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Cask & Larder

cask stewThe much anticipated Cask & Larder, the new restaurant from the Ravenous Pig owners, has opened in the former Harper’s Tavern/ Le Cordon Bleu space on Fairbanks Avenue in Winter Park. As expected, it is an instant hit with the crowds -- this year’s Prato, the second W.P. restaurant for the Luma on Park folks that opened to similar throngs. As it turns out, there’s much to be excited about here.

Ravenous Pig chefs/owners James and Julie Petrakis have partnered with Pig participants,  and another husband and wife team, Tracy Lindskoog and Dennis Bernard, to open the “Southern-inspired public house,” which features stylistic takes on Southern fare. The Larder in the name is a reference to a pantry.

The Cask refers to a beer barrel and is an indication that C&L brews its own beers. (All involved would prefer that you not call it a brewpub.) Good beer, too, though, unlike the neighboring Shipyard Brew Pub (the term is fine there), there are other brews, plus a fully stocked liquor bar (with some fun cocktails, it should be mentioned).

Just as with Ravenous Pig, the basis for everything done here is quality. There were a few issues with food and service at startup -- that’s to be expected with any new restaurant. But I have no question that the issues -- and ultimately we’re talking minor ones -- will be resolved; when you start with quality, you end with quality. And there’s plenty of good stuff now to give Cask & Larder a hardy recommendation.

I haven’t done an actual tally, but it wouldn’t surprise me if there is more pork on the Cask & Larder menu than on the other restaurant that actually has Pig in its name. There are three types of country ham on the menu, from Kentucky, Virginia and North Carolina, but you needn’t narrow your choice to one because all three are offered on a long tasting board with farmer’s cheese, pepper jam and some of the flakiest biscuits you’ll find in Florida. The ham is thinly sliced and presented in loose stack. Tasting them together is a wonderful primer into the nuances of ham and how different smoking and curing techniques can alter the flavor. This one is an instant hint, judging from the number of samplers I saw flying through the restaurant, and the nonstop slicing by the “ham man” at the helm of the slicer on one of my visits.

I also liked the starter -- or “snack,” as listed on the menu -- of potted pimento cheese, though the topping of “ham jam” was the star as far as I was concerned. Oxtail tamale, another snack, was a delicious rendition with forward pepper spicing, served with hominy and charred jalapeno relish.

The biggest surprise -- and arguably the hardest sell -- was the grilled lamb heart. It’s not the sort of thing you find on many menus, but it’s exactly the sort of thing you should find one that is “Southern inspired.” The heart is sliced into dollar-sized rounds and served on a ploof of popcorn grits with peaches, peanuts and sorghum, sprinkled with some actual popcorn. The texture of the heart is firm -- you might think you were eating a slice of sausage -- and the flavor is mild, not gamey. My companion, who had never had lamb heart and who was at first mortified by the thought of eating it, declared it her favorite item at the end of the meal.

I rather liked the bacon & Leek stuffed quail, served with figs, cherry molasses and ginger sausage.

Cask terrineOne of the peccadilloes I found irksome was the misnaming of some of the dishes; there’s no reason to confuse your guests. Rabbit pie, for instance. The name invokes a sort of pot pie-like device, but in reality it is a terrine, a sort of rabbit pate wrapped in pastry. However, a terrine by any other name is no less delicious, served with pickled egg, cornichons and a smear of tangy mustard.

Snapper stew is another misnamed dish. Rather than a stew, this is simply a wonderful, firm fillet in a pulpy “broth” with two large head-on shrimp and a blue crab set up decoratively on the end of the plate. Good flavors all, but we were offered nothing to extract the meat from the uncracked crab, nor were we offered anything to wipe our hands with after wrestling (unsuccessfully) with it and the shrimp. (Southern grace might have called for at least a fingertip bowl.)

Besides the hand-crafted beers, which are under the direction of brewmaster Ron Raike, Cask & Larder is offering some fun cocktails. I especially liked the WP mule, a local take on the Moscow mule, the vodka and ginger beer drink. Very refreshing.

The dining room has been beautifully refashioned with such decorative touches as backlit shutters around support posts, and wood floors and obscure glass. The mottled glass separates the main dining area from the kitchen, so while it is not present and “in your face,” you nevertheless know that it is there.

The bar area is large and available for catch-as-catch-can seating. The brewing tanks are visible through large windows into the brewing room. The room is available for private dining -- on my first visit, a group was having a pig feast, complete with the pig’s head in the center of the large table.

Click here for photos from a previous article.

Snout to tail cuisine is very big these days, and I’d like to see more of it here. The food that is offered is very good. So is the restaurant overall. But I expected that from these restaurateurs.

Cask & Larder is at 565 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park. It is open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday and for brunch on Sunday. Prices, by the way, are very reasonable -- nothing is over $19. Here is a link to caskandlarder.com. The phone number is 321-280-4200.

<a href="http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/26/1680891/restaurant/Orlando/Cask-Larder-Winter-Park"><img alt="Cask &amp; Larder on Urbanspoon" src="http://www.urbanspoon.com/b/logo/1680891/minilogo.gif" /></a>

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