It always seemed like a good idea to me, a full-service restaurant in the culinary desert between downtown and Sodo. It made especially good sense to locate one across the street from the massive Orlando Health medical complex as a hospital-food alternative, not to mention adult beverage opportunity, for staff and visiting family members.
But Doc’s, the first restaurant to give it a try, couldn’t quite make a go of it, not even with an estimable chef like Neil Connolly, who was formerly the private chef for the Kennedy family compund in Massachusetts. And it didn’t do any better when it tried, after Connolly’s death, to go sports bar-ish as the casual Doc’s Streetside Grille.
But something feels different about Delaney’s Tavern. It essentially occupies the same space, though it was somewhat altered when a boutique hotel was added to the upper floors (something that was planned even back in the early Doc’s days). I hesitate to use a cliché and call it Cheers like, even though that’s what the owners Dr. Tom Winters, an orthopedic surgeon, and his wife, Dr. Becky Moroose, were going for. But it does have that mien, and not just because John Ratzenberger, the actor who played Cliff, a regular at the bar of the old television series, could be spotted sitting on one of its stools recently.
It’s comfortable, it’s relaxed, and it feels like a place you might want to visit regularly. And I can only imagine the food served here is better than you’d find at Melville’s Hungry Heiferthe restaurant upstairs from the fictional bar.
A lot better.
The kitchen is under the direction of chef Anthony Albino, who was formerly with Santiago’s Bodega. The menu reads like the sort of bill of fare you’d expect in a tavern, but the quality is several levels above that.
The Beef Tenderloin Tartare is a good example. Usually served in components, here the shaved meat is preblended with egg yolk, capers, onion and tinged with a bit of truffle aioli then served on slices of grilled baguette, all the balanced flavors combined in convenient bites.
I’ve had the Blue Crab Beignets on each of my three visits, and each time I marvel at the ethereal lightness of the savory doughnuts, with the sweet meat inside offset with a touch of spicy horseradish.
Mama Becky’s Meatballs – should that be Dr. Mama Becky? – featured densely packed orbs smothered in a thick and pulpy tomato sauce.
Diver Scallop, Shrimp + Grits was a favorite entree (I’ve had that one twice). Besides adding plump and firm scallops, Albino’s version of this somewhat tired workhorse is given new life with the use of purple grits. Tasso ham and a cream sauce made with sun-dried tomatoes make it a winner.
Seafood Tonnarelli Seafood Pasta had shrimp, squid and scallops tossed with the black pasta, a sort of square and al dentier version of spaghetti, along with escarole and arrabiata sauce, which gave it a spicy kick. Delicious.
The Steak Tacos were simpler, served with roasted peppers and onions with a nutty salsa macha. But there was a more than ample amount of tender meat in the warmed flour tortillas.
Only a flatbread of roasted mushrooms and shallots disappointed. The thin bread grew limp under the burrata and pesto fashioned out of arugula.
I found the service to be helpful and accommodating. (The staff also includes Santiago’s Bodega alumni.) Delaney’s Tavern is named for the Delaney Park neighborhood, though technically it sits outside that downtown neighborhood’s boundary.
There are two separate dining areas: the main bar and lounge and a room with tables in the rear. I find the bar area more alluring, though I wouldn’t want to sit at one of the lounge tables that have chairs without backs. The bar stools are preferable.
If you can get Cliffy to move over.
Delaney’s Tavern is at 1315 S. Orange Ave., Orlando. (Complimentary valet parking in the rear.) It is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-849-0801.