click to enlarge bartlettimage-lukes-1403.jpg

Photo by Rob Bartlett

Nothing novel, but plenty good at Maitland's Luke’s Kitchen and Bar 

Luke alike

When word came that Luma/Prato mastermind Brandon McGlamery would open a restaurant in Maitland, rumors swirled about the concept – and I, like many, couldn't help but get sucked into the vortex of conjecture. A butchery/chophouse à la Curtis Stone's Gwen? Nah, I'm pretty sure it'll be a modern izakaya with Florida leanings. Yo, someone on the inside told me it'll be a Turkish bathhouse with, like, the best burritos ever!

To his credit, McGlamery kept mum throughout, but when we learned Luke's Kitchen and Bar was to be a "classic American eatery," my inner trombone sounded a heavy womp-womp. Apparently McGlamery and his Park Lights Restaurant Group partner Tim Noelke felt Maitland needed a proper bourgeois restaurant with the "seasonal" and "responsibly sourced" boxes checked in its portfolio and, really, what's wrong with that?

In fact, the transformation of the space that long held a steakhouse draped in Tudor kitsch is nothing short of remarkable, thanks to a down-to-the-foundation gut job. Luke's, much like Alicia Vikander in anything, is comfortably Scandi but not overtly so, and while we could do without unsightly pressboard planks positioned on the ceiling of the dining room, they do serve the functional purpose of dampening the chatter. And it's only natural that those now even-decibeled conversations should turn to the bill of fare.

Highly touted Parker House rolls ($5) lowered our pitch considerably. Sure, they looked doughy-soft stacked on a chopping board coated with caramelized honey butter, but we didn't particularly care for their density. Smoked fish dip ($7), fashioned from snapper, swordfish and mahi (and served with pumpernickel toast) on one visit was truly addicting, but was just meh when fashioned from only snapper on another visit. Ceviche, it seems, falls under the purview of "classic American fare" for McGlamery and executive chef Derek Perez, and a cured serving of diver scallops ($12) in passion fruit juice with horseradish and sunchoke chips caught our intrigue. One sour note: The order never materialized. We were told it was "redirected to another table" then asked if we wanted it anyway. We did, and while pecking away at the tangy bits daintily placed on a trio of scallop shells, the general manager came by to apologize and said they'd take care of it on the bill. Only they didn't. Oh, well. The crab cake ($17), meaty, peppery and crisped around the edges, was thoroughly gratifying, but for that price I expected it to dwarf a hockey puck.

An unadvertised "reserve card" will certainly appeal to bourgeois sensibilities, what with its menu of specialty beef cuts and all. A USDA Prime Angus Beef "chairman's reserve" bone-in ribeye ($40) was everything I hoped it would be, a flavorful cut cooked medium-rare enjoyed between sips of a Boulevardier ($10). But my pet peeve – steaks placed atop a heap of whatever (in this case, drab fingerling potatoes and creamed spinach) – wasn't quelled any. Ditto with stellar swordfish ($31) plonked atop greenwheat, romanesco and corn, all drizzled with a lobster-harissa beurre blanc. Can we just go back to putting sides on the side? You know, like the wonderful frites that accompanied an equally wonderful au poivre burger ($15) served with a damn fine peppercorn gravy? This is my new fave burger, BTW.

On this last visit, we opted to end with a perfectly shareable, and perfectly simple, skillet cookie ($8) topped with ice cream and caramel drizzle. As I spooned up a chunk of the salty bake, my hand grazed the still-hot cast iron dish. Yeah, I suppose exiting Luke's with a cool hand would be just too clichéd.

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