The best review any restaurant can receive has nothing to do with words on paper. The best review has to do with the “word of mouth” a restaurant receives, thereby keeping the eatery open … for years. Here in Central Florida, where one of our monikers is “hospitality capital to the world,” I admit to being fascinated by the new and different, so it makes sense that my colleagues and I most often write about the new and different.
I was, therefore, a bit surprised to learn that I was going to take a fresh look at 310 Park South. I was even more surprised to realize that 310 Park South has been turning out meals in the heart of downtown Winter Park's oldest shopping district for 17 years! So there’s your review, folks. As stated in the first paragraph, nothing I say can match the simple fact that the family-friendly 310 Park South – with its trademark café-style seating and perfect people-watching view of the Avenue – has been serving happy diners with a “something for everyone” menu for 17 years – on Park Avenue – in Winter Park.
And let’s face it. “Diners” on Park Avenue in Winter Park are not forgiving. Restaurants have come and gone on the Avenue, but 17-years-strong deserves some kind of historical plaque or a proclamation from the mayor.
But what Joanne McMahon, owner, manager, works-where-needed, hands-on restaurateur, wants is much more humble. Joanne is happy just to keep serving meals to happy diners for years to come. As with any popular owner-manager, Joanne is friendly with her guests and a bit of a comedian once she’s tested the waters to see if this or that client has a sense of humor. Her first fun line, when I asked how long the restaurant had been open, “They didn’t even have high chair seating for kids [on Park Avenue] when we opened.”
Having established that a long time on the Avenue is a very good thing, we’ll move on to the food, which was the next wonderful surprise of the evening. Don’t let 310’s family-friendly menu suggest “bland” to you. My dining partner and I discovered wonders on the menu with an inventive selection of appetizers, salads, pastas and sandwiches backed up by a full bar including over 30 wines by the glass and beers from around the world.
From the appetizers, we chose the fried calamari, which is perfect in its very light dusting before frying. We learned the calamari is domestic (from Maryland), served with a house-made sundried aioli, and a light marinara sauce. It is very tender – surprisingly tender – which Joanne attributes to it being domestic. Greek fishermen will beat their octopus for hours trying to achieve tender, but theirs never approaches the tenderness we got from Maryland as served at 310.
Ahi tuna freak that I am, we ordered the Tuna Kobachi. Kobachi translates as small bowl, so the important part of this dish is the wonderful chunks of sashimi-grade Ahi tuna, spiced with seven spices, and dressed with sesame seeds, cucumbers, and a soy-wasabi-ginger-combination sauce. Loved it. Really loved it.
But the OMG of the appetizers was the baked Brie, which we’ve all had as prepared by lesser hands, but at 310 South Park they manage to serve the Brie at perfect softness (it’s an art to achieve that temperature), and if you love Brie, you know what I mean. Somehow over the years 310 has also achieved perfect joy in the plating of this appetizer. It’s sweet and savory. It’s beautiful without being intimidating. Served with a single, plays-with-your-taste-buds candied apple slice, the divine cheese is offered with a crusty Tuscan bread, roasted garlic, and bacon jam. Imagine – well, you don’t have to imagine – you can go and order the OMG baked Brie and then you can slather that runny perfection with 310’s house-made, OMG bacon jam all over it. Do not lecture me about the calories; there are tastes that transcend caloric concerns, and this is one of them.
We were slightly more reserved in our choice of entrees with my guest choosing the oven-roasted (half a) duck served with plum sauce, while I enjoyed the smoked salmon fettuccine. The duck was served to taste, and the traditional plum sauce remains the appropriate saucing, enhancing the flavor of the duck without being overwhelming.
My smoked salmon fettuccine was deliciously rich with bits of bell peppers and spinach served with 310’s house-smoked salmon. The spicy cream sauce was more rich than spicy with plenty of cheese and cream making this one more luxurious way to convince myself I was being healthy – it was salmon fettuccine – remember?
At a lunchtime visit, we experienced the 310 over-stuffed sandwiches served with a choice of French fries, soup or salad. (The most expensive sandwich is $12.) The sandwiches range from the Fried Portabella to the Hot Italian with ham, salami, provolone and Bermuda onion; the Park South Club; the Grilled Chicken Muffaletta with olive tapenade on toasted focaccia; the Blackened Fish on ciabatta; and the Turkey Brie which revisits the divine bacon jam and brie cheese on a croissant.
310 has achieved what would seem to be impossible. It’s the easy favorite of a couple where the husband wants a steak and the wife wants a salad, to a people-watching sandwich lunch, to a girls’ night out (without pretension), to the perfect place for a small family celebration.
Congratulations Joanne McMahon for 17 years of success on the Avenue. Bless you for realizing that longevity in a restaurant means you’ve consistently turned out good food at affordable prices while making everyone from the extended family to the first-night romantic daters feel welcome and comfortable.