Firebirds Wood Fired Grill has opened in Orlando's Mills Park. The upscale-casual restaurant serves lunch and dinner and features aged beef, fresh seafood, chicken and ribs seared over local hickory and oak.
At first glance the restaurant has a feel of familiarity. One of my dining companions remarked that he felt as if he had been here before — or perhaps it's just the way a lot of Central Florida restaurants now look: a mix of stone and wood interiors with a Frank Lloyd Wright contemporary flair.
Firebirds has taken the expansive open concept and fine-tuned it into a hipper, clubby vibe. The eatery fits in with Bohemian feel of the Mills 50 neighborhood near downtown Orlando.
Start with the lobster spinach queso ($11.95), a luxurious blend of shellfish, baby spinach, tomatoes and pepper Jack cheese served with red, blue and white corn chips. There's not a lot of lobster visible in the appetizer but the flavor prevails.
The Colorado chicken salad ($12.95) is a filling mix of grilled breast meat, mixed greens, bleu-cheese crumbles, sugar-roasted pecans, dried cranberries and green apples. I asked for the raspberry chipotle vinaigrette on the side to gauge the salad's balance of texture and flavor. The combination doesn't break new ground but it excels at the genre.
The French dip sandwich ($15.99) is a signature menu item that showcases slow-roasted prime rib on a toasted baguette. Steak fries and cider slaw are served on the side. The beef was melt-in-the-mouth tender and the au jus fully flavored.
Our cilantro-grilled chicken breast ($11.95) was presented on a smoked tomato Jack cheese sauce along with Parmesan-infused mashed potatoes. Our server had warned the sauce was spicy but we detected little heat.
The 7-ounce center-cut filet mignon ($25.25) was wrapped in applewood-smoked bacon and prepared a spot-on medium rare. The steak comes with mashed potatoes, but I subbed sautéed seasonal vegetables at no extra charge. The mix of sweet pea pods, mellow squash and more was crisp-tender.
For dessert the creamy Key lime pie ($7.50) was good, with a restrained pucker that may not suit true fans. However, the graham-cracker garnish was a deluge of coarse crumbs over the slice of pie and the plate, completely covering the white chocolate drizzle. That's where the restraint should have been.
Service was attentive on both visits but a little too inquisitive during the first. It's one thing to engage, quite another to ask too many personal questions.
Parking can be a challenge at Mills Park during peak lunch and dinner hours. Anchored by The Fresh Market grocery, the complex also includes condominiums and a mix of restaurants and other businesses.
Firebirds Wood Fired Grill is based in Charlotte, N.C., but it has an Orlando tie. CEO Mark Eason is an Orlando native and University of Central Florida graduate.
Firebirds Wood Fired Grill
Where: 1562 N. Mills Ave. in Orlando (The Market at Mills Park)
When: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday:
How much: $10-$30