Seasoned with Smoke and Rustic Simplicity
As third-generation Floridians, husband-and-wife chef team James and Julie Petrakis wanted to give traditional Southern cooking a modern twist. They opened Cask & Larder in Winter Park, Florida, in October 2012, with the intent of creating an ode to both the South and their beloved state.
“I wanted to give Winter Park, where my home is, a taste of what we consider Southern and give them a restaurant with tradition in it,” James Petrakis says. “Even though Florida is a state with strong history and tradition, it has always been looked at as a transient and tourist state.”
The restaurant has been well-received by locals and beyond, with the co-owners successfully serving up that contemporary Southern style while earning semifinalist status as nominees for the James Beard “Best Chef-South” Award this year.
Conveniently, a Southern Pride electronic smoker that was built into the kitchen when they purchased the 6,000 square foot space, formerly a barbecue eatery, fits in perfectly with Petrakis’ vision of offering Southern food with a modern twist.
“There is a lot of outdoor cooking in Florida, and we offer a very rustic approach to cooking, using smoke to enhance ingredients,” Petrakis says.
For example, Cask & Larder chefs often add smoke to vegetables, as in their okra side dish, where the okra is hard charred in a frying pan (so it doesn’t have the typical slimy texture, Petrakis says), and accompanied by tomatoes that have been smoked for about three hours, Salty Dog Cheddar, and chili flakes.
“The smoked tomatoes really enhance the flavor of the okra, and guests have been turned on to okra,” Petrakis says.
Another example is adding smoked beets to salads, which “takes the salad to a different level and smoked items pair very well with beer,” Petrakis says.
Not that Cask & Larder is focusing solely on vegetables. The menu is heavy into pork, seafood, beef, poultry, and rabbit, and regularly features “low country boil dinners” that highlight smoked whole fish, oysters, and other seafood.
In another nod to their local heritage, most of Cask & Larder’s ingredients are sourced from the South, and appetizers on the dinner menu include Everglades Wings (frog legs) and Smoked Oysters and scones with ham, cheddar, pickles, and Dijon Chantilly mustard.
Unique but traditional dinner entrées include Rabbit & Waffle (corn pancake, rabbit and chanterelle sausage, and red pepper syrup) and Southern Picnic (deviled eggs, andouille sausage, crispy pork terrine, aged provolone, beer mustard, and pickles).
When they acquired Cask & Larder’s location more than a year ago, the kitchen was fully functional and with the money saved on renovation, Petrakis opted to invest in something he had always wanted to have in one of his restaurants: an in-house craft brewery. “I have never seen a brew pub that is doing elevated food—food that actually complements the beer and vice versa. We thought it was a different experience to offer.”
Cask & Larder offers eight beers on tap daily and craft beers are integrated into some of its dishes, such as the Peel-n-Eat Shrimp on its lunch menu, which is accompanied by a light broth of Wit beer, orange juice, fennel pollen, and spicy peppers. Servers suggest beers that pair best with entrées, such as the house-brewed Grapefruit IPA with Florida Blue Crab Salad & Charred Grapefruit.
After investing $200,000 in brew equipment alone, Petrakis decided to leverage the craft brewery into a business of its own. “We are one of only two craft breweries in town, and we distribute nearly 30 kegs a week to 20 different bars,” Petrakis says. Cask & Larder employs a brewer who handles the operation and coordinates distribution using a local distributor.
After nine months in business, Cask & Larder began offering lunch four days a week. “I had overstaffed chefs at the beginning, and they all ended up being pretty good. We became efficient at dinner, so it became a perfect idea to open for lunch,” Petrakis says.
Southern-inspired Sunday brunch—featuring dishes such as Biscuits & Gravy and Crispy Pork Belly—is Cask & Larder’s most profitable shift. After just one year in business, Petrakis says Cask & Larder is hitting its stride and starting to turn a profit.
“We are through the phase where we are trying to get by day by day,” he concludes. Surrounded by chefs who have been with them for 10 years—via their flagship restaurant The Ravenous Pig, which is located just down the street from Cask & Larder—Petrakis predicts, “In the next year, diners are going to see a dynamic change in some of the dishes. We are getting more rustic and simple, while elevating the food.”