The flatbreads shine at Lake Nona’s Canvas, which is worth the drive for its takes on Latin, Caribbean and Cuban creations.
It surprises me sometimes how far you can travel and still be in Orlando. It’s even more surprising when you can travel a seemingly endless distance from downtown to the burgeoning Lake Nona area and still find a good meal. But such is the case with Canvas Restaurant & Market, where interesting dishes can be found in an area still in its infancy.
Canvas, a restaurant offering “new American cuisine,” opened in early 2015. Part of the Tavistock empire that owns a vast chunk of Lake Nona, it was developed in partnership with Concentrics Restaurants, which also helped build Luma on Park and Prato in Winter Park, and owns Slate on Sand Lake Road. Canvas is a multi-cultural mélange of tastes and ingredients led by Executive Chef Bryan Thoman, who previously guided the kitchens at the Brio Tuscan Grille chain.
The Canvas menu takes inspiration from many places. Influences of Latin, Caribbean, New Orleanian and Cuban (a la a nice sandwich of marinated pork belly and house-cured ham; $12) appear, and the items swing from super casual to moderately upscale.
An interesting variation on standard Southern fare, the smoked fish dip ($13) is served warm, mixed with spiced cream cheese and a crisp house-made Parmesan-coated flatbread cracker. Which shouldn’t be confused with the separate flatbread offerings, where the base is a thicker, slightly chewier dough somewhere between cracker and pizza and fired in a wood-burning oven. Of note is the shrimp and chorizo, slathered in a parsley and cilantro chimichurri sauce and Mexican cotija cheese. The “Margarita” flatbread departs from the traditional Margherita pizza recipe to include rich roasted tomato confit, shaved Northern Italian Grana Padano cheese and (note to those with nut allergies) almond-based pesto. The flatbreads, including a braised short rib variety, are $12-$14.
Canvas Restaurant & Market
Mofongo, a Puerto Rican mash of green plantains, is another rarity found here. I liked the shrimp mofongo entrée ($28) although it was a bit small for the price. Pan-fried shrimp (Canvas does shrimp very well) are served in a crispy plantain shell with a subtle citrus broth and roasted dried tomatoes. Excellent shrimp and good plantains, very missable tomatoes. Better all around is a great take on mussels ($14), meaty shellfish served in a blend of tart tomatillo and spicy chili.
A dish of pan-cooked scallops ($29) comes dolloped with bright Meyer lemon and augmented with wood-roasted asparagus. It’s a nice blend of textures and smoky/acidic flavors.
The wall-length glassed-in patio dining area provides a wonderful view of lake and sunset. In the distance are several of the area’s acclaimed medical centers and land still occupied, at least for the moment, by cow pastures. There’s a slightly industrial feel to the brick-walled restaurant that’s punctuated by wood tables and a wraparound bar overhung by lighted bottles and bright yellow panels. Entry to the restaurant means walking through the market, where breakfast and lunch items and a selection of books, housewares and local goods are available.
Back in August there was still enough continuing construction in the Laureate Park Village development that things seemed a bit unfinished outside, but you will notice the stained glass greenhouse in the parking lot, which is a sculpture by Brooklyn artist Tom Fruin. Canvas is just a stone’s throw from Orlando International Airport, and that stone has a much straighter path than those of us negotiating the circuitous 20-minute drive from Orlando. But if you allow for some extra drive time, there’s a lot to enjoy.
The popular bar hosts a specialty cocktail menu using a variety of Florida libations. St. Augustine vodka appears in a plum and
lychee infused drink called “Florida to Chinatown,’’ and beers from Orlando Brewing Company, Crooked Can Brewery, Coppertail Brewing Company in Tampa, and Two Henrys Brewing Company in Plant City are featured on tap.