We were invited to the media preview event a few days prior to the opening of the newest Yard House in Orlando. There are locations in 19 states including several in South Florida. Named after a 3-foot glass that holds the measurement of a yard of drink, Yard House offers over 140 beers on tap. In addition to a full bar, there is a huge menu featuring appetizers, pizzas, pastas and seafood.
The event we attended was quite busy. We were escorted to a booth table and then choose food samples off trays carried by the staff. The food came real fast, we could hardly keep up.
(First of all, my disclosure. While we eat mostly Vegetarian and Seafood, this was an exception as it was a media event and we did try everything that was placed in front of us, including meat.) Some of my favorites included the Hawaiian Poke Stack, the Southern Fried Chicken Breast and the Korean BBQ Beef.
The Hawaiian Poke Stack was delicious- marinated raw ahi stacked on what I believe was a thick corn tortilla chip with carrots, daikon radish and avocado. The Ahi was the main ingredient here with the other veggies simply enhancing the wonderful flavor.
We also tried the Seared Ahi Sashimi with a lightly blackened slice of ahi tuna served with a soy vinaigrette, wasabi and pickled ginger. Slightly spicy and meaty.
Another favorite of mine was the Southern Fried Chicken served over a bed of spinach-corn mashed potatoes. The chicken was not overly breaded and was tender and juicy. I really liked the spinach and corn mashed with a hint of spiciness.
The Chicken Garlic Noodles were mixed with asparagus, spinach and mushrooms. The light sauce was not overpowering but you could really taste the garlic. Another great dish I could eat a big bowl of- for me minus the chicken.
The Spicy Thai Chicken Pizza was also tasty. Spicy being the key word here with a firecracker hot sauce and topped with chopped macadamia nuts.
One of my other favorites was the Korean BBQ Beef. Thinly sliced and marinated Korean beef served over Jasmine Rice. The beef was very tender and full of flavor.
Chad really liked the Blackened Swordfish Tacos with a cumin crema, cabbage and mango salsa. We may or may not have grabbed a few of those every time that tray came around.
We also both liked the Ginger Crusted Norwegian Salmon served over wasabi mashed potatoes. I am normally not a fan of ginger, however, the ginger did not overtake the dish was a very good accompaniment to the thick and meaty salmon. The whole plate is drizzled with a spicy peanut vinaigrette that really enhanced the flavor.
Now, there a few things we didn’t like. For one, the Blue Crab Cakes sounded delicious on the menu with Mango Papaya Chutney and a Passion Fruit Buerre Blanc. The crab cake and honestly it tasted like it was previously frozen. Not the chutney or the buerre blanc sauce could save that plate.
We didn’t care much for the MooShu Egg Rolls either. They were filled with chicken, a chili cream cheese, carrots, green onions and spinach. The egg roll itself was nothing special, however, what saved the dish was the apple ginger plum sauce they were dipped in. That sauce was very tasty but not enough to carry the entire dish.
We had a few fillers- just ordinary dishes that didn’t have much impact on us like the Spinach Cheese Dip and the Caribbean Chicken and Penne. Both something you can find at any other restaurant anywhere.
Lastly we tried the Gardein Orange Peel Chicken. Yard House gets enormous bonus points from me as they have a rather large menu of both soy-based chicken and beef items from the Gardein brand. The chicken was crispy and coated in a spicy and sweet orange glaze. The concept and execution was wonderful and so unexpected.
The Gardein menu include wings, beef sliders and chicken rice bowls among many others. You can also substitute Gardein chicken on their delicious Spicy Thai Chicken Pizza or in the Fried Chicken Strips dish. Any of the beef burgers on the menu can be substituted with a Gardein patty. Thank you Yard House for not making Vegetarians an after thought. Thank you for having more options than a garden salad or a veggie burger.
The space itself is basically just one large room centered around a very very large bar. I believe that Yard House will be a huge hit in Orlando especially with its location just underneath the soon-to-be-finished Orlando Eye, a 425-ft tall ferris wheel. I think the vacationers will love this place. What will be interesting to see if the locals will venture into the cluttered tourist district of I-Drive.
All in all, Darden has a great concept here. More upscale and fancy than a Miller’s Ale House yet still casual enough to show up in jeans and a T-shirt. Or shorts and flip-flops. And from what we had the food is a thousand times better than an Ale House. And again, how can I not love a place that treats Vegetarians as though our money is just as good as that of a meat-eater?
NOTE: I did not include my usual Sprouts rating for Yard House as we attended a special event here and did not experience the restaurant during normal operations.