Artisan's Table

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Artisans porchetta

I visited Artisan’s Table three times and dined there twice.

The first visit did not go well.

Artisan’s Table is the newest occupant of 22 E. Pine St. in downtown Orlando. The previous tenant was the locationally named Pine 22, a build-it-yourself burger concept that replaced the short-lived Blue Smoke Burger Bar. The Black Olive was the original restaurant in the space on the side of the high-rise known as the Plaza, which itself is little more than half a decade old.

Artisan’s Table, fronted by chef Scott Copeland, may have the best chance of making a go of it at this difficult space, which despite being smack-dab in the center of downtown has a very low visibility. It’s an ambitious undertaking — it serves three meals a day — but the food from Copeland, who previously was executive chef at Antonio’s La Fiamma in Maitland and sous chef at College Park’s K restaurant, is excellent. There are just a few operational things that need to be worked out.

Such as what I encountered on my first visit.

That was a lunch visit, and as I approached the restaurant from the street I noticed people standing about on the steps looking at the paper menus and others at a counter just inside the door. There were several occupied tables in the large dining area but the place was nowhere near full. I figured the people waiting at the counter were ordering coffee or food to go. I wanted to dine in, so I went over to the host stand and waited. And waited. And waited some more. Several servers and others I assumed worked there passed by but no one greeted me. I finally walked over to a woman working the takeout counter and asked if there was a host on duty. “Actually,” she replied, “at lunch you order your food at the counter and then sit anywhere you’d like.”

How was someone supposed to know that? I saw no signs that said so. (One at the host stand would have been a good thing.) And why did no one who surely saw a guest standing unhelped ask if assistance was needed?

Chagrined, and not wishing to spend more of my time at the end of the line, I left.

I returned a couple of weeks later for a dinner visit. While at noontime, and breakfast, as it turns out, the restaurant is a fast-casual operation, at dinner it is full service, and, behold, the host stand was occupied. The young woman who greeted me asked me to follow her, offered me a table in the center of a largely empty room, and agreed to allow me to sit near the window when I said I would prefer another table. A young man who apparently was not authorized to speak to guests, for he offered no word of greeting or welcome, cleared the extra settings of flatware rolled up in tea-towel napkins. And I figured this visit wasn’t going to be much better than the first.

And then the food came.

Artisans soup

I started with a soup of the day, which this day was a cod and clam chowder, a butter-bubbled broth that also had a substantial amount of bacon in it. Every little bit of fish and clams and diced potatoes and squares of croutons were happily consumed by me.

For my entree I had the porchetta (pictured at top), which was billed as a stuffed pork roast but appeared to be a slice of roast sitting atop the stuffing. Didn’t matter at all because the meat was so wonderfully tender and flavorful, thanks to the fat cap that was still intact. It was topped with pungent collard greens and accompanied by sweet potato spaetzle laced with more bacon. It was delicious, and a bargain at $18.

artisans breakfast

I returned for a breakfast visit, lining up at the counter without needing prompting, paid for my order, then took my floppy numbered piece of paper with an inadequate binder clip to stand on the table and took a seat in the dining room. I ordered the Japanese breakfast bowl, which included sticky rice, bacon (no surprise there), sweet chili sauce and a sprinkling of scallions with two eggs. I’m a fan of one-bowl dishes and I liked this one, especially the rice and bacon and yolk all gooing together. I found it just a tad too cloying — although the menu also listed togarashi, Japanese for chili peppers, I found no spicy heat.

Service got progressively better as we went along, though there could still be some training. Little things like putting rolled up utensils in front of a guest with the handles pointing in the right direction seem like no-brainers.

artisans interior

The high-ceilinged dining room with its floor-to-ceiling windows has a distinctive citified feel. Tables are covered with cloths but then topped with brown paper, which always makes me feel like a puppy that can’t be trusted with the carpets. (And my jacket sleeve or shirt cuff invariably gets caught on the edge of the paper whenever I reach for something.)

As I said above, this space is a difficult one. Downtowners are very much an out-of-sight-out-of-mind crowd. But downtown is about to change. The opening of the performing arts center will change the dynamics, and people will be looking for more finer dining opportunities. Artisan’s Table is a nice addition to Orlando’s dining scene as a whole.

Artisan’s Table is at 22 E. Pine St., Orlando. It is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily,  evenings until midnight. The phone number is 407-730-7499.

Parking note: The Plaza’s garage is the obvious, and closest, choice. But it is notoriously difficult to maneuver, especially if you drive anything larger than a clown car. A better option is the garage at 112 E. Central Blvd., across from the library. Park there, exit on Pine Street and you’re just a block and a half to the restaurant.

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