From tongue-in-cheek menu item names such as Bao Wow (a steamed bun stuffed with a hot dog) to the pingpong tables on the outside veranda, Baoery Asian Gastropub doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Located in the Thornton Park district, this eatery opened its doors late last year in the space formally occupied by Cityfish. The restaurant still has an outside patio where you can enjoy your food while people watching, and the side patio has pingpong tables if you feel inclined to play a match.
Inside, the décor is minimal. The bar, with a Godzilla figurine wearing an Orlando City Soccer Club t-shirt on top, is the centerpiece of the room. There is a large gong in the corner, which signifies that it’s time for the two-for-one sake bomb special.
Baoery is the creation of Executive Chef and Partner Greg Richie and the Thornton Park Restaurant Group. It is also one door down from Soco, where Richie is also the executive chef. The food is very much pan-Asian meets American bar food with dishes like a Philly Cheese Bao ($9) and Asian Style Crispy Chicken Wings ($7).
The “Bao” part of the restaurant’s name refers to a steamed Chinese bun that is pillow-soft when served. The bao sandwiches at Baoery are presented in a bamboo steamer and are folded like tacos to hold the various fillings in the middle.
The Jade Emperor Bao ($8) is filled with slow-roasted pork belly, hoisin BBQ sauce, kimchi cabbage and cucumber. This unique sandwich is an experience in balancing textures. The bun is doughy, the thick sauce is sweet and salty, and the cucumber adds the right amount of crisp.
“The charm of these things is the bun must be steamy and pillowy soft,” Richie says.
The Twin Dragons ($8) comes with Korean fried chicken, radish, bao sauce (Richie’s secret sauce creation that he says is made with some herbs, spices and sugar), cucumber, and a sprinkle of black sesame seeds. This bao has the same satisfying balance of textures, and the sauce is sweet before it hits you with a sour finish.
If you’re like me, you’ll want to start with the appetizer that has the silliest name before you dig into the bao sandwiches. The Feeling Lucky, Punk? small plate ($6) is not just a great dish to share with a group of friends but is also a fun game. This plate of grilled shishito peppers comes with a Greek yogurt and mint dipping sauce. While most of the peppers are mild, be careful — some are hotter than others. In our game of Russian roulette, one pepper out of out 12 was hot. How hot? On a scale of one to 10, it was a 15.
Wash down the spiciness of that pepper with one of Baoery’s many specialty drinks. The Malaysian Mule ($9), made with Svedka vodka, Moonstone Coconut & Lemongrass Nigori Sake, and Fever Tree ginger beer, is sweet enough to subdue any burning sensation on your tongue with a delicious ginger taste and a crisp ending. The Geisha A-Go-Go, made with Deep Eddy Ruby Red Grapefruit Vodka, Hakusuru Excellent Junami, ginger, and Grapefruit Pellegrino is also sweet, and the Pellegrino gives it some nice bubbles.
The drink menu has an impressive assortment of beers and wines, but you can’t skip the sake at a place like this. While sake is normally served warm, the Moonstone Coconut Lemongrass Sake ($10 for a small carafe) is served cold. A shot of it is sweet, smooth and milky and finishes with a cinnamon-like bite. If you don’t normally like sake, this one might just change your mind.
Another dish worth checking out is the Macaroni and Kim Cheese side dish ($5). It is creamy with a subtle spice from bits of kimchee cabbage mixed in and a crispy breadcrumb topping adds texture. It is an incredibly satisfying comfort food dish with a unique Asian twist.
Off of the “sweet sayonara” menu, the Aroi Mak Mak ($5) is a Thai sticky rice pudding with coconut lemongrass, sweet ginger cream, caramelized pear and raspberries, garnished with a lemongrass stalk and basil leaf. The sweet and creamy dessert comes in a short canning jar and comes with enough to share.
If you’re looking to switch up your normal bar food and beer routine with friends, Baoery is a worthy choice.
“This place is all about having fun,” Richie says. “Having fun with the names. Having fun with the food.”