I suppose it’s a good thing they didn’t call it GM’s Garage.
Ford’s Garage is a burger and beer brand born out of Ft. Myers and now headquartered in Tampa. You’d think Michigan, right? But there is a natural connection to the Sunshine State over the Great Lakes State: Henry Ford had a Winter home in Ft. Myers, less than a mile from where the first Ford’s Garage restaurant opened in 2012 (Henry did not attend).
Nearly all of the locations, just under a dozen so far, are in Florida, though one opened last year in Dearborn, Mich. The Orlando restaurant is in a freestanding building at the Orlando Premium Outlets on Vineland Avenue (it’s on the side with the Saks Off Fifth store).
As you might expect with a garage-themed restaurants, Ford’s is tricked out in a design that might be classified as early grease monkey. But except for the exterior, which like the rest of the mall structures is your basic faux Mediterranean-meets-Florida pale yellow stucco, it isn’t cheesy at all. In fact, there are a lot of nice details.
Such as the hose-clamp napkin rings, the napkins themselves being grease rags.
Instead of windows there are garage doors, naturally. Out front you’ll find old-style gas pumps and a couple of vintage cars; another Ford, its wheels turning, is jacked up over the bar. (The Ford name and logo are officially licensed for use.) The sinks in the washroom are tires and the faucets are gas nozzles. Someone had a lot of fun with all the gews and gaws hanging about. It’s fun and stops just short of being over the top.
As I mentioned above, Ford’s Garage is a burger and beer joint. Actually, to cite the subtitle: “Prime Burgers, Craft Beer.” About that prime assertion: Nowhere on the menu could I find the letters USDA — black angus, yes, but not USDA Prime (angus is a breed of cattle, it is not a quality grade). A woman who identified herself as a manager at the Orlando location said by phone that the restaurant did indeed have prime burgers on the menu. Which ones? I asked. The ones that say prime, she replied. I repeat, I could not find the letters USDA anywhere on the menu. (A call placed to corporate headquarters for clarification was not immediately returned.)
That said, the burger I had on my visit was really quite good. It was the Ford’s Signature, also known as the Buddy Dyer (more about that in a moment). It was a half-pound patty, thick, yet grilled just right to a juicy red medium rare, topped with thick-sliced rashers of bacon, cheddar cheese and a barbecue sauce laced with bourbon. Underneath was a leafy green piece of lettuce and on top were onions and a slice of tomato. The bun was a brioche branded with the Ford’s Garage logo. The meat had a nice smoky charred note. Neither my companion nor I cared very much for the fries, which were thick cut and stubby.
The same fries were served with the Beer Battered Fish n’ Chips. The fish was a large fillet of cod, with a heavy coat of batter, nicely seasoned.
Servers, outfitted in mechanics shirts, of course, were still undergoing training but seemed to be learning the ropes nicely. Our server in particular handled a last-minute change to our order with aplomb.
Oh, about the burger names. As I said, the Ford’s Signature burger is also designated the Buddy Dyer. It’s apparently a gimmick of Ford’s Garages to localize the burger menu with the names of politicians, celebrities and, in the case of the Model “A,” the CEO of Tropical Ford, Linda Walsh.
So you have the George Kalogridis (Mushroom Swiss) and the John Young (Estate Burger). You’d think the Patty Melt would be a natural for commissioner Patty Sheehan but it’s named for UCF president Dale Whittaker instead; Sheehan gets the BBQ Brisket Burger. The John Mina (Black-n-Bleu) and Jerry Demings (Distinguished Gentleman) were named before the election, so the menu is already due for a reprint to update their job titles.
Ordinarily, a concept like Ford’s Garage probably wouldn’t be worth a mention, especially one that’s deep in Tourist World — at an outlet mall, to boot. But its Florida origin and apparent ambitions to grow make it worthwhile. Not to mention that it makes a pretty good burger, prime or not.
Ford’s Garage is at 8201 Vineland Ave., Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-602-3673.