Whatever you want to call them, our appetite is still strong for these food-forward bars from across the pond.
The word "gastropub" was coined in the early 1990s and refers to bars or pubs where food is not an afterthought. Examples of this nifty concept in Central Florida include The Ravenous Pig, the bar at Cask & Larder, K Restaurant and The Rusty Spoon.
Avenue Gastrobar in downtown Orlando joined the mix in May with a menu that reflects artisanal ingredients, craft beers and handcrafted cocktails.
The decor is a little more downtown Winter Park than downtown Orlando. The deep space has an industrial-light motif with lots of light during the day from the open doors across Orange Avenue. The room is somewhat reminiscent of Prato in Winter Park with a long bar accentuating the cavernous appeal.
There is a mix of high-tops and regular tables as well as bar seating. On its Facebook page Avenue Gastrobar lists outdoor seating, but I didn't see any on my lunch visit. I'd wager that after the downtown workers head to the 'burbs, tables are positioned just outside the entrance.
We started our lunch with the mac and cheese ($7). The deliciously ooey-gooey concoction can be ordered mixed with blackened chicken, pork belly or a wild mushroom medley. We went with the latter and were presented with a shareable dish that had a luxurious hint of truffle oil. The ridges of the large corkscrew pasta caught every bit of the rich cheese sauce.
I ordered the grilled fish tacos ($10), which can be requested with fried fish as well. The sweet pieces of white fish (mahi was my guess) were divided among three small flour tortillas then dressed to the nines with a kicky chipotle aioli and lots of shredded lettuce. A small cup of pineapple and mango relish was served on the side. The chunky condiment was full-flavored and enlivened the fish nicely.
One of my companions opted for the steak frites ($12), a platter of marinated skirt steak and fries. The tender sliced beef was blanketed with a shallot demi-glace. The dish was good but needed restraint with the rich brown sauce.
The slow-braised pork belly ($10) was a comfort-food triumph served over plump white beans, cabbage and potatoes. The sweet meat melted heavenly in the mouth.
Desserts range from fried Oreos ($3) to a grown-up variation of a Creamsicle ($4) made with 360 premium vodka. We passed on this sweltering day but that frozen treat intrigues.
One quibble was the iced tea: It had a day-old aftertaste that was quite unpleasant. Also, straws were not automatically offered for soft drinks, but were presented when requested.
Avenue Gastrobar is a welcome addition to the downtown dining scene. Add it to your list of places to check out before events at Amway Center.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5498
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Where: 13 S. Orange Ave. Orlando (between Central Boulevard and Pine Street)
When: Noon-midnight Sunday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Friday, 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Saturday
How much: $5-$12
Beverages: Full bar
Wines by the glass: From $5.50
Extras: Catering, good for groups, family friendly, takeout, table service, outdoor dining
Wheelchair access: Easy
Noise level: Moderate neighborly buzz and piped-in classic rock music
Credit: American Express, Discover, MasterCard, Visa
Online: Facebook and @AvenueGastrobar on Twitter and Instagram
Dining on a budget
Try the salads (Caesar $5, organic greens $6) topped with chicken (extra $3) or beef or shrimp ($4).