Urban Flats sits on the corner of Fairbanks and New York avenues, a busy Winter Park intersection that causes heads to turn because a stylish crowd is always gathered near the door. The building itself doesn't look like much, but light and warmth emanate from inside. I can hardly believe this is where I used to purchase halogens at Lightbulbs, Unlimited.
The transition from retail to restaurant is seamless. But still, my friend C., who knows this part of town well, and I pick up on the fabricated vibe of the pseudo-sleek décor there's something familiar and imitative about it. We decide Urban Flats is a cross between The Mill that used to sit in this very same parking lot, and Dexter's, the hip, wine-slinging hot spot of the '90s, which relocated a few blocks away. The ghosts of Friday nights past have seemed to haunt this stretch of Fairbanks for many years, and it's nice to see people out enjoying themselves again.
Going out with C. is like sitting at the popular table in the school cafeteria. Her witty conversation about a European boyfriend versus a romp in Colorado is interrupted by the parade of Eternally Fashionables who call Urban Flats home. The EFs trot by on the way to the rest room like show horses, many stopping to buss C. on the cheek. With a flip of her hair, she waves and gets up for a quick hug. By the fourth interruption, I get it this place is trendy.
No wonder. The wine list is oh-so-chic, boasting a fancy cruvinet system, which keeps the wine on tap while preserving it at proper 55- to 57-degree temperature. This allows the restaurant to make more (and better) wine varieties available by the glass. Urban Flats offers a whopping 33 wines by the glass, in either three-ounce or six-ounce pours everything from Riesling to Ribera Del Duero.
I tried Cain Cuvee, a delicious California red that one of the Eternally Fashionable recommended as he brushed by our table. With a mouthwatering balance of fruit and acidity, it paired well with my appetizer of roasted clams ($8.50), which benefited heartily from Urban Flats' signature woodstone oven. A hint of smokiness imbued the briny clams, served in a sharp white wine sauce. I only wished the bread lived up to the rest of the dish because I longed to sop up the pool of leftover sauce, which was wonderfully salty, tangy and buttery.
The menu is casual and efficient, and offers five categories: appetizers, flatbreads, sandwiches, salads and dessert. Each menu heading presents a number of choices for many tastes.
For a salad, I tried their Niçoise ($8.50), a pumped-up version of the original preserved-tuna variety. Theirs had fresh, bright-red ahi tuna and a silky balsamic dressing on the green beans, tomatoes and Bibb lettuce. C. tried the Urban salad ($5.50), a mélange of fresh greens and raisins with an accompanying dollop of Cypress Grove goat cheese from California.
The flatbreads were stupendous, thin-crusted and kissed by the fire of the woodstone oven. Choosing from 15 varieties, we tried the spicy shrimp ($8.95), which lived up to its heated title and was nicely mixed with caramelized onions. The chicken-apple-sausage flatbread ($8.75) came with sun-dried tomato pesto that made me want to crawl into its concentrated sweetness. We saw neighboring diners happily stuffing into their mouths the portobello and fontina ($9.25) and the fig and prosciutto with Maytag blue cheese ($8.75).
For dessert, the chocolate fondue ($6.95), a standard warm pot of bittersweet chocolate served with fresh fruit and pound cake, was great. But it hardly made up for the promise of a brownie plate ($6.50), a sampler of triple peanut butter, German chocolate and Jack Daniel's-infused varieties, that they were out of. When I sipped my last drop of Alcyone, a Tokay-like dessert wine, I was glad that I had ordered my wine in three-ounce pours. That's the only way I was able to keep up with C. and the Eternally Fashionable of Urban Flats.