It’s been a while since we discovered a new restaurant that we couldn’t stop going back to. COVID stopped us all in our tracks and kept us in our homes more than ever before. It was a very strange time, when take out from our favorite local spots was the only time we actually went out. That is, until Russell’s – a new restaurant and bar on Lake Ivanhoe at the corner of Virginia Drive and N. Orange Avenue here in Orlando. We have become absolutely obsessed to the point where we’ve tried at least half their menu and the staff is starting to recognize us! Without further ado, here is my Russell’s Lake Ivanhoe restaurant review.
For some background, Russell’s was started by owners Kevin O’Donnell and Phillipe Villain of VO Hospitality, the restaurant group behind many of Winter Park’s favorite local spots. After significant renovations from the location that once housed Mesa 21 and Gargi’s Lakeside, the new and greatly improved Russell’s on Lake Ivanhoe officially opened their doors in September 2020. Having previously dined at Mesa 21 once prior, I can attest to what an amazing job they did.
They closed in the previously screened-in portion on the lake side, which gets a little too much sun and therefore really hot, really fast. Instead, they lined it with big windows to keep the waterfront views and brightness in the room. On the other side of the restaurant is where you’ll find the bar area, which includes a large and open U-shape bar surrounded by comfortable booths. This is where we have usually sat because we prefer that vibe over the white tablecloths in the dining room, which we recently realized they remove for brunch. The restaurant as a whole feels upscale yet approachable and comfortable, never stuffy. It reminds me a lot of places you would find in Palm Beach, where I’m from, with a coastal vibe and sophisticated touches.
To understand the concept of the restaurant, I wanted to share this post on the right from their Instagram page.
You’ll notice the pineapple theme in both the decor and the menu. Decor-wise, you’ll find the pineapple in their logo as well as painted on the ceiling above the bar. As for their menu, we love their Pineapple Old Fashioned and the cute pineapple carved wooden picks they sometimes use with garnishes on their cocktails. They also have a Signature Pineapple Foster dessert that both looks and sounds incredible, but since dabbling in keto, I haven’t splurged for it…yet!
While the Pineapple Old Fashioned is our top recommendation, the other cocktails are great too. If you want something refreshing, I love the Cucumber Honeydew Aqua Fresca or the Watermelon Basil cocktail. Neither are too sweet in my opinion. For something comparable but lower on the sweetness scale and a little more earthy, I’d go for the Zen made with matcha. Lastly, for something stronger, you can’t go wrong with the Earl Grey Gin Fashioned or previously mentioned Pineapple Old Fashioned. I’ve ordered them all and am impressed by their balance and consistency time and time again. For reference, I have not tried the Painkiller or Bloody Mary because they are simply not my cup of tea. All of the cocktails are the same price of $12 except during happy hour – see below!
If you’re not in the mood for a cocktail, they also have a nice wine list by the glass and by the bottle, as well as beers from nearby Ivanhoe Park Brewing Company.
The Happy Hour
One of our favorite parts about going to Russell’s is their amazing happy hour! It’s Monday-Friday + Sundays from 4:30-6:30 p.m. and excludes holidays. All their specialty cocktails mentioned above are at HALF price for only $6 each, select wines by the glass are only $5, and craft beers are $4. Such a steal!
They also more recently introduced a special food menu available exclusively during happy hour. You may know if you’ve been following my blog that I love scallops, and they have the most incredible blackened jumbo scallops for only $9 (for two) during happy hour! Like all of their seafood, it’s so well prepared and seasoned, which I’ll get into more detail about below. You can view the rest of their happy hour menu here.
Every time we went to Russell’s for happy hour or dinner, we talked about going to brunch that weekend. The bartenders and servers we talked to always recommended it! They have live music located in the middle of the restaurant, which is actually really enjoyable thanks to all the sound dampeners that allow you to still talk to your fellow dining mates without yelling. Like their other courses, the brunch menu is pretty amazing too. They have a mix of the classics (omelets, eggs, bacon, hash browns, etc.) and some more unique dishes where you can’t help but drool thinking about – Banana Fosters French Toast, Cinnamon Roll Waffle, Breakfast Club Sandwich, Slow Braised Short Rib on Swiss Cheese Waffle, New England Lobster Rolls?! YUM! Last but not least, bottomless mimosas or sangria for $19. You can view the entire brunch menu here.
Once we finally made it to brunch, we decided to sit in the dining room, lucky enough to score a table along the windows looking out over Lake Ivanhoe and some boating/jet skiing action. They remove the white tablecloths for brunch, which feels less fancy and much more family-friendly. While they offer brunch on both Saturdays and Sundays, reservations are highly recommend especially on Sunday when they tend to be their busiest. I ordered the highly recommended Slow Braised Short Rib on Swiss Cheese Waffle and my boyfriend ordered the Breakfast Club Sandwich – both delicious and quite large portions especially because they also come with fries or a side salad.
As mentioned in the introduction, we’ve tried at least half their dinner menu and have never been disappointed. Our top two recommendations that we’ve ordered repeatedly are the Crispy Duck Confit and the Grilled Swordfish. They are cooked perfectly and are the best rendition we’ve ever had of both dishes. We simply cannot recommend them enough! They also make great sauces in all the dishes we’ve tried, which is no easy feat. Clearly they have some chefs who know what they’re doing. I have also noticed and greatly appreciate how fresh everything is – their seasonal baby vegetables side is my favorite. What a weird thing to say, but truly, they’re really good vegetables!
Food and drinks can be great, but bad service can really put a damper on the entire experience. Fortunately, Russell’s has excellent service. The hostesses, servers and bartenders are friendly, helpful, knowledgable, professional, and overall just really welcoming – a quality I especially love in a local spot. From what I can tell, they seem really happy to be working there and that positive energy just radiates around the bar and into the dining room.
We are continuously so impressed by the quality of the food and the drinks, the service, and the atmosphere – the perfect combination that keeps us coming back for more. Bravo, Russell’s!
*Cover photo is from Tasty Chomps. All other photos are my own.