Photo:Chroma Modern Bar + Kitchen serves mostly small plates.
Menus at Lake Nona go beyond the essentials
The food-obsessed need hip restaurants as integral parts of their preferred geography. And to attract them, smart developers make dining a key part of real estate projects, luring trendy chefs to the first floor of new high-rises. Meanwhile, savvy brokers pack menus in their portfolio while showing home buyers around a neighborhood.
But what do you do about a place like Lake Nona, the “Medical City” and its surroundings that sit on the vast exurban flatlands beyond Orlando’s airport?
If you’re as smart as the developers at Tavistock Group, you do plenty. Lake Nona may be light-years from downtown Orlando and the Winter Park restaurant scene, but not to worry. Lamb ribs, shrimp mofongo and Korean barbecue are easily at hand, and the kitchens are afire with African harissa and fresh sage. Here on the fringe, you can play with fabulous croquettes of lighter-than-air moon globes of yucca and soft-cooked quail eggs, sip tequila in a witty Spicy Gummy Bear or just tuck into a solid burger worthy of a gastro pub.
The restaurants got to Lake Nona the same way as did all the hospitals, labs, colleges, Orlando City Soccer’s new training facility and USTA’s 100 courts, plus thousands of apartments, condos and smart homes — Tavistock made sure they Were there.
Tavistock knew that Lake Nona would be a soul-less Trumanville without places to gather over good food, and inserted some of its own restaurant concepts into the Lake Nona mix. The firm counts a sizable restaurant group in its diverse portfolio, and for Lake Nona it created two chef-driven spots with open kitchens and menus that “serve a greater social purpose than just eating and drinking” says John Betin, CEO of Tavistock’s restaurant group.
Flashy Chroma Modern Bar + Kitchen sits on a sleek plaza in the shadow of the UCF medical campus and a mammoth VA hospital. There’s chrome, sure, and jewel-tone tile, but also rusty steel girders and modernist lights, with outdoor seading , a large bar and three private rooms. Remarkably, the 230 seats fill up and draw waits on weekends.
The real shine is on service and the food, mostly small plates with big flavors. There’s a nod to local ingredients and modern staples of flatbreads, deviled eggs, kale and charred shishito peppers. Chef Jason Bergeron sears foie gras and gilds tangerine beet relish and stretches pureed parsnip with celery root, thyme and candied walnut into a savory side.
For a landlocked site, the place has ample seafood, with Florida shrimp and fish tempura tacos, Rhode Island calamari and a parfait of wild tuna, sesame and avocado. Roasted bone marrow with a thicket of herbs and lacquered Korean lamb ribs makes for a meaty small plate. On the XXL side, Chroma delivers big-deal entrees for a table to share, like Josper-roasted pork loin and a ribeye-for-four.
A mile away, the Canvas Market and Restaurant is located in Lake Nona’s New Urban village bungalow of bright colors and mixed architectural styles.
Canvas is smart yet lower-key and family-friendly, trimmed with glass, old wood, galvanized metal and a big lake view. By day, it’s a quirky market of snacks, clay jewelry and crafts, coffee and lunches to go or eat in a comfy living room.
At night, it’s traditional dining on larger entrees of Southern comforts of hot chicken or rock shrimp grits and Latin favorites of mofongo, Cuban sandwiches and flan
Chef Bryan Thoman gives it all smart twists and tweaks, like putting tomatillos in the mussels, grilling teres major cuts of beef in chimichurri and making his Thousand Island dressing on short-rib burgers.
He’s made brunch a big hit with old-fashioned scrambled eggs and daring sweet potato pancakes with kimchee.
Both restaurants brag on creative mixology, Florida craft drafts and sizable wine lists, which include a dozen Tavistock Reserve private label bottles.
Elsewhere in Lake Nona, Tavistock chose a few tasteful partners to round out the dining options:
Blue Nona, a modern tavern backed by Irish golf champion Graeme Mc- Dowell (with a second location in Ponte Vedra Beach), likes the classics done right, house-made chips with bechamel blue cheese, slow-cooked prime rib, mom’s meatloaf and hearty concoctions like a bacon/ lobster salad/grilled cheese sandwich.
From Winter Park, the upscale Turkish restaurant Bosphorous opened next to Chroma, complete with kebabs, a full meze and the table-sized lavash bread that’s a hit of the sidewalk scene.
From Orlando’s retro, funkalicious Mills 50 district comes Pig Floyd. It brands itself as urban “barbakoa” drawn from a world of grilled meat trimmed with tikka masala, chimichurri, Korean spices and banh mi dressing.
Frontier folk never had it so good.