Grande Cafe at Sheraton Orlando North

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Grande CafeOn the stretch of Interstate 4 between, oh, say Fairbanks Avenue and State Road 436 few restaurants come to mind to make one want to veer off onto one of the exits. But here’s one, and it may surprise you (it did me): the Grande Cafe inside the Sheraton Orlando North Hotel.

The restaurant sits out in the open under the big, bright barrel-roofed glass atrium. There have been numerous restaurants in this space over the years (though the space itself has changed, too), and then several years ago the hotel shifted its guests to the Irish pub on the property, away from the main common area.

The pub, which was actually pretty good, closed a few year back. Now the Sheraton is making an effort to offer its guests another nice dining option, and in the doing has made one that locals should also consider.

I stopped in recently and had my choice of tables. I specifically was interested in trying the prime rib special, a 16-ounce cut for $14.95, offered nightly. (Yes, I was wary.) But there were several items on the regular menu that also intrigued. The bill of fare has a Southwestern flair, thanks to the many years chef Mike Hineman spent in Texas. My guest and I decided to share the empanadas for an appetizer. This was the first thing to impress me.

There were three of the savory turnover-like devices and they were larger than most of the other ones served locally. The flaky pastries were stuffed full of beef with spicy bitsempanadas of pepper and served with a delicious sauce made with sour cream, a tinge of salsa and roasted chipotle pepper, which gave the sauce a little kick of its own.

I stuck with the prime rib as my entree choice while my friend selected the osso buco. At $14.95 I wasn’t expecting much from the prime rib, but it was an impressively thick slice, as tender as you would expect this cut to be, and served with dipping jus and creamy horseradish sauce.

The osso buco, considerably higher priced at $29.95, was an ample serving of braised beef shank simmered in a delicious red wine reduction. Both entrees were accompanied by asparagus spears and new potatoes that had been carved to resemble mushrooms. (They didn’t fool me.)

Service was attentive and thorough. Despite the capaciousness of the atrium, the dining space is attractive and comfortable. The rusty red walls give the area some warmth, and the tablecloths and linen napkins offer an upscale note. At the other end of the atrium is the bar/lounge, so there’s a bit of a buzz that runs throughout the room.

The Grande Cafe is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily with brunch on Sunday. Sheraton Orlando North Hotel is at 600 N. Lake Destiny Drive, Maitland. The phone number is 407-660-9000. Here’s a link to the dinner menu , and this one will take you to the Web site.