What was formerly Chuck's Diner has been transformed into The Strand, an unpretentious American bistro in Orlando's Mills 50 neighborhood.
The renovation combines shabby chic with minimalist sensibilities. There are a few tables anchored by a long banquette, counter seating and a communal table. The vibe is old-drugstore cool. On one visit an old television cabinet outfitted with a flat-screen television aired TV Land classics such as "Gilligan's Island" and "The Andy Griffith Show."
The large window looks out onto bustling Mills Avenue in the heart of Mills 50.
The owners conceived The Strand as a thread "with the purpose of becoming an everyday tradition in the larger fabric of Orlando."
The menu specializes in contemporary interpretations of classic bistro fare. Everything is made from scratch, with daily chef specials inspired by local farms and seasonal produce. Libations include craft beers, wine and soft drinks.
At lunch start with the porkzilla ($10), a pulled-pork sandwich topped with coleslaw on a buttery brioche bun. Fries come on the side. The pork tendrils were tender and sweet and the fries had a good crispy-crack to them.
Our buttermilk chicken sandwich ($9) was dressed with smoky bacon, lettuce, vine-ripe tomato and honey mustard on a brioche bun. The apple-fennel coleslaw on the side was a sweet-crunchy triumph.
At dinner I sampled the crab cakes ($8) topped with a tangy green-tomato relish and smooth remoulade with subtle garlic notes. The shellfish appetizer was plump with lump and claw meat.
The grilled asparagus salad ($8.50) was filling enough to be an entree. The medium-sized green stalks were warm and topped with salty prosciutto and a poached egg from Ocoee's Lake Meadow Naturals farm. The crisp garlic toast was great for sopping up the rich yolk and the vinaigrette balanced the elements nicely.
For entrees the skirt steak ($15) with an earthy coffee-chili rub did not disappoint. It was cooked a perfect medium-rare, which requires attention to detail with such a thin cut. And the ratio of spice to coffee let the best of each element hit on the palate with each bite. The plate included brussel sprouts and crispy fries.
Our pork loin ($14) was glazed with a porter, a well-hopped dark, malty beer. A cheese-grit cake and apple-fennel slaw completed the entree. The pork was full-flavored, indicating it was likely from a small farm.
Save room for dessert. The chocolate mousse cake ($5.50) had rum-soaked cake layers and fresh fruit. It was cheek-tingling good. But the warm olive-oil cake ($4) with citrus-scented mascarpone whipped cream was the star. The cake had the mouth-feel of a decadent butter cake without the guilt. And the acidic fruit was a great foil for the over-the-top cream.
The Strand has a great neighborhood feel, which is what Mills 50 is all about. It's clear the restaurant already is a community hub.
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✭✭ (out of 4)
Where: 807 N. Mills Ave. in Orlando (at East Park Lake Street)
When: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday