I’ll admit that I mourned a little bit when I first heard the news that Rusty Spoon had been sold. I considered it to be one of Orlando’s true gems and its chef/owner, Kathleen Blake, one of our culinary stars. Losing it and K Restaurant seemed like a double punch to the literal and figurative gut.
And hearing that Rusty Spoon’s name would change to Elize with a menu featuring cuisine from the Netherlands didn’t inspire bated anticipation.
But the food at Elize, though decidedly different from that of Rusty Spoon, is every bit as wonderful, and the dining experience is exceptional enough to place it not only on the list of downtown Orlando’s must-visit restaurants but all of Central Florida’s as well.
The owner of Elize is Michelle Lagerweij, who has a similarly named restaurant in her hometown of Utrecht in the central Netherlands. That restaurant, Cafe Elize, opened just four years ago, in March of 2016. Both restaurants are named for her mother, Elizabeth.
For the Orlando restaurant, Lagerweij has hired fellow countryman Leon Mazairac to be the executive chef. Judging from his resumé it would seem that Mazairac is something of a Dutch culinary star, having worked in the Michelin three-starred restaurants of Alain Ducasse and Frederic Anton in Paris and being the culinary host of a Dutch television show called BinnensteBuiten (Inside Out). He has also been recognized by the Gualt et Millau guide as the Netherlands’ most talented chef.
Dine at Elize and you’ll know why.
Mazairac describes his cooking style as “complexity through simplicity,” which will make sense when you experience it.
The menu, which the restaurant says is still in development (but come on, it’s been open for months) is divided between “Cold Creations” and “Warm Creations,” with all items offered in both small and large portions, a concept I love. That gave my dinner companions and me an opportunity to try an array of dishes.
Upon seating we were offered a sample of the Sourdough Bread with San Daniele Prosciutto, a tearable loaf served with well-fluffed butter and sardine spread, the little fishies whipped into a delicious frothy mousse and served in the tin from which they most recently came.
A favorite of mine from the cold side of the menu was the Tuna “Upside Down” Pizza, pictured at top, which was nothing of the sort. But it was an interesting way to re-market tuna tartare, here mixed with an oyster-laced mayonnaise under a crispy wafer.
From the warm side, the dish clumsily named Raviolo “Leon Mazairac” Since 2010 was another favorite. It featured a large fresh pasta pillow filled with braised oxtail in a pool of creamy mascarpone drizzled with balsamic vinegar and topped with flakes of parmesan.
I also liked the Roasted White Shrimp, tooth-tender bites served atop potato mousseline drizzled with brown butter.
Squid “Carbonara” sounded more interesting than it turned out to be. Here, shreds of squid were presumably meant to resemble pasta noodles with the other carbonara components represented by crumbles of bacon, salted lemon and an egg yolk cooked sous vide at precisely 145.4 degrees. I wasn’t exactly disappointed with the dish – the squid was delicious and I loved the gooey egg – but it wasn’t the carbonara I had hoped it to be.
There was no disappointment with the Beef Cheeks, impossibly tender meat flavored with molasses and served with green cabbage topped with puffed sunflower seeds.
Grilled Hanger Steak was served tagliata style, which means the perfectly grilled meat was sliced. It was served with yellow tomatoes, shaved parmesan and fresh spinach.
Mazairac told us that his goal is to use a lot of local ingredients, a concept Blake championed from the beginning with Rusty Spoon. No dish on the menu is more locally represented than the 12 Floridian Vegetables Salad, which may or may not have actually had 14 vegetables. They were dressed with an oxtail vinaigrette and tossed with a Dutch-style creamy yogurt.
Service was welcoming, knowledgeable and patiently accommodating.
More has been done to the interior of the space than you would have thought necessary. The black and white photos of farm animals that adorned Rusty Spoon’s walls are gone. The wood-look floor has been replaced with a stenciled tile. Table tops and the bar counter are a gleaming white stone, and the Edison lights have been supplemented with larger glass globe fixtures. A coffee-bar nook has been added in a front corner. (Elize is adding breakfast hours.)
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Elize but I was pleased with what I found. I’m already looking forward to my next visit. The casual atmosphere and the small portion option will made it a go-to place for a bite to eat before or after an event downtown.
Elize is at 55 W. Church St., Orlando. It is open for lunch Monday through Friday and dinner Monday through Saturday. The phone number is 407-401-8811.