Within just a couple of minutes of my arrival, I learned that the chef at Tennessee Truffle is a culinary genius.
It wasn’t because of anything I’d eaten or tasted. It was because my server told me so after I said it was my first time there.
I’m not sure Mensa has a special test just for chefs. Or if Nat Russell would qualify. But I do know that some very clever choices have been made with the menu.
The smartest is the way Russell has freshened up his shrimp and grits, which has now officially become the most prevalent and overdone entree on Central Florida menus. But Russell’s Everglades Shrimp & Grits seems new. He uses good-sized shrimp for starters, nicely grilled with a charred crust on the tail shell. And pebbly Anson Mills Antebellum grits, which sit in a cuisson of juices from shrimp and oranges. But Russell delivers the dish along with an egg cooked sous vide. He asked my companion to crack the shell and let the soft-cooked egg slide out onto a separate plate, then sprinkle some salt and garnishes on top. Then Russell scooped up the egg with a spoon and deposited it onto the grits and breaking the yolk so the rich yellow oozed out. It made for a beautiful plate, and a fun and different take on a trite dish. I should also mention that it was all delicious.
I wanted something a little more interactive with my Maple Leaf Duck Confit entree. It was prettily presented, the leg bone frenched and the skin nicely crisped. The duck sat on a mound of lentils and leeks and was garnished with pickled onions and golden raisins. A nice dish even if the meat was tending to the dry side.
Baby Octopus Mopped in Sorghum featured bits of tentacles with a peanut romesco and crunchy farro. The octopus might have been firmer, but it was an interesting starter.
But the Berkshire Pork Belly was better, a fine cube of fatty goodness on a ploof of carrot purée dotted with a couple of pickled cherries.
Southern Panzanella featured a timbale of creamy panna cotta infused with goat cheese, and a salad of fresh peaches, heirloom tomatoes and spicy arugula, with crumbles of pumpernickel “dust.” A cool summer salad.
The small restaurant features an open kitchen in back corner space, exposed brick walls and touches of corrugated metal sheeting, which apparently is the official State Building Material for Tennessee. I spotted no truffles, but I did like the blues themed paintings on the walls by local artist Bonita LeBlanc.
Service was fine and friendly. And no, I didn’t mind that my server touted the culinary genius of the chef. In fact, I wish more waiters had reason to be proud of the food they offer. The job becomes a lot easier when you believe in the quality of what you’re serving. And there’s plenty to believe in here.
The Tennessee Truffle is at 125 W. 1st St., Sanford. It is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner Wednesday through Saturday. There is no website and only a limited menu on its Facebook page. The phone number is 407- 942-3977.