Sunday, February 17, 2019

The Old Jailhouse: A "game-changer" restaurant for Sanford, FL

Sanford finally has a breakout, building-block restaurant.

I have lived within a 20-mile radius of Downtown Sanford (FL) for well nigh 30 years and, over that time, have waited patiently for the city to realize the potential inherent in its proximity to the large body of water that is Lake Monroe. The city has a few stable, old-line restaurants, a burgeoning craft beer industry, and some fledgling artisanal restaurants, but nothing that would attract the foodie crowd in the way that Cress did in Deland, or the Ravenous Pig does in Winter Park. Such a restaurant could pull in other farm-to-table type restaurants as they see the viability of the model and seek to compete for the wine and food enthusiasts.

The newly opened Old Jailhouse has the potential to be such an anchor facility. Located at 113 South Palmetto Avenue, in a former Jail and Blacksmith shop, the restaurant offers a mix of Creole, Southern, and Tex Mex dishes. The restaurant is owned by Anthony, Alex, and Maria Sirica.

Prior to its opening, the potential was resident in Chef Bram Fowler, the restaurant's Executive Chef and Director of Operations. For many years Chef Fowler had operated his own restaurant -- Journeys -- which I, at the time, considered to be one of the finest independent restaurants in the Greater Orlando area. His dishes, many reflecting his roots, held a special place in my heart. I, therefore, had great expectations for the restaurant.

Our dear friend Delia Magno was celebrating her birthday on the first weekend that the restaurant was open so we went ahead and snagged a reservation. I was pleased with what I saw both outside and within the restaurant. The outside of the core restaurant is tastefully lit with the soft lights muting the visual effects of the red brick exterior. To the right of the main structure is a well-lit dining area which is open to the elements at the front.

The reception area is external to the restaurant and there is a narrow passageway leading from the entrance to the bar area. The bar is relatively small but is complemented by family-style and couples seating in the area surrounding.

Once you enter the bar area you get a sense of the true size of the restaurant. It is narrow but deep -- and the depth is accentuated by a rear outdoor courtyard. The kitchen is to the right of the passageway leading to the rear of the restaurant, with other seating areas on the right beyond the kitchen.

I mentioned previously that, prior to opening, all of the restaurant's potential (from my perspective) was resident in Chef Bram. Once I saw the layout, the potential expanded to include the setting.

I mentioned that we were celebrating a birthday. Attendees included Parlo, my nephew Alwyn, Chris Magno, Christian Magno, Siobahn Bowman, Theresa Tucci, Rick Richardi, and yours truly.

When the menu first arrived, I took a quick look trying to find some of Chef Bram's (old) signature items. I didn't see any but was not concerned. After all, he was Chef Bram, right?

For appetizers we ordered the Brussels Sprout Petal Salad, Crispy Brussels Sprout and Okra, Oysters Sanford, Roasted Whole Cauliflower, Jailhouse Fries, and Pork Belly. The Creole aspect of the restaurant was on full display in the items we ordered and we were not disappointed in our order. The standouts to me were the Crispy Brussels Sprouts and Okra with the crunchy coating on the Okra providing texture which enhanced the slight tanginess of the flavor. The oysters were a rich hearty meal while the fries could be addictive.

Brussels Sprout Petal Salad
(Strawberries, Goat Cheese Medallion, Toasted
Pine Nuts, Berry Vinaigrette)

Oysters Sanford
(Baked Celery Gratin, Gulf Oysters)

Crispy Brussels Sprout and Okra
(Mustard Aioli, Shallots)

For the main courses we ordered the Creole Lamb and the Jailbird. The Lamb was accompanied by a Sweet Potato Hash which I was unsure about prior to tasting it. I thought that the rather heavy Bell Pepper Sauce sauce would do better if contrasted by the Creamy Potato Mash that accompanied The Jailbird. My fears were allayed once I had the first mouthful of the fall-off-the-bone Lamb.

The Jail Bird
(Fire Grilled Half Chicken, Bird's Eye Chili
Sauce, Creamy Potato Mash, House Slaw)

Creole Lamb

Chocolate Brownie

The third element of the restaurant's potential is the food coming out of the kitchen.

The restaurant was packed; and with a millenial crowd. People were still coming in at at 10:45 and when we left, at close to midnight, it was still humming.

The staff will continue to hit their marks as they become more accustomed to working in a high-intensity environment and the passage of time will allow a balancing of product with customers. I think that management left some cocktail money on the table by not building a larger bar but ...

Run, don't walk, to The Old Jailhouse. You will see me there.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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