has been handed a blank slate with respect to menu development, and while the bill of fare is very much in the nascent phase, guests can expect dishes of modern comfort at a price point lower than, say, the Ravenous Pig.
click to enlarge The Monroe executive chef Josh Oakley - Good Salt Restaurant Group
Good Salt Restaurant Group
The Monroe executive chef Josh Oakley
Think plenty of approachable, yet creative, shareable plates – not truffles, foie gras and A5 wagyu.

"The Monroe is a neighborhood place to hang out and have fun, as well as a place to share and try a bunch of new things," says Sue Chin. "We're on the UCF campus, so we want to cater to college kids by keeping prices low, but at the same time offer really interesting comfort food."

Oakley wouldn't get into food specifics, but did say the recent purchase of a pressure fryer all but guaranteed that fried chicken would be offered.

"Fried chicken is one of my favorite things in the whole world," says the Buffalo, New York, native whose die-hard allegiance to the Buffalo Sabres can be only be described as laughable (Go, Leafs, go!).

"For inspiration, I'm thinking of taking an R&D trip and drive through Georgia and South Carolina and get fried chicken from every gas station we drive by."

Other menu nuggets I was able to cajole from Oakley: patty melts, an "outrageous" burger and – hold on to your toques, you hosers – poutine.

"We want food that will resonate with the foodie without alienating others," Oakley says.

And, yes, there will be a full bar with plenty of "awesome" beer options and interesting wines.

"It won't be an extensive wine list," says Jason Chin, "but it'll be a small, funky list with options that'll challenge cabernet and chardonnay drinkers."
click to enlarge The Julian Apartments -
The Julian Apartments
The Monroe is named for Dr. William Monroe Wells, who opened the historic Wells' Built Hotel in Parramore back in 1926 for African American travelers. Creative Village, Craig Ustler's colossal mixed-use development, is a part of the neighborhood, and the Chins want Wells' legacy to live on beyond the name of their restaurant.

"Even though the Monroe is part of a billion-dollar development, we wanted an important part of that history to be preserved," says Jason Chin. "We want people to understand the significance of the name, to foster dialogue, and for the Monroe to be an important part of the community."

Live music will very much pay homage to Wells and inject a "cool energy" into the restaurant.

"One of the things we saw when we visited the Wells'Built Museum was the general ledger. It was incredible seeing the names of all the famous musicians who stayed there, like Ray Charles, Bo Diddley and Ella Fitzgerald. The live music and the jazz nights we'll feature will honor William Monroe Wells' spirit and legacy."

Oakley echoes the sentiment and says the menu will certainly incorporate African American traditions and flavors, which go hand-in-hand with the modern comfort and soulful fare he's looking to serve.

It also proffers the 44-year-old chef with a growth opportunity: "I've really learned how to balance my life, which has prevented me from burning out. I definitely pushed it too hard there for a while and lost some of my enjoyment and passion for cooking, but the Monroe really presents a great opportunity for me to get all of that back and just go for it."

Go, Josh, go!

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