It seems as though it has been longer, but Gaylord Palms Resort, and its signature restaurant, Old Hickory Steakhouse, have been around for just 11 years. As my server reminded me on a recent visit, the resort officially opened on 02-02-02 -- and he would know because he’s been with the restaurant ever since.
And in that time, Old Hickory has grown into quite a steakhouse, and it has plans to become quite a restaurant.
That distinction can be found in some of the items that are currently in development by the folks at Gaylord, with plans to add them to the menu here and at other Gaylord restaurants around the country. My guest and I got a preview of some of those items recently, guided by executive chef JR Morgan and general manager Brian Cooper.
Don’t worry; steak is still the focus here and likely always will be. The all-natural black angus beef cuts are huge, and deftly cooked. I had the cowboy bone-in rib steak, a 21-ouncer, cooked to a beautiful red medium rare. My friend had the New York strip, via Pittsburgh. That is, it was charred outside but still had a cool, rare center (this cooking technique is sometimes also called black and blue). Both steaks were well seasoned with a blend of sea salt, garlic and other spices and dolloped with a pat of butter at the end. Delicious.
Steaks are still served with a choice of bearnaise, bordelaise or au poivre sauces, or you can upgrade to other toppings, such as crab meat, black truffle demiglace or goie gras sauce. Frankly, I think the meat is perfect all by itself.
If you’re shaking your head from the overload of meat, butter and salt, I hesitate to tell you that my favorite appetizer was the steak tartare, which was served topped with a gorgeous poached egg and caviar. The chopped raw meat and the gooiness of the egg yolk were perfect partners, and it also made for a pretty presentation. This, by the way, is one of the menu items in development.
So is the pork belly and black-eyed peas, a tongue in cheek nod to cowboy fare of pork and beans. I liked the playfulness of it, but somehow the two didn’t quite match, and ultimately it was a bit over seasoned.
But the crab cakes were wonderful, lovely lumps of mostly meat, pan seared and served with cool mango salsa.
Another good starter was the fried oyster platter, big breaded oysters that required two bites each.
As is the case with most steakhouses of this caliber, side dishes are extra, and big enough for two people to share. I was intrigued by the scotch bonnet creamed corn and expected a lot of heat mixed in with the creaminess. However, there didn’t seem to be much pepperiness in them, although the corn itself was undoubtedly fresh. The au gratin potatoes were excellent.
For dessert I loved the Grand Marnier souffle. But what I really wanted was to have the cheese cart rolled over and to sample some of the beautiful cheeses on it. It seems odd now, but Old Hickory was among the first, if not the first, in the area to offer a cheese course, and even went so far as to hire a cheese expert, sort of a dairy equivalent of a sommelier. Old Hickory’s cheese trolley is even more impressive today. But, alas, I had no room, even for stilton or comte or Humboldt Fog. Another time.
The restaurant itself has always been a bit of fun, an elaborate shack in a swamplike setting, but without the mosquitos. Sitting “outside” on a deck beneath the hotels immense atrium, you might actually think you’re in the Everglades, if the Everglades allowed multi-story resorts to be constructed next door. Which could happen, I suppose.
Speaking of that, did I ever tell you the first thought that came into my mind when I entered the Gaylord Palms atrium those 11 years ago? I took one look at the vast expanse and said, “It looks like it was built in the hope of putting a casino in here some day.” Which could happen, I suppose.
It should not go without saying that Old Hickory has an extensive wine list with numerous selection by the glass to complement your dinner choice, whether it be a juicy steak or a seafood entree. And service was first rate, too.
I enjoyed the opportunity to return to Old Hickory to see how it has grown and become more comfortable. By the way, the resort is gearing up for its annual Ice! attraction. If that’s on your list of holiday things to do, you might want to include a nice, warm steak dinner afterwards.
Old Hickory is at the Gaylord Palms, 6000 W. Osceola Parkway, Kissimmee. It is open for dinner daily. Entrees range from $32 to $68. The phone number is 407-586-1600.
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