Here’s another in the recent gush of establishments claiming to be gastropubs. The Rusty Spoon has a design element or two reminiscent of The Gun, a favorite gastropub of mine in London, but I really had to stretch to find any true similarities. For the record, the Rusty Spoon is not a gastropub; it is a restaurant. However, I must concede that the term comes open for interpretation when it is appended with the word American. For a good explanation -- albeit just as vague and indecisive -- of what the British consider a gastropub, read this article at Pubology.
The Rusty Spoon, which ultimately is an unfortunate name for a restaurant but let’s just let that go, occupies a premium space at 55 W. Church St. on the ground floor of one of downtown’s biggest white elephants. It’s a cool corner space with lots of windows looking out onto the Church Street scene. The bar area -- notice I didn’t say pub area -- is spacious and comfortable, and I liked the kitchen area, which is visible through a large doorway as though it were another room in a house. Peeking through the doorway it looked even more so, with an open area surrounding the prep area that resembled the home’s family room that seemed an extension of the dining room. I wasn’t sure if guests were welcome to enter that area to observe or not.
The menu is under the direction of Kathleen Blake, who also is associated with the nearby Pine 22 burger bar. Blake was previously with Primo by Melissa Kelly, where she honed her sensibility for fresh, local products. The Rusty Spoon makes ample use of local vendors.
I would be hard pressed to come up with a theme of the menu or to identify the cuisine. There is a fish & chips dish (more pub than gastro), croque monsieur (bistro?) and pappardelle with Bolognese (trattoria?). But there are some intriguing options, and as usual with Blake, some tasty results.
I liked my gypsy goulash, a sort of stylized pulled pork dish that had the tender, slow-roasted meat in a tomato sauce nesting on creamy grits. Delicious, though I question the validity of the $21 charge. I also liked the flavors of my friend’s slow-braised lamb haystack, which featured the distinctive taste of lamb complemented with a generous sprinkling of tangy ricotta. It was served on delicious Moroccan bread and accompanied by a stack of thin-cut fries. A more reasonable cost of $12.
On a lunch visit, I had the fish & chips, but they were fairly mundane. I also tried the steak tartare appetizer on that visit and found it to be a bit too moist.
Service was serviceable; the bartenders on one of my visits were accommodating and helpful.
The decor of the space is a bit austere, and just a little bit creepy. It’s a vast area with very high ceilings and is rather cavernous. Perhaps most of the renovation budget went into the beautiful wood floor. A few bare-bulb lights hang in clusters here and there. Tables are covered with cloths but mostly unadorned. The walls hold black and white photos that I suppose are supposed to emphasize the farm-fresh aspect of the restaurant. But among them are close-ups of farm animals that seem to be staring dolefully at the diners as if to say, “Are you going to eat me?” Made me wonder if the decorator had a veganistic agenda.
I think Rusty Spoon is headed in the right direction, and its style of food and atmosphere is a welcome addition to the cluster of restaurants on Church Street.
The Rusty Spoon is at 55 W. Church St., Orlando. It is open for lunch Monday through Saturday and dinner daily. Here is a link to the restaurant’s website where you can see more of the menu (albeit without prices). I do like that the website gives suggestions for parking (it’s available in the 55 West building; it’s not like the residents are using all the spaces) and I wish more downtown businesses would take a proactive position in helping customers to know where they can park. The phone number is 407-401-8811.