Our Top 3 New Dining Discoveries

Dining , Veness Column
Our Top 3 New Dining Discoveries
By ATD’s Florida Experts, Susan and Simon Veness
Dining out as often as we do, it takes a lot to impress us, but we've discovered three new restaurants we’ll return to again and again for the chance to enjoy fine dining in funky, laid-back style.

Crafted Block & Brew

We recently discovered Crafted, not far from Universal Orlando, and while we’re not big on strip-mall diners, we figured, why not? It’s popular with Universal staff, and some of them are used to late-night chow sessions after a long day of being creative.

Crafted bills itself as ‘Untraditionally Artisan. Unapologetically Awesome’, and while it sounds like boasting, they’re only telling the truth. From burgers to steaks, chicken to seafood pasta, it’s familiar food with an intriguing twist. If tater tots with green chili sauce, kurobuta pork belly, melted cheddar cheese, green onion and red jalapeno sounds too scary, stick with a simpler twist, such as grilled lemon on your wings instead of buffalo sauce. Need a ‘taste of home’? Crafted also serves a delightful gourmet Cottage Pie.

block and blue burger Florida

Photo credit: Matthew and Debbie Churchill

Much of the menu is hearty, but don’t despair, ladies. If you’re watching your calories, the Florida Citrus Salad is exceptional, and doesn’t come out in a heap big enough to serve a family of four.

Sunday Brunch is an event, with awesome starters, salads, and sandwiches (ignore everything else and go for the Block and Blue Burger. You’re welcome.), plus specialties such as Crab Benedict and Bananas Foster French Toast. And lest you think the Sunday Brunch Bar is a buffet, as Susan did, we’ll clue you in now so you don’t look silly: it’s actually a create-your-own Bloody Mary ($5) or Mimosa ($4) bar. Not sure how to mix a killer Bloody Mary? Don’t worry. There’s a bartender on hand to help you craft it just the way you’ll like it.

Crafted also takes its beer selection seriously, insisting ‘Friends don’t let friends drink mass produced beer’, and we tend to agree with them. Long gone are the days when American beer meant Budweiser and Miller. Pour those on your plants and give your body something worth rejoicing over, with 23 craft beers on tap, an additional 54 in bottles, and if someone in your group feels it’s not an Orlando holiday without an ‘Un-craft’ beer, they’ grudgingly carry Bud, Coors, or Corona, and they’ll even serve it to you with a smile.

crafted beer

Photo credit: Matthew and Debbie Churchill

The extensive beer menu lists the city each beer was crafted in, the country (mostly USA, but with a handful from Belgium, Canada, England, and Germany) and the alcohol content for those who like to pace their intake. Not sure where to start? We recommend anything by Sam Adams (Massachusetts), Bells (Michigan) or Abita (Louisiana); Fat Tire (Colorado); Kona Longboard (Hawaii); and the local brews from Orlando Brewing Company. That ought to get you started, and don’t forget to designate a driver. There are no half-pints here.

Not a beer drinker? Don’t worry. There is a decent selection of red and white wines, as well as hand-crafted cocktails (try the Sweet and Salty Swine, but don’t say we didn’t warn you).

Find Crafted at 2417 S. Hiawassee Road in Orlando

Scratch Tapas and Craft

Want funky? Go here. New to Winter Park, this artsy little joint is just down the street from Rollins College, and you rather suspect most of the paintings on the wall were done by college students. Mercifully, there are no prices on them, and they do add to the feeling you’re in a collegiate hang-out—if students had big expense accounts and educated taste buds.

Bar at scratch

Photo credit: Matthew and Debbie Churchill

The kitchen (okay, the little area at the back that’s been set up with stuff to make it look like a kitchen) is humble. But it cranks out spectacular dishes that are as visually appealing as they are a delight to eat.

Scratch’s menu changes daily, with only three signature dishes you can count on: pork belly adobo (sumptuous in its subtle soy glaze), grilled loup de mer (sea bass in a citrus thyme marinade) and broccoli and cheddar. Now listen to me, and listen good; no matter which other small-plate you order, the broccoli must be one of your selections. Light and lemony, with a hint of chili peppers and tissue-paper thin flakes of cheddar cheese, it’s a stand-out winner, worth paying for one spear what you’d pay for the whole head in the supermarket.

pork belly scratch

Photo credit: Matthew and Debbie Churchill

While Scratch bills itself as a tapas place, it doesn’t have tapas-size prices. Expect to order at least 3 (and probably more like 4 or 5) dishes per couple, and try not to cry when the bill comes. It’s also worth noting the 8pm-10pm bookings require a pre-paid $15 per person no-show fee. Go between 5.30pm and 7.30pm to avoid this rather irksome charge.

223 West Fairbanks Avenue, Winter Park

Highball and Harvest

Orlando is no stranger to upscale resorts, and the restaurants and lounges that go with them, but we were jarred out of our jaded hotel-dining attitude when friends Matt and Debbie Churchill suggested Highball and Harvest at the Ritz-Carlton resort. Having suggested Scratch the night before, we knew their taste was impeccable, so we met them for dinner at H&H and discovered our new favourite place for a semi-splash-out evening.

What puts it above the myriad other resort restaurants? For us, it’s the laid-back elegance combined with a superb Southern United States inspired menu that makes Highball and Harvest something a bit special. The ultimate in comfort dining, Southern cooking can be heavy, but H&H infuses all the flavor with none of the belly-busting.

truck stop nuts

Photo credit: Matthew and Debbie Churchill

Our group of four chose the Duck and Andouille Gumbo; Fig Glazed Ribs; gorgeous (and mercifully small) Crispy Skinned Trout; Braised Lamb Shank with grits; and Chicken Fried Chicken, with an order of unbelievably addictive Truck Stop Nuts (boiled peanuts) for the table. Collard greens (magnificent!), Brussel sprouts (sublime!) and  Pimento Macaroni and Cheese (oh, heavenly!) served as sides, and you know a restaurant has got it right when there is very little talking and a whole lot of eating going on.

H&H Lamb Shank

Photo credit: Matthew and Debbie Churchill

We’ve been looking for an excuse to head straight back to H&H, this time with an eye toward sitting in the cozy seats in the lounge, so if you see us there, say hello!

4012 Central Florida Parkway, Orlando

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Dining , Veness Column