In most cities, you’d expect the downtown area to be the most stable for businesses. That doesn’t seem to be the case for downtown Orlando, especially for its restaurants. Longevity just isn’t a quality many restaurants enjoy. Kres Chophouse, which, amazingly, opened 20 years ago, appears to be an exception.
Perhaps it’s because it fills a void, offering an upscale dining experience amid a glut of bars, casual eateries and more bars. And it does it with panache, quality food expertly prepared and served with poise.
I visited Kres recently with a group of friends – we apparently were violating the restaurant’s policy of no parties larger than six but were welcomed nonetheless – and was delighted to find it still as good as when it first opened.
We started with shared appetizers of carpaccio, escargot and grilled octopus and shrimp.
The carpaccio featured wagyu steak from Snake River Farms, the meat paper-thin and dotted with capers, parmesan shavings and a drizzle of herbed cream. Wonderful cool bites.
The escargots were prepared in the traditional Burgundian style, drowned in rich, garlicky butter.
The octopus was served as large tentacles, the meat a tender firmness. The shrimp were large and both had a nice smokiness from the grill.
For my entree, I chose the prime pork chop – it’s a chophouse, after all – with Duroc pork belly. The chop was thick and uncharacteristically tender for pork. The belly added richness and flavor.
My immediate dining companion chose the mixed grill, with elk, lamb, another one of those delicious grilled shrimp and bucatini with a pulpy tomato sauce. The elk lacked the gaminess that I would have expected it to have, but all the meats were grilled precisely to the requested medium rare.
Service was exceptionally professional and attentive.
Kres still features the shockingly red decor as it did when it opened in 2003, but somehow seems new. There are multi level dining areas and a large bar dominates one side of the room, still a favorite place for many to drink and dine. Over the front door, two of the flying ladies continue to look over the place.
Those ladies were part of the decor of one of the previous tenants. The space, in the old Kress Building (it was the idea of Phil Rampy, one of the principals, to drop the second s in the name) was first turned into a restaurant called Bailey’s Downtown (the original Bailey’s was on Fairbanks Avenue in Winter Park). It then became Pebbles Downtown and restaurateur Manny Garcia chose to keep the squadron of Balinese flying ladies that hung in formation from the tall ceiling.
It’s good to have that connection to the past, and it’s even better to have a restaurant of Kres’ quality as an anchor in a turbulent downtown.