The Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes has officially shattered the old stuffy, stogie, “jackets required” stereotype typical of upscale hotel dining experiences with the introduction of what is perhaps the most intriguing and downright outstanding dining experience the Orlando area has seen in a long time. Yes, Highball & Harvest, The Ritz-Carlton’s hyper-local, farm-to-table concept restaurant, led by Chef Mark Jeffers, is truly that good.
Whether you’re dining solo, socializing with friends over drinks, gathering with a work group, or looking to linger over an intimate meal with loved ones, you’re sure to find an ideal spot with perfect ambiance within Highball & Harvest’s five distinct dining areas. True to its farm-to-table concept, the decor is beautiful – warm and rustic yet subtly refined. It’s a lovely space that feels casual and charming.
“What we’ve created is a restaurant for locals that hotel guests can also enjoy,” says Jeffers. So, if you end up feeling genuinely welcome at Highball & Harvest, it’s because you are. So much so that The Ritz-Carlton offers complimentary valet parking for Highball & Harvest’s guests.
Equally inviting is the menu itself. Designed to honor Florida’s agricultural history, Highball & Harvest’s approach to sourcing locally is as real as it gets, with the restaurant sourcing much of its produce directly from Whisper Creek Farm, which is located right on the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes Resort property, and their own green growing efforts. As for the culinary focus, it’s Southern cuisine approached with modern flair.
“I grew up loving Southern food, especially with Latin flavors,” says Jeffers. “So [for H&H] I made food I’d love to eat, but did so wanting to try what no one else is doing.” The result is a highly creative menu offering a substantial selection of seemingly traditional dishes, each carefully crafted with unexpected ingredients and thoughtful (even downright clever) details.
“Our menu offers family style food that lends itself to conversation,” says Jeffers. “We’re taking
playful chances without being so predictable.”
Must try dishes on the menu include the surprisingly spicy and subtly sweet Crab Cake & Fried Green Tomato appetizer ($16) made with real lump crab, Cajun remoulade and corn chow-chow. The Kale Salad ($15) is also phenomenally done thanks to a highly nuanced marriage of flavors and textures.
Of course, no Southern menu is complete without Shrimp & Grits ($25), but Jeffers’ version triumphs, first, for not being overly creamy or oily, and, second, for using Canaveral Red Shrimp, charred tomato BBQ, arugula, and crisp onions to infuse new dimension into the staple dish. But, hands down, the highlight of the entree options is the Booker’s Skirt Steak ($29). Cooked perfectly and served with grilled corn and tomato salad and potato puree, be forewarned – the bourbon marinade crowning this dish is stop-you-in-your-tracks delicious. In
other words, you’ll have a hard time sharing this one with your dinner companions.
Another place where Highball & Harvest’s thoughtful details really shine is on the dessert menu. The decadent Warm Chocolate Cake ($9) is accompanied by vanilla icing served in a darling empty light bulb. And the sugar-dusted Baby Donuts, presented in a quaint brown paper bag, are presented with a copper-toned paint tube of Nutella for DIY donut filling.
Likewise, Highball & Harvest’s signature cocktails are also carefully crafted to “create a culinary adventure.” The Doc Holiday ($14) is a refreshing, dangerously drinkable delight of blueberry jam, Tito’s Vodka, Ruby Grapefruit, and house-made ginger beer. And the Last Wish ($15) is a decidedly more masculine concoction, made with High West “Campfire” Whiskey, spiced cola syrup, Old Havana tobacco bitters, and orange essence.
Indeed, it’s hard not to fall in love with just about everything this restaurant has to offer. The truth is: The Ritz-Carlton just threw Central Florida’s local dining scene a curveball with the creation of Highball & Harvest. And it’s a curveball you’ll be happy to catch.