Having missed the opening of Marlow's Tavern in Winter Park, their announcement of a new “Bayou ‘n Bourbon” menu for the next six weeks gave me the perfect opportunity to experience their chef-inspired tavern fare in the upscale but comfortable atmosphere that has already turned many of our neighbors into repeat customers.
Marlow's Tavern is at 1008 S. Orlando Ave. (across the street from Krispy Kreme). Thanks to extraordinary work by their architect/designer/partner, the restaurant has a ‘clubby’ feel with its dark wood tables and booths, paneling, exposed brick, and framed black and white photographs against gray walls. This is all the more remarkable when one realizes the space – the walls – used to be a McDonald’s location complete with play area. That play area is now a covered patio for adults with low lighting and contemporary sink-into seating that is a perfect place to meet and greet and sometimes wait – with hand-crafted cocktail – for a table.
Having joined the renaissance of classic American tavern fare, this inviting atmosphere is the perfect backdrop for a menu highlighting Louisiana cooking. A menu that changes seasonally, featuring fresh and local ingredients, acknowledges that fresh simply tastes better. And with menu items ranging in price from $4.50 to $19.50, one of the best surprises is that, while the restaurant has the feel of an upscale eatery, the pricing is affordable.
And while I focus on the food, it is a tavern with a beverage menu including wines from around the world; hand-crafted cocktails including Marlow’s Hurricane, Ramos Gin Fizz, Cajun Cosmo, and Abita Restoration; small batch liquors; and both craft and imported beers by the bottle and on draft.
Before I began my New Orleans-inspired culinary tour of Louisiana (here in Winter Park), I had to have the asparagus fries from the main menu. We’re talking fried asparagus with a tarragon and citrus aioli dipping sauce. Simple, fresh and beautifully plated, this is a perfect starter – or tasting – if you have it at the bar.
With a personal love of highly spiced cuisine, New Orleans cooking is among my favorites in the world, so my dining partner and I did a tasting of several dishes from the new menu – beginning with the chicken and shrimp gumbo. The taste of traditional gumbo depends on the guests – and what they bring to add to the gumbo. The taste, consistency and the spicing of Marlow’s gumbo stands up to the best of what I’ve tasted in Louisiana.
A taste treat – and new tradition – is the Honey-Jack chicken and Andouille flatbread with a love-it combination of blackened chicken, spicy sausage, caramelized onion and pepper-jack cheese on crisp flatbread. Perfect for snacking at the bar – or a tasty lunch item. I’ll be back for this dish as long as it’s offered.
Burgers rule in any tavern, and the Bayou burger does not disappoint. Its all-beef jazzed up with a homemade rémoulade sauce (ask for extra – it will be happily delivered), spicy sausage, cheddar cheese, crawdaddies, and tomato on an onion roll.
The Deconstructed Jambalaya is memorably mouth-watering with grilled chicken and the omnipresent spicy sausage, served over vegetables and dirty rice with a traditional crawfish Creole sauce. Hard choice, but I think this is my favorite.
And because this was a tasting, we tasted the Bourbon St. rib-eye steak – served at a perfect medium rare, blackened, and sauced with a Jack Daniels honey-glaze. The rib-eye is served with asparagus and a fantastic (gotta try it) sweet potato cake.
No, we did not have room, but no Bourbon Street meal is complete without a sweet. Yielding to tradition, we shared the outrageous Honey-Bourbon bread pudding, which is a magical combination of honey, cream, vanilla and a touch of Bourbon served hot with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. Do not judge me … I’m workin’ here.
Marlow’s Tavern seats up to 165 guests, and opens daily at 11:30 a.m. serving lunch, happy hour and dinner. Guests can enjoy live entertainment Thursday through Saturday beginning at 7 p.m. The Bayou ‘n Bourbon menu is offered daily for lunch and dinner through March 31 in addition to the main menu. You can sign up to become a Marlow’s ‘Insider’ at MarlowsTavern.com and on Facebook.