This past Saturday my mom had a specific hunkering for German food, so my family ended up at (drumroll please)…The Smiling Bison. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Allison, get your cuisines right because that is far from German. Let me explain.
Orlando does not exactly contain a prolific amount of German restaurants. I can count on one hand the number of German restaurants in this area, and the closest one of me, at that, is a good thirty to forty-five minute drive depending on traffic. But we were hungry and determined so the drive meant nothing. However, our brains clearly were not taking into consideration the fact that we were deriving to one of the only German restaurants within a 100 mile radius of Orlando at 7pm…on a Saturday night. I’m sure know where this is going. We arrived to find a hoard of people (I am not exaggerating on this one) standing outside waiting for a table. Not to mention the mass of groups already eating both outside and inside; the place was popping, the noise level rivaling that of a professional sports stadium. Clearly everyone had the same idea to eat German food.
So after putting our name in for a 45 minute wait (and that was for first-available, inside or outside, you could be eating next to your neighbor’s dog, take your chances seating). So we decided to explore. That is when my eye caught sight of The Smiling Bison hanging just down one of the side streets. I read about restaurants all the time, and am always looking for off-the-chart, unique, non-chain restaurants to explore; The Smiling Bison had caught my attention in one of those said articles a while back. So, feeling a bit adventurous, we decided to give it a go. Big change from German food, but our hunger trumped.
HOLY CRAP!!!!! (Yes, the all-caps and excessive use of exclamation points is warranted).
I mean, ahem, yeah The Smiling Bison was pretty good….
No seriously though, things have a weird way of working out. We came for German and ended up trying a new restaurant that we will definitely be back to, and more than once at that.
First and foremost, before I get into the juicy details (pun intended), let me give you one all-important recommendation.
Make a reservation.
We walked in and were immediately asked for a reservation. Don’t get the idea that this is a hoity-toity place. It’s just that the space is very small, and, coupled with the fact that everyone loves eating out on the weekend, a seat would be hard to come by out of the blue. There was a small area in the back of the restaurant that operates on a first-come-first serve basis, but again, let me remind you it was Saturday night, so that was not happening. Luckily, the host has a cancellation and gave us the only open table there. Seriously, this never happens to me. So lucky. But the chances that happening again are slime, so in the future, make a reservation to ensure you get in.
Here are my top three reasons why you should dine at The Smiling Bison:
1. The Relaxed Casual Ambience
Like I mentioned before, the restaurant is pretty small. However, the tables are spacious, and the wood style benches have high back and come with plenty of leg room. The small interior adds to a more intimate and relaxed feel. Would describe the style as rustic; almost everything was wood and old-time, with reds and oranges and browns; very simplistic yet beautiful. I particularly loved the chandeliers hanging throughout the restaurant, adding a bit of unique class. Late at night, the restaurant even transforms into a lively scene with local musicians.
2. Support Local and Sustainable
The Smiling Bison prides itself on utilizing the local food supply chain whenever possible. They source in-season produce from local farms. They buy from areas that practice sustainability and are focused on maintaining the environment while keeping a certain set of moral codes in their farming. At the entrance sits a sign indication what local farms they bought their food from for that period of time. In addition, The Smiling Bison prides itself on quality, innovation, and healthy, sustainable approaches to every dish they masterfully create in house. Interestingly enough, serving bison was not their initial intent. However, they have evolved to create a handful of dishes that accent the healthier red meat.
3.The Delicious, Ever-Changing Menu
I had to save the best for last. Of course the food was the absolute best part of the meal. I didn’t take a picture of the menu because I don’t want to spoil it. Plus, since The Smiling Bison constantly buys fresh, local, and in-season, the menu does change frequently (with a few staples staying on year-round). I will mention a few of the dished I tried that blew me away.
- Chicken Liver Mousse: We started out with the chicken liver mousse. I wasn’t able to snap a picture of this one because we engulfed it that fast. Silky, smooth, incredibly flavorful with a slightly salty quality, smeared on toasted rye bread to add the perfect crunch, complete with seasoned mushrooms to add texture, this dish completely melted in my mouth. It came with a few fried chicken skins (which surprisingly, were delicious. Reminded me of pork rinds on steroids, with the perfect balance of salty and crunchy.)
- Duck Lovers Pizza: What do I not say about this?! For starters, it is a pretty rich and filling dish so could definitely be shared. I could definitely tell that they made the dough fresh in-house. It was so perfectly airy, with a slightly crispy edge and doughy interior which I love with my pizza. The pizza got topped with duck ham, duck sausage, duck confit, garlic puree, jack cheese, balsamic, pea tendrils and…a giant fried duck egg to top it off! I have never had an egg on pizza but now I understand the popularity. We broke into the yoke and smeared it all over the pizza; it had the effect of a thick, rich sauce to coat the toppings, which balanced the meatiness of the three different ducks on top. I even dipped my crust into the egg which once again added another dimension.
- Sausage-stuffed quail with beet and pecan relish: This was one of their seasonal dishes, so I had to try it before it disappeared from the menu. The most interesting part about this dish: it was served cold! I expected a whole sizzling quail stuffed with bits of sausage but my mind was blown when the dish came out: House-made sausage (you heard me right on that one) and ground quail were mixed with a little beet puree and formed into disks, then served cold over more beet puree with pecan and chopped beets. It reminded me of eating leftover meatloaf slices as a kid but much more delicious and much more interesting.
- Smiling Bison Burger: Finally, because we were at a restaurant called The Smiling Bison, we had to try the famous bison burger, one of their staple dishes and one of the few permanent fixtures on their menu. This was the best bison burger I have ever had, no ifs, ands, or buts. All-natural bison with garlic aioli, mozzarella, mushroom ketchup, house bacon served not on a regular hamburger roll but on grilled Texas toast, complete with a fried egg on top and served with house-made salt and pepper French fries. I cannot begin to explain how perfectly seasoned and juicy this burger was. It didn’t need any more frills; just a few extra toppings allowed for the perfection of the meat to take center stage. I’ll say no more…you’ll just have to try it.
The Smiling Bison also features a pretty decent wine and beer list, both domestic and craft. In addition, their bar drinks were nothing to ignore. Classic cocktails with a twist. They infuse a lot of their own mixes and even some of their won vodkas (kiwi vodka anyone?)
If you are in the Sanford area or are just looking for a unique, farm-to-table, fresh and local restaurant to hit up, check out The Smiling Bison. You will not regret it. Next time I am even going to hit up their Saturday brunch.