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First Look: Earls Kitchen + Bar

Written By Scott Joseph On September 21, 2016

Earls Kitchen + Bar opens today at Mall at Millenia. It’s also opening day for Chroma Modern Bar + Kitchen. It’s clear that new restaurants are starting to, um, add up.

I told you about my preview of Chroma last week. I also got a sneak peek along with some other members of the media of the new Earls. I think you’re going to like this place, too.

The Millenia Earls is the first Central Florida location for a long-established, family-owned Canadian restaurant group, though the founder, Leroy Earl Fuller was originally from Montana. (I’m just guessing here, but maybe he moved to Alberta after a presidential election.) I haven’t been able to figure out why the restaurant is called Earls and not Earl’s; perhaps more than one Earl is involved.

Anyway, there are now, as of today, 68 Earlses, including one other Florida location, in Miami’s Dadeland.

Earls took over the space that had been Blue Martini. But if you were familiar with that drinking hole (and I’m not editorializing with that term) you won’t recognize the place.

It’s impressively expansive — indeed, it seems larger than when BM was there — and features a large rectangular bar inside the entrance. Up a couple of steps is the main dining area, across from the large and open kitchen. At the far end of the dining room is another bar. Yes, two bars. No, I don’t know why it isn’t called Earls Kitchen + Bar + Bar; you’ll have to ask them.

There’s also a patio that wraps around to the side of the mall that overlooks the row of restaurants on the lower level. In fact, if you sit there you can see people walking into P.F. Chang’s and scream at them, “Why?”

From what I tasted, they’d be much better off at Earls.

I don’t know why, but I had an immediate feeling that Earls was a sort of Canadian version of Houston’s/Hillstone, though there isn’t prime rib and nobody yells at you if you take a picture inside. (Come on, almost everyone here is Canadian — they’ll probably offer to hold the camera for you.)

Executive chef Simon Zanotto gave us a tour of the kitchen and told us that he gave up a career in musical theater to become a chef, so he treats the show kitchen as a stage.

The menu is a little hard to pin down. There are burgers, salads, sandwiches and steaks, but there are also rice and noodle bowl items ranging from China and Korea to Italy and sushi.

I’ll save a full review for another visit, but here are some of the things we sampled.

Kale salad, served warm, had black kale, caramelized Brussels sprouts and roasted potatoes, drizzled with brown butter.

One of the brunch items we tasted was the Spicy Sausage + Mushroom Hash (you’re going to need a calculator before we’re done here). Besides the rosemary tinged bits of sausage and the hunks of mushrooms, it had fried potatoes and fresh avocado. For the eggs, Zanotto told us that he first cooks them in a sous vide process and then cracks the still-soft eggs into a bath for conventional poaching. I’m not convinced that extra step is worth it, but the eggs and hash were all delicious.

Burgers are made with black angus beef and certified humane, though of course the cow is still dead. This one is called the Bronx Burger and features an onion ring and spicy arugula on a freshly-baked-in-house brioche bun. And by the way, you can have the burger cooked to order — in Canada, by law, burgers must be overcooked to medium-well.

The Bibimbap had nice crunchy rice.

Steak + Sushi features marinated meat and a dynamite roll, because why not?

Rack of Ribs is served falling off the bone and accompanied by warm potato salad and cool cole slaw.

Desserts include a Smores Skillet Cookie Sticky Toffee Chocolate Pudding, a signature Earls dish.

Craft cocktails, curated by Cameron Bogue, corporate beverage director, will be a big draw. I sipped a tasty Old Fashion made with egg whites and a surprisingly good take on a Negroni that included fresh squeezed grapefruit juice (the presence of which was fully disclosed beforehand).

There’s a tiki-style cocktail for those who like very sweet drinks served in a funny glass with an umbrella. I don’t count myself among them.

I found the atmosphere surprisingly comfortable given the vastness of the space, and I liked the incorporation of original art, including a wall mural by local artist Andrew Spear. I could see popping in here for a cocktail and a bite at the bar.

Earls Kitchen + Bar is at Mall at Millenia, 4200 Conroy Road, Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily and brunch on Saturday and Sunday. Entrees, by the way, range from $11 to $40.

That’s ++, of course.

 

 

All the chefs wear tunics with both the Canadian and U.S. flags on the collar; a nice touch.

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