"Sixty thousand dollars!"
My friends and I were standing in the bar area of the new Firebirds Wood Fired Grill in the Mills 50 district awaiting a table in the dining room, an event that would be heralded by a text message to my smartphone (the ringtone also possibly a death knell for the restaurant-pager industry, but never mind about that right now).
We were admiring the back bar of liquor bottles, tiered in three sections as though it were an alcoholic theater with an orchestra section, mezzanine and balcony. The bottles were meticulously arrange, no doubt by an anally-retentive bar back, and lit so that the ambers of the Henneseys, the blues of the Bombays, yellows of the St. Germaines and browns of the Macallans positively radiated and dominated the room.
I suppose one of us mentioned that it was a pretty display, as indeed it was. Or more likely one of us said, "That's a lot of booze," as indeed it was, too. That's when a server who was rushing by stopped to exclaim, "Sixty thousand dollars!" And we assumed that he was referring to the cost of the inventory. Or maybe the lighting bill. I don't think we'll ever know.
Firebirds is a Charlotte, North Carolina, based chain started in 2000 by Dennis L. Thompson, who co-founded Lone Star Steakhouse and Saloon. There are 34 locations (over two million dollars in bar inventory!); the Orlando restaurant is the company's first in Florida.
The menu features little creativity yet tries to offer something for everyone. You've got your steaks, chicken dishes, various fish, burgers, meatloaf, five salads, distinguished from four others designated "Firebirds Signature Salads." (The "Soups of the Day" section has eight selections, so figure that one out.) Most everything I tasted was just fine, though nothing rose to a level of wonderful.
My guests and I shared the appetizer of lobster spinach queso, a dip with plenty of shellfish, not much spinach, and melted pepper jack cheese, served with yellow, blue and red tortilla chips. I suppose the lobster warranted the $11.95 fee.
One of my guests chose the crab cake salad for an entree. It was an ample plate of chopped mixed greens with tomatoes and strips of tortillas with a couple of crab cakes. A cilantro and lime vinaigrette dressed it. The cakes were a bit too cakey, if you know what I mean, but there wasn't anything integrated about the salad and the crab cake. There didn't seem to be any reason for them to be on the same plate, but my friend was happy with the dish.
I liked my Durango burger, too, and if you decide to go I would recommend it to you. It was a well-charred burger that still held some redness inside and was topped with crispy fried onions, a roasted garlic ranch dressing, and more pepper jack cheese. (I wonder how many thousands of dollars of pepper jack cheese is in inventory.) Though piled pretty high and a bit difficult to eat, I enjoyed it. The green chile mac & cheese I chose to accompany it, however, could have been cheesier (surely then could have found some pepper jack in the house somewhere).
My other guest's prime rib was modest. It was an ample enough cut, and cooked nicely enough, but had little flavor and the texture was a bit rough. The baked potato had areas within the jacket that were hot and others that were cool. What does that indicate? One wonders if Firebirds doesn't want to be an alternative to Hillstone, a mile or so up the road. If so it will need to step up its prime rib game (though at $26.50 Firebirds pr was cheaper than the $32 version at Hillstone).
Firebirds bests Hillstone in the area of service, at least to a point. I liked that when a guest asked for directions to the rest room a staffer would lead the way instead of just pointing. My table's waiter was affable and had good menu knowledge. I just wish he had checked back with us after our entrees were served so that we could tell him the baked potato was cold.
The large open kitchen is a dominant design element to the main dining room, which also has a large wine wall (no cost was mentioned) and some nice lighting touches, particularly on the stone columns.
Firebirds is in the Market at Mills Park, which also has the Fresh Market grocery store and a couple of other eateries, including a just-opened Giraffas. An outdoor bar area had not yet opened when I visited.
Firebirds Wood Fired Grill is at 1562 N. Mills Ave., Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-581-9861.