When I first reviewed Jack’s Place, more than 19 years ago, it was in a place called the Clarion Plaza hotel, which was operated by Tamar Inns. Now it’s in the Rosen Plaza hotel, operated by Rosen Hotels & Resorts. But those are only technical changes; it hasn’t moved. Tamar was the former name for hotelier Harris Rosen’s company, and he changed the name of the hotel after he changed the name of his organization.
But little changed about Jack’s Place over the years. The Jack whose name is on the place was Jack Rosen, Harris’s father. The walls of the restaurant are covered with framed caricatures of celebrities, all of which were drawn by the elder Rosen when he was employed as a safety engineer at New York’s Waldorf Astoria. He drew the pictures in his spare time whenever a well-known person visited the hotel, and many times managed to get the celebrity to autograph the work. Jack’s Place claims to have the world’s largest collection of signed caricatures in the world, even more than the famed Sardi’s.
(By the way, wouldn’t you love to know what Jack would have thought of his son going head to head against his former employer now that there’s a Waldorf Astoria in Orlando?)
Something else that hadn’t changed in the nearly two decades was the menu at Jack’s Place. Primarily a steakhouse, Jack’s was never what I considered one of the area’s top tier restaurants. It rarely came to mind whenever anyone asked for a steakhouse recommendation, not even if they were asking about for one in the tourist corridor.
But now chef Michael McMullen is changing all that with a new, refreshed menu. The overall mien of the place is still that of a steakhouse, but the menu is now more varied, and the quality, even of the steaks, has improved greatly.
I had a chance to sample a number of the new items, and I was impressed with what I tasted. Perhaps the most aptly named new entry is the one called “Jac’s Best,” a bisque of Bering Sea king crab and corn. It had a velvety smooth texture with little crunches of corn, and a richness in the mouth that was absolutely delightful.
McMullen is also featuring an appetizer of spicy shrimp and grits, big firm shrimp with a bit of cayenne pepper sauce and gorgonzola in the grits.
Rack of lamb is another addition, this one glazed with horseradish and maple mustard, which complemented the soft gaminess of the meat. And a veal chop, perfectly cooked and wonderful in its simplicity.
Jack’s isn’t all meat. There is also a terrific new sea bass entree, baked on a cedar plank and graced with essence of white truffle and lemon with just a touch of thyme. There’s even a vegetarian option of ratatouille with herbed cheese in phyllo dough.
Service was professional and courteous on my visit. The ambience of the room is upscale, with white tablecloths and dramatic lighting touches. It would be nice to see better lighting on the caricatures.
Back in 1992 I said in my review that the caricatures was the best thing Jack’s Place had going for it and that I hoped the food would get better. It took a while, but it’s there. And Jack’s Place will be easier to remember, and one I’ll definitely recommend from now on.
Where: Rosen Plaza, 9700 International Drive, Orlando
When: Dinner daily
How much: $$$
Where to call: 407-996-1787