One of the perks of living in Orlando is the choice to either dine at a locally owned restaurant or indulge in one of the city’s many tourist destinations. This week, I ventured to the ICON Park area to visit Ole Red, Blake Shelton’s restaurant and entertainment venue.
Yes, it’s a chain. Yes, it’s in an area highly trafficked by tourists. No, it’s not what you think.
BAR FOOD, REDEFINED
If this were located anywhere else within Orlando, I can guarantee it would be regularly talked about on food roundups and must-try places. The southern-inspired menu is curated by Mark Boor, an executive chef with a background in fine dining (think: Columbia Restaurant, Paddlefish).
“I take the philosophies of upscale cooking and translate them into comfort-style food,” Chef Mark says of the menu.
The dishes aren’t your run-of-the-mill greasy bar bites, either. The Blackened Shrimp and Grits are arguably the best in all of Orlando. The creamy, white-cheddar grits are expertly crafted, then smothered in fresh shrimp and tasso ham gravy. It’s so good, you’ll want a straw for the gravy alone.
If you’re craving a handheld to go with the bar atmosphere, look no further than the burgers and sandwiches. Options range from the Austin Brisket Sandwich (smoked brisket, chorizo hot link, vinegar slaw, onion straws, pickled okra, white barbecue sauce, potato bun) to “I’ll Name the Dog ‘Cuban’!” (pit ham, pulled pork, pickles, pimento cheese, honey mustard, Cuban roll).
I’d be doing Ole Red and the culinary team a disservice should I not mention the INCREDIBLE chicken wings. Having been born and raised in Buffalo, NY, I am a bit of a chicken wing snob. Chef Mark, you have officially earned the As-Good-As-A-Buffalo-Chicken-Wing badge of honor. (Those of you who know Buffalonians are aware this badge is rarely awarded outside of the Queen City.) He pre-seasons each wing, then hand-tosses them in a variety of sauces. Original hot wings, barbecue wings, peach habanero, and Korean barbecue are all available, though I’d recommend just ordering some of each.
…AND THE DESSERT!
Assuming you have room after your hearty southern meal, spring for dessert. Chef Mark has worked with the in-house, classically trained pastry chef for five years. Banana pudding, seasonal cheesecake, and chocolate mousse are all expertly crafted.
Perhaps my favorite part was the tiny, handmade turtle topping the mousse. I mean, come on…
THE VENUE VIBES
In addition to to the incredible food, the venue itself hosts live music. During the week, most are acoustic acts, with full bands playing on weekends for larger crowds.
While you listen to live tunes, check out the list of specialty cocktails, chilled to perfection to combat the Florida heat. We tried The Warden (bourbon, peach, iced tea, fresh lemon juice) and the Redneck Mai Tai (coconut rum, dark rum, mountain dew, melon liqueur, pineapple juice, orgeat). Both were great — again, not your typical watered down bar drinks.
If you’re planning to visit to enjoy the menu and tunes, I’d recommend going during the week, as parking and wait times can be stressful on the weekend given the tourist traffic.
Ole Red is located at 8417 International Drive in the ICON Park entertainment district.