A bit of Central Florida’s famous ‘magic’ has created our newest fine dining restaurant in Winter Park. It’s called Hamilton’s Kitchen, and it’s named in honor of Hamilton Holt, the legendary 8th President of Rollins College. Open for less than two weeks and located inside the aesthetically beautiful new Alfond Inn, the ‘magic’ comes to us from the talented hands, heart, and mind of Chef Christopher Windus.
A native of Winter Park, Chef Chris returns to us from his tenure as executive chef of Todd English’s bluezoo at Disney’s Swan and Dolphin Hotel along with multiple invitations to the James Beard House in New York City. How wonderful to know that the “foodies” who used to drive to Disney in order to experience the “farm-to-feast” freshness of Chef Chris’ imaginative menus may now enjoy his creativity here in Winter Park. One of the first of the chefs to advocate local ingredients in the creation of his menus, Chef Chris incorporates the freshest of Florida’s agriculture, beef and gulf seafood into his creations.
The Alfond Inn is such a beautiful and welcoming property that it is no surprise that the walk to the restaurant included “hugs and hellos” from many of Winter Park’s cognoscenti. It is readily apparent that the restaurant — and adjoining bar — earned their place as serious Winter Park gathering spots from the day they opened.
Not wanting to miss any of Chef Chris’ creativity, we began in the bar, which has its own tapas-style menu, and a host of mixed drinks with requisite “fun” names. We began with the Sarasota smoked sturgeon on toast. With just enough of that rich smoky taste, the chopped fish was enhanced with a home-made garlic aioli. Big smiles – the evening was off to a great start. And there was no way I was going to resist the blue cheese stuffed dates (wrapped in prosciutto). I’ve already convinced myself that those gorgeous morsels are good for me, and I don’t even need to know what Chef Chris does to the dates to make them melt in your mouth.
Two winners and we had yet to make it to the restaurant …
In the restaurant our appetizers turned out to be a testament to the greatness of bacon. My risotto of the day featured scallops, bacon and a new favorite vegetable called the zipper pea. The bacon added its buttery richness to the sophisticated chewiness of the rice. Arriving at the perfect consistency of the rice in risotto is an art form, and this was timed to perfection. The second appetizer mixed Apalachicola oysters with little chunks of bacon, caramelized onions and an amazing creamy-dressed spinach. Please note – I love oysters, but it was the infused spinach that had me scraping the bowl and finally falling in love with spinach!
Our sensible entrees posed the final test to Chef Chris’ creativity. I ordered the grouper, which was made special by an olive glaze that gives this naturally moist white fish a light and tasty ‘crust’ that flaked off beautifully with my fork. This was served on polenta as tasty as the finest risotto but with that added nutty taste.
The second entrée, listed simply as “Grilled Chicken Breast,” was an education in what chicken can be. The sliced medallions of chicken were tasty, moist and tender and served over an ancient grain called farro. While farro may not be well known today, it fueled the power of Roman legions for centuries. The chicken and grain is topped with a delicious mushroom ragout that serves as a kind of thick gravy giving a whole new meaning to, “It tastes like chicken.”
Considering all that food, we purposely saved room for desserts because we knew ahead of time that a second chef — Chef Edward — had joined the team at Hamilton’s Kitchen. Chef Edward’s reputation for desserts is legendary, and we took our time, but shared a tasting of six (yes, I admit it) six of his famous, hand-made desserts. Each was extraordinary, so I’ll give you highlights. The butterscotch pudding — laced with 12-year-old Scotch — preceded the Killer Chocolate Cake enhanced with gold shavings. The white chocolate cheesecake is wonderfully light in part because it is made from egg whites. My favorite is the fruit cobbler, which changes by fruits in season, and is topped with homemade vanilla ice cream. Finally there are assorted sorbets – blood orange; honeybell and champagne; and watermelon. These too will change with the seasons.
Dinners can be memorable for a number of reasons, and we approached Hamilton’s Kitchen with high expectations. It is a tribute to Chef Chris that this new restaurant — in a new venue — already exceeds expectations in every way.
And there is one more reason we may all feel good about dining at the Alfond Inn. The financial challenges facing colleges throughout the country are being addressed in a new and innovative way by Rollins College. The Alfond Inn is owned by Rollins College and was built with a multi-million-dollar grant from the Harold Alfond Foundation. The new Inn not only meets our community’s need for lodging and conference space, but it will also provide full scholarships for Rollins’ top students.
Fine dining that helps send the best and the brightest to college is a concept to suit every taste. Welcome Alfond Inn, Hamilton’s Kitchen and Chef Chris to Winter Park. We’re so glad you’ve come home.