The opening of Highball & Harvest with its oyster bar, table of pimento cheese spread, smoked fish spread and pickled vegetables and a dessert table with warm donuts accompanied by Nutella-filled "paint tubes" was pretty eclectic for a Ritz-Carlton.
And that's the way Highball & Harvest's Chef de Cuisine Mark Jeffers wanted it. "We are positioning ourselves as an independent restaurant. Our servers are in jeans and where the Ritz-Carlton is formal, we're relaxed. This is that place that guests will want to come instead of searching for a local restaurant."
Southern born and inspired, Jeffers has already enlisted local farms to supply the restaurant for some of its signature dishes: Shrimp & Grits, Chicken Fried Chicken with garlic kale, grilled line-caught swordfish and house-made beef jerky.
"We've taken the flavors of southern regions like Savanah and Atlanta, added local ingredients from places like Whisper Creek Farm (Ritz-Carlton's 7,000-square-foot garden) Two Doves Organic and Lake Meadow Poultry and have come up with some playful riffs on these classic southern dishes," says Jeffers. "We are featuring high-quality ingredients and treating them with respect, with food that isn't overworked," he adds.
Ingredients from local farms and Whisper Creek Farm will be specifically noted on the restaurant's seasonal menu. Combining rustic authenticity with modern Ritz-Carlton refinement that reflects the resort's Central Florida locale (an agricultural industry epicenter), H&H's railroad-inspired design will feature communal seating, a large bar/lounge area, a raw oyster bar (with chefs shucking oysters), and custom hand-painted dishware.
The restaurant will also feature craft beers and handcrafted cocktails infused with seasonal fruits and herbs with some pretty inventive names: the Moonshine "Whistle-Stop," the refreshing "Green Acres" with house ginger beer and jasmine tea, the "Last Wish" featuring whiskey, spiced cola syrup, Old Havana Tobacco Bitters and orange essence and The "Dill or No Dill" featuring gin, elderflower, cucumber, dill and lemon. Most cocktails will be served on the rocks with hand-carved ice. H&H will also feature Central Florida's largest selection of wines from the cask, carefully selected by Advanced Sommelier Kris Soto, to ensure perfect temperature control and freshness.
The thirst-quenching heart of the restaurant will be an interactive cocktail table, where knowledgeable bar chefs muddle ingredients while instructing personalized cocktail classes.
The central Florida resort's 30-strong pastry team, that works magic baking everything from scratch, has created one of the restaurant's most exceptional offerings: Parker House Rolls made from old-world Khorasan wheat, served up warm and moist.
And, of course, the donuts.
"We are thrilled to welcome Highball & Harvest to our resort in September," says Jon McGavin, General Manager of The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes. "The opening of a brand-new restaurant represents not only the next era in Grande Lakes Orlando's 11-year evolution, but a redefinition of the casual dining and bar concept for The Ritz-Carlton brand."