God Sent us a Spring: Cask and Larder
Orlando, Florida

God Sent us a Spring: Cask and Larder

Oysters, cocktails and Cask & Larder’s reboot of Orlando.

Orlando sits like a desert.

In between the ever-present humidity and the concrete heat, there’s a foreboding feeling that lingers over the city.  Orlando has, in years past, represented a sort of augmented reality.  The City Beautiful has become the city ignored. The master entrée primed, prepped and prepackaged for the tourism industry.

That’s all changed recently. A collection of homegrown chefs, creatives and culture-makers has seismically shifted the stigma of Orlando through food. A new breed of bars and restaurants have launched the city as a major player in the nation’s culinary scene. While there are many brilliant chefs and food-minds to thank, one restaurant that has helped solidify that shift is Cask & Larder.

caskandlarder-3 caskandlarder-9 caskandlarder-fw-1

Placed on the corner of one of Winter Park’s busiest intersections and Orlando’s major railway, I make my way from the swelling spring heat into Cask & Larder. The brick warehouse that it occupies has been home to a handful of shuttered businesses over the years. It now stands dignified, hinting that what resides inside makes up for all that came before.

The decor inside Cask & Larder blends the south’s most celebrated victories and vices. Preserves tastefully line shelves in the main room. A glass encased brewery gleams beside a polished wood and brass bar. Wide windows allow the Florida sun to gently wash the dining area.

caskandlarder-6 caskandlarder-5 caskandlarder-4 caskandlarder-1

In a window seat near the bar, I sit down to the sound of a Ray Charles B-side and am delivered a Cask & Larder original cocktail – The Pennyworth. A Fernet-based drink, The Pennyworth is aromatic and bright. Calling on Fernet’s herbal composition, Peychaud’s Bitters and a surprising touch of beet shrub, the drink is smooth as it goes down and slight in its bitter lingering. A jut of an orange peel makes an appearance, a reminder of the citrus-without-citrus undertones the drink carries.

The Pennyworth’s impeccable delivery and balanced flavors serve as an excellent representation of Cask & Larder’s cocktail menu. With a focus on seasonal ingredients and a smart selection of liquors, mixologist Mike Bass (creator of The Pennyworth) and the rest of the staff have built what many consider to be among the best bars in the city.

caskandlarder-14 caskandlarder-13 caskandlarder-17 caskandlarder-15 caskandlarder-fw-2

The cocktails are only a part of the pairing here; Cask & Larder has contributed to the welcome acceleration of brewpubs in the craft brew movement with their house-made beer.  And while there are some more eclectic offerings (a “pizza beer” among them) that beg for an adventurous palate, the thoughtfully executed beers drawn from their casks have been some of my personal favorites in the state.

caskandlarder-11 caskandlarder-12

As I finish The Pennyworth, the Florida sun cuts through the open window next to me, casting a ray of light on the house-made preserves that line the larder shelves nearby. The various pickled vegetables and jams remind me of the heart of Florida, a state founded by rugged individuals that took indomitable food and fauna and turned it into something lasting.

James and Julie Petrakis, the chef-owners of Cask & Larder, have been essential in applying that same attitude to the culinary scene in Orlando. Upon the launch of their first restaurant, the Ravenous Pig, in 2007, the city had seen few restaurants of that caliber. Capitalizing on a range of dishes from frog legs to foie gras, they’ve captured and blended the perceived pedestrian with the perennial.

In my few interactions with the Petrakis’, they have exuded the type of warm cunning that only comes from a couple concealing a creative fire. This type of fire divines culinary brilliance, demands unrelenting excellence and creates a level of care for guests that borders on psychic in its intuition.

caskandlarder-8 caskandlarder-7

In building Cask & Larder just blocks from the Ravenous Pig, many of the same disciplines have been carried over to establish Orlando’s first public house. They’ve called upon elements from Florida and her sister states to craft a menu that represents traditional southern fare while being distinctively its own.

Sufficiently focused on the surrounding preserves, I am brought back to reality by the delivery of a dozen roast oysters. Resting on thick chunks of salt and surrounding a bottle of craft vinegar, the oysters are brilliant. Bourbon, butter, clementines and pecan breadcrumbs blanket the shellfish. Spanning from Otter Cove, Washington to Rattlesnake, Florida, the selection is carefully sourced to provide a taste of America’s coastlines.

The oysters balance on a rich edge. Bourbon butter meets the warmth of the pecans. Light, fresh waterways carry throughout. The vinegar and clementines gently cut through, allowing the elements to rise together.

caskandlarder-18 caskandlarder-19

These inventive pairings are representative of Cask & Larder’s entire menu. From classic game dishes to an imaginative take on Nashville Hot Chicken, their flavor combinations are often knock-out successes. The Petrakis’ are unafraid of acid and use it as one of their greatest weapons. House-made vinegars and preserves elevate dishes to an approachable elegance. This innovative sensibility married with obsessive sourcing and conscientious execution make their dishes worthy of the critical acclaim they’ve received.

As I finish my final oyster, I watch the photographer for this article share a laugh with the bar staff, and it dawns on me that Cask & Larder is a forerunner for what is to come in Orlando.  A collection of chefs and food-lovers stand dignified, invigorated by the direction in which the city is headed, and there is a feeling of unity.  A feeling that in restaurants like Cask & Larder, God has sent Orlando a spring, and from that spring the city will grow.  A feeling that for every desert, there is an oasis.

Cask & Larder
565 W Fairbanks Ave, Winter Park, FL 32789

Comments are for members only.

Our comments section is for members only.
Join today to gain exclusive access.

This story is on the house.

Life & Thyme is a different kind of food publication: we're reader-first and member-funded. That means we can focus on quality food journalism that matters instead of content that serves better ads. By becoming a member, you'll gain full uninterrupted access to our food journalism and be a part of a growing community that celebrates thought-provoking food stories.

The Editor's Note

Sign up for The Editor's Note to receive the latest updates from Life & Thyme and exclusive letters from our editors. Delivered every weekend.