When Tony Roma's, the restaurant associated with ribs and steaks, rebranded its location near Orlando International Airport in December, it appeared as though the company was trying revitalize a concept that had become tired and stale. And it seemed like a good idea.
Tony Roma's: Fire Grill & Lounge — or TR as the logo would have you refer to it — was the result. It wanted to de-emphasize the ribs and focus more on "American food" and hand-crafted cocktails and craft beers. But when I attended a reopening event for the new brand, I found it something of a hot mess. Even though you would expect such an event to feature the restaurant's best efforts, I found most of what I sampled that evening pretty dull, and some of what was offered was downright odd, such as a dish that was a sort of dip billed as a deconstructed pizza. Why? I've never been a fan of deconstructed foods — we go to restaurants to pay someone to put the ingredients together for us — but of all foods a pizza wants to be constructed. Service, too, was surprisingly unpolished and unprofessional.
But it was a special event with a crush of people. I was willing to give TR a benefit of a doubt and return for a regular dinner. Unfortunately, I did not find things improved enough to recommend it.
The hostess at the front door tried to steer a single diner to the bar. But when I said I'd prefer a table, she guided me to the dining room where the only options were up against the wall next to a table occupied by a large family with several toddlers. Perhaps the bar was the right place for me after all.
At first the two bartenders ignored the new guest, even though it would have been quite easy to offer a smile and a welcome and an "I'll be right with you" greeting. Does no one teach their staffs such basics? The only thing warm I got from the bartenders was a dish of almonds, which also happened to be the best thing I ate during my stay.
I chose the smoked beef short rib for my entree and the roasted Brussels sprouts (called Brussel sprouts on the menu) with bacon and pine nuts. When the short rib was placed in front of me I thought I would be taking a great deal of it home with me. It was a massive portion, it seemed, with the centerpiece the actual rib large enough to topple Fred Flintstone's vehicle. But alas, there was little actual edible meat on it, and too much of it was fatty. The Port wine sauce was pulpy but flavorless. And there wasn't much more in the pimento cheese grits.
The sprouts would have been better if they'd cooked a bit longer to lose some of the woody texture. The bacon and pine nuts were good flavor components.
Not all was lost. The wood-aged margarita fulfilled the restaurant's goal to offer good hand-crafted cocktails. It featured oak-aged Camarena tequila with Grand Marnier and agave nectar. It's a cocktail I'd stop in for again if I felt like the bartenders would be happy to see me.
Tony Roma: Fire Grill & Lounge is at 7015 S. Semoran Blvd., Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. My short rib was $25 — a lot for a little meat — and the Brussels sprouts were $6. The margarita was $9. The phone number is 407-857-7244.