Whenever there’s a big change in a restaurant I’ve formerly reviewed, I like to return to see if there have been any major differences in the operation, whether it’s the food, the service or the physical surroundings.
I told you recently that Boca, the Park Avenue restaurant that opened in late 2014, had been sold. It was originally owned by a group out of Sarasota, where the original Boca was. (Curiously, there were no Bocas in actual Boca.)
The new owner is Artistry Restaurants, a relatively new group based in Winter Park that also operates Burger U at UCF. It also took ownership of Atlantic Beer and Oyster, the seafood bar in the Hidden Garden off Park Avenue, as well as the original Sarasota location. (A third Boca in Tampa’s Hyde Park had previously closed.)
Ownership changed several months ago, and after verifying that the kitchen had made all of the adjustments it was going to do, I decided to head back and check it out. I can report to you that Boca is virtually the same as it was when I first reviewed it in 2015.
This is from my review of Jan.6, 2015: “…as I sit here going over the items that I sampled, I’m trying to remember just one thing that stood out, that would make me want to go back there to dine again…”
Slap a 2021 timestamp on it and the original review stands.
That’s not to say that the food wasn’t palatable; most of it was fine. It’s just that when you go out to eat you like to experience something more than just OK.
The Bronzed Sea Scallops that one of my companions ordered might have qualified. The scallops – three of them, but a nice size – were beautifully seared and had a very pleasant mouthfeel. They were served with littleneck clams, which seemed more of a garnish than part of the dish (they don’t have little in their name for nothing). And it was all served on top of a bed of spaghetti squash that could have qualified as tepid if it had been a couple of degrees warmer. (The scallops were perfectly hot.)
Florida Pink Shrimp & Grits featured tail-on shrimp that had a dominant peppery note – I assume that had something to do with the menu’s description as “creole style.” The dish also had large slices of mushrooms that added a different texture, and the grits were served in a tomato and saffron tinged sauce.
I ordered the OMG burger, which I also had in 2015. It was a nice, thick patty, cooked to the requested medium rare and topped with melted white cheddar, leafy lettuce and pickled onions. The only problem was that it was bland, the meat had no hint of seasoning. Also from the previous review: “Less OMG and more WTF.” The truffle fries that came with were delicious, but there seemed to be no portion control in the kitchen because the guy with a burger at the next table had about 33 percent more fries that I did, not that I needed them, but still.
Another guest had the Bucatini and Clams, an entree in an appetizer portion that had the thick pasta tossed in a butter and garlic white sauce. Meh.
We started with a the Notorious P.I.G. flatbread that had a good showing of crumbled Italian sausage and mozzarella cheese on a crackerlike crust. Good.
Our server had very good knowledge of the menu and what the bar had in stock.
There have been a few changes to the interior. A vegetation wall is gone and barn doors cover the stairway that used to lead to a second floor space. When Boca first opened, the upstairs was a separate bar that was meant to be a speakeasy, though I recall just after it opened a staff member was assigned to the sidewalk to hawk people up to the bar. So, just the opposite of a speakeasy. Anyway, it’s no longer a part of the Boca complex, though Atlantic Beer and Oysters is.
There have been changes to the back dining room, as well, but it remains the least desirable place to be. It’s much better in the front room, at or near the bar that dominates the space, or at one of the outdoor tables.
It’s probably the atmosphere that keeps people coming back. And it is a vibrant and bright space full of people aching to gather together again. Coming up on seven years – about seven times longer than some of the space’s predecessors – Boca must being doing something right.
Boca is at 358 N. Park Ave., Winter Park (map). It is open for lunch and dinner daily; brunch on weekends. The phone number is 407-636-7022.