Bar/Pub in Orlando

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    I've always considered Irish food to be similar to British food in the sense that it's something you eat because you're already at the pub, have had a few pints and don't feel like driving somewhere else to get a real meal. So it's bangers and mash, maybe a shepherd's pie, to soak up the hooch and settle the stomach; not bad, but not stellar. It'll do.

    Now that I have been to Raglan Road, an Irish pub and restaurant at Disney's Pleasure Island, however, I'm going to have to reconsider that assessment. Their Irish fare is tasty enough to entice a teetotaler into a pub, and I now understand that there is no excuse for mediocre Irish food.

    My expectations of the place, frankly, were low. Given the location, I assumed they were slinging the same old Emerald Isle standards at the tourists and doubling the prices. Surely the menu would be nothing but boiled this and cabbage that, heavy on the corned beef and a crock of stew on the side.

    But once inside the place, I quickly sensed that it was not a typical Americanized Irish pub, and it turned out that it wasn't. While walking back to our table after a short wait, the chatty hostess informed us that the room we were dining in was actually an Irish estate house, disassembled there and shipped here piece by piece. The furniture is all antique, and the framed photos hanging on the dark wooden walls are authentic. The result is an amazingly cozy atmosphere for such a large restaurant.

    We started with an appetizer named "Smokie City" ($10.95) which sounded sketchy ("oven baked layers of smoked cod with mature Wexford cheddar and double cream") but turned out to be brilliant. The smoked cod, dense and lovely, was offset perfectly by the tangy cheddar sauce in which it swam. We lapped up every bite, smearing it like a spread on large slices of crusty sourdough, then turned the crock over to get the last few drops.

    Entree No. 1 was "Planxty" ($19.95), a dish that I ordered because I liked the name. What I got was roast pork shank poking up out of a bed of mashed potatoes, with a side of apple chutney. About that roast pork: When the meat falls off the bone before you can get it on the fork, it's tender. And this was tender. The chutney added a note of sweetness, and the potatoes were nice and lumpy, so no complaints at all. It was a very satisfying dish.

    Entree No. 2, "It's Not Bleedin' Chowder," was similarly expensive ($19.95) and just as good. The name is supposedly a quote from the chef when he was asked exactly what the dish was, which is a rich mix of scallops, fish, mussels and prawns, mixed in a white wine sauce infused with saffron and finished with cream. At that price it better not be bleedin' chowder, and it better not look like anything that came out of a can. It wasn't, and it didn't. The seafood was fresh, the sauce was tangy and lively, and I can't recall having tasted a better fish stew, if you can call it that.

    The only item that disappointed was the bowl of "Down the Middle" ($5.50), a hearty but bland tomato and vegetable broth soup. That was for the vegetarian in the family, because there wasn't much else on the menu she could eat.

    Dessert, which took almost 20 minutes to get to the table for some reason, was "Ger's Bread & Butter Pudding" ($7.99). I'm not much of a bread pudding fan, which is exactly why I ordered it. So far the meal had exceeded all my expectations. Would dessert disappoint? Not a chance. Ger, whoever he/she may be, has concocted a heavenly bread pudding. It comes out in a warm crock with tiny pitchers of butter and butterscotch that you add yourself, as much or as little as you like. The sourdough bread soaks it up, and you get a raisin-infused mush that's sweet, rich and cinnamony. Once again I upended the serving dish to coax out the last drop.

    This being Disney, there's entertainment in the form of table dancing and an Irish band. But that's just dressing. This is a pub you can come into for dinner, and maybe hang around to grab a Guinness or two or three.

    In the years since the Eagle landed on London’s Farringdon Road and spawned the gastropub phenomenon, that word’s definition has been interpreted in an increasingly liberal fashion amongst restaurateurs on this side of the pond. Case in point: the Ravenous Pig. The place in no way resembles a humble watering hole where commoners can indulge in high-quality meals; rather, it’s as sexy-cool as its clientele, and its frills are just as sophisticated as its fare. Granted, chef/owners James and Julie Petrakis (of Greens & Grille) make a point of calling their latest venture an “American” gastropub, ostensibly justifying the expansion of the definition.

    The Pig, like its predecessor Popolo, is divided into three distinct rooms: the bar area; a central dining room; and an adjunct room with brick wall and kitchen view. The latter resembles a comedy club, but it was the complimentary fresh-baked gruyère biscuits that proved laughable. The three humble little lumps were decent enough, but we were politely declined when we requested for more. Evidently, they only make a limited number of these cheesy numbers, but no effort was made to accommodate us – we would’ve taken regular bread if offered.

    The appetizers, thankfully, were seriously better. Succulent grilled quail and herbaceous made-in-house sausage ($13) underscored the talent in the kitchen; champagne grapes and shaved fennel provided a delicately sweet crown. But the crunch of cabbage overwhelmed the trio of lobster tacos ($13), an item off the “pub menu” that my two guests and I deemed insipid and disappointing. Being told TRP was one of only three restaurants in town to serve Nantucket Bay scallops ($14) necessitated an order of these coveted, incredibly sweet mollusks. Served in a balsamic brown butter, the glistening orbs were perfectly opaque, pillowy and moist.

    In terms of portions, entrees aren’t much more substantial than the appetizers, but that didn’t mean mains like loin of lamb ($25) and steak frites ($22) didn’t satisfy. The former featured meaty, olive-crusted lamb rolls in a light basil-infused jus. My only complaint: The dish was served under the desired medium-rare, giving the lamb a slightly sinewy texture. The latter, a wonderfully tender porcini-marinated flatiron steak, may strike patrons who’ve dined at Greens & Grille as somewhat familiar (G&G offers porcini-marinated flank steak). A ramekin of deftly executed béarnaise and a beer glass of thinly cut truffle fries rounded out the dish.

    For a place named the Ravenous Pig, there are surprisingly few pork dishes offered, but the roasted suckling pig ($23) will satiate those who worship that singular magical animal. Chunks of tenderloin bathed in stout come served over a bed of collards; the rye gnocchi flecked with caraway seeds drew a mixed reaction.

    Chocoholics will undoubtedly rave about thick chocolate-chili pot de crème ($7) and the pig tails ($7), funnelcake-like fritters shaped like rear appendages and served with a comforting chocolate-espresso sauce. Cappuccino ($3.50) was served tepid, a likely malfunction of an inferior push-button contrivance, or else server negligence. You’re better off sampling an après-meal microbrew ($5 for a pint).

    Service could use a bit more polishing; our waitress seemed somewhat distracted and inattentive – a lot of time was spent staring at the bronze ceiling tiles waiting for her eventual return. Still, my sincere hope is that the Ravenous Pig won’t succumb to the curse that plagued the space’s many predecessors, and if the gastropub’s moniker turns you off, don’t let it – it's a misnomer. The conservative portions ensure no patrons indulge in piggish behavior.

    Redlight Redlight
    If Orlando was famous for something other than Mickey Mouse, it’d be Redlight Redlight. Their exhaustive beer list and impeccable taste make it tempting to take up residence on a barstool in the much bigger space they now inhabit in Audubon Park. Plus, as of 2014, they have begun brewing and serving their own independent craft beers.
    Top-shelf tequila and thumping music makes this Dr. Phillips taqueria more bar than restaurant, but there are pockets of goodness to be found on the mostly Tex-Mex menu. Tableside-prepared guac is tasty (though overpriced); chorizo, spicy beef and mushroom tacos and chomp-worthy; cheesy corn on the cob and pulled pork enchiladas warrant a try. You'll relish every bite of the freshly fried churros.
    Roque Pub
    South Orlando blue-collar neighborhood meets fancy beer in a pool hall staffed by cute girls. If you’re looking for good beer in a laid-back atmosphere in a non-hipster-infested neighborhood, this is your bar.



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