Some time ago I stumbled upon Spring Garden Restaurant at one of the entrances to prestigious Windermere. The place was run down and poorly kept, food was not representative of glorious Caribbean cuisine. I had doubts it would last much longer. Recently, I swung by for another look, just to see. Not to my surprise there was another sign on the door and building, Island Fuzion Restaurant. I went in for a closer look and try.
Apart from a change of sign, the store front looked the same. Step inside and a welcome clam blue interior envelopes. White table cloths and neatly arranged tables beckoned. Gone are the tacky hideous hanging decorations, faded fixtures and gimmicks. A smiling and welcoming greeter at the counter cheerfully explained that there is new ownership. The general menu is the same. A host of Indo and Chinese Caribbean dishes grace the now updated menu cover.
An expansive dance floor and bar sits at the back of this space. Obviously, the bar area was spruced up also. Most popular Call and Premium Brand liquors were on display. A full service bar. The back area looks more dance club than bar. There are high top tables aptly placed around the bar area. A big projector screen hangs from one wall, while a flat screen TV hangs from another angle. On my initial visit there was cricket blasting on the projector screen. What is cricket you ask? Only the most popular sport in any Common Wealth country i.e. the Caribbean, England and its subjects.
On this impromptu visit the cheery counter person suggested I try the Low Mein. I scarfed it down so fast I forgot to take a picture. Sorry. Low Mein is a thick stir fry noodle dish with vegetables. Meat of your choosing is added on top. In this case, fried chicken was suggested. The chicken was moist, tender, and succulent. There was a slathering of sweet soy sauce based goody on top. This was by far one of the better Caribbean Chinese noodle dishes I’ve had in Orlando. Since this was a nice experience, I decided to return with a bunch of friends to really give the menu a go.
Curry Goat – Chunks of goat meat with bone in. Perfect tender pieces of goat meat, in a strong potent mixture of masala and curry powder. The heat level is on the sinus clearing side. This is a clear display of Guyanese curry at it’s finest. There is no play with mildness and muted flavors. Eaten with roti, a flat bread like item, this is finger licking good. This curry packs a punch and keeps licking.
Roti – flat bread like item, made from flour. This is the sponge or sopping vessel for all curries. Although smaller than the Trinidadian version, this Guyanese style roti is tender, flaky, and generously oily.
Curry Channa – Tenderly cooked chick peas simmered in curry and masala. The plethora of spices lend depth and complexity to bland chick peas. This is the only true vegetarian dish on the menu.
Fried Snapper – Lightly seasoned and battered, this was a delicately fried fish. The texture was a little on the done side, which created a nice crunch. Be fore warned that dipping sauce is Island Fuzion’s Signature Honey Mustard based molten heaven. It is creamy, spicy, and packs a nice kick. The spiciness cuts the oily nature of fried fish.
Fried Rice with Chicken – Nicely seasoned rice stir fried in a wok. The rice was fluffy and loose. Fried chicken was tender, moist, with crispy skin and juicy flesh. Next time I am asking for more of that brown soy based sauce on the top. Heavenly.
Curry Snapper – Lightly seasoned and battered snapper fish simmered in curry sauce. Not many Caribbean restaurants in Orlando manage to serve a nice piece of fish. Most of their fish dishes fall apart. Here the fish in intact and wonderfully seasoned. Ample sauce allows for roti sopping.
Rice – Light and fluffy rice. An accompanied option instead of roti.
Pepper Shrimp – Jumbo shrimps with shells on simmered is a spicy sauce. Stop! Can you handle Caribbean spice? If not, move your hand away from the shrimps. The heat level in this dish will have your eyes running. The shells are crisp enough to eat the whole morsel. This dish is big, bold, and make no excuses for it’s name. For the spicy heat lover, you might have met your match.
Black Pudding – Rice and animal blood stuffed into intestines. There is a beef or lamb option. This is called blood sausage in other parts. Moist and very flavorful inside with a clean crisp sausage skin. Dipping chutney is amazing. This is a common dish popular amongst rum drinkers while they are partaking in the revered spirits. For the non drinker, go for it.
Roasted Duck – Tender pieces of duck seasoned and roasted to ultimate goodness. The meat still holds on the bone, it is firm and slightly chewy. Nice char on the skin.
Oxtail Stew – Chucks of tender oxtail simmered in cassareep sauce. Cassareep is a popular sauce used in Guyana to make stews. It is the main source of flavor for Guyana’s national dish, pepperpot. Cassava, also known as yuca, is boiled with brown sugar cane to make this famous sauce. The meat still held on to the bone which makes for bone sucking goodness. Tip: Forget your silverware, this is a pick up the pieces with your fingers and clean that bone out. You may rub the sauce all over your face if you so desire, that’s all up to you. Very few, if any, Caribbean or Guyanese restaurants in Orlando does an oxtail like this place.
In my quest to experience all types of cuisines, styles of food and food vendors, I have come to embrace the Orlando Caribbean community. Many of these Caribbean style restaurants are predominantly take out. Okay, Bahama Breeze might be a Caribbean restaurant, but really? Maybe I should rephrase as authentic Caribbean restaurants. Anyway, while the food in most of these joints are representative of their particular island, Trinidad, Jamaica, Bahamas, Haiti, and Guyana (although not an island, but considered part of the Caribbean), their dine in option leaves little to fare. Are there dine in facilities? Yes, many of these take out joints have seats and tables, but are they inviting or accommodating to a family? Not many of them. There is a more of a bar mentality with tables of men drinking and carrying on.
Island Fuzion seems to be trying to fill this void. The dining room is ideally located in the front of the restaurant so if a family or anyone wishes to dine in with out the distraction of drunk men in a bar, there is ample room. The staff is friendly and courteous. I have always hesitated to take out of town visitors to any Caribbean Restaurants in Orlando. If Island Fuzion can keep the bar scene at the back of the restaurant, this could be a very comforting place to experience the true essence of Guyanese and Caribbean Cuisine.