Those of you who remember the Straub’s Fine Seafood restaurant on East Colonial Drive in Orlando aren’t going to recognize the place. The sedate, casual atmosphere of a model home is gone. So are the comfy booths that held so many latter-yeared early birders as they dined on sauteed snapper with mixed vegetables and rice. All of that had to go; it just wouldn’t fit in a place called Oblivion Taproom, whose logo is a cross-eyed skull and crossbones.
A shiny new bar is the most upscale piece of decor. Otherwise, the place has the feel of a stripped down shell that’s been painted blood red. Tables and chairs fill one side of the room; a pool table and dart board are in the far part, the dining area that used to be Straub’s nonsmoking section back in the days when restaurants allowed smoking. Although Florida still allows stand-alone bars to deny their workers of a smoke-free environment, Oblivion Taproom is all nonsmoking. That’s because this is much more than just a bar.
As the name implies (the Taproom part, anyway), craft beers are a forte — 40 are featured on tap — and the extensive list will undoubtedly be a draw to those looking for unusual brews to try. Not sure I’m game for the one called Creme Brulee, but it seems as though Stone Ruination IPA might go with the theme of the place.
What’s surprising is the roster of food, which is more ambitious than you might expect. Burgers are the mainstay and they are offered in a variety of combinations with sometimes logical and sometimes confounding names. There’s the You’re My Boy Bleu, with blue cheese, of course, the name an apparent wink and nod to fans of the movie Old School. There’s the self-explanatory Broccocheesy, and the Jalapineo, which seems to be misspelled until you know that it not only has hot peppers but pineapple, too. I’m not sure why the Pee-Wee is so named, but I never order anything with pee in its name. Wee, neither, for that matter.
I also didn’t expect to see pork belly on the menu, either. Crispy pork belly, te be exact, which was served as an “Oblivion Bites,” which I assumed meant appetizers. The pork belly resembled thickly sliced bacon and was chewier than you expect pork belly to be, although it was quite tasty. It was slathered with a sort of spicy barbecue or Buffalo sauce, and it was a huge portion. So much that I ended up taking the leftovers home and snacking on them for days.
For my burger I chose the Hog Wild, which featured a beef burger topped with chopped pork, because, really, the best garnish for meat is more meat. It also had bacon, which is a bonus. Caramelized onions, onion rings and cheddar cheese, all served on a fairly fresh brioche bun, completed the burger. It was good, but it would have been better if it had not been overcooked. It was well over medium instead of the requested medium-rare.
My friend’s Cubano burger was served medium-rare, so I guess getting the right temperature is hit or miss. This burger featured a patty of Italian sausage with chopped pork, grilled onions, avocado, black beans and queso fresco, also on a brioche bun (others are served on french onion, foccacia or garlic bun). Didn’t quite get the flavors of Cuba in there but I liked it, especially with the side order of sweet potato fries.
My companion, a Pennsylvania native, was surprised to see scrapple egg on the list of specials and even wondered if someone hadn’t just misspelled scrambled. But no, it was the PA, um, delicacy (?) of pork scraps and cornmeal. Often served as a hardened slice from a loaf, this version was softer, more the consistency of, say, a salmon loaf. Hardly seems right to criticize it for being too tasty.
Service, while friendly, might have been a bit more attentive. Took a long while for our server to greet us (although she apologized for the wait when she did), and when I mentioned that my burger was overcooked, there was no leap to offer to correct it.
The sound level is higher than the old Straub’s crowd will like, but, truthfully, it wasn’t as loud as I expected it to be. If you’re familiar with the nearby Redlight Redlight you have an idea of what Oblivion Taproom is like (they should have called it Redwalls Redwalls). Except here you have the opportunity to enjoy good food along with your beer.
Oblivion Taproom is at 5101 E. Colonial Drive, Orlando. It’s open Tuesday through Sunday from 4 p.m. until 2 a.m. Burgers range from $7 to $11, which is reasonable for the size. Soy and black bean patties are available for vegetarians. The website is obliviontaproom.com. The phone number is 407-802-4800.