ELLIOTT’S PUBLIC HOUSE
1409 N. Orange Ave. | 407-601-5944 | elliottspublichouse.com | $$
A good many folks in Ivanhoe Village got their knickers in a twist when Brian’s Restaurant – a no-nonsense diner with a 30-odd-year pedigree on North Orange Avenue – was purchased by Karl and Desiree Elliott and duly transformed into the comparatively swanky Elliot’s Public House. Not I. For one, food quality at Brian’s Restaurant had steadily declined over the years. Second, the notion of a chef-driven pub replacing a past-its-prime diner seemed like a good thing. Turns out it is. Admittedly, there were moments during our meal when we half expected to hear, “Would you like a little more sweet tea, sugar?” from a matronly waitress. It didn’t happen, at least not during the nighttime hours, but when we went for breakfast, we did notice some familiar faces from the Brian’s Restaurant era waiting tables.
Elliott’s isn’t entirely a case of “out with the old and in with the new,” though the “new” is certainly more apparent. Interior renovations, modern art, chandeliers and an ethereal paint job have classed the place up a bit, but chef Karl hopes his gourmet renditions will make Elliott’s a fixture in this neighborhood. Take the Portuguese-style clam pot ($11), for example. Served in a tagine, the dish has a decided Moroccan bent, but any way you look at it, it’s straight-up spectacular. Bits of chorizo sit in the clam shells, themselves heaped atop a buttery white-wine sauce. A bowl of oxtail and barley soup ($5) proved comforting as well, much like the mains we ordered.
A beautiful presentation of herb-roasted Cornish hen ($17) was made all the more eye-catching with a colorful succotash of corn, beans, pimiento and zucchini. It felt as much an autumn dish as the curried lamb meatballs ($14), albeit a far better executed one. We were hoping for curry to be the dominant flavor, but a heavy-handed use of garlic in the lamb, coupled with a chunky sauce that tasted more like tomato than spicy curry, relegated this dish to mediocre status.
If you’re searching for lighter fare, consider the refreshing beet and citrus salad ($10). Generous hunks of balsamic-macerated beets are tossed in arugula specked with almond slices, feta and orange segments. And desserts are no mere afterthought: We enjoyed every bite of the almond butter shortcake ($6) topped with fresh raspberries and blueberries; the dollop of thick mascarpone was the coup de grâce. Also worth a look is the dark chocolate mousse ($6), served in a glass with black cherries soaked in brandy. Delectable as it was, the chocolate was more milk than dark.
Our server was very polite and well-meaning, though somewhat green. After we finished our starters, our utensils were cleared, but not replaced until we asked. A little more familiarity with the menu would also help raise service levels. Two more gripes, if I may: Seeing, and hearing, the squeaky door to the kitchen swing open and closed constantly was a minor annoyance, as was the absence of real maple syrup during breakfast – a big hang-up of mine.
Still, I’m happy to see Elliot’s raising the caliber of the food, not their noses. Many folks in the area, particularly those still lamenting the loss of Brian’s, may reject any notion of visiting Elliott’s for its relatively posh appearance, but that would be a mistake. There are plenty of sandwiches and burgers in the $10 range, including a standout beer-battered grouper sandwich for $11. If that still isn’t enough of a lure, the beer and wine bar opening in the former Nora’s space next door might do the trick.