Muddy Waters Orlando: Clear Choice
From po’ boys to blackened catfish, Muddy Waters excels at New Orleans cooking.
McKinley Morganfield loved Florida. The legendary bluesman who performed as Muddy Waters for much of the 20th century met his second wife, the 19-year-old Marva Jean Brooks, in Florida when he was 66, and he played his last performance in Pembroke Pines in 1982 with Eric Clapton. No wonder his song “Deep Down in Florida” extols the attractions of a state “where the sun shines damn near every day.”
The Florida sun is also shining on Muddy Waters, A Two Chefs Restaurant, where New Orleans-inspired food is served in a hybrid sports bar, after-hours club atmosphere. And the food is good damn near every day.
The signature po’ boy sandwich ($15) is a wedge of Crescent City pleasure, lightly seasoned shrimp, fried oysters or catfish shoehorned into a beautifully crisp-crusted French baguette from Leidenheimer Baking Co., a Louisiana legend. They’re about as good as a po’ boy gets, which sounds like a blues song. Half-shell raw oysters (market price) are served chilled and suitable straight from the water, along with a particularly potent horseradish. And the fish—blackened catfish ($16) or grilled Gulf redfish ($26)—is flaky, moist and N’Awlins plentiful.
Open since March, the restaurant has already caused quite a buzz in food circles, placed on the Zagat and Eater “Hottest Restaurants” lists. Located on a very visible corner south of Lake Eola, the address once held Mucho Tequila and Tacos; within three weeks of its closing, Muddy Waters opened, not surprising considering that the ownership didn’t change. This is the latest branch on the Beacon Hill Group tree (Stardust Lounge, Aku Aku Tiki Bar, Frosty’s Christmastime Lounge).
The Two Chefs who partnered with Beacon Hill on this venture are Bernard Carmouche and Larry Sinibaldi, owner/operators of Two Chefs Seafood a couple of miles away. Sinibaldi, a graduate of the Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, spent years as executive chef of the Hilton in Orlando, and then The Palm Restaurant at Hard Rock Hotel. Chef Carmouche is an Orlando magazine Dining Hall of Fame inductee from 2004. A son of uptown New Orleans, he went from 20 years as culinary director for Emeril Lagasse’s vast restaurant empire to co-owner of a shoebox restaurant, a “nice, small neighborhood joint” as he calls Two Chefs, in 2015.
There is flair as much as tradition in the Muddy Waters kitchen. Smoked trout beignets ($12), like a fish-stuffed hush puppy, are a wonderful alternative to fried dough, although I did have to send an order back for further cooking. I’m going attribute the misstep to an early arrival and a sub-temperature fryer, as my fried chicken also appeared undercooked—both items were quickly replaced. The chicken ($16) returned moist, with a crispy, peppery skin and portioned enough for three people.
Much of the décor from Mucho remains, including a draped rope ceiling opposite the bar. One wall in the dining room is dedicated to a bottlecap mosaic Pulse tribute, while another holds an intriguing display of cigar box guitars, in keeping with the roots of Deep South blues.
This peripheral section of downtown, below Eola Heights and west of Thornton Park, isn’t the most convenient for visitors and might as well be called No Parking Park. Circle the block(s) a few times and you’ll be rewarded; Muddy Waters brings a fresh palate to the quarter, and I hope it stays around for longer than some of the neighborhood’s past tenants.
As The Mud would say, chefs Bernard and Larry got their mojo working.
The Other Place
Two Chefs Oyster Bar opened in 2015 and has carved a popular, if out-of-the-way, place in the Orlando food scene, the Uptown section north of Colonial. But $1 midday oysters, brunch punctuated by lobster deviled eggs and duck has, and a dinner menu that spans oysters Rockefeller to jambalaya makes it worth the extra few minutes. Take the free Lymmo from downtown. twochefsseafood.com