“What’s new and exciting?”
That’s the question I get asked most these days, more so than usual. I suppose it’s because over the past year or more we’ve been focused primarily on the businesses that succumbed during the pandemic rather than the ones that opened. To be honest, we lost a lot fewer restaurants than I expected us to. And we had a surprisingly healthy number open, several that I would include in the new and exciting category.
We had Russell’s on Lake Ivanhoe and the Monroe in downtown Orlando. In Winter Park, BoVine gloriously reimagined the former Park Plaza Gardens space just as Knife & Spoon did with the old Norman’s at the Ritz. Recently, Illume brought high-end Japanese cuisine to the high-up rooftop of the JW Marriott Bonnet Creek, just upstairs from Sear + Sea, which also debuted mere months ago.
Now to the list of new and exciting add The Pinery, which opened last month in the newly constructed Lake House Apartments high rise. Like its neighbor Russell’s, it shares a view of Lake Ivanhoe and pays homage in its name and logo to the area’s past as a pineapple grove. (The western strip of lakefront was once known as Russell’s Point.)
The Pinery is the project of Carol Sizer Holladay, whom many will know as a former longtime manager at the Tap Room at Dubsdread. That association shows in the Pinery’s professionalism and skill.
The food is under the direction of executive chef Naomi Freeman, who was previously with Santiago’s Bodega. The menu has a section called Social Eats, which we’ll assume is the appetizers, and a section called Let’s Eat, which is obviously the main courses. In between is a section called In Between, which is a little confusing. Despite its placement between the other sections, it’s actually meant to indicate items served in between bread.
From the Social Eats I selected the smoked peanut soup, which had chunks of sweet potatoes, fresh spinach and hints of cilantro. There was a lot going on in that bowl, and it was all good.
My companion chose the classic Caesar salad and it made me realize that it has been a long time since I’ve seen a proper Caesar. The romaine was fresh and crisp, the croutons were crunchy and the dressing was well balanced and not too garlicky, which happens with so many Caesars. The only thing that would have made it more classic is if had been tossed tableside.
There was a bit of tableside presentation with my main course of seafood stew. The bowl was presented with shrimp, fish fillet and clams surrounding a mound of purple grits over which the server poured a tomato broth. The broth had a texture like liquid velvet with just a bit of spiciness. All the seafood was fresh tasting.
My seafood stew was similar to the shrimp and grits my guest selected, right down to the purple grits. But it also had spicy bits of andouille sausage and poblano peppers surrounded by a creamy sauce with a touch of sherry. It was served with a corn muffin cake with bits of jalapeño in it. Delicious.
Dessert brought the only shrug of indifference. I selected the “loaded” sundae, which had scoops of vanilla ice cream drizzled with Key lime fudge with candied pecans and the legendary cherry on top. It could have been loaded with a lot more of the sauce. In retrospect, I should have gone with the hummingbird cake, but you can never be sure if the hummingbirds are local.
Actually, it was nice to see so many local purveyors credited on the menu, including Kelly’s for the ice cream.
Service was attentive and prompt. If you valet park you can hail your car via a text message as you pay your check, a nice touch.
The inside dining room features high-back tufted banquettes and booths and wood tabletops with a pine look. Three dramatic kettle-drum light fixtures hang over the center of the room and more industrial-looking sconces swing from a brick wall. The floor in the spacious entryway is mosaic tiles while the main dining area has slate floors.
The bar is at the front of the restaurant and has large windows that open to the patio, which has bar and dining seating.
There was a bit of a thrum the evening I dined. Everyone seemed happy to be out and dining together again. So am I. And I’m even happier that not only has our local restaurant scene survived, it’s thriving.
The Pinery is at 295 N.E. Ivanhoe Blvd., Orlando (map). It is open for dinner Wednesday through Sunday. The phone number is 407-377-7576.