I had an opportunity to make a return visit to Spencer’s for Steaks & Chops recently, and I left just as pleased as I was the first time, just after the restaurant opened, in 2010.
I also left convinced that this is one of Orlando’s best restaurants, but one that few people know about.
Part of the reason it’s not on everyone’s mind is its location, at the Hilton Orlando near the Convention Center. Most people stop listening when you start telling them about a restaurant in a hotel. They run away screaming if the hotel is next to the Convention Center -- or anywhere in the International Drive corridor, for that matter.
I’ve written before that to overlook hotel restaurants is to miss some of the area’s gems. The thinking that hotel eateries cater only to people too tired to leave the property to get some real food is so 1970s.
What hotels have come to realize is that there is a lot of competition outside their doors from restaurants trying to lure their guests away. So in order to keep those dining dollars on property, the hotels put considerable talent and other resources into their top-of-the-line venues. Savvy locals can take advantage of those resources.
Some of the extras aren’t necessarily on the plate. They’re in the elegance of the decor, and a talented piano player who sets a classy tone.
Since the name of the restaurant is Spencer’s for Steaks & Chops, I figured my dining companion and I should have both. I selected the New York strip and my friend had the Anderson Ranch lamb chops.
My steak was a gorgeous hunk of meat, neatly seared so that the inside was a warm, juicy red, and coated with hefty hunks of freshly ground black pepper. I ladled a bit of buttery rich bearnaise on top. A simple stack of mixed greens next to the meat served as both a salad and a garnish.
The lamb chops were stunning. The double chops were coated with melting herbed butter, and they sat in a ragout of white beans with green olives and feta cheese. A bit of rosemary jus gave a more familiar flavor accompaniment, but we both liked the unusual pairing of the gamey lamb with the piquant olives.
We had also enjoyed the fried calamari, coated in a crispy breading and sauteed with hot peppers. I liked that the kitchen didn’t pull its punches with the heat.
It was only by luck that we had any room to eat anything after the bread service, which featured a Yorkshire pudding-like poof accompanied by sweet butter served atop a puck of pink salt. Why, yes I would like another, thank you.
Wine lovers will appreciate the extensive list of wines available by the glass. We were well attended by the sommelier who eagerly offered us tastes of wines to audition with our meals.
Spencer’s is not a bargain restaurant. Steaks range from $39.95 to $54.95 (and meat prices won’t get any better at any of the steakhouses with the ongoing drought affecting livestock feed). But when you are in the mood to lavish yourself with a good meal, it’s nice to know you’re going to get what you paid for.
Spencer’s for Steaks & Chops is at Hilton Orlando, 6001 Destination Drive. Valet parking is complimentary for restaurant patrons, and the hotel is easily accessed -- with no need to drive but a few yards on I-drive -- just off the Beachline. The restaurant is open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday, but the schedule can be affected by hotel occupancy. It’s always best to call ahead for a reservation. Here’s a link to Spencer’s website. The phone number is 407-313-8625.