When it opened last year, Cask & Larder took everything we knew and loved about Southern cookery and elevated it to a higher place.
Its sister restaurant, the Ravenous Pig, also has a Southern accent, but C&L has a grander feel all around. The upscale decor is plantation light. And the C&L kitchen consistently serves up modern interpretations of traditional food from the first cracked egg in the kitchen to the last crumb on the plate.
C&L has been one of the hottest dinner and brunch reservations in town from the get-go. Now lunch service has been added, opening up the menu and dining options for fans of the culinary vision of the talented chef-owners James and Julie Petrakis.
While the noise level is pleasantly rambunctious in the evenings, the tone at lunch is more genteel.
The midday menu offers more salads and sandwiches along with formidable entrees such as rabbit meatloaf ($14) and trout ($16). Menus change often to reflect local harvests and fresh catches.
We started with the basket ($8), a mix of hush puppies, fried garlic dill pickles, okra, a savory scone with hot sauce aioli for dipping. The pups and scone were buttery good, but the pickles and okra upstaged them both with their expertly fried crisp-tender texture.
Our Nashville hot chicken sandwich ($9) was a hefty cut of breast meat bathed in a sultry, smoky russet-colored sauce with fabulous zap of heat on the finish. The poultry is offered on a bun crafted from toasted sea salt challah. The richness of the egg-yolk-laced bread tempers the chicken's heat. The mellow bread and butter pickles and generous slather of lemony Duke's mayonnaise balance out the mix. Take one bite and then finish this messy bliss with your knife and fork.
The lamb ribs ($17) served on top of tangy green tomato yogurt and seared with coriander honey were earthy and tender. The burnt honey gave a nice sweetness and crunch to the meaty ribs.
Both of these selections had luxurious, complex flavors making them a good pairing with the acidic heirloom tomatoes ($9). Waterkist Farms tomatoes were tossed with cucumbers, Salty Dog cheddar, red-wine vinaigrette, pickled red onion and crispy black-eyed peas. The peas offered nutty notes and crunch and I am dying to learn how to make them.
A couple of jaw-dropping items passed me us in on the way to other tables:
•Pimento cheese fries ($6): A shareable platter of hand-cut fries and pickled gypsy peppers that are tossed in the house-made cheese and chopped scallions as soon as they are lifted from the hot fryer. We watched a nearby table of guests devour them in no time.
•Southern picnic ($15): A mix of deviled eggs, grilled summer sausage, ham butter, van sormon cheese, beer mustard and pickled vegetables appeared to be a great kick-starter for an outing with family and friends. (By the way, van sormon is a raw cow's milk cheese with a dense nuttiness similar to a well-crafted mild Swiss. I like the faint hint of vanilla it has on the finish.)
For those who prefer to linger or a late afternoon nosh, the adjacent bar is open during lunch and after midday service with lighter fare, including oysters and country ham specials.
Cask & Larder
Where: 565 W. Fairbanks Ave. in Winter Park
When: lunch, 11:30 a.m-2 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday; dinner, 5:30-10 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday; late-night bar menu, 10-11 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 10-11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; brunch, 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday.
How much: lunch $8-$17
Beverages: Full bar
Wines by the glass: From $8
Extras: Catering, takes reservations, good for groups, specialty cocktails, beer flights
Credit: American Express, Discover, MasterCard, Visa
Online: caskandlarder.com and Facebook