At Hamilton’s Kitchen, Chef Marc Kusche excels with European accents on everything from pork belly to snapper.
The last time I was in a hotel on New England Avenue in Winter Park was on an evening in 1998 at the Langford Resort Hotel. There I watched 18-year-old swing dancers doing the Lindy Hop to the sounds of Michael Andrew and Swingerhead, while 70-something Polly Anna Woodward, a Langford resident who once dated Frank Sinatra, swayed with delight at her table.The Langford held a position as the premier social gathering spot from 1956 to its closing in 2000—a place where Eleanor Roosevelt, Ray Charles and Bob Dylan stayed, and President Lyndon Johnson’s wife, Lady Bird, spent her snowbird winters. The hotel’s main dining attraction was the Empire Room Supper Club, complete with house band and headliner entertainment.
I never sampled the fare at the Empire Room, but I can now say I’ve had dinner where it once stood. From the shadow of the Langford has sprung The Alfond Inn, and through its art-adorned lobby is Hamilton’s Kitchen.
Marc Kusche's olive oil poached snapper with cauliflower.
Hamilton’s opened in June 2013 with Chef Chris Windus, a veteran of Todd English’s blue-zoo restaurant at the helm. He was replaced slightly less than a year later by current exec Marc Kusche, who comes to Winter Park via the Four Seasons hotel chain, Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago and the Hotel Adlon Kempinski in Berlin. The native of the seaside town of Bremerhaven, Germany, was exposed to his trade through family ties—his parents ran a pub in Germany—but it was a simple cucumber salad that he says sparked a desire to have his own kitchen. “Just a simple dish,” he says. “Cucumber, yogurt, some onion, but it woke me up to how amazing good ingredients can taste.” Years of apprenticeship and corporate cheffing later, he has brought his European-accented talents to Winter Park.
Good ingredients come into play with the olive oil poached snapper ($30), a moist, flaky portion of perfectly cooked fish, highlighted with a crusty quick-seared skin, nestled among pan-roasted cauliflower (“People don’t eat enough cauliflower,” Kusche proclaims), tart capers and a hint of licorice via shaved fennel. I skipped the skin-on roasted tomatoes, but the rest of the flavor and texture combinations shone.
You might not expect the subtlety of flavors in the watermelon salad starter ($14), but you’ll like it, and I suggest it as a palate cleanser between courses. A slab of compressed watermelon is lightly flavored with mint, resting on a bed of oil-drenched baby arugula, lightly salty shaved grana padano cheese and hearty paper-thin prosciutto.
It takes up to eight hours for Kusche to get the desired braise on his honey glazed pork belly ($8), an entrée-worthy starter that comes served on peach chutney melded with flavors of coriander and ginger like a hearty holiday pie. The slightly acid fruit cuts through the fatty pork and accents the tender layer of meat.
“Give people what they want,” Chef Kusche said to me several times, and what they want is beef, here in the form of a 12-ounce ribeye ($36), sliced and perfectly pink in a sea of red wine reduction and wild mushrooms, an archipelago of mashed potatoes, smoked with applewood, piped alongside. Almost as meaty is the ahi tuna ($28), coated with cracked spices, seared and served over a tomato and eggplant caponata.
Service is splendid, if occasionally overeager, and everyone seems to know a great deal about wine (the list is compact, but covers all you’ll need—try a sparkling rosé with the ahi tuna).
The restaurant is named for Dr. Hamilton Holt, the eighth president of Rollins College, and the Alfond has a unique relationship with Florida’s oldest college, which owns the hotel. Profits from the entire operation go directly into a scholarship fund, and superb works from The Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art hang throughout the hotel. The restaurant itself is somewhat utilitarian—no enhancements or styling more than dark beams against white walls and large expanses of glass. While the wall surrounding the open kitchen is made of rustic brick, the visible kitchen itself isn’t particularly attractive. The art on the plates might do with a better frame.
All in the Family
Chef Kusche is a firm believer in sharing, so he offers a family-style option in the very popular private dining space alongside the main room. Big plates, pass-along entrées and sides, and a potentially raucous evening is available for parties of up to 10. There’s also a five-course chef’s table option with a chef’s choice of surprise plates.
Hamilton’s Kitchen at The Alfond Inn
300 E. New England Ave., Winter Park
Lu Lu’s Ice Cream Shop
Lu Lu’s Ice Cream Shop
We All Scream
Summer in Orlando brings not only hordes of vacationing children and afternoon thunderstorms, but that most glorious of confections—ice cream.
An ice cream renaissance is exploding around town, with hand-crafted treats and seasonal soda flavors from The Soda Fountain (owned by Infusion Tea) and gelato imported from Tampa at Trevi Pasta, both on Edgewater Drive in College Park; the adorable Lu Lu’s Ice Cream Shop in Winter Park (photo below), which uses Florida dairy and fresh local ingredients; the You Saw When Yogurt Shoppe at Florida Hospital’s Health Village; ice cream, sorbet and killer shakes at Ice Cream Treats & Eats on Corrine Drive in Audubon Park; and hand-made frosty sandwiches all over town on the Midnight Sun Ice Cream food truck.
Gourmands will shiver at the thought of the caramel sea salt ice cream served at KASA Restaurant on Church Street, the mango kulfi delight at Tamarind Indian Cuisine in Winter Park, and the very rich almond ice cream at Spice Road Table at Epcot’s Moroccan Pavilion.