Orlando Weekly helped to expand Orlando Restaurant Week into a month long feeding extravaganza touted at Bite 30. The grande finale of this month long celebration of local eats came to a head at Bite Night, held at the Orchid Garden at Church Street. Lisa, over at Taste Cook Sip, has really lit my foodie aspirations with all the mouth-watering inspiration she’s suffered through! When my friends, Janelle and Dave, invited me to join them in an evening of feeling like a Food Network Critic, I was chomping at the bit to join them! After a disastrous Bite30 dining experience at Maxine’s on Shine, I was rallying for confirmation that Bite Night would not be a colossal waste of my time (especially with tickets at $45/each).
Subtle signage made finding things tricky.
I have not been to the historic Church Street area downtown since I was a child. I believe we went to dinner there when we visited Florida for the first time, and my parents were contemplating our family move from The Garden State. While the iconic wrought iron trellising remains, it didn’t feel as historic as I remember. It could be all the downtown construction, but it seemed devoid of night life. Without doing proper research, I was at a bit of a loss trying to find the venue. The historic buildings lining Church Street don’t exactly have numbering on every door.
After joining up with several other lost souls, too, I went inside. I was a little put off by the security guard asking me, “Are you lost?” in quite a patronizing tone. The event information I printed after purchasing my ticket was devoid of street map, will call location, or parking information. Upon approaching the doors, I was greeted by an annoyed staff member who rolled her eyes and informed up will call was around the corner on Garland. The signage outside did not mention a separate location for ticket pickup, so it wasn’t only the guests who were feeling the rubs of frustration. The ticket retrieval process was a tad disorganized, as one table was responsible for all the guests while a separate table was employed for media/VIPs. It might have been useful to have marshals working the crowd ahead of time to divide guests into the A-L and M-Z lines or signage for the respective queues.
The first dining stage was the courtyard, where we had some fantastic mushroom risotto by Foodie Catering. The savory was quickly followed by a bevy of desserts by the partners of Range: A Shared Kitchen. There was also several Fiats on site to explore, but they weren’t letting folks take them home for free. 😉 I did get some nifty folding sunglasses instead.
Incredible mushroom risotto by Foodie Catering
Saucephisticated‘s shortbread with Brie and Very Berry Sauce was divine. The plating matched the finished product: simple but a smash hit! While there was no shortage of dessert, I can only have so many cupcakes before I get bored. (Sacrilege, I know.) I can’t complain too much about the abundance of cupcakes as Sweet! by Good Golly Miss Holly had mini-cupcakes to go in several flavors. Personally, tiny takeout boxes of cupcakes was a genius move on her part, as it gave diners the opportunity to enjoy a little treat after digesting on the drive home. One of the dark horses of the night was the unexpected pup-op shop, Puppy Yummy, providing guests with a selection of samples to take home to their favorite furry foodies! (Barney barely let me get in the door before he start sniffing out his personal doggie bag!)
These were so nice. I relished them… twice…
The featured cocktails were great, but strong. Knowing that I would need to drive home at the end of the night, I limited myself to two. While I hate laying free drinks to waste, I refuse to get behind the wheel of a vehicle and do something irresponsible. I started the evening with the Summer Rye (Templeton Rye, Lemon Juice & Ginger Ale) and later enjoyed a Dark and Stormy (Zaya Rum, Lime Juice & Ginger Ale). Both were refreshing for summer, and the bartenders were providing solid pours that evening.
Four drink coupons, but I could only handle two!
The Orchid Garden at Church Street is magnificent and beautifully restored. We entered the ballroom from the patio entrances, and I instantly felt like I stepped into a time warp. I could easily picture fancy dresses and sharp suits overrunning the glittering galas of the past. The dueling staircases helped guests navigate the flow between the floors, however, they did become congested, especially the landings, as folks were preemptively staking out viewing locations for the chef battles later on in the evening. The main floor was fantastic for sampling, sipping, and mingling. The center of the room had some high top tables for dining, but the majority of the space was being saved for the Chef Showdown later that evening.
Fretless Rock classed it up with some unique renditions of very popular songs, and there was a DJ spinning in between sets. It was cool having them on the main floor, but with the audio system and acoustics of the Orchid Ballroom, I am certain they could have performed undisturbed on the second floor, providing other restauranteurs main floor access. The Orlando Weekly photo booth, too, could have been placed on the second floor, so as to have a smoother guest flow. All three booths were clustered together underneath one of the staircases, making the path of egress quite snug and later on in the evening a bit claustrophobic.
Taking this picture with SushiPop was fun!
While the event benefitted Edible Schoolyard Orlando, I could not find a booth with any literature or representation aside from the limited information on the Bite Night website. It is possible with the sheer number of booths and volume of people, that I missed it. I sometimes worry that the primary mission of large scale events becomes the showcasing of the food and business and the charities become an afterthought. I honestly didn’t know a charity was involved until I went through my literature at home. They might have been highlighted prior to the chef challenge, but we had left by that point. While I do love beer and wine, I was not in the mood for either, so I switched to water for the rest of the evening.
The Alfond Inn rocked my socks!
The second floor had some of my favorite samples of the evening, but the set up stressed me out. There was no clear indication as to where the queues for each booth started, but thankfully, people weren’t rude if someone accidentally cut the line. A pamphlet with a map and a menu would have made navigating the event a cinch. The booths ringing the railing suffered from longer wait times, as people in line were jockeying for space with those looking for places to eat and thoroughfares for walking. Again, event staff or signage directing traffic could have made an exceptional difference. The chefs may have wanted to compare proposed menu items as at least three separate locations offered their own twist on a watermelon salad. While I love watermelon salad, I would have preferred diversity. Alfond Inn won the unofficial watermelon salad challenge. The Rusty Spoon had some great nibbles as well with a comforting grandma’s classy kitchen feel to it.
P is for Pie Bake Shop = Perfection
Protein & Produce Perfectly Paired!
Txokos Basque Kitchen hands down won the the dining experience. The melon and pork belly simply melted in my mouth. It was the perfect combination of sweet and salty, and I could have easily spent the rest of the night just standing there, cleaning Chef Selgado’s table clean! It would be a public service. I wouldn’t want all that food to go to waste now. Their restaurant is over at the East End Market, and I would love to go there one day! I had a great time hanging out with my friends, Dave & Janelle as we dined and discussed our way through the event. Spending time with friends and food is always great, and I love the opportunity to explore Orlando with friends from all over! I can’t wait to enjoy another event with them.
These Jokers made the Bite Night’s Best Dressed List!
The night was full of food and the Bite Night folks had a fantastic turn out. The hardest thing for me aside from the cramped and slightly confusing flow of the second floor service lines was that I missed out on the creations by several vendors as a result of my food allergies. Floridian summertime is prime time for seafood and tropical fruit like mango, and while I did have my EpiPen on hand, I was bummed out that I could not try every single dish available. I believe I even had to side step a couple booths all together which was disappointing. I realize that I am in the extreme minority, but it might worth considering having at least one item that is friendly-for-all (vegetarian/vegan). I had a great time, and now I have an even longer list of restaurants in Orlando that I need to visit.
I really need to find a better way of keeping up with the media events I attend because over two months later, I realized that I was in the event recap video taking at photo with the lovely gal over at SushiPop with my big Hawaiian flowers in my hair! I laughed because it was popping up on the Disney Parks Blog’s Saving Mr. Banks Preview video all over again! I can be so clueless!
Event Date: June 30, 2014