Four Flamingos: A Richard Blais Florida Kitchen (https://fourflamingosorlando.com/) is an upscale restaurant at the very upscale Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress Resort hotel near Walt Disney World in Orlando. This is not the kind of restaurant The Saboscrivner and his wife usually dine at, as constant readers can attest. We prefer the hidden gems for affordable everyday meals, not these high-roller, baller, shot-caller spots. It even has a Michelin recommendation! But I offered to take Doctor Professor Ma’am, aka Señora Saboscrivner, somewhere nice to celebrate her birthday earlier this year, and as usual, I sent her a bunch of different menus to choose from.
Four Flamingos is usually only open for dinner, but they happened to have a fancy all-you-can-eat brunch on a Sunday in late February, and it sounded really good to both of us. It was a whopping $92 per person — a huge indulgence for sure, but we live as simply and within our means as possible, so we can indulge like this once in a while with clear consciences. However, if anyone decides to stop reading right here and now, I couldn’t even blame you.
Richard Blais is a big-time celebrity chef, a Top Chef winner, and he was even there on the day of the brunch, helping Chef de Cuisine Shelby Farrell cook (or at least helping direct things in the kitchen) and greeting some guests who were marking out in his presence. We got the latest possible brunch reservation (quite late in the afternoon), which was a lucky break due to what a big deal this was, and I knew we were going to have a memorable experience.
When we entered the busy dining room, there was a singer-guitarist who was quite loud, making it difficult to carry on a conversation. Thankfully, at least he was good. As I get older, even though I still love going to concerts, I find live music at restaurants tends to be oppressively, unpleasantly loud, to the point of detracting from the overall experience.
The brunch menu featured five small plates from the kitchen, and they were all on display as we walked to our table in a glass-enclosed atrium-like dining room. However, each guest could only select two, and they all looked so good. The “Floribbean” influences of Four Flamingos were strong in each of these dishes, featuring flavors that are native to our strange Southern state and its island neighbors in the Caribbean Sea.
The sweet tea short rib was served on a bed of grits, with squash and an orange glaze. I love short ribs, so I ended up selecting this one.
Even though I’m not typically an eggs benedict fan (or a brunch fan in general), I also selected this mangu benny, a Dominican twist on the iconic brunch dish, with mashed plantains, a poached egg, Portuguese-style linguica sausage as a higher-end version of the classic Dominican salami, and datil pepper hollandaise sauce.
My wife wisely chose the SBLT, with swordfish bacon (holy moley, this was incredible), local lettuce and tomato, and peppercorn aioli on grilled Olde Hearth Bakery sourdough bread. She loved it, and she was kind enough to give me the tomato and pink pickled onions, as well as a taste of the smoky swordfish bacon. We both love swordfish as well as any kind of smoked fish. What a brilliant idea this was!
She also chose the guava and goat cheese tart, with chevre (goat cheese) panna cotta, guava jam, and preserved lemon in a flaky little crust. I usually like guava a lot more than she does, but she ended up really loving this one too.
Sadly, neither of us got a chance to try the chicken & the egg, the fifth and final small plate — a Scotch egg made with chicken sausage cradling a soft-boiled egg, served with coconut white barbecue sauce.
Beyond the small plates, there were all kinds of decadently delicious options to choose from, including tiny WiAnno oysters from Cape Cod, venus clams, and house-made cured salmon gravlax, dyed purpley-red with beet juice.
There were also poached, peeled shrimp and cracked stone crab claws, a real delicacy.
Needless to say, I went to town on these paper-thin slices of “Southern Smash” salami, bresaola (air-cured salted beef, kind of like beef prosciutto), and sumptuous duck pastrami.
There were fancy cheeses to choose from, including an olive oil goat cheese in that glass bowl.
I really liked the port wine pate mousse, since my mom introduced me to the wonders of liverwurst when I was a little kid, and I also love Jewish-style chopped liver like crazy. (This was good, but honestly, good chopped liver is so much better!)
I had to photograph this gorgeous antipasto salad with multicolored cauliflower, grape tomatoes, and Brazilian sweety drop peppers. It tasted good too, but there were more exciting things to sample.
Pardon the mediocrity of this photo, but this wagyu beef tenderloin with a chimichurri rub was one of the only letdowns, sitting under the hot lights of this carving station. My wife and I both prefer our steak juicy and rare, and these pre-sliced pieces were all more done than we like, and dryer, too. But realizing this in advance, I only took a couple of small pieces, so I could say I tried it.
Some of the tastiest things I tried were the sauces. Every sauce was magnificent, including the California red barbecue sauce, jalapeño chimichurri, and Richard Blais steak sauce. Each one was better than the last, and they helped add dimension and excitement to the overdone tenderloin.
And this isn’t a monster from a Final Fantasy game at this carving station, but rather a whole marinated and fried black grouper. Grouper is one of our favorite fish, and it is so hard to find on menus in and around Orlando. Usually we have to schlep out to Florida’s western Gulf Coast for buttery, flaky grouper around St. Petersburg and Clearwater, but this guy was pretty great. Unlike the cauliflower salad, this tasted a lot better than it looked.
Anyway, here is my actual sweet tea short rib, which was cooked to tender perfection, soft enough to cut or shred with the side of a fork. For a lifelong Florida Man, I admit that I have never been into grits and probably never will get into them, but these were far better grits than anything else I’ve ever had.
The mangu benny was perfectly fine. I loved the linguica sausage, the perfectly poached egg (a reminder of why I never poach eggs at home), and the datil pepper hollandaise sauce, but the mangu mash was a little bland. Maduros (sweet fried ripe plantains) are one of my favorite things to eat in the entire world, but mangu is one plantain dish I will probably continue to pass on.
And this was the gorgeous SBLT up close, with the swordfish bacon on full display. It was a hit.
Unfortunately, my wife wasn’t feeling fantastic on the day in question, and she was feeling worse and worse throughout the meal (through no fault of the restaurant or the food). After all that anticipation, we left much earlier than we would have liked, and definitely did not get to eat as much or for as long as we hoped. I feel like I performed valiantly, doing what I could to “beat the house,” as I do in any buffet setting, but could have fought harder and gone on longer.
In the end, we paid a hell of a lot of money for some fancy foods that I love — cured meats, oysters, smoked and cured fish, cheese, grouper, interesting sauces — but I don’t think we would return to Four Flamingos for another one of these brunches. Not for that price, at least. My wife agreed. I’m glad we did it, and my only regret was that I didn’t put away more. But there are better values to be had, even if you’re looking for luxury, seeking swankiness, or on an odyssey for opulence. I remember the Sunday jazz brunch at the Boheme restaurant at the Grand Bohemian Hotel had a lot of similar things back in the day, but was cheaper and closer to home for us. I wonder if they’re still doing that. I wonder if I can “beat the house” there like I used to. Stay tuned, stalwart Saboscrivnerinos.
But Four Flamingos recently had another one of these all-you-can-eat brunches for Mother’s Day, and I’m sure they will do more in the future, so be on the lookout. Did anyone attend either this one from late February or the Mother’s Day one? What did you think? What were the high points for you, and were there any low points at all? For those who have eaten dinner there, how would that compare to a brunch like this? Let us know!