Luke’s Kitchen and Bar has opened in the Maitland building that most recently, and ever so briefly, was occupied by Blackfin, though its provenance was a Steak & Ale. This opening has been anxiously anticipated — not that any restaurant opening that isn’t a Steak & Ale wouldn’t be — primarily because of the pedigree of the people involved.
That would be the team from Luma on Park and Prato, especially the duo of chef Brandon McGlamery and general manager Tim Noelke who have made their Park Avenue posts so popular.
This is their first off-Avenue project. (Slate, the Sand Lake Road restaurant, is often mistaken as a sister restaurant, but while it shares some ownership, it is not related.)
If you had managed to visit Blackfin during the five weeks of its existence, you’ll be surprised at the transformation of the space. The redesign, by the Johnson Studio at Cooper Carry, an Atlanta firm, has opened the first floor up so expansively that it causes one to wonder what’s holding the second floor up. The ceiling over the main dining area is made to feel lower with the addition of slatted beams. It is dark, with the exception of the glare from the open kitchen. And on that subject, it’s curious that the dishwashing station should be so easily seen as part of the show kitchen.
My favorite design element is the tabletop, which evokes wood and stone in a clean balance, highlighted by the rays of a simple caged candle.
The menu, as stated on Luke’s Facebook page, is meant to “focus on classic American cuisine,” which calls into question the prominent placement on said menu of ceviches.
Or for that matter the snapper that I ordered as my entree. One could make the argument that snapper is an American item, but harder to claim it as classic, especially when crusted in Japanese panko crumbs as this one was. Still, with my first bite I was immediately reminded that McGlamery has an especial affinity for fish. The flesh was firm and moist, and the breading, infused with herbs, gave it a nice textural crunch.
No argument need be made for the inclusion of Prime Rib on the list of American classics, though here it is paired with heirloom carrots instead of traditional potatoes and draped with an apron of béarnaise. Unfortunately, the cut I sampled — which appeared to be larger than the one delivered to the couple at the next table; wonder if they noticed — lacked any of the buttery richness one looks for in prime rib, especially one costing 30 bucks.
Seventeen dollars was a hefty sum for Luke’s Crab Cake, too, but this was a damn fine crab cake. Mostly sweet bits of crab, deftly seared and served on a ploof of lemony tartar sauce.
French onion soup, classically French, might have been a winner if not for the comically large hunk of bread that sat over the rich broth and under the weight of melted gruyere. It couldn’t be called a crouton; closer to a mini loaf. I thought $13 was steep for the soup but it’s been a long time since I priced bread.
A meeting should be called to discuss how best to address the Brussels sprouts. Some had a nice caramelized crust and others were undercooked and hard. None wanted the berries added.
The staff conducted itself well considering the newness of the place, a testament to Noelke’s skill as a manager.
Besides the main dining room, there is a small back dining space and seating at a counter overlooking the kitchen, both evocative of Luma. There is also a large bar with a garage-door wall at one end that opens to an outside bar and large patio.
I enjoyed Luke’s, but when my companion asked me if it was a place I’d go back to often, I had to think about it before concluding that it was not.
I’d rather go to Prato.
Luke’s Kitchen and Bar is at 640 S. Orlando Ave., Maitland. It is open for dinner daily. There isn’t much on its website — maybe later. The phone number is 407-674-2400.