Crocante Restaurant

I’ve been to Crocante Restaurant ( three times now — twice dining in and most recently for takeout — since it opened in late 2022 in the old Fuddruckers location on East Colonial Drive.  I have been a Fuddruckers fanboy ever since I was about twelve years old, and I was overjoyed when that franchised location opened near my work back in 2017.  Then I was crushed when it closed in 2022, but I hoped whatever opened in its place would be halfway decent.

Well, I am extremely pleased to report that chef/owner Yamuel Bigio’s second Crocante location is far beyond “halfway decent.”  It is the best Puerto Rican cuisine I’ve ever had, and it will enrich the neighborhood and the city of Orlando.  Since I started composing this review, the original Crocante location in Kissimmee, which was apparently much smaller and more casual, has closed.  I get that Chef Bigio might want to focus on this newer, larger space, and anyone who tries it will be able to see the plan paid off.

I went with a friend and co-worker on my first visit, back in December.  This friend appreciates good food on the level I do, and I knew we would make wise choices.  He ordered carne frita encebollada ($17), fried pork chunks covered with sautéed onions.  At the time, it came with two “house sides,” so he chose boiled yuca in mojo sauce and a “specialty side” for a $2.50 upcharge, arroz con gandules, or rice with pigeon peas. 

I’ve never seen a restaurant plate its rice so nicely!  This deserved another photo from a different angle, along with a special shout-out.

I ordered what I had heard was the best thing on the menu, the porchetta de pernil ($18), also known as pork leg porchetta, slow-roasted with garlic and herbs and served with crispy, crackly skin.  I had already seen some diners’ photos of a big, beautiful, thick, round slice of porchetta, but mine came chopped into chunks.  I thought nothing of it, because it was one of the best things I had eaten in a long time.  In fact, it made my list of Top Ten Tastes of 2022 in Orlando Weekly.For one of my sides, I chose the arroz blanco con habichuelas rosadas, white rice and pink beans, which were awesome.  Again, the rice was plated beautifully, and the stewed beans were rich and meaty.  I could have made a filling and satisfying meal of just those.  They seemed to use short grain rice, which I associate more with sushi than Latin food, and it was so buttery.  Latin restaurants always make better rice than whatever I make in my Aroma rice cooker at home.  Could butter be the actual secret ingredient?  It does make everything better!

For my other side, I chose a “specialty side” for a $2.50 upcharge: ensalada de coditos, or pasta salad.  I’m on a kick of trying pasta salad or macaroni salad whenever I find them on menus, and this one did not disappoint.  It was a mayonnaise-based macaroni salad with chunks of cheese and ham, a very pleasant surprise.  I could have also made a meal of this!

About a month later, I returned to Crocante with another friend, an intrepid diner who is usually the first person I know to try any new restaurant, but this was his first visit.  We started out sharing empandillas de bistec encebollado ($9), an order of two steak and onion turnovers.  Of course we each ate one, and they were wonderful.  Comedian Jim Gaffigan once said there is no such thing as a bad empanada, and I tend to agree, even if this particular menu calls them “empanadillas.”  (If that translates to “little empanadas,” they were still a very good size, and delicious.)
I love the attention to detail at Crocante.  The creamy, herby dipping sauce was excellent, and even the garnish of arugula was dressed with a tangy vinaigrette, making it a legit side salad.

For this lunch, my friend and I had both figured out that to get the big, beautiful slice of porchetta — tender pork loin and unctuous, melty pork belly with crispy skin — we had to order the somewhat misleadingly named la kan kan rotisserie, also known as the boneless rotisserie pork chop ($34).  What I got last time was the chopped porchetta de pernil, but this here, at twice the price, is the real house specialty. 
Like most entrees at Crocante at that time, it came with two “house sides,” and my friend chose the same white rice and pink beans I enjoyed so much last time, plus boiled yuca with mojo sauce (and peppers).

I opted for different sides with my la kan kan rotisserie/porchetta, as much as I loved the sides from my first visit.  This time I got maduros (sweet fried plantains; one of my favorite foods of all time), and the “specialty side” of arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas) that my co-worker raved about last time, for a $2.50 upcharge.

Here are two sauces that our server brought us.  The one on the left was a slightly spicy, tangy vinaigrette with chili peppers floating in it, and the one on the right was creamy, a little spicy, and extremely garlicky.   

I want to show you these huge rolled porchettas on display in their raw state, before being roasted to tender, juicy perfection:

And here is one with that crispy, crackly skin, just waiting to be sliced and served.   

Most recently, I finally ordered morcilla when bringing home a takeout order on St. Patrick’s Day, because I had been wanting to try Crocante’s version of blood sausage.  It sounds gross, but I always love sausages and organ meats.  It might be offal, but it was far from awful!  In fact, it was delicious, with a crispy casing and soft, savory, yielding interior.  It was a lot less crumbly and sticky than other versions of morcilla I’ve had before.  This was a half-pound portion that didn’t come with any sides, but you can also order it by the pound.   

I also brought la kan kan rotisserie home for my wife to finally try, after I’ve spent the last two months raving about it being one of the finest pieces of meat you can eat in Orlando.  She loved it, which did not surprise me at all.  We have both eaten plenty of dry roast pork from all kinds of restaurants, including other Puerto Rican restaurants’ versions of the “chuleta kan kan” that were fried until they were dried out.  We’ve also ordered too many chicharrones that were too crunchy and hard to chew, that made us feel like our teeth were in danger.  But this was a masterpiece, even finer than the ones my buddy and I enjoyed dining at Crocante not that long ago.  It was still warm and perfect, even after driving it home to Casselberry.  And the two of us barely made a dent, so it was just as good the next day. This time, it came with a small corn muffin, that was moist and sweet and delicious — one more pleasant surprise and great little detail from Crocante.  I like sweet cornbread, but it is dry and crumbly at a lot of places, including some Southern restaurants and barbecue joints that should know better.

I ordered the arroz con gandules again for my wife to try, since she always likes rice and pigeon peas.  We both marveled at how much meat was in it, so vegetarians beware.  (Unfortunately, Crocante would not be a fantastic restaurant for vegetarians in general, with how meat-centric it is.)

I also ordered maduros, but when I arrived and saw the printed receipt, I noticed I had been charged $4.50 for them.  When they brought me my takeout order, I pointed out that the menu online said that the la kan kan rotisserie came with two sides, not just one.  Furthermore, the person I spoke to on the phone didn’t tell me there would be a charge for the second side.  They argued and said the new policy is entrees come with one side plus the little corn muffin.  Very politely, I said that I looked at the menu on their website when I called it in, and it was the same as it ever was, showing entrees came with two sides.  They said they would let the owner know to change the menu on the website, but they did not offer to refund me the $4.50.  Dear readers, as much as I love this restaurant and still recommend it, that pissed me off.  Not cool, Crocante.  $4.50 isn’t a huge amount of money, but it would have been such an easy thing for them to make right.  It’s the principle of the thing, and it left a bad taste in my mouth, after all my previous praise.  They did not handle that well.

Crocante is five minutes from my work, and the food has been terrific every time.  Despite that one annoying lapse, I would still go back because it is the best Puerto Rican restaurant I’ve ever been to.  Please check it out for yourself, especially if you like pork and want to try what might be the best pork dish ever.  Just remember to order only one side, despite what the menu on the website still says, a whole month after that interaction.


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