WINTER PARK/NEW YORK – There have been instances in the past of restaurants developed and established elsewhere have opened a location in Greater Orlando. I mean nonchain concepts, even if the second location is the beginning of a bigger expansion. I’m thinking of Il Mulino, a well-known Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village that opened a location at the Swan and Dolphin resort at Walt Disney World in 2007. In most cases, the version we get here isn’t as good as the one in, say, New York. I’m still thinking of Il Mulino.
But now consider Park Avenue Tavern, a Murray Hill bar and restaurant just steps from Grand Central Terminal, on Park Avenue, that has opened a second location in Winter Park’s Hannibal Square in the space that had been Dexter’s, not on Park Avenue, but close. I dined with friends at the Winter Park PAT, as it likes to be known, then, a few days later, ate at the original in New York. The experiences were quite disparate, but this time it was the WP PAT that was more pleasant.
The food was good in both places, and the menus are nearly identical; same prices, too, with one or two notable exceptions, such as the steak frites – $33 in Winter Park, $48 in New York.
Both atmospheres are appropriately tavernesque, though Winter Park’s has the newness that makes it feel more upscale, even with certain design touches such as the sepia-stained floor tiles that are meant to give it pedigree. New York’s interior is more worn, not unlike many other Manhattan drinking places.
But what really set the two experiences apart was the management. Winter Park had a host and manager overseeing the dining room and the needs of the guests. In New York, I saw no one I could identify as a manager. Apparently, neither did the bartenders, which is probably why they felt entitled to do shots behind the bar (at 7:30 p.m.) in view of the guests seated there.
But, as I said, the food was good. I duplicated some of the dishes I had in Winter Park, so let’s just focus on those.
My guests and I started with appetizers of burrata and spinach & artichoke dip. The creamy cheese was topped with toasted hazelnuts and accompanied by thin cantaloupe rollups and bread.
The dip was thick and pulpy with hunks of hearts and a crust of cheese, delicious on pita points. (In New York, the dip had a hard crust and had several chewy outer leaves of the artichoke.)
One of my guests had the Tavern Burger, a thick patty, nicely cooked to medium-rare, with melted cheese on a soft, toasted sesame bun.
Another fellow diner had the steak frites, hanger steak topped, for some reason, with peppercorn sauce. The meat was tender and the accompanying fries had a delicious crispness. The sauce would be better served on the side.
Pastrami Reuben was loaded with meat and served on marbled rye with sauerkraut and russian dressing.
I had the fish and chips and was impressed with the quality of the fillet, fresh and flaky, and even more so with the beer batter that encased the fish. It was served with a horseradish-infused tartar sauce.
For dessert, we were enticed to try the chocolate chip cookie served in a cast iron skillet. I thought the cookie would be larger both in diameter and depth but my guests seemed to enjoy it, and the vanilla ice cream that topped it, just fine.
Service at the WP PAT was attentive, but again that tends to be the case when managers are invested.
Park Avenue Tavern is from IGC Hospitality, which also opened a second location of another New York restaurant, The Wilson, at the Meliá Hotel Orlando Celebration.
And by the way, you’re more likely now to have a better meal at that Il Mulino at the Swan and Dolphin than at the original in New York. Things change. And speaking of the Swan and Dolphin, it has recently opened another New York transplant, Rosa Mexicano, and I’ll have a comparison of that restaurant with one of the Manhattan locations soon.