We should all give thanks to Gary Reed of the Winter Park Fish Co. for bringing the legendary George Vogelbacher, formerly of Le Cordon Bleu, out of retirement and back into the kitchen. What these two “legends of the culinary arts” have created — Reed for fresh seafood and Vogelbacher for inspired European-influenced cuisine — is a comfortable, friendly, “neighborhood” fish restaurant with a total lack of pretension and some of the greatest seafood imaginable.
You park under their big wooden fish sign (and sculpture) at 761 Orange Ave., walk up the gang-plank into the dining room, where you place your order just inside the front door. You may share a polished, wood-plank table with other Winter Parkers who are there to enjoy great food at a great price. All in all, the experience is fish, food and fun.
With prices that invite you to try several dishes and portions that are indeed generous, the temptation is to fill up on appetizers alone. Sharing is the secret. One person might order the beautifully fried jumbo shrimp (eight to a serving) while you order my personal favorite: the huge (and magnificent) stuffed lobster mushrooms. I did my seafood “happy dance” over the stuffed mushrooms. Round that out with a “must-try” crab cake (absolutely large enough to share) and a plate of Alaskan cod fish ‘n chips, and you have feasted before the entrees arrive.
Each day there is a listing of the fresh fish available, and — should you wish — you can tell Chef George how you want your fish prepared, with choices that range from pan-seared to Cajun-grilled. Once you have experienced the chef’s food (and the super-friendly atmosphere), I guarantee you’ll return for more, so you may just want to choose your fish and let the legendary George decide how he wants to cook it.
From a detailed menu, where even the side dishes are amazing, you can try the “any combination” fried platter for a variety of seafood. Knowing that Chef George’s background includes the Austrian’s love of butter, I went with the sea scallops topped with a citrus butter sauce and served with asparagus and Chef’s unique “couscous risotto.” The couscous is a reason to eat at this restaurant. Created first in a chicken broth and then “cheesed” and topped with shaved Parmesan, it is a couscous epiphany. My dining partner enjoyed the pan-seared red snapper with a Puttanesca sauce served with black beans and rice. We always “share,” and never has it been so difficult to pass plates back and forth than at this glorious neighborhood restaurant.
I usually so enjoy the “real food” part of my meal that I stop at the desserts, but this dining room is run by George Vogelbacher, and that means original, ample, Austrian-inspired desserts make up part of the legend. All desserts are a family-affordable $5 and each is worthy of George’s reputation. We went for the chocolate mousse cup and the apple strudel with ice cream. Each of George’s desserts is legendarily delicious and provides yet another reason to “drop in for dessert.”
Having come out of retirement to create this kitchen and menu, George often comes out of the kitchen to mix with the clientele. He says, “It’s much more fun than the golf course. I love everyone who comes here — from the grandparents to the young kids.” And George, we love you back. Thank you for, once again, for giving us a place for fabulous food amid a philosophy of friendliness.
The Winter Park Fish Co., at 761 Orange Ave. in Winter Park, is open from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Call 407-622-6112 or visit www.thewinterparkfishco.com for more information.