For as many years as I can remember, there was a sketchy looking business on Ferncreek Road just north of Michigan Street called Aardvark Beverages. It seemed to specialize in cold beer, especially those sold in hand keg sizes. It was undoubtedly of an age where a business’s position at the top of the Yellow Pages (ask your grandparents) was paramount. Now the most important thing is the algorithmic ranking (ask your grandkids). Although I probably drove past it thousands of times, I never felt the need to go inside.
Then, a couple of years ago, it started to change from a package beverage store to a boutique cafe (that also served packaged beer and still had kegs to go, because tradition). When I first visited the reimagined business, now called simply The Aardvark, I found it a charming place to have a bite to eat and a glass of wine or beer (both now on tap), but it didn’t seem fully baked.
The reason, I discovered, was that there wasn’t a real commercial kitchen, such as one with a certified fire hood, in the back, so the menu was limited to items that mostly could be cooked offsite and then assembled in the back. Sandwiches, flatbreads, yawn. I decided to wait a while to return.
Apparently it’s time because the new menu has more ambitious items, including some that couldn’t be pulled off from commissary cooking and onsite reheating.
The blackened grouper entree, for instance. It featured a nice fillet, not oversized but not skimpy, either, doused with blackening seasonings to give it a spicy kick. The fish was sliced and served atop a ploof of corn pudding, a nice change from the usual polenta, and was decorated with blistered cherry tomato halves and microgreens. (The greens didn’t do well inside the clamshell takeout container, so they should probably be left off or packaged separately for the customer to garnish at home – I vote to leave them off.)
My companion chose the Aardvark burger, an eight-ounce prime beef patty topped with spinach, onions, and a delicious tomato bacon jam. Swiss cheese was added, and an ample amount it was. And amazingly, it was presented at the requested temperature of medium rare. A very nice burger, even nicer with the seasoned fries served what seemed to be house-made ketchup.
As an appetizer we shared the Brussels & bacon, crisply fried sprouts halves tossed in what the menu describes as cider beer bacon vapor. So, tossed in the air? Whatever, there were indeed bits of bacon in and among the still crunchy Brussels.
Annoyingly, the menu on the Aardvark’s website has no prices listed. Unintuitively, a menu with prices may be found on the restaurant’s Facebook page. Ordering was not easy – the phone line was busy for quite some time, and when I finally got through I spoke to a young man who seemed as though he’d rather be doing something other than taking an order to go.
But when I arrived at the restaurant and called to say I was out front, the same young man greeted me and ran the food out quickly. Everything was tightly packaged and still hot when I got it home.
The Aardvark 2610 S. Ferncreek Ave., Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-894-9999. Here is the website, but you can see the menu here.