New, Improved Citrus Club and the Launch of a New SJO Event

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Citrus_ClubOver the years I’ve had numerous occasions to visit the Citrus Club, the private restaurant and event space on the top floor of a highrise office building in downtown Orlando. I’ve been to a bunch of wedding receptions and wine tastings, and I’ve had business lunches and have been the guest of members for dinner in the restaurant.

I was never very impressed.

The only thing it had going for it was the view, a commanding panorama from the 18th floor. Inside, the club, which opened 40 years ago, in January of 1971, had grown worn and dreary. I always remembered it as being very dark and uninviting; I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to be a member there.

And I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to eat in the club’s restaurant. It offered rather safe, pedestrian fare at best, and many times the meal was a buffet, the quality of which might be found in various strip malls around town with no need for membership to dine.

So I wasn’t too excited when the club’s public relations representative, Todd Persons, suggested we meet there for lunch a couple of months ago. I’ve known Todd for as long as I’ve been in Central Florida, and I’ve always appreciated his integrity and professionalism with the businesses he represented. So I thought it would be nice to catch up. And since he was buying, I couldn’t very well suggest we go somewhere else.

When I got off the elevator on the top floor of the BB&T building, I thought I was in the wrong place. It turns out the Citrus Club has just had a complete makeover, bringing it up to date in decor and in line with some of the swankier settings around town. The parent company, ClubCorp, of Dallas, spent a reported $4 million on the redo, and it shows.

I walked from the elevator lobby into a bright reception area that overlooked the Amway Center, and from there I entered the bar and lounge, a roomy, open space with a modern decor. There are lounge seats, communal tables and conventional tables and chairs, as well as small nooks for quiet conversations and business meetings.

Next door to the lounge is a new wine room in a space that did not exist before the renovation. This room has a counter-height table that seats maybe 20; perfect space for small wine dinners.

Then there is the main dining room, a much more elegant space than the one it replaced, yet still not so chic as to be intimidating. But white tablecloths and napkins, fine flatware and wine stems, and simple votive candles on each table give the room just the sort of ambience you would expect from a private club.

And even more important than the look of the room is the quality of the food that is served in it. That’s where chef Scott Haegele comes in. That’s right, the Citrus Club now has an honest to goodness chef, emphasis on the goodness. Haegele’s background includes cooking at the prestigious Greenbriar Resort and Hotel in White Sulfur Springs, W. Va., and New York’s Waldorf-Astoria hotel and Tavern on the Green restaurant.

Haegele’s menu emphasizes local, sustainable, farm-to-table products, including cheeses from Winter Park Dairy, beef and pork from Deep Creek Ranch in Deland, and poultry from Lake Meadows Farm in Ocoee, as well as locally caught fresh fish, Cape Canaveral shrimp and Apalachicola Bay oysters.

And what he does with them is even more impressive. It’s clear that the Citrus Club is serious about offering its members a truly fine dining experience. And it should not go without saying that the staff is professional and well-trained in proper serving techniques.

“But what’s that got to do with me?” you ask. “I’m not a member of the Citrus Club and I can’t go there for dinner.”

Well, as it turns out, you can. Between the lunch I had that day, which included a BLT sandwich with some really wonderfully thick bacon, and a subsequent dinner, during which Haegele served multiple courses that ranged from a delicious she-crab soup to big, plump scallops to quail to beef, I had an idea. And Todd and I convinced CC manager Steve Alden to go along with it.

So we’re offering dinner at the Citrus Club for the inauguration of Scott Joseph’s Supper Club, an occasional occasion to get together to enjoy food, wine and the company of other people who appreciate good restaurants. Chef Haegele has put together a five-course dinner, with wine pairings, plus some amuses of the bouche during a champagne reception. The chef and I will serve as your hosts, and you’ll have a chance to see the new, much-improved Citrus Club and experience it just as the members do.

The event will be held Thursday, October 6, beginning at 6:30 p.m. with hors d’oeuvres and sparkling wine. Seating for dinner will be at 7 o’clock. The address of the Citrus Club is 255 S. Orange Ave., Suite 1800, Orlando.

The value of the dinner, including tax and gratuity, is $128.50. But the Citrus Club has authorized me to offer it as an SJO Dining Deal special event for $65 inclusive. Only 50 seats are available at this price.

Tickets will go on sale Friday morning and will be available only through scottjosephorlando.com. The launch of the sale will be announced in the SJO newsletter. Once the sale is active, this link will take you to the SJO Events page.

I’m excited to begin Scott Joseph’s Supper Club (no actual membership required!) and pleased to have the first one at the Citrus Club. I know you’ll be just as impressed as I was with the new decor and the quality of the food the club is now serving.

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