I have to say that the more time I spend in Orlando away from the obvious touristy areas (read: Disney World), the more I'm impressed with what there is to discover just beneath the veneer of theme park sheen. For example, we find ourselves returning again and again to Winter Park, an affluent suburb just north of downtown that features a picturesque liberal arts college (Rollins), historical lakeside estates (many built by industrial barons as winter residences), a vibrant town center (with events like an annual sidewalk art festival), and several good restaurants. This time, our visit included an hour-long pontoon boat tour of the waterfront mansions and a short jaunt past booths at the art fest; however, the main attraction in my mind was lunch at The Ravenous Pig, open since 2007 and one of the pioneers of the farm-to-table movement in Florida (I recall trying to hatch a scheme to escape the Magic Kingdom and secretly lunch here on our trip to Disney in 2010 - sadly, the plot was foiled). We already enjoyed dining at the newer restaurant of owners James and Julie Petrakis (called Cask & Larder, just up the street and around the corner from Ravenous Pig), but this was our first time at the flagship location.
Much like Cask & Larder, the pig is king in these parts (although other animals certainly receive their due) as you can smell the woodsmoke out in the parking lot. My first impression of the place is that it's a bit more upscale than the sister eatery, although the menus have a lot in common. One key difference is that you can get a bourbon cocktail here that sports an actual strip of bacon (clearly, they're not messing around).
After much hand-wringing and deliberation, we opted on a collection of starter plates for the parents and off-menu grilled cheese sandwiches for the kiddos (unfortunately, choices for younger patrons are limited). This included terrific housemade soft pretzels with a taleggio-porter cheese sauce and whole grain mustard (not photographed) and a fine charcuterie plate featuring chinese sausage, coppa (cured pork collar), beef salumi, a hunk of pungent Oma cheese from von Trapp Farmstead (yes, those von Trapps) in Vermont, some pickled veggies, grilled bread, and a cup full of to-die-for pork rillettes.
Since we didn't want the ocean to feel neglected, we also tried a dish of crostini topped with citrus smoked grouper (good Florida fish), blood orange, Old Bay aioli, pickled kumquat, and cucumber slaw. This combo of ingredients was much more subtle than I expected and I think the missus enjoyed it a little more than I did.
Desserts were fantastic across the board. Although the kids largely ignored their grilled cheeses (which were quite good, by the way - Mrs. Hackknife and I ended up eating a decent amount of the leftovers), we were feeling magnanimous and let them have the "pig tails" (curly fritters dusted in cinnamon sugar and paired with a chocolate espresso sauce). Of course, sharing was mandatory.
The missus and I greatly enjoyed our plank of blood orange chocolate glazed doughnuts with candied pistachios and a scoop of vanilla chantilly cream on the side. We did not shed tears when the progeny rejected our pleas to try it.
All in all, the folks at Ravenous Pig seem to have solid cooking chops. If I had any complaints, I'd gripe that the experience was a little on the pricey side given portion sizes (for $7, would it have killed them to toss in a 3rd pretzel?); still, if you're ever in town on vacation or whatever, I'd advise you to hatch your own lunch scheme to skip Mickey Mouse chicken tenders in lieu of this...