Note: This article has been updated to clarify the status of the Winter Park Dexter's.
You’re probably a bit confused about what’s going on with Dexter’s, aren’t you? I’ll admit it’s all a bit confusing, but let’s see if we can suss this out.
As background, and for those new to the area, Dexter’s started out as a popular wine bar and retail spot in Winter Park. It expanded, changed locations once or twice, went full liquor and lost the retail wine shop part of the business and expanded its food offerings to become more of a full restaurant. Along the way, it added a second location, in Thornton Park, and then Lake Mary and Windermere. Each became known by its address: Dexter’s of Winter Park, Dexter’s of Thornton Park, and so on.
Then, for a variety of reasons, all four were put up for sale last year. And, for the most part, each was obtained by separate entities. The Windermere location started flagging almost immediately following the sale and closed this summer. But the other three remain, although Dexter’s of Winter Park is planning an imminent move from its Hannibal Square location to the former TR Fire Grill space in the Ravaudage complex. Still Winter Park, so the name shouldn’t change, although there is a chance the new restaurant will be rebranded altogether; more on that soon.
But none of that explains what’s going on with Dexter’s. As it was characterized to me, each location still has some things in common with the other two – menu focus, for example, although that may change because none is contractually bound to present the same menu – but each also has something different. Winter Park, for example, is more music focused and regularly features live bands. Lake Mary’s vibe is more laid back to match its suburban (do we still call them bedroom communities?) locale.
But Thornton Park’s seems different from the other two. For one thing, it’s nestled in the well-established neighborhood and occupies a free-standing structure that was originally a Publix market. The Lake Mary and Winter Park restaurants are in newer developments, as was Windermere’s. Indeed, although it was the second Dexter’s, the Thornton Park location is the oldest, observing its twenty-fifth anniversary. It just has a homier feel.
And it also seems to focus more on its food than its estranged cousins.
Chef Drew Weisner is tweaking the menu to move beyond just the usual offerings of sandwiches bar-friendly entrees. He has introduced fresh fish entrees, including a seared tuna dish with dotted with toasted sesame seeds served with grilled bok choy with a hint of kimchi.
Also a Summer Salmon, chargrilled and served with squash and zucchini and drizzled with a wonderful sauce fashioned out of smoked tomatoes.
If you’re worried that one of your old Dexter’s favorites has been deleted, take heart. Mine, the Chicken Tortilla Pie, is still there, and still a guilty pleasure. The crisped flour tortillas are layered with cubes of chicken breast meat, cheese and salsa and topped with more melted cheese, sour cream, sliced jalapenos and scallions. It’s a messy thing to eat and I’ve loved it for decades.
I also enjoyed an appetizer of Cajun Lime Calamari, breaded and fried and dusted with parmesan and accompanied by red pepper salsa and a citrus remoulade (I preferred the latter).
I noticed the Pressed Duck Sandwich, another go-to choice, was still on the menu when I visited, as well as the popular Eggplant Napoleon. And a friend of mine was delighted to see Cha-Cha Chips, multi-hued vegetable crisps, still available.
Dexter’s Thornton Park recently underwent a remodel, though the changes are subtle. The footprint of the bar changed to add more seating and there are touches of wood paneling here and there. Otherwise, tall-top tables line the wall and front windows for those who want to sit near the bar and tables and booths are on the other side of the room for those who want a bit of separation. And there is patio seating out front, as well.
Dexter’s has become a defining fixture of the Thornton Park neighborhood and it’s nice to see it continue.
Dexter’s of Thornton Park is at 808 E. Washington St., Orlando. It is open for breakfast Monday through Friday and lunch and dinner daily. Brunch is available Saturdays and Sundays. The phone number is 407-648-2777.