The food at this funky little eatery is certainly ambitious. But don’t be in a hurry, and order everything you want the first time — despite what the server says.
Dustin Haney thinks the reason he named his restaurant Scratch ought to be obvious. “We make what we can from scratch,” he says. “We have very little reliance on convenience products.”
So, if it’s on the plate at Scratch, it almost certainty didn’t come from a can or a box. “We’re not making our own butter,” Haney admits. “But if we could, we would.”
Making butter is pretty out of the ordinary, even for chefs with large kitchens and crews. Haney’s kitchen is a thin strip at the edge of the restaurant’s bar, and he has a staff of one sous chef. So churning fresh milk into a bread-topper isn’t an option.
The kitchen’s first refrigerator was a 1950s contraption purchased on Craigslist. The Comet -green relic — its hue is the result of auto-body paint — is still in use, although Haney was able to buy a walk-in a full 12 weeks after opening.
That story is Scratch in a proverbial nutshell. It’s a tiny restaurant, decorated to be warm and romantic with a mish-mosh of thrift-store items cleverly reupholstered or repurposed.
“I call it organized chaos,” says Ashley Byrd, one of Haney’s partners and Scratch’s maître d’. “The space is a reflection of my brain.”
The owners — including Michael Roller, who helps with operations — sewed 300 buttons onto a banquette and made the burlap hanging lamps. They turned old doors into a cover for the front of the bar.
Paintings are by local artists, who get to keep all proceeds any time a work is sold.
But what about the food? The menu, too, could be described as organized chaos. It’s a small-plates selection, with prices ranging from $5 to $14. Offerings are mostly American, but Haney uses classic French techniques and global flavors at his whim.
In fact, as a young man Haney spent a great deal of time at Byrd’s house, where Filipino foods were served. You can see the influence in his pork belly adobo, described on the menu as “sous vide Lake Meadows pork belly. Soy glaze. Calamansi [Phillipine lime]. Black rice. Carrot puree. Micro cilantro. Scallions.”
It looked like an artfully presented new-age dish, but it’s actually a contemporary take on a Filipino specialty made with chicken. “It’s a humdrum household meal,” he says. “I cleaned it up a little bit, fancied it up.”
His smoked duck blends culinary cultures as well. He cures duck with lavender and orange, then smokes it and serves it with a corn maque choux, which is a Cajun corn stew, here mixed with duck instead of ham. It’s delivered to the table with a glass dome. As the server lifts the dome, the scented smoke drifts about temptingly. Elegant, but earthy.
Scratch caught on quickly, with lines forming out the door almost immediately after its opening last November. It’s an ideal spot for a pre- or post- activity nosh along with one of 80-plus beers or a glass of any of 50-plus “obscure” wines from small vineyards.
But some of the restaurant’s best qualities may ultimately prove to be its undoing. The owners want Scratch to be a place where guests can relax. There are, blissfully, no TVs, and the few tables are mostly clustered together.
Diners chat with one another, whether they’re business moguls, Rollins students or wandering foodies. Light, fun music plays in the background. No one is rushed and servers advise against ordering too much food at once, thereby lengthening an already leisurely dining experience.
That’s all wonderful. But only if you’re seated immediately and the place is empty. From what I hear around town, however, my experience was more typical.
Told the restaurant doesn’t accept reservations, our party of four arrived at 6:30 p.m. on a Saturday. We were advised that the wait should be about 30 minutes. Friends of ours came and left when they were told the wait would be three times as long.
Because I was on assignment, we remained. A full hour and a half later, after chatting at the bar and sipping interesting beers and wines, we got our chance at the banquette.
We chose a bunch of menu items immediately and told the server we’d be adding others. “Let me just fire up four for now,” she said, “and then see if you still want more.”
Clearly this friendly young woman, although trying to be helpful, didn’t understand that this quartet of middle agers, famished after a long wait, was quite able to gauge its own consumption capacity.
We received four dishes quickly. Some were excellent, others fine. All were small. We added back the choices she’d told us to wait on and eventually ordered every other item on the printed menu — plus a special.
Partway through, losing hope that we’d fill up, we joked that we’d have to stop at Burger King on the way home for Whopper Juniors to sate our appetites.
Don’t get me wrong. The whole take-it-easy vibe is beyond fabulous, but it’s not practical. When the restaurant has a crowd, customers should be encouraged to order what they’ll want so they can gobble — okay, not gobble, unhurriedly savor — and move on.
I bring it up because I want this dreamy little spot with its super-nice staff to survive and thrive. That’s why I’m not going to scratch it off my list just yet.
223 West Fairbanks Ave. , Winter Park, 407-325-5165, scratchtapas.com.
Small Plates, Big Flavors
Here are more places to get small plates in or near Winter Park.
Mi Tomatilla. A contemporary spot for classic and creative Spanish tapas. 433 W. New England Ave., Winter Park, 321-972-4881. mitomatina.com.
El Bodegon. An old-fashioned eatery with authentic Spanish tapas. 400 S. Orlando Ave., Winter Park, 407-628-1078.
Santiago’s Bodega. An upbeat hangout for small plates with global flavors. 802 Virginia Drive, Orlando, 407-412-6979. santiagosbodega.com.
Hawkers. Small plates of Asian street foods in a no-frills environment. 1103 N. Mills Ave., Orlando, 407-237-0606.