See below to learn how you can win a three-course dinner for four at Barnie's CoffeeKitchen's flagship cafe on Park Avenue.
It's pretty clear that Barnie's CoffeeKitchen is getting more serious about the Kitchen part.
Barnie's has been known for decades as the area's homegrown specialty coffee and tea provider. Then, in 2011, the brand was refreshed and CoffeeKitchen added to the name to reflect its new direction, which CEO Jonathan Smiga said at the time would celebrate coffee as a specialized food ingredient.
Now the focus on food is a bit more refined. Camilo Velasco is proof of that. Velasco is Barnie's executive chef, and his resume highlights include stints as chef de partie at Victoria & Albert's and chef de cuisine at Norman's at the Ritz-Carton Orlando. The man definitely has kitchen cred.
And he's proving it, especially on the evenings that the Park Avenue flagship store serves an ambitious dinner menu. The Park Ave. cafe has been offering breakfast and lunch — and not just the store-bought muffins and prefab sandwiches you find at some coffee shops — for some time. And the downtown Orlando Barnie's has its own breakfast and lunch menu, as well.
But on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, you'll find a chef-inspired, locally-sourced menu of creative and delicious dishes. They're affordable, tapas-inspired for sharing and quite good. "We're making fine dining more approachable," Velasco told me.
I was invited recently to sample some of the new menu items, and I had a delightful time nibbling and sipping in the cozy kitchen setting. And by the way, when I say sipping I mean wine, not coffee. Barnie's also offers thoughtful wine pairings for all the menu items, all of them by the glass.
My dinner companion and I started with Loch Duart salmon tartare, a wonderfully fresh blend of chopped salmon with pickled ramps, radishes and salsa verde. It was cool and refreshing and perfect with the Jean-Luc Colombo blanc from the Cotes du Rhone.
We followed that with a bowl of Zellwood corn chowder dotted with bits of Spanish chorizo. I loved the smoothness of the corn broth with the spiciness of the sausage. And the White Knight Viognier played well with both of them.
Potato gnocchi featured firm dumplings with bits of duck confit in a brown butter sauce, seasoned with sage and topped with shaved black truffles.
The menu has a "Florida Market Fish" entry that changes depending on what Velasco can get from the docks, but he insists that it will always be a Florida fish. On this evening it was yellowtail, and it was as beautiful as it was delicious. The skin had a delightful crispness and the flesh underneath was moist and flavorful. The broth of roasted red pepper and coconut milk was subtle, and there were whole, firm mushrooms in the bowl. The Saarstein Riesling from Mosel was delightful.
We finished with the short rib, a well-braised hunk of meat sitting atop smoked potato puree garnished with tomato jam. A Malbec and Bonardo blend called Patrioca from Tikal was the inspired pairing.
The Park Avenue Barnie's has nice, kitchen-table seating inside and plenty of tables on the sidewalk or the courtyard next to the building. And as Smiga pointed out, "The conversation is about you and your guest and your food and not about what's on the television over your head," because there are no televisions over your head.
To promote the new menu, Barnie's has authorized me to offer a three-course dinner for four (alcohol not included). I'll choose a winner from among the subscribers to my e-letter, as usual. But here's a chance to win a little more: If the name and email address I draw are also found on the subscriber's list for email updates for Barnie's CoffeeKitchen, the chef will choose an appropriate bottle of wine for you to enjoy with your dinner. You can sign up for Barnie's email list at this link. And if for some reason you're not on my list already, you can sign up here to ensure you're entered for this and future drawings. I'll have the drawing on Friday, Dec. 12, at 5 p.m.
Barnie's CoffeeKitchen flagship cafe is at 118 Park Ave. S., Winter Park. It's open for breakfast and lunch daily; the dinner menu is served Thursday through Saturday. Oh, and get this: Barnie's serves Sunday brunch from 7:30 a.m. until 6 p.m., which has to be the area's latest brunch service. Heck, even I can get out of bed in time for that one.