Black Rock Bar & Grill, a restaurant whose shtick involves guests cooking their own foods on hot stones at the table, has opened its first location outside of its home state of Michigan in Orlando.
The local restaurant is at the corner of Conroy Windermere Road and S. Apopka Vineland Road, which is really more names than an intersection really needs. Black Rock takes over a space that has not seen any recent success stories. We were here last year when it was Fresh Made Kitchen. It started its life as a Perkins Restaurant & Bakery.
The Black Rock folks have removed all of the Perkinsianess and remodeled with stacked block walls and moody lighting. I was surprised to find it a much larger restaurant than it seemed when I visited Fresh Made Kitchen. But it is quite big, and I might as well tell you this right now: When it’s full, as it was when I was invited to attend a preview dinner, it is ear-splittingly loud.
As I mentioned, the gimmick here is tabletop cooking on stones that have been heated to 700 degrees. Don’t believe me? Go ahead, stick your tongue on it.
Actually, even though I don’t have kids, I found myself worrying about families who come here to dine and don’t keep a close watch on their little tykes. Oh well, I guess that’s all part of growing up.
Cooking on hot rocks isn’t new. In fact, I recall — though not clearly enough to tell you where it was located — a restaurant that opened a couple of decades ago with the name Hot Rock Cafe. It changed its name following the receipt of what I’m sure was a very polite cease and desist order from the folks at Hard Rock Cafe. I’m not sure but I think they changed the name to Very Very Warm Granite Cafe.
Anyway, it’s not new. But tabletop cooking seems to be having a resurgence in popularity, what with the growing number of Asian style hot pot and hibachi restaurants.
Personally, I don’t get it. I’ve always felt that if I wanted to cook dinner I could stay home and do it. And if I overcook my steak, it won’t cost me quite as much. And I won’t have to tip.
But judging from the cacophony of cookers all around me, I’m in the minority. And I rather enjoyed my food at Black Rock, especially the things that I didn’t have to prepare myself.
That included an appetizer called Bubbling Shrimp on a Stone, which is best described as bubbling shrimp on a stone. Actually, the shrimp bubble in a butter sauce inside a skillet that is placed on the ultra hot stone. Pay extra notice to the menu description and the word Cajun. That means that besides being temperature hot it is also season hot. The shrimp were good, nice and firm, though seeing as how picking them up isn’t really an option, it would have been nice if they’d been prepped without the tails.
We were offered a limited menu for the preview dinner. The regular menu is quite extensive and features a number of sandwiches and burgers, all of which are prepared by professionals in the kitchen. I ordered the Rock Burger, which was a half pound of angus beef topped with bacon and mozzarella cheese as well as red onions, thick slices of tomato and bright green leafy lettuce. The patty was thick and cooked to the requested medium rare. It was a pretty good burger, one that I think would benefit only from a better bun. The accompanying fries were OK.
From the cook-it-yourself list, we chose the sirloin that was listed. But then were were treated to the filet, as well. No comparison. The filet was wonderfully tender.
The steaks are quite thick and would take a long time to cook whole on the rock, even at 700 degrees. So you’re supposed to slice off a piece, dollop some sauce on the stone, and place the slice on it for a second or two on both sides, depending how you like it.
And ultimately, if you’d rather have someone cook it who knows what he or she is doing you can request that it be prepared in the kitchen for you. I would especially recommend that option if you choose the Kobe style beef.
Desserts are comically large. The Carrot Cake was a bit dry, but the Black Rock Brownie was moist and sufficiently chocolatey.
The staff, still being trained when I visited, were exuberant and helpful.
These cook-it-yourself places don’t work when the quality of the food doesn’t match the prices (I’m looking at you, Melting Pot). But Black Rock starts with a quality product. It’s up to you to screw it up.
Black Rock Bar & Grill is at 8965 Conroy Windermere Road, Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-217-7170