Matilda’s on Park has promise, but …

Improvements are needed if they’re going to break the jinx on their locale


358 N. Park Ave., Winter Park | 407-951-5790 | | $$$

The latest odds by the culinary cognoscenti have Matilda’s on Park as 10-1 underdogs against the heavily favored Jinxed Locale, but don’t expect Matilda’s to go down without a fight. Like the kangaroo in its logo, Matilda’s packs some punch – though I’m not about to bet the jolly jumbuck in my tucker bag that this classy Aussie-themed sports bar will go the full 12 rounds on Park Avenue’s northern periphery.

What it does have going for it is its relaxed vibe – the lounge is decidedly more casual than it was in the Galopin days, and waitresses in shorts are happy to change the channel on any of the number of flat-screens scattered about the restaurant. The low-key pub area toward the back of the restaurant is an ideal place to take a seat, especially if you need a steady blast of air conditioning to keep you cool, like we did on this ridiculously steamy day. Crikey, we even stooped to consider ordering some Foster’s lager with which to frost our gullets, but much to our shock, Foster’s isn’t offered (not altogether a bad thing). A glass of Widmer Hefeweizen ($6) made pondering our menu choices a far more pleasurable act anyway, and there is a lot of gourmet pub grub here to ponder.

It would’ve been nice had our server informed us they were out of the lobster-and-crab bites ($12), the kangaroo burger ($14) and the wedge salad ($12) upon arriving at the table, instead of waiting to tell us they were out after we’d ordered them all. It’s a simple courtesy that I would’ve expected a place like this to employ, but not so. In fact, we were told they’ve been out of all three items for a week. Now, in the case of kangaroo meat, I can understand it – but iceberg lettuce? Really?

We were denied lobster-and-crab bites, but lobster mac ($18) – baked pasta with cream and mascarpone cheese, tarragon and sherry, was still available – and there seemed to be a good amount of lobster in this mediocre “mad-mac,” one of seven mac-and-cheese specialties on hand. (Matilda’s owner Ryan Smith also owns Mad-Macs, a Delaware restaurant where mac and cheese casseroles are the dingo’s knackers.)

That said, deep-fried mad-mac bites ($7), our stand-in bite of choice, were crispy but consummately bland. The sweet barbecue sauce just didn’t work, and the topping of bacon seemed like a consolation prize. The scorching “hells spit” boneless chicken wings ($9) restored our confidence in Matilda’s kitchen, but then, out came the “made to order” guacamole ($10), which was even less stimulating than the mad-mac bites.

The monster burger ($16), a double-patty behemoth with bacon, onion strings and American cheese, is a top-notch burger worthy of inclusion on any “Best Of” list. The baked grouper ($17), on the other hand, was an utter head-shaker. The fish was overseasoned and overdone, as were the vegetables. Adding to the earlier service faux pas was a forgotten side salad and a lengthy server disappearance that had us waiting 15 minutes to order dessert. Once we got them, the four varieties of sweet spring rolls ($10), filled with apple, blueberry, strawberry cheesecake, and peanut butter and chocolate, were hardly worth the wait.

Inconsistent service and a flurry of hit-and-miss dishes proved somewhat frustrating, yet I can’t help but think that Matilda’s can beat the odds and make it work in a spot where so many haven’t. Like many a promising underdog who’s failed, Matilda’s may be its own worst enemy.