The Smiling Bison’s Chef / Owner Joshua Oakley has quite the resume – formerly a chef at The Ravenous Pig and the Enzian theater, he has brought his skills for making house made charcuterie, sausages, and meats to the menu here at The Smiling Bison.
Locals may remember this location on Bennett Road across from Roxy Nightclub as the former home of the wildly popular Redlight, Redlight Beer Parlour (which recently moved to larger digs on Corrine Dr in Audubon Park).
There have been some very nice upgrades to the interior, with the place appearing more like a nice home in suburbia rather than a hipster watering hole. Dark browns and woody colors give it a nice warm, autumn vibe – perfect for drinking some ale and enjoying the wonderful food coming out of The Smiling Bison’s kitchen.
One thing though I do wish was upgraded was the parking situation, which remains a bit limited and difficult to maneuver due to the odd location and sparse parking spots.
Nonetheless, it’s worth the trip and parking issues to travel to the Smiling Bison.
The bar area at The Smiling Bison
The menu at The Smiling Bison, which changes, of course, seasonally
My dining companions and I start off with the Smoked Fish Dip – house smoked flounder caught along Cocoa Beach, pumpernickel toast from local Olde Hearth Bread Company. I enjoyed the subtle spices layered within the dip, but ultimately, I think it needs a little more of a kick.
Our second appetizer was much more of a crowd pleaser – the Crispy Pork Belly, cooked sous-vide style till buttery softness, and layered on top of creamed zellwood corn, smoked tomato, and onion jam. The pork belly was tender, soft, and had the slight slippery texture that is often the result of the sous vide process – very delicious.
Sous-vide (French for “under vacuum”) is a method of cooking food sealed in airtight plastic bags in a water bath for longer than normal cooking times—72 hours in some cases—at an accurately regulated temperature much lower than normally used for cooking, typically around 55 °C (131 °F) to 60 °C (140 °F) for meats and higher for vegetables. The intention is to cook the item evenly, and not to overcook the outside while still keeping the inside at the same “doneness”, keeping the food juicier.
Cooking meats sous-vide also breaks down the muscles and tissues into a gelatinous like texture and the pork belly could have used some finishing “crispy” texture to give the dish name its due.
I ordered the WITBEER GLAZED HAM STEAK ($14) – house cured kurobota pork served with sweet potato fries and a house made dijonaisse. The hamsteak was fantastic, prepared sous-vide as well, with such a tender, wonderful texture and sweet and savory flavors from the witbeer glaze. It’s interesting to note that the witbeer used tonight was provided by the local brewery at Cask and Larder. The house made sweet potato fries really shined as well – such an interesting crispy texture on the outside yet light and airy on the inside – totally unlike any other sweet potato fries I have ever tried before.
WITBEER GLAZED HAM STEAK
wagyu eye round, cheddar, horseradish,
pretzel kaiser, caraway
DUCK LOVERS PIZZA…$16
Garlic puree, duck confit, duck ham, duck egg,
monterey cheese, pea tendrils
SMILING BISON BURGER…$12
6 oz. natural bison, garlic aioli, mushroom ketchup,
smoked provolone, house bacon, texas toast
I sampled one of my dining companion’s Smiling Bison Burgers and thought it to be truly delicious – very flavorful, savory, juicy, cheesy, and all in all one of the best burgers I have tried in recent memory. Compliments to the crew at Smiling Bison!
Overall, I came away very impressed by both the great service and the quality food at The Smiling Bison. I hope they continue to improve on their dishes and become one of the best restaurants in Orlando. They are well on their way.