A Fresh and Hidden Gem
By Dave Nevill Jr. of OrlandoFoodScene.com
Thanks to the wealth of information on the Internet, I’m seldom surprised by a restaurant. When I found the Crimson Tavern while doing a quick search for restaurants near the Orlando International Airport, I figured I’d just leave it to chance and go in blind. My partner in crime, Caitlin, and I had several small courses to get a solid picture of what they were capable of, and were immediately impressed! With almost every ingredient either sourced locally or grown in their garden, the freshness is second to none. In the classically-trained hands of Executive Chef Tony Hull, these ingredients are treated with respect and presented beautifully.
Before we get to the food, I think it’s a good idea to talk about the look and feel. Being inside the Orlando Airport Marriott, I conjured up an image in my head of something fairly homogenized and bland. I couldn’t have been more mistaken. You’re immediately greeted with dark woods and red accents (to keep with the Marriott theme) and the dining area is modern, well thought out, and very comfortable. There’s a great bar area with couches, a pool table, and plenty of room to mingle. There’s also a private room with all the electronics you’ll need to set up group presentations.
If you’re looking to host a private event, they’ll even set up the garden for a special dinner. Whether it’s a romantic dinner out with your spouse or a business meeting for 20-plus, Crimson Tavern has you covered.
We started our meal out with a plate of Charcuterie, which included a variety of thinly sliced, locally-sourced meats, an amazing bleu cheese paired with local honey on the comb, as well as some veggies grown in the garden just out behind the restaurant. We also tried a trio of hummus, each crafted with fresh ingredients and served with pita. The appetizer menu is varied, fresh, and satisfying. If you’re swinging by for a drink after a long convention day, or just looking for a quick snack, you’ll definitely find something to love.
While we didn’t get anything from the Daily Specials, it’s important to know that they run two specials every day, sometimes more if they’ve got a great product from the garden. We continued with the beef carpaccio, heirloom tomatoes with burrata, and a mushroom flatbread. The beef was sliced paper thin and served with carrots from the garden and a tangy sauce. The heirloom tomatoes were topped with burrata cheese and a little drizzle of balsamic. The cheese was soft and creamy, and the tomatoes were bursting with fresh flavor. The flatbread crust was nice and crispy with a slightly sweet tomato sauce and fresh mushrooms. Each was a winner, but the freshness and flavor of those locally grown tomatoes really made them stand out as our favorite of the three.
We also shared a few entrees, including their shrimp and grits, and were again very happy with how they turned out. While I enjoyed the fresh catch of the day, which was a pan-seared local kingfish with garden succotash that was in the ocean about five hours before making it to our table, I could only think about one thing: the shrimp and grits! It was like Pavlov’s dog. Even now, every time I think about those fluffy, slow-cooked cheesy grits, paired with fresh local Canaveral red shrimp and the in-house made pork chorizo sausage, I start salivating. I’m not kidding when I say they were the best grits I’ve ever had, period. I don’t know where Chef Tony learned how to make grits like those, but I will happily make a trip out of my way to have him whip up a batch for me again. They’ve even got the recipe online if you think you’ve got what it takes to try to duplicate it.
Keeping with the tavern name, there was a good selection of local craft beers that were all priced around where you’d expect. They also have an extensive BTG (by the glass) program, with almost 30 selections. The wine is very reasonably priced, with some small boutiques if you’re looking for something a little different.
On service, the wait staff was on point, with very recognizable fine dining training. They were polite, prompt, and never too far away if we needed anything. I’ll admit that we were a little spoiled on our first visit. We had the opportunity to visit the restaurant on a slow lunch day and were lucky enough to meet with the chefs. They were gracious enough to introduce our courses and how each was sourced locally. After our meal, we briefly walked through the garden and got a good look at the hard work that they’ve put into making the farm-to-table concept a reality.
I’m left with the impression that I’ve found a gem. A little treasure tucked away just around the corner that I have passed hundreds of times without as much as a glance. It’s the kind of place you know you want to tell everyone about, but deep inside you want to keep it all to yourself. The fresh food, the professional service, the talented kitchen, and the tavern atmosphere all combine to create something special.
Orlando Airport Marriott
7499 Augusta National Drive
Orlando, FL 32828
Reservations: (407) 851-9000