In the nearly eight years since she opened her restaurant in downtown Orlando, Kathleen Blake has established it as one of the premier restaurants in Florida and herself as one of the area’s most prestigious chefs.
She was recently presented with the Beacon Award by the Foodservice Council for Women; is a leader in the national organization of Women Chefs and Restaurateurs; and has been nominated four times for a James Beard Foundation as Best Chef South Region. And on Nov. 9, she will be one of the featured chefs at that organization’s annual gala, a $500-a-ticket dinner held at the swanky Pierre Hotel in New York.
And, like so many in the local culinary community, Blake is a generous contributor to area food events for charities, most recently as one of the chefs serving at Cows ’n Cabs (a delicious smoked mullet on fried cracker was her offering).
Still, with all that activity and civic participation, she, along with her husband, William, manages to keep the quality of the food and service at the Rusty Spoon top notch. And if she’s not at a local charity event or Manhattan fund raiser, you’ll find her, usually in her signature bib overalls, cooking in the kitchen of the Rusty Spoon.
The overalls are a nod to Blake’s farm-to-table manifesto. That term has become an almost trite — and often unprovable — addition to many menus. But Blake was one of the local pioneers of the movement, first as the chef de cuisine at Melissa Kelly’s Primo at the JW Marriott. That’s where she began working with local farmers to source her ingredients, and when she opened Rusty Spoon in 2011, she did so with a dedication to continuing to use local ingredients.
I returned to Rusty Spoon recently to see how things are going. Despite its Church Street location, it has maintained a homey feel. And the food is every bit as creative and expertly crafted as it has always been.
My companion and I started with the Butcher’s Board, a chef’s whim selection of Scotch Eggs with a grainy mustard, Rillettes, pickled vegetables and Lamb Meatballs. I liked it all but the eggs were a favorite.
For an entree, my friend had the Dirty South, a bouillabaisse-like dish of local grouper, littleneck clams and large, head-still-on shrimp from Port Canaveral on an island of cheese grits surrounded by a moat of shrimp peanut broth. The shrimp and fish were tender and fresh tasting. A couple of crostini served with the dish were perfect for soaking up the flavorful broth.
I chose the Early Fall Chicken Schnitzel, an airline breast sporting a crispy golden crust (perfect for early fall) and topped with sauteed Brussels sprouts, bits of apple and golden raisins. The chicken was juicy and the breading was seasoned just right.
Service was attentive and helpful. The dining area is large yet has a warm tone to it. Walls that aren’t floor to ceiling windows have whimsical up-close photographs of farm animals. There is a wide doorway to the kitchen where Blake and her crew busily work. The bar is a favorite spot for a well crafted cocktail and a bite to eat before or after an event at the Amway Center or Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.
Much will be happening in downtown Orlando in the coming months, including new restaurants. Rusty Spoon has set the standard they should strive to achieve.
Rusty Spoon is at 55 W. Church St., Orlando. It is open for lunch Monday through Friday and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-401-8811.