I can’t think of a restaurant in recent memory that has been more hyped and highly anticipated in Central Florida than Cask & Larder. Sister restaurant to the impeccable Ravenous Pig, C&L features an adventurous take on Southern cuisine along with craft beers brewed on premises and an amazing selection of cocktails (highlighted by a world class bourbon selection). After one visit, I can confirm that Cask & Larder not only justifies, but somehow manages to exceed, the hype.
I could easily sit here and write a few thousand words about how great everything is, and strain my powers of description to the brink, but instead I’ll just show you.
(We did not have reservations so we arrived early enough to snag a place at the bar. Fair warning, if you choose this route, you need to get there EARLY to assure yourself a seat. By the time the dining room opened at 5:00 the bar was thoroughly packed. The bar opens promptly at 4:00 and there is also open seating at their oyster bar.)
The Beer Flight
We started with a beer flight, which gives you a four ounce sample of the beer selection. From left to right this is their blonde ale, witte, red ale, brown ale and IPA. All were excellent, but the Olde Southern Wit was a standout. A great Belgian-style witte with a wonderful crisp, coriander flavor. I highly recommend starting with this on your first visit.
The star of the flight. The picture doesn’t do justice to the bright color this beer has. My other favorite beer of the night was the Raven’s Head, a dark Belgian farmhouse ale. So much flavor, with just a hint of sour on the finish. It makes me excited to see what they could do if they decide to brew a sour.
I Want All the Ham
The first food we ordered was the Country Ham Tasting. This ain’t your mother’s country ham though. Each selection is thin slices of cured goodness, more akin to prosciutto than the usual country ham. Of the three selections provided, the Rufus Brown on the far left was by far my favorite. Also on the plate were three delicious and flaky biscuits, and house-made farmer’s cheese, and what must be god’s own pepper jam. A layer of each piled on top of one of those fluffy biscuits is just obscenely good. I paraphrased one of my favorite Bourdain quotes after one bite: “This tastes like shame. Delicious, delicious shame.”
Oh, can’t forget to mention how good this little fella was. The small silver container at the far end of the board contained a few pickled strawberries. Just so very good. Would you even think to pickle a strawberry?
A Four Letter Word for Amazing
When I sat down last night, I was dead set on order oysters and offal (they have a grilled lamb heart on the menu that looks incredible. Yes, yes, gag all you want. That just leaves more of the good stuff for the rest of us.) I ended up ordering neither once I saw the ham tasting and this four letter word tucked away on the bottom of the menu “DUCK.” If there is duck on the menu, it’s a good bet that I am going to order it, and, after drooling and making a few borderline obscene noises, eat it. This version was simply presented on top of smooth, creamy grits with caramelized onions, coffee, and blackberries. And it most certainly did not disappoint. Fantastic.
You know how the best thing on the menu at most restaurants you go to is usually the kids mac ‘n cheese? And you really want to order it but are embarrassed and end up ordering something else and then you spend the rest of the night regretting it. Mrs. Lo indulged that urge last night and ordered the mac ‘n cheese from the sides menu. And of course it was exceptionally good, tart and creamy with crumbled ham over the top. And everybody at the bar was totally jealous.
The Sazerac and the Dessert
We couldn’t leave our child-free paradise without sampling a couple of other items on the menu. The first was this, C&L’s take on the traditional New Orleans cocktail, a sazerac. It has rye whiskey, a bit of absinthe, local honey, and bitters. It’s a great drink when made well, but too often it is not. This one did not fall into that latter category. Highly recommended if beer is not your thing. (Warning, it packs a punch if you weren’t able to guess that.)
And now for the dessert. We debated about what to get, but took our server’s rec and went with the witte beer doughnuts. It’s basically beignets but with a citrus glaze and a creamy caramel pudding to dip them in (or bury your face in the cup and lick it clean), and it is incredible. A great end to the meal without a doubt.
So, needless to say, I can’t recommend Cask & Larder to you highly enough. I left wanting to try just about everything on the menu that we didn’t get to taste, but I guess the bright side is that I’ve got incentive to go back soon (oh yes, grilled lamb heart, you will be mine). It’s unfair to compare to The Ravenous Pig but of course that is natural. On first impression I’d still shade to the Pig if I was looking for dinner, but would prefer C&L for a night out with friends. The bottom line is, you can’t go wrong with either. Orlando is a lucky place indeed that we can call both of these gems ours.