With simple ingredients, exemplary preparation and a wealth of experience, Chef Scott Copeland has hit on a winning recipe at Artisan’s Table.
If a pleasant, comfortable space, a slice of downtown reminiscent of old big-city neighborhoods and an excitingly inventive menu are the makings of a superb restaurant, then add Artisan’s Table to Orlando’s list of greats.
Chef Scott Copeland is no newcomer to the food scene. At 44, Copeland may be a restaurant owner for the first time, but he was on the opening team of Disney’s California Grill and his pedigree includes the famed 21 club in New York City, eight years with Chef Kevin Fonzo at Café Allegre and K in College Park, and five years as executive chef at Antonio’s La Fiamma in Maitland. The lessons he learned in those kitchens, he learned well.
Copeland calls the food in his restaurant “kind of American, with a lot of influences from the rest of the world—because that’s America.” Remaining acutely aware of seasons, he shifts the menu daily according to what is available. Most things, like making kimchee pickles and smoking meats, are done in-house. There aren’t many exotic ingredients: vegetables most people would welcome at their own table, a bit of seasoning, some just-caught fish or farm-raised local meats. It’s how Chef Copeland decides to prepare and present them that made me sit back in pleasure.
Asian pancakes aren’t syrup-soaked flapjacks, but a much overlooked delight. The Artisan’s Table version of Korean jeon ($7) is an elegant fritter-like blend of zucchini, red pepper and carrot, fried in an egg batter and topped with slightly spicy kimchee and a house-made sesame soy I’d happily buy in quart size.
A simple description, grilled ciabatta and puttanesca ($9) understates the beauty of perfectly crisped bread slices from Douce France Bakery in Winter Garden, a vehicle for deep-smoked pulled chicken, made in tart Italian style with tomato and olives and topped with a quick-fried Lake Meadow Naturals egg that oozes custard-like into the bowl. And that’s just an appetizer.
The pan-seared salmon is served on a bed of chickpea and lentil salad.
The kitchen has a marvelous touch with fish; perfectly moist pan-seared salmon ($19) is presented on a bed of chickpea and lentil salad, the legumes toothy and lightly seasoned with bits of peppery arugula, accompanied by a dollop of eggplant caponata on top and a touch of flavored yogurt alongside. Portions are generous, but I would have loved a lot more of that vinegary eggplant relish. A shareable side of roasted vegetables ($6) offers cauliflower, peppers and eggplant, caramelized from the oven and savory with balsamic.
On days when fish and chips ($16) are available, get them—beautifully flaky cod, lightly coated in a batter made with Jai Alai I.P.A. beer from Tampa’s Cigar City Brewing, fries sprinkled with Old Bay seasoning (makes sense when you think about it) and pull-apart buttermilk hush puppies.
It’s a tightly knit family at Artisan’s Table: Copeland has known his co-owners, Lee Kaleel and Monica McCown, for years—each have extensive local food backgrounds, with turns at Emeril’s Tchoup Chop, The Ravenous Pig and Seasons 52. Sous Chef Harold Henderson, late of Citrus, worked with Copeland at K.
Saturday and Sunday finds the kitchen turning out brunch, a very popular offering of creative plates like salmon hash with potatoes, peppers and onions ($11) and a fragrant bowl of ramen noodles ($14) with the umami richness of pork loin, spinach and fish stock dashi broth. Breakfast starts at 8 a.m. during the week and is served alongside lunch until 3 p.m. for very late risers.
Artisan’s Table opened last spring in a seemingly ill-fated location where three other restaurants have met their ends since 2009: Black Olive, Blue Smoke Burger and Kathleen Blake’s promising Pine Twenty2. The latest occupants have kept Pine’s basic floor plan while changing the floor from wood to tile and lightening the color scheme. And diners still have that view of the magnificent interiors within the 1920s-era buildings across the tree-shaded brick street. But it’s the magic in this newest kitchen that is key to the promising prospect of longevity.
“I feel like we’re working in a laboratory,” Copeland says. “We want to show Orlando our vision of food. We love what we do.”
So do we.
Ditch the Cereal
Mornings at Artisan’s Table feature, along with the obligatory bacon and eggs, a Japanese breakfast bowl ($6.50) of sticky rice, bacon, two beautiful local organic eggs and a dash of sweet chili sauce. The Breakfast in Bread ($6) nests a baked egg with bacon, queso blanco and Parmesan cheese in a flaky puff pastry tart.