I’ve learned to be leery of the restaurant space that sits midblock in the building that houses the Sanctuary Condominiums. It’s been home to so many restaurants in the past 14 or so years – some with very brief stays and three that announced they would open but never did – that I no longer get my hopes up.
And the name of the latest occupant, Eola Lounge, doesn’t exactly exude culinary confidence or creativity. Such a name tells me the owners are more interested in a drinking clientele so any food served would be secondary. But when I found myself in the area looking for a place to eat after my destination restaurant was unexpectedly closed, I decided to give it a try.
I liked it very much.
The menu has a slight Asian beat and is more creative than I expected. Daring even. This is undoubtedly the only restaurant in downtown Orlando – maybe the entire city – with Crispy Pork Bung on the menu, which is exactly what you’re thinking it is.
I already felt like an ass for underestimating the kitchen so I opted for something a little higher on the hog, the Braised Pork Belly Bao. The meat had the characteristic fatty and juicy mouthfeel and was garnished with pickled mustard greens and a drizzle of soy sauce in the doughy steamed buns.
My companion had the Crab Fried Rice, a large mound of white rice tossed with blue crabmeat, scallions and bits of fried egg. The crab was plentiful and the portion was ample. The menu warned that there may be crab shells in the dish and indeed there were. But at least you know it’s fresh (and real crab).
We also shared a plate of Calamari, lightly breaded, crisply fried, blended with onions, garlic and hot chili peppers that added lots of oomph.
I was also very pleased with the service and the attention we were paid not only by our server but by the management, as well. Our server even helpfully pointed us to the happy hour selections that were soon to time out. We got the $14 Calamari for $9 (along with a forgettable glass of wine for $5).
We chose to sit outside because the patio is dog friendly. The interior has a decidedly loungey vibe with a heavy neon blue glow that feels a bit cold. I can’t say much has changed with the decor from the last tenant to the current – I’ve lost track.
Of course having good food and service is no guarantee of success, especially in this particular space. There have been several worthy contenders over the years that just couldn’t hang on. It’ll be up to the downtown dining denizens to decide.
Eola Lounge is at 100 S. Eola Drive, Orlando (map). It is open for dinner daily, brunch Saturday and Sunday. The phone number is 407-985-3002.