While many things in Orlando tend to be mouse-centric, Highball & Harvest restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton, Orlando, Grande Lakes prefers to celebrate to Central Florida’s railway system and industrial revolution of the late 19th century and early 20th century that helped make the area a nationwide leader in the citrus and cattle industries.
By using as many local vendors as possible– from beef, dairy, pork and produce – in addition to growing its own vegetables at its 7,000 square-foot Whisper Creek Farm, Highball & Harvest is a shining example of how a restaurant can excel by featuring local products on its menu.
And from the popular Pig-n-Potatoes (pulled pork, Yukon potato hash, poached egg, Hollandaise and H&H Hot Sauce) to the Roasted Bone Marrow to the Blackened Grouper, it’s all done with a Southern twist.
“There are a lot of Southern restaurants out there,’’ said Chris Brown, director of food and beverage for The Ritz-Carlton, Orlando, Grande Lakes. “But we like to say we’re on the upscale version of Southern food.’’
Brown gets no argument from me on that point. The Roasted Bone Marrow, for example, features an eight-inch canoe bone and is brined for 24 hours then smoked for 30 minutes and served with homemade sourdough bread.
“It’s something I grew up with, so it’s near and dear to me,’’ said Nathan Hardin, chef de cuisine at Highball & Harvest.
To be sure, Hardin knows his way around Southern cooking, having grown up in Tampa. Before going to Highball & Harvest this past summer, Hardin was executive sous chef at the popular Yardbird Southern Table & Bar in Miami Beach, where he worked with two-Michelin-starred Chef Danny Grant.
That experience shows off in such simple dishes as the Pig-n-Potatoes – great for breakfast, lunch or dinner – to dishes such as Shrimp & Grits that feature charred tomato BBQ, arugula, fennel and crisp onions.
“Anything we can source locally we do,’’ Hardin said. “We have really great relationships with the local farmers and purveyors. It really inspires us to do better, not only because we get to see what they do for a living, but what inspires them, too. It ends up sort of translating into the dishes.’’
That local theme is a common thread throughout the varied restaurants at the two resorts, but perhaps is best exemplified at highball & Harvest and at Whisper Creek Farm: The Kitchen at the JW Marriott. The restaurant features a great selection of craft beers as well as flatbreads, sandwiches and small plates.
“We wanted to bring the farm indoors, that’s really the concept of that restaurant,’’ said Brown, the former executive chef at the JW Marriott, Orlando, Grande Lakes who Brown said. “It’s been amazingly popular. We’re selling a lot more food than we ever thought we would.
“The main thing is that every plate has at least one ingredient from the farm. It might just be an herb, or a picked vegetable. It’s a really nice venue that expands our offerings at Grande Lakes.’’
But always with a local flavor.