F&D, the food and drink restaurant group, has opened its second, or maybe third, Mexican/Tex-Mex brand, F&D Cantina, in Thornton Park. The restaurant moved in to the space that was Jax Thornton Park since 2017. Prior to that in was Baoery and more famously Cityfish. It began its life, in the early 2000s, as Central City Market when the mixed-use building was new.
I reviewed the other existing F&D Cantina, in Lake Mary, in 2018 and liked it. If there was some surprise in my tone it was because the original Cantina, in Waterford Lakes, was a jumbled mess. It no longer exists because apparently there is a god. At least one who rules over Mexican restaurants.
Thankfully, the newest F&D Cantina is more in line with its Lake Mary cousin, at least in terms of food quality. Authenticity sticklers might deduct points but for the most part the food is good, fairly priced and served in generous portions.
On a recent lunch visit, my companions and I started with trio of dips that included queso, guacamole and a choice of salsa (we went green). The guac was appropriately chunked and had a nice limey hint. The queso was perhaps a tad thin, but it coated the chips, which were fine but needed some salt to my taste.
For my main course I chose the chile relleno, a large poblano pepper stuffed with black beans, corn and quinoa, an interesting alternate to the usual rice. It was topped with good bit of chihuahua cheese that had melted but was beginning to coalesce. But it was all wonderfully gloppy and it wasn’t until later I realized I had inadvertently ordered a vegetarian item.
There was plenty of meat in the steak and plantains quesadilla that one of my lunch companions ordered. The beef tenderloin tips were nicely marinated and tender and filled the toasted flour tortillas. Served with the Mexican food holy trinity of sour cream, shredded lettuce and pico de gallo (this review has taken on a religious theme for some reason). The pico was a bit too piquant because of a surfeit of raw onions.
The steak quesadilla was substantial enough for an entree but the chihuahua cheese version was more of an appetizer.
The interior of the restaurant has been substantially redecorated. The three-sided bar is still the focus of the dining room but the decor has been brightened from Jax’s moody blues ambience with Mexican star lights and wrought iron lanterns. Tequila and mezcal bottles are given places of, um, reverence and there are the occasional day-of-the-dead images.
Music – nonthemed contemporary – plays loudly and it seems impossible to find a seat that doesn’t have a speaker directly over it. In fact, my guests and I, who were the only diners seated on the patio when we arrived, asked if the music could be turned down and twice we were told that the owners forbade the staff from adjusting the volume. (Owner Charly Robinson wrote later in an email that “our staff can of course turn down the music if an issue.” He also said he was at the restaurant the same time I was and found the music to be too loud. Luckily, he had the power to lower it.) Despite those absolute refusals, the staff granted all other wishes, and food came out at a remarkable pace.
F&D Cantina is likely trying to attract a younger crowd, which is of course smart – the demographics of Thornton Park skew post-Boomer. I’d say that there are plenty of people, young and old, who enjoy dining out and being able to have a conversation without shouting, but I know I’d just be preaching to the choir.