Things certainly have changed out there in Clermont.
It used to be nothing but citrus groves for miles and miles. The main attraction was the Citrus Tower, which afforded tourists the opportunity to see that, yep, indeed, there was nothing but citrus trees for miles and miles.
The tower is still there, but now it looks out over lots of development, including homes for Orlando commuters and the strip malls with stores and shops to fill their needs. Look straight down and you’ll see something else that was once rare in Clermont: a really good restaurant. What hasn’t changed, apparently, is Clermont’s desire for one. But more on that in a moment.
That’s the Crooked Spoon Gastropub, the unwheeled eatery that resulted from a successful food truck operation.
Chef/owner Steve Saelg was one of the pioneers of Orlando’s food truck boom, and his Crooked Spoon truck was one of the more popular ones at area food truck rallies. But Saelg, who started out as a Wall Street financier before turning to a life in the culinary arts, longed to stop roaming. So he parked the truck and opened a gastropub with the same name.
In this case, gastropub probably means something closer to a sports bar. The atmosphere is casual, the bar is visible from most corners of the dining areas, and the requisite televisions hang all about.
Most of the items on Crooked Spoon’s menu tend to be of the sandwich variety. That’s not how it was when the restaurant first opened in late summer. Pan-seared salmon, marinated flank steak and chamomile brined pork chop were some of the standout items then. Clermonters, I’m told, weren’t looking for such fare. And even Orlandoans who followed Saelg to Lake County were probably looking for his well-liked signature burgers.
Those are there, you’ll be happy to know, but so are some other noteworthy items that are every bit the sort of creative food that Saelg and his crew probably had in mind, but now offered as sandwiches.
Take for example the pork belly BLT, a thick and delightfully fatty belly section with a crispy exterior, served on fresh brioche bread with spicy arugula, marinated tomato and remoulade. And as a wonderful surprise, an egg, sunny-side up, on top. It’s called a sandwich, but just try to eat it with anything but a knife and fork.
I also enjoyed the lobster grilled cheese, which was sort of like a lobster roll with a bit of melted cheeses, including brie, swiss and cheddar, on top. The sweet lobster meat was served with tomatoes on the buttery toasted bread.
And yes, the Crooked Spoon burger tastes just as good as it did when served through the window of a truck. But I think the thick angus beef patty with melted swiss cheese and a breaded onion ring is even more enjoyable when eaten while seated at a comfortable booth rather than squatting on a curb. But that’s just me.
For dessert my guests and I shared a bread pudding topped with caramel corn and a globe of ice cream. There was plenty to go around.
Harold Henderson, who previously had cooked at Citrus and Cuisiniers, has been serving as executive sous chef recently while Saelg tends to some personal matters. Things ran smoothly the night that I visited, even as a boisterous party went on on the restaurant’s patio. Servers were attentive and helpful.
I probably shouldn’t be too critical of Clermontilians for not embracing the unsandwiched fare that Crooked Spoon initially offered. Dining habits are changing everywhere, which is one of the reasons the food truck craze still crazes on.
But the allure of the food truck movement has always been the creative and surprisingly upscale dishes that were being served from the mobile kitchens. With Crooked Spoon Gastropub, Saelg and crew still served the same terrific food. But now there’s no fear of breaking down on the side of the road just before dinner.
The Crooked Spoon Gastropub is at 200 Citrus Tower Blvd., Clermont. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. Entree prices range from $10 to $14. The phone number is 352-404-7808.