The little restaurant space on a hillock with a nice view overlooking Lake Jennie Jewel (if you can overlook Orange Avenue in between), has had some rough times in the past few years. It began its life as s Perkins but sat empty for several years after the gigantic flag came down. In 2009 it was Zenzi, a place with an identity problem that didn't last long, then was Tommy Addison's, which after some initial opening bumps turned into a serviceable restaurant.
Now it's Vanbarry's Public House and it just might be the right fit for the building, the neighborhood and the clientele. From the same people who own Finnhenry's in downtown Orlando and Ollie's Public House in College Park, Vanbarry's succeeds because it doesn't overreach. It does not promise to be more restaurant than it can produce, and so expectations aren't elevated. I don't mean to damn it with faint praise because it does do some things quite nicely.
The burger, for instance, and the Vanbarry's Bacon Jam Burger in particular. It was a thick and juicy patty served on a kaiser roll (you can have a pretzel roll if you prefer) with a modest leaf of lettuce and a couple of pickles and tomato slice. There were plenty of blue cheese crumbles and the bacon jam, though not as good as actual bacon, gave a nice smoky note. Multiple napkins were necessary in the eating. The burger came with stack of nicely seasoned and meaty fries.
The Mac & Cheese Skillet was excellent. The creamy mix included lots of bits of prosciutto for some saltiness. I ate more of it than I really intended to.
But then I ate less of the Boneless Braised Short Rib Bowl. This one failed on a number of levels, not the least being that the short rib meat resembled something more akin to slices of roast beef, and not a high quality beef at that. It was served over potatoes and carrots and topped with a few soggy onion rings. Odd that it was one of two listings under the category "Rice Bowls" yet did not contain rice.
Renovations to the structure have included opening up the front of the building and installing a large covered patio to take full advantage of the sort-of-close lake view. A truckload of sand brought a makeshift beach. For some unexplained reason there is a swan boat resting nearby. Inside, the backbar is tiled in shiny white, and most of the seating is at high-tops or the bar. My guest and I chose to sit at the bar and were delighted with the charm and attention of the server there.
Vanbarry's will undoubtedly be a favorite hangout spot for people looking for a place to relax, meet some friends and have a good burger and fries. Maybe some macaroni and cheese, too.
Vanbarry's Public House is at 4120 S. Orange Ave., Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily and offers a brunch menu on Saturdays and Sundays. Although the menu lists orlandopublichouses.com as the website, that link doesn't go anywhere. My burger and fries cost $8.46, the riceless rice bowl $9.40. Don't quote me on this, but I think the phone number is 407-704-8881 (it's not listed on the menu and when I call this number, which is from the Facebook page, I get a recording that does not identify the business).