What an impressive transformation.
That space across the street from Lake Ivanhoe, the one that had for many years been Brian’s Diner and for one brief moment in 2014 was Elliott’s Public House, is now home to Nova. (The name is derived from its location at North Orange Avenue and Virginia Drive.) Actually, it occupies a little more of a footprint than its predecessors, expanding into an adjoining business (with permission, one assumes).
It’s beautiful. It’s comfortable and chic. Walls of warm brick and wood-patterned floors. Rustic tabletops and a soft white fabric (ill-advised, perhaps; time will tell) on the chairs and high backs of the banquettes. The main dining room is more open now, and it flows to a bar area with an honest-to-god bar (albeit a small one) that, thanks to the increased seating from the addition and patio tables, is now able to serve full liquor. I can heartily recommend the negroni.
I wish I could more enthusiastically recommend the food. But a sampling of the menu on two visits showed that the execution falls short.
It started out encouraging enough. I ordered a cup of the Lobster Bisque and found each spoonful filled with the sort of richness and earthy flavors one expects from a well made LobBis.
But then I ordered the Slow-braised Short Rib with Panang Curry. I selected it because it was the most interesting sounding item on the menu. (Can we please move beyond Shrimp & Grits, people?) The rib itself was nicely done, braised into tender, shredding submission. But I’ll be darned if I could detect anything remotely panangish or curry-like in its glaze. And the risotto on which it rested also had no hints of the lemongrass and ginger that the menu promised.
I stopped in again for some bar bites before heading to catch an 8 o’clock curtain. (Hopes were high: We so need more pre-theater options in this town, and in this district.) My companion and I settled for the Black & Blue Steak Flatbread (please see note above regarding Shrimp & Grits) and Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes.
If one were to eat only the tids of steak, tender and tasty though decidedly few, one could be happy, until one got the check for $12. The bread itself was hard and chewy, except in those places that had gotten soggy from the other toppings and juices.
The two small scoops of caked crab were a bit too over fillered and the outside should have been crisped a bit more — that might have helped raise the internal temperature above tepid. The corn and bacon relish that topped the crab.
Service shows good promise. If anything it’s a bit too fawning, but that may just be the curse of a critic who is recognized upon entering.
I’m not prepared to give up on Nova. We need more restaurants with a grown-up and sophisticated vibe. But I won’t wait too long for the food to catch up to the ambience.
Nova Scratch Kitchen is at 1409 N. Orange Ave., Orlando. It is open for dinner daily and brunch on Saturday and Sunday. If there is a website, I can’t find one; even a Facebook page with the restaurant’s name is marked as unofficial. Besides the $12 flatbread, I paid $27 for the short rib and $16 for crab cakes. The lobster bisque was $6 for the cup version (precious that). The phone number is 407-745-4080.