When I knew that I would be leaving my post as the restaurant critic at the Orlando Sentinel, I started to place those last restaurants into their publishing slots. I moved things around so that the Chef’s Table at the Edgewater Hotel in Winter Garden would get the final slot. I liked the restaurant. I liked that the young husband and wife owners had a passion for their food and their guests, and I thought the place embodied the hope for what the future of dining in Central Florida could be. That was what I wanted for my last restaurant review.
Or what I thought was going to be my last restaurant review. Here I am more than three years and over 400 critiques later! And here we are back at the Edgewater Hotel and a new restaurant from Chef’s Table owners Kevin and Laurie Tarter. It’s called the Tasting Room, and in some ways its the opposite of the Chef’s Table, with which it shares kitchen space. The Chef’s Table is a multi-course dinner extravaganza; the Tasting Room offers tapas, as little or as much as you like.
But in one aspect the two restaurants are the same: they both serve some of the best food in Central Florida.
My friend and I had a wonderful feast from a sampling of the tapas. We both loved the boudain balls, meatballs made with house-made pork sausage rolled in panko and fried. Sitting atop the balls were two eggs fried a perfect sunny-side up. The eggs were from Lake Meadows Farms, and if you’ve ever wondered if there’s a difference between “natural” eggs and those from mass-producing farms, the rich deep yellow colors of these yolks will prove it.
Rita’s fried chicken livers were good, too, mainly because of the andouille sausage gravy they were smothered in. Breaded, deep-fried organ meat covered with gravy should probably be served with a side order of Lipitor, but, oh, were these good.
I was excited about the grilled pork belly mainly because it came with white bean cassoulet. But there was no cassoulet that evening, so the wonderfully fatty belly chunks came with sweet & savory collard greens. Delicious.
Fall duck flatbread had sweet bits of meat on a thin crust dotted with tangy goat cheese and a pesto fashioned with sunflower seeds. And the New Orleans style shrimp and grits were both piquant and rich thanks to a creole butter barbecue sauce.
Most items on the menu are $8 to $10, very reasonable.
Service was as skilled and friendly as it is in the Chef’s Table room, which is just beyond the wall. In fact, some of the servers work both rooms.
The space at the Edgewater Hotel is rustic but warm. Tables sport kitschy brown vinyl covers with white stringy fringe. Flickering “candles” give the room a soft glow.
Back in 2008, I wondered how the Tarters would survive in the looming economic downturn. Quite nicely, apparently. Maybe even thriving. It just goes to show you that good food and good service can be appreciated.
The Tasting Room is at the Edgewater Hotel, 99 W. Plant St., Winter Garden (it’s about 25 minutes from downtown Orlando via State Road 408 to SR 429). It is open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner. Here’s a link to chefstableattheedgewater.com. The phone number is 407-230-4837.