By Rona Gindin
The Cru Quarters brain trust: Elvis Burrows, director of dining services, and Patrick Tramontana, chef, formerly of Maitland’s popular Antonio’s. Photo by Carlos Amoedo

I’ve followed leads for “hidden gem” restaurants in and near Winter Park for eons. Diamonds or duds, they’ve been found on quiet side streets, in strip malls or — if I wax nostalgic about the 1980s — up two familiar flights of stairs. But on the grounds of The Mayflower, an upscale retirement community? (Oops! The correct term now is “life-plan community.”)

Listen up, doubters. Cru Quarters — so-named to reflect the nautical ambiance of the new 9,800-square-foot clubhouse in which it is located — is as ambitious as any restaurant in Winter Park.

The bistro-style eatery — up to now arguably the region’s best-kept culinary secret — serves up inventive appetizers,
oven-fired pizzas, and splurgy entrées for dinner as well as such staples as soups, salads, gourmet burgers and club sandwiches for lunch — all with a modern twist. And yes, nonresidents are welcomed.

The operation is driven by an energetic team: At the helm is Director of Dining Services Elvis Burrows, a certified sommelier and food service professional who authored the restaurant’s vision and concept. He works with the accomplished young chef whom he admittedly all but stalked while recruiting. 

That’s because Burrows wasn’t after just any chef. Remember Patrick Tramontana? He spent 14 years at Maitland’s Antonio’s, starting as a sous chef and eventually becoming executive chef and ultimately culinary director for the restaurant’s parent company. If you enjoy dining out, he has likely cooked for you before.

This dynamic duo joined The Mayflower knowing little about senior-living food service (which was probably a good thing). But they did know that most Mayflower residents were accustomed to elevated dining experiences. There would be no canned veggies, no strawberry jello, no frozen Salisbury steak.

Although residents were originally the restaurant’s exclusive market, this elite cadre soon began inviting friends and family — and word spread throughout the area that there was something special going on in the bustling kitchen at a place called Cru Quarters. Now it’s nearly always open to the public, so you no longer have reason to cultivate a special connection who can sneak you in.

Burrows and Tramontana are tangibly animated about running a restaurant that’s both good enough to attract discerning customers of all ages while also meeting the needs of the golden-years residents who live on the premises. The dining team manages other on-site dining rooms in addition to food service in areas catering to residents who require special diets.

The grilled lamb rack chops entrée at Cru Quarters is cooked perfectly to order. The chops, plus grilled broccolini and roasted garlic mashed potatoes, make for a hearty dinner. Photo by Carlos Amoedo

Cru Quarters is part of a new clubhouse with a game room, a theater room with seating that faces a huge TV and a welcoming double-sided fireplace around which you can gather with friends and friends-to-be. The clubhouse itself is just one element of The Mayflower’s recently completed $120 million expansion project, which also includes 50 new independent-living homes in Bristol Landing. 

“My vision was to compete with the Park Avenue-level of restaurants for a new demographic of residents,” Burrows says, adding that the community will skew younger once all those new homes are occupied. That means the incoming crowd — aging boomers who were, after all, the original foodies — will have different tastes. 

Before developing the menu — which changes with the seasons — Burrows surveyed the population about their dining preferences. He found that their favorite restaurants were Antonio’s (hence the pursuit of Tramontana), Hillstone and Seasons 52 — in that order. 

Also, perhaps not surprisingly, he discovered that they enjoyed fine wine and were pretty savvy about it. 

His marching orders now clear, Burrows set out on a mission: “I wanted to change the perception of food at senior-living facilities from green beans in a tin can and reheated mystery meat. And I elevated the beverage programs, bringing mixologists and sommeliers on staff.”

He adds: “Our high-end cocktails and mocktails rival or beat those of any restaurant in Winter Park. We have more than 75 wines from all over the world, most offered by the glass.” 

Wine is also used in the preparation of most menu items — and that includes everything from crème crûlée (traditional crème brûlée doesn’t use wine)  to the Cabernet-enhanced pimento cheese on your hamburger. And, helpfully, a wine selection is suggested alongside each of the menu’s entrées.

Burrows has a double master’s degree in hospitality management and nutrition and dietetics from the University of Kentucky, where he set four world records as a competitive swimmer and later represented the Bahamas (he was born in Freeport) at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

He began his career as manager of a small country club and eventually became COO of a hospitality management company in Orlando. But sexy food service gigs were hard to find once the pandemic hit, so in 2021, when The Mayflower came calling, Burrows describes his attitude this way: “Who says it can’t be sexy? Why not?”

Well, that depends on how you define sexy. Inside, Cru Quarters is deliciously spacious in a way that facilitates hush-hush business dinners and makes navigation easier for well-coiffed, silver-haired guests who require walkers. We also saw some large families and a smattering of young couples celebrating date nights. Nobody seemed out of place.

Since Chef Patrick Tramontana’s background is at a top-tier Italian restaurant, you’d expect the pizza to be good — and it is. “Try it,” he promises, “and you’ll be blown away.” Photo by Carlos Amoedo

The restaurant’s vibe is fresh and clean — a little
staid, perhaps, but casually elegant — and the servers, attired all in black with pops of sage in their aprons, would be right at home in any of the more hip dining establishments along Park Avenue. And the food? Well, let’s just say if you can’t find something you love in this unusually expansive bill of fare then you’re mighty hard to please.

Since so many Cru Quarters guests are repeat customers — most live there, after all — Tramontana changes it up pretty often. During a recent visit, we started with a complimentary salted rosemary flatbread, followed by a plate of ultra-fresh burrata cheese tossed with compressed Moscato-flavored peaches and crisp prosciutto. It was topped with pistachio bits, olive oil and sorrel. 

Our favorite entrée was grilled lamb rack chops, cooked perfectly to order. The chops, plus grilled broccolini and roasted garlic mashed potatoes, made for a hearty dinner. 

But the range of options is incredibly wide, including shrimp tagliatelle, ricotta gnocchi with sausage, lobster risotto with fennel, roasted corn ribs with grilled lemon aioli, and a plateful of tempura American, Italian and Mediterranean vegetables.

Other entrées, aside from the creative assortment of pizzas, include salmon, filet mignon, pork loin chop, chicken breast, lobster agnolotti (agnolotti is a type of pasta) and lobster arabiatti (arabiatti is a spicy tomato sauce). 

Among the splurgy choices for dinner are lobster risotto with fennel (above) as well as such staples as soups, salads, gourmet burgers and club sandwiches for lunch — all with a modern twist. Among the dessert offerings on the spring menu were gelati (below), as well as crème crûlée, poached pear, a chocolate Chianti tart and a mascarpone cheesecake parfait. Photos by Carlos Amoedo

Among the desserts on the spring menu were gelati, crème crûlée, poached pear, a chocolate Chianti tart and a mascarpone cheesecake parfait. We’ll be back for new offerings from the summer menu and promise to report back, but can vouch for the chocolate tart and the cheesecake parfait.

Tramontana offers multicourse wine-pairing dinners, too. Residents were hesitant to attend the first one, priced at $120 per person, then word about the quality got out. Since then, the others have sold out with all 30 seats reserved within a few hours.

Check the hours before you try Cru Quarters. Certain times, like most Sundays for brunch, are still for residents only. For most lunch and dinner hours, however, you can make a reservation or even walk right in.

Hesitant? Start small. “Come in and try a pizza,” Tramontana urges locals. “You’ll be blown away.” 

OK, you may or may not be the youngest person in the room, but those who are Mayflower residents will impress with their dapper attire and easy, welcoming manner. You’ll hope that you’re that cool — and that well-fed — when you’re ready for a life-care community.

Cru Quarters – The Mayflower
1776 Mayflower Court, Winter Park

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