I've been an unapologetic fan of Scratch, the moody small-plates restaurant on Fairbanks Avenue, since I first visited, even as I sometimes wondered if the folks involved in it knew what they were doing right. There is bona fide talent in the kitchen, and the laid back attitude in the front of the house (though really there isn't much separation between front and back here — even the kitchen is out front) seemed right with the overall feel of the place.
But on a recent brunch visit everything fell apart, and I was left wondering yet again whether earlier enjoyable visits were only flukes.
It began when my guest and I joined a small group of other diners waiting for the restaurant to open. The designated hour had passed but the door was still locked. A young man came out to pass out menus and to tell us that they weren't ready for us, but we were made to stand on the sidewalk in the sun.
Finally inside and seated, we ordered coffee, and after a wait of several minutes a press pot was brought to our table. Its plunger was already plunged; usually one lets the coffee steep before pressing. And it was cold. A hotter pot was delivered, unplunged, and we ordered our food.
My guest selected the shrimp & grits, a colorful plate of Florida rock shrimp with beans, corn and grits tinged with a lemon sauce.
I selected the pan-roasted poussin, served atop crunchy farro with English peas, hunks of lardon and a brightly yellow egg.
Both dishes were delicious, I especially liked the crispiness of the chicken and the oozing yolk blending with the grains, though the small plates were a bit overpriced — $15 for the shrimp & grits; $14 for the poussin.
There was no sign of executive chef Dustin Haney. I don't know if a comment from one of the harried workers trying to get the brunch service jump-started that she was "waiting for the boss to get here" referred to him or not.
Sunday mornings can be tough for restaurant people after a busy Saturday night, especially for a restaurant as popular as Scratch is right now. I get that. But it's better to curtail your hours than to wear your staff down to the point that your quality suffers.
Scratch is at 223 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park. Brunch is served Saturdays and Sundays. The phone number is 407-325-5165.