Is anyone accepting wagers on when Dexter’s New Standard will officially drop the first word in its name?
The name, of course, is homage to Dexter’s of Winter Park, one of what was once a quadruple of restaurants. The Winter Park location was the original, though it did not start out in the Hannibal Square space that it recently vacated. It began as a wine bar and retail shop, owned by Dexter Richardson, and expanded to become more of a restaurant. As other locations opened, Winter Park’s took on the identity of also being a venue for live music.
A little more than a year ago, all of the Dexter’s were sold to different entities. Only Dexter’s of Lake Mary remains, if you don’t count Dexter’s New Standard.
And I don’t. I suppose it made sense initially to keep the Dexter’s name as a connection to its roots, a tribute to the beginnings of what once was a beloved bôite. But the new moniker that was attached when the restaurant was moved to its current home in Winter Park’s Ravaudage plaza more than suggests a breakaway from the past – you can’t get any more succinct than New Standard.
But while there are certain echos of a Dexter’s past – popular menu items, though reimagined; a continued dedication to live music; and a renewed commitment to an ambitious wine program – this clearly is a new restaurant.
Much of it is thanks to the hiring of a chef to lend emphasis to quality on the menu. That would be Ryan McLaughlin, who was sous chef at K restaurant and became the executive chef when Kevin Fonzo sold it, only to be fired shortly after. (K recently closed and McLaughlin would have been looking for a new job anyway, so that worked out.)
Perhaps reluctantly, McLaughlin has kept a few items from the past, but he has reinvented even those – Cha Cha Chicharones, for example, instead of Cha Cha Chips. But it’s clear that he intends to make the menu his own.
Eggplant Napoleon is another example of a Dexter’s staple that remains on the New Standard’s menu. But it’s substantially different. Instead of a totally deep-fried stack, it now has one breaded and fried slice of eggplant atop baked slices layered with herbed ricotta cheese and sitting in a puddle of marinara. The contrasting textures and herbaceous flavors were delightful.
The DNS Burger was about as good as the one I had recently at Chumley’s, a New York restaurant so known for its burger that it’s not even listed on the menu – you just ask for it. The DNS featured a thick patty, cooked only slightly beyond the requested medium rare but still oozing with juices, topped with a thick layer of melted swiss cheese and a frizzle of fried shallots all on a soft toasted bun. It was accompanied by a silver cup of fries with just the right amount of greasy goodness.
For an appetizer my companion and I shared the Ceviche, which featured tile fish, shrimp and octopus in a citrusy marinade. All tender and refreshing.
We also had the Lump Crab Hushpuppies, golden fritters served in a paprika- tinged aioli that could have had a bit more crabmeat – less hush, more puppy.
Service could use a little tweaking
The wine list, curated by Erin Shay, is extensive and arranged by flavor profiles to aid in finding something familiar to your palate.
Dexter’s New Standard took over the space previously occupied by TR Fire Grill. The expansive dining room has the aura of a Manhattan cabaret or supper club, with a substantial stage as the focal point at the back of the room. Most surprisingly, tables are covered with white cloths, lending a bit of fineness to the ambience. Bromeliads decorate the tables and the dining room. A small oyster bar with an elaborate glass counter was added, but it seems underutilized. Covered outdoor dining features a pleasant view of the plaza’s fountain.
Acoustic music was featured when I dined, mid evening, but amplified bands generally play later in the evening, so be warned.
It had been years since I last visited Dexter’s at Hannibal Square, so I can’t really say whether regulars will find the new place familiar. I’m guessing not. And I doubt anyone will mourn when the first word eventually gets dropped. Dexter’s of Winter Park is gone; long live the New Standard.
And besides, it really isn’t Dexter’s without a Chicken Tortilla Pie on the menu.
Dexter’s New Standard is at 1035 N. Orlando Ave., Winter Park. It is open for lunch and dinner daily, including late nights, and brunch on Sunday. The phone number is 407-636-4995.