“They serve grits, but they don’t serve sweet tea.”
My coworker, Crabby Squirrel, was slightly bemused by this, but otherwise, he was impressed with our meal at Harmoni Artisan Meal Market. Every time I suggest a new restaurant he ends up liking it. Every time he sounds surprised. He’ll trust me eventually. Although, it was actually Mama Squirrel who found Harmoni for us to try while we were in Orlando. She searched for Slow Food-friendly places, and she hit paydirt.
Located in the upscale College Park neighborhood of Orlando (Think midtown Memphis with a nice healthy infusion of cash.), Harmoni is a little corner of foodie heaven. The market is small but remarkably dense with dining possibilities. You can find everything from raw ingredients to pre-made meals, all of the highest quality and the finest pedigrees. Everything is carefully chosen with sustainability and fairness in mind.
Even with the tremendous ingredients available to me, I didn’t feel up to the type of hotel room masterpieces our good friend Benito has created lately. Plus I was pretty sure Crabby wouldn’t be up for anything quite that unusual. Fortunately for us, Harmoni market is attached to Harmoni bistro. We were already hungry, and, after all those tantalizing offerings in the market, we were glad that dinner was just steps away.
Crabby is a fan of pizza. He is pretty much a straight-up cheese and tomato sauce kinda guy though. I couldn’t pass up a chance to expand his perceptions, so we started with a fig, bacon, tomato, and blue cheese flatbread. If you are surprised by the figs, I have to tell you that it was the tomatoes that added almost too much sweetness. The figs gave the dish an earthy sweetness. The saltiness of the blue cheese and the smokiness of the bacon balanced that out nicely. And of course a crisp crust to carry it all made it quite lovely.
For his main course, Crabby chose a free-range chicken breast with baby carrots and turnips au gratin. Crabby isn’t one to wax poetic about dinner, but his clean plate did the talking for him.
I chose the Florida grouper. The fish was firm and succulent and a much larger serving than I expected. A triangular polenta cake standing on end gave the plate a bit of a whimsical nautical feel. A wild mushroom and arugula salad was good but a bit too earthy, especially when paired with the polenta. The dish needed more contrast. Overall, it was still excellent.
For dessert, Crabby went with a chocolate lava cake. Nothing brings out so much childlike joy as warm, gooey ganache oozing from the center of a piece of dense, moist chocolate cake. Crabby certainly had a grin on his face throughout dessert.
Personally, I can rarely pass up a cheese plate. Unfortunately I wasn’t prepared to take notes, so I don’t have the details. There was a creamy cheddar from Vermont, I believe. There was a nutty goat’s milk cheese from Georgia. And there was a nice sheep’s milk cheese that was reminiscent of Manchego. For me, one of the best things in life is manchego with quince paste. My cheese plate didn’t feature quince paste. Instead, there was ginger jam. Ginger jam is a very challenging accompaniment, and while I am sure there is a good match for it out there somewhere, my cheese plate wasn’t it. The jam was good but far too bold for my cheeses. It was nice as a final sweet on a slice of bread, though.
Harmoni is a warm, comfortable space. The windows look out onto the restaurant’s sidewalk tables and the diners headed to other area restaurants. The floors are distressed wood. Ceramics rest in niches for a bit of color. Best of all is wine as decor. The wine section of the market is actually in the restaurant space. The wine for consumption in the restaurant is stored on racks along one wall. The space has a nice harmony between cozy wine cellar and bright Florida spot.
I will avoid any more use of the word harmony to discuss the dishes or the space or the ingredients relationship to nature. I will simply say that Harmoni is a pretty apt name.
Harmoni Artisan Meal Market
2305 Edgewater Drive
Orlando, FL 32804
If you are up for a Benito-style challenge, there is also a Harmoni Market on the north side of town in Maitland.
1720 Fennell Street
Maitland, Floirida 32751