I had a chance to sit in on a preview of some of the items planned for the Coop when it opens next year. The Coop, you'll remember, is the new concept in development from 4 Rivers Smokehouse owner John Rivers. Labeled "A Southern Affair," the Coop will offer an array of comfort foods from the south, each with a bit of Rivers's culinary touches.
The Coop will occupy the space on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Morse Boulevard in Winter Park. The building, which was prviously home to a Thai/sushi restaurant and a never-opened barbecue joint, is currently undergoing major renovations, so Rivers presented his teaser tastes to a small group of visiting journalists on the patio of his Winter Park 4 Rivers restaurant.
By the way, operationally the Coop will be similar to 4 Rivers Smokehouses in that guests will order at a counter. That means no full table service. Also probably means long lines if the food I tasted is a predictor.
We started with deviled eggs, an item I'm frequently enticed to order when I see it on a menu but which almost always disappoints in some way. These did not, thanks in part to some goat cheese that was blended into the fluffy yolk, adding some volume along with flavor.
A number of buttermilk biscuit sandwiches will be offered, including the fried chicken with maple bourbon glaze and hickory smoked bacon. Loved the flavors, but I didn't like that the biscuit was sitting in the maple syrup -- not a fan of sticky fingers when I'm eating.
Rivers is calling one of his dishes Low Country shrimp and grits. It has the two named ingredients but also some greens and frizzle-fried onions. Very tasty.
The shrimp poboy sandwich was exceptional. The bread was perfect and the breading on the fried shrimp had just the right amount of spiciness.
I never quite understand the allure of chicken and waffles, but I know that pairing sends some people into paroxysms of ecstacy. The best thing about the Coop's version is that the chicken is served on the bone rather than as boneless breast meat or, worse, nuggets. The fried chicken had a wonderful crispy crust and I was happy without the waffle. (The current teaser menu lists the waffles with chicken tenders, but I hope the final menu offers the on-the-bone option as well.)
Other items on the working menu -- which almost certainly will change before the restaurant actually opens on an unspecified date in 2014 -- include meatloaf, smothered pork chops and rice, chicken fried steak, fried catfish, and shepherd's pie. (Hmmm, that last one must be from southern England.)
The dessert section of the restaurant will be named Sweetie Pies. One of the sweeter pies is the pecan, and individual that was amazingly gooey without being cloying. The problem with most individual-serving pies is that they tend to be all crust -- that wasn't the case with the one I sampled. It was delicious.
Can't wait to see what the final Coop menu looks like. More updates later.