I really want to like Boathouse, the new restaurant that, along with Drake’s Bar, has taken up residence in the historical building once occupied by Le Cordon Bleu and Harper’s Tavern. In recent years, the space has held subpar businesses that focused more on a bar venue than a place to get good food. Unfortunately, that seems to be the case again.
Or at least it’s the outcome. Certainly there seems to be a desire, at least, to emphasize the capabilities of the kitchen. The menu is extensive and varied, but ultimately too much so. There is a lack of focus, and the restaurant’s claim of “Southern comfort food” just isn’t demonstrated in the selections. I saw little that was distinctly Southern or what would be considered classic comfort food, though certainly the latter is open to interpretation.
Perhaps the beer-braised short rib, which was listed under the “Chef’s Comfort Entrees” heading, might qualify. But a tenderloin filet or New York strip with truffle mashed potatoes? Or a stuffed baked airline chicken breast? Or the “Southern Sandwiches” section with blackened mahi or chicken peppercorn. In too many cases, it seems, it was decided a menu entry could be made Southern by colloquializing the name, Oh! Suzanna Mahi or Yes, Ma’am Salmon, for examples.
For the most part, the food I sampled was palatable and acceptable, though nothing stood out as exceptional. That braised short rib, served balanced on the bone surrounded by mashed potatoes and al dente steamed broccoli, might
have benefited from a little more time in the pot to tenderize it a bit more, but was otherwise tasty.
I did like the burger, listed as Our Signature burger but also sporting the name “Slap Your Pappy,” with chili and cheddar on top. But the waffle fries that came with it tasted as though they had been previously cooked and then warmed over. Nothing about it made me feel good about spending $11.50 for it. And I’m sorry, but I just don’t get
the Slap Your Pappy part.
The Caffeinated Pig was a pulled pork sandwich with a coffee-laced barbecue sauce. It may be the only appropriately clever name on the menu. The pork was good, though not plentiful for $9.50.
When our entrees were delivered to the table the server said the macaroni and cheese we had also ordered would be out shortly. But halfway through our meal we had to remind someone that we had not received it. Shouldn’t have bothered. The corkscrew pasta had little cheese and was ultimately watery. (Perhaps someone didn’t drain the pasta thoroughly?)
All the staff was friendly and welcoming, but on three instances, as I walked through the restaurant, staffers cut me off as they scurried by. Whatever happened to letting the guest pass first?
The Boathouse part of the operation is a big box of a room with log cabin decor accented by canoes hanging from the ceiling and vintage outboard motors attached to the walls. I’m sure it isn’t true, but it felt as though the lighting for the room was provided solely by the fluorescents in open kitchen. There is a bar area in the restaurant with a large blackboard with a chalk-like drawing of the restaurant’s whimsical three bears in a canoe.
Drake’s, the actual bar, has a completely different mien, with a stage for live bands, red flocked wallpaper, an elaborate backbar and touches from the old Harper’s Tavern, such as the original window with logo and an old refrigerator door that now hides the sound system.
Harper’s Tavern, which was lost along with Le Cordon Bleu when a fire damaged the structure in the ‘90s, was a local institution; the restaurant was one of the original fine dining spots in town. It was commendable of the owners to at least attempt to bring some of that back. But I’m afraid it just doesn’t work.
Boathouse is at 565 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park. It’s open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday. This link will take you to the Boathouse and Drake’s Web site. The phone number is 407-513-4815.