The Red Door

Crafting a new identity

Photography by Penny & Finn

I believe there are only a few things we need outside of the nests we call home, and that most of life’s necessities should be easily accessible within the walls of our own friendly
connes. en again, we must eat. Furthermore, in the words of one of my dear friends, we must, “Eat well, or die!” However, for a long time I felt that Lakeland lacked dining establishments that held true to the essence of that phrase.
Such was the case even after the Red Door opened for business in the Dixieland village neighborhood. You see, at first it wasn’t really a restaurant at
all. The Red Door originally opened about four years ago in a different location than its currently charming residence. I will never forget the rst time I walked through that brightly
painted door, immediately feeling like I was inside a close friend’s home who just so happened to be a wine guru. It was a comforting structure that had just one caveat — the food
was minimal. It simply wasn’t an establishment you would go to for a meal but more of a, “I’ll meet you a few hours after dinner for a drink and maybe, just maybe, we’ll share one thing
between the table.”

Broccoli risotto accompanied by roasted broccoli and beer cheese mornay, with Kentucky Kolsch

Broccoli risotto accompanied by roasted broccoli and beer cheese mornay, with Kentucky Kolsch

All was thrown out the wood-framed windows when the Red Door relocated about a year ago. I’m intentionally not referring to the wine-market portion of the restaurant’s name, because to most of its regular patrons it’s simply referred to as the “Red Door.” Actually, to date there has been a formal name change separating from the focused specicity of the old location, functioning primarily as a wine market and bar, to match the all-encompassing nature of a gastropub, which it is now. No more is there any sort of fog.
Once you find the Red Door, housed in a charming ’20s-style bungalow for which the district is famous, nestled comfortably in the sleepy Lake Morton neighborhood across from the Polk Museum of Art and the public library, you’ll see for yourself how it easy it could be to make repeat pilgrimages for a stunning supper. The building is built of wood and brick, but owner Richard DeAngelis really is the support beam that holds up the walls. Just about every night he can be found greeting patrons with a firm handshake and a warm smile, always ready to pull out a fantastic bottle of wine he just so happened to come across, offering up a taste in exchange for conversation. Thanks to Richard, Lakeland has this new version of a quickly acclaimed, favorite dining destination.

…the Red Door Red Ale is Lakeland’s first and only local craft brew (for sale), with the recipe originating in-house.

What makes the Red Door 2.0 better than the previous model? As previously mentioned, it’s not a wine market (and I mean it). Although its wine program is easily the most well thought out and reasonably priced in town, the Red Door has branched out to provide a beer menu of both draft and bottled craft brews, to which the most uptight beer snob would have trouble picking nits. It has also done something not a single Lakeland establishment has accomplished in all the years I’ve been of age in this town. It has provided the city with a unique craft beer all our own. In a partnership with Shipyard Brewery in Maine, the Red Door Red Ale is Lakeland’s first and only local craft brew (for sale), with the recipe originating in-house. Subtle notes of caramel malts, dried fruit, baked bread, and the slightest hint of citrus on the finish make this beer easily drinkable in any season. In addition to the Red Door Red Ale, Richard has planned a circulating core that will focus on drinkability in our particular regional climate. Hopefully, more local establishments will follow its lead and create tasty brews that call Lakeland their hometown.

Marrow bone and beef marmalade with parsley gremolata, with Dogfish Head India Brown Ale

Marrow bone and beef marmalade with parsley gremolata, with Dogfish Head India Brown Ale

Sadly, man cannot live on wine and beer alone, even if the beer has bready characteristics. Everything in life comes down to eating as a means to sustain. If we have deduced that
Richard is the Red Door’s support, then Chef Jason Boniface is the spark that keeps the restaurant portion of the Red Door vibrant. When Jason was hired to take over the Red Door kitchen and make it his own, the place changed for the better. There was a glaring need to have that big-city feel, yet reside right here in this close-knit community.
Richard’s new goal with the Red Door was to create something that would stack up to and survive just the same as any bistro in a cutthroat city such as San Francisco, Chicago, or Atlanta, while still having the feel of a quaint, private Napa Valley tasting room. That mission statement is hard to accomplish yet is being done day in and day out at the Red Door.
The menu could be considered Jason’s baby as he changes it on a constant basis. He also has at his disposal a way of showcasing some of his one-offs that might be destined for something a little more special. The Red Door has uniquely crafted themed dinners that include beer or wine pairings, showcasing the vast spectrum of Jason’s talent in a highly intimate setting. Only a handful of seats are available for these one-offs, making these events even more sought after. Creativity, adaptability, and ever-evolving techniques to find new and better ways of doing things are what torment a good cook. We all benefit from that battle with the advent of an ever-enhanced menu.

Stone-ground creamy grits with escargot, mushroom, bacon ragu and a sunny-side duck egg, with Dogfish 90 Minute IPA

Stone-ground creamy grits with escargot, mushroom, bacon ragu and a sunny-side duck egg, with Dogfish 90 Minute IPA

If the kitchen runs out of an item, instead of saying, “We’re all out,” a new dish is created on the fly seemingly in an instant. I recall that on one night out, chicken and waffles were ordered for the table. Unfortunately and without warning, the waffle iron decided it wanted to cash in its
401k and take an early retirement. So, Chef Jason had the idea of throwing together a couple of sweet corn cakes, helped along with a little
jalapeño and a generous amount of house-cured bacon in the batter. Combined with some of the best fried chicken in town, an expertly dressed slaw, and a spicy barbeque sauce, it made for a dish so balanced that it hit every flavor profile you can imagine. It also quickly took on a
starring role during that particular menu cycle.
Another unique characteristic of the menu design, and perhaps Jason’s own philosophy, is the way in which beer is incorporated into the food with such ease. You never want anything to be put into a dish in a forceful manner. When you order something such as mussels cooked in hard cider, roasted broccoli risotto with ribbons of beer cheese Mornay, or beef short ribs braised all day in the Red Door Red Ale (to be used as a crown adorning their fantastically unctuous take
on roasted marrow bones), there’s a purpose to that choice. Chef Jason firmly believes this is the way to create the best possible flavor experience. To me, the mark of a great restaurant is how well it attracts every type of diner. The Red Door is for everyone. It’s for the couple that finally found a babysitter with enough patience to watch three hell-raisers for an entire evening. It’s for the college student trying to impress his new girlfriend. And it most certainly is for the serious food lover who is never satisfied eating the same thing twice. (Hey, that’s me!)