Clean food, clever drinks & local focus have East End eatery humming.
I imagine when Ricky from Rochester realizes that simple assault charges aren’t a path to MMA stardom and he hops that FTW Greyhound to Florida it isn’t with images of Dollar Generals and strip mall sprawl dancing in his head. In fact, dollars to doughnuts, the cerebral scene more likely resembles Bird of Paradise. Nested inside East End Market, it’s a rainbow-plumed chickadee of an eatery that’s almost entirely bar. It slings wild seafood pulled from nearby waters, fruit and veg (often) pulled from local vines, and vibes on an easygoing esprit de corps born of patrons that seem to be perpetually playing hooky. Pipe in an ever-changing range of craft drafts that flow from tap to brain like the river Lethe, and you have Bird of Paradise – a brightly flavored, boozy bit of Florida fantasia.
If you continue reading, you’re going to come across the word ‘local’ quite a bit. We enjoy writing (and eating) it. Emily Rankin – chef, owner, Audubon Park native and founder of the fantastic Audubon Community Market, has crafted a menu that concentrates on clean, locally sourced food and tropical tastes – everything is gluten free or dairy free, made with organic coconut and olive oil, and avoids icky refined sugars and not-so-icky honey. Sure, it’s more Moby than Margaritaville, but it doesn’t make it any less ‘Sunshine Statey.’ If it all sounds a bit too healthy to be tasty, don’t get your hypothalamus in a wad – it’s as tasty as tasty can be and there’s more than enough alcoholic bric-a-brac to make your liver fat with delicious guilt.
Munch and I hit Bird of Paradise frequently for the occasional mid-shopping nosh, sinister dinner deal1, and bimonthly Wiccan crochet club huddle (Witchy Stitch n’ Bitch). A recent daydream of an afternoon found us matching rounds with Go-Kart Romeo and Pretty Bird while hungrily burrowing into Avocado Coconut Dip ($10) – so smooth, subtle and wonderfully rich it’ll make your innards smile and wink. For the coconut averse, it’s safe territory. Again, subtlety shines. We opted to scoop with tortilla chips, but you can choose to pair the dip with vegetables. You can choose. Not a choice we would ever make.
Ceviche ($15) is straight-out-the-water fresh – red snapper on the two occasions we’ve had it – plumped and crisped with purple daikon and bell pepper and sharpened with micro cilantro. Some may scoff that the house made baked plantains aren’t crispy (you know, like out of a bag) and that there’s ‘other stuff’ in the ceviche, but not us. Not here. Not now. This is quality crudo and super true to Florida – veggies from here in town, fish from somewhere just over there, washed down with beer from just over there. It’s a little Latin, a little gulf o’, a little tattooed O-Town, and a lot of right.
We’ve enjoyed Lettuce Wraps ($12) at Bird of Paradise on several visits; bouncy romaine leaves paired with pickled vegetables, a cilantro-lemongrass sauce and your choice of roasted pork, organic local tempeh, or Florida wild shrimp. We’ve yet to venture beyond shrimp, but the pork is local, heritage and beckons loudly. Next visit. This is a plate that just shouts good-for-you; textures and flavors harmonizing gorgeously. Every bite’ll make your eyes brighter, your teeth whiter, your singing voice more mellifluous.
Peel & Eat Wild Florida Shrimp ($17 for ½ lb., $28 for 1lb.) are seasoned, steamed and served piping hot with fresh lemon and choice of the cilantro-lemongrass or mojo sauce. They’re a good deal pricier than you’re likely to find elsewhere in town but also a good deal tastier (shrimpier) and with superior provenance.
In keeping with ‘merica’s current fascination with bowls, there’s bowls (all $15). If you’ve read our review of fast-casual Bolay, you know we kinda have a thing for food surrounded by walls. At Bird of Paradise, bowls are super-solid, substantial and come with a choice of protein (see Lettuce Wraps above). A Florida Bowl and a Ceviche Bowl are basically Lettuce Wraps/Ceviche with a bit of jupiter brown rice tossed in, but Island Jerk, Sesame Ginger, and Mojo bowls mix it up a bit with saucing and ingredients (a pineapple salsa here, some purple cabbage and kale there).
In keeping with ‘merica’s current fascination with kombucha, there’s kombucha ($7); cucumber sage, grapefruit ginger, and citrus lavender on our last visit. We’ve yet to try, but we’ll get around to it. Seriously. We’ll get around to it.
As mentioned, the selection of local draft changes frequently and is invariably varied. It’s kind of pointless to chase names here – whatever we call out will be gone by the time you visit, but we’ve had hibiscus wheat thingies, dark chocolatey thingies, and pils thingies. OK, OK. We’ll dangle a name, however pointless; Barrel of Monk’s Abbey Terno from Boca Raton is a mighty fine Belgian Dubbel that featured on our last visit. Although far lighter than most it’s equally flavorful and packs a whallop (7.5%). If it happens to make an appearance when you make an appearance, enjoy it with a finger on your Lyft app. In any case, there’s always a range of styles represented among the eight or so taps at Bird of Paradise, so if you’re into all things hoppy or only certain things hoppy, you’re likely to be hoppy-happy.
Cocktails are wine-based, mocktails are mocktails, mimosas are organic and all three will cure what ails ya. We recently enjoyed a Hibiscus Rosé – a combo of hibiscus rose tea, coconut milk, coconut rose syrup, ginger, lemon and rosé wine – and a mimosa with cava and organic grapefruit juice.
As an aside, many drinks at Bird of Paradise make use of Smiling Goat Shrubs. You may have seen the word ‘shrubs’ bandied about in Orlando’s more au courant watering holes. For the uninitiated, they’re concentrated drinking vinegars largely crafted for cocktails, often just mixed with soda for a refreshing non-alcoholic bevvie, and work great in the kitchen (marinades, sauces). Smiling Goat does a bang-up job with its shrubbery and is also local with a capital yokel. Flavors are typically blended but often anchored in a dominant theme/flavor – think Datil pepper (our fave Florida pepper), starfruit, or pink peppercorn.
So, a final bit of helter skelter. If you enter East End Market Corrine-side, Bird of Paradise is on your immediate left, directly across from meat magician, Matt Hinckley (Hinkley’s Fancy Meats). Its prominent wooden bar has a good deal of aesthetic gravity (at least to the thirsty) and may be your only option for a sit down. If you want to increase your chances of grabbing one of the 3-4 tables, go during off hours. Don’t go expecting to ‘dine.’ Bird of Paradise is an elevated snack bar with great booze. Also, don’t go expecting fried things, extensive options, sassy servers, or a bottle of Corona sprouting a lime – although unabashedly Florida, it isn’t Sloppy Joe’s. Think Parrothead meets Radiohead. Picture a slightly stoned Gwyneth Paltrow in flip flops proffering a bamboo tray of psychedelic crudité. Got it? Awesome.
Planning on going today? Take a look at what you’re wearing. Chances are you’re overdressed.
- you should know this reference, dummy.