My expectations are rarely high for restaurants in airport hotels. The emphasis is often sustenance for transient visitors, not a taste of local flavor.
So when Crimson Tavern opened inside the Orlando Airport Marriott with a focus on sourcing local ingredients, I thought it was worth a visit.
Crimson Tavern, near Orlando International Airport, is not the first hotel entity to support local farmers and food artisans. Chefs Melissa Kelly and Nando Belmonte are the leaders in this dining genre. Kelly's Primo at the J.W. Marriott Grande Lakes Orlando was a pioneer in creating an on-site chef garden and Belmonte, executive chef at Loews Royal Pacific Resort, has played a role in getting regional products on the menus at his resort as well as Loews' Hard Rock and Portofino hotels.
Crimson Tavern executive chef Tony Hull's effort deserves praise even if the location does not have the cache of a resort.
The restaurant is off the hotel's main lobby. The main dining room has a country-light motif. A large chalkboard repeats many of the menu offerings. Seating is a mix of booths, regular tables and one communal roost. A sliding barn-inspired door separates the main room from a private space. Tables in the adjacent bar were more inviting.
On a recent visit Hull's menu referenced cobia, a popular local catch; Zellwood sweet corn; and eggs from Lake Meadow Naturals in Ocoee. Regular items are listed on menus and a large overhead chalkboard. Each night an additional chef's menu of seasonal specials is presented.
We started with Lake Meadows Naturals deviled eggs ($8). I thought the plate was a bit pricey for only three egg halves stuffed with a fluffy yolk mixture that was nothing more than a decent treat plucked from a good church social platter. As appetizers are generally shared, I thought the number of eggs was strange.
The black-eyed hushpuppies ($6) came with a cilantro chutney that was more reminiscent of a classic chimichurri sauce. The bean-laced fritters were expertly fried.
Our barbecue brisket sandwich ($16) offered a tender pile of pork on a bun. It was good, but not competition 'cue.
But the kitchen shined with our entree: Cobia ($25) on a colorful succotash of local beans and corn. The sweet and juicy white fish was cooked to a nice medium. And the texture of the vegetable medley paired nicely with the soft flakes of fish.
The menu has an odd element. Smack-dab in the middle of it, separating the savory components, is a box exuberantly selling the knickerbocker glory dessert. We opted to share the warm butterscotch knickerbocker ($10), a concoction with peanuts, whipped cream and crumbled ginger snaps layered with luxurious gelato from Orlando's Muse Gelato. I think the gelato would be showcased better on its own.
I like the direction Crimson Tavern is taking. But I am not sure that alone is enough to draw locals.
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** out of four
Where: Orlando Airport Marriott, 7499 Augusta National Drive in Orlando (off T.G. Lee Boulevard)
When: lunch 11 a.m.-5 p.m., dinner 5-11 p.m. (late-night drinks available in the bar area until midnight)
How much: $13-$30