BY LEON KONIECZNY
Have you ever eaten dinner while in jail? Hopefully not, but now you can make that experience a reality—without being arrested—at Central Florida’s most unique dining experience—The Old Jailhouse restaurant and bar in Sanford. Built in 1893 and serving as the county jail from 1914-1959, this historic building in beautiful, historic, downtown Sanford suffered decades of neglect, decline, and decay before the city recovered it and put it on the auction block. Two years and a beautiful reclamation/restoration later, you can have a fine dining experience like none other around. Boasting the original bars on the windows and private dining in the visitation room where you can get “locked up,” the dining experience at The Old Jailhouse is indeed exceptional. Over 150 seats give you a wide selection of where to sit and what to see in this marvelous old building—old outside, but with a very modern, chic flair inside. Everywhere you look, you’ll be reminded that you are eating dinner in jail.
The culinary mastermind behind the unique menu is master Chef Bram Fowler, long a central Florida favorite. The seasonal dinner menu currently features his unique, “smile of the south” southern-flair creations, such as the “jail bird” featuring fire-grilled chicken with birds-eye chili, the Sun Belt cioppino with mussels, scallops, clams, shrimp, and Mahi, the low country Gulf shrimp and sausage, and the fire grilled steak served with roasted poblano pepper and street corn-off-the-cob. Appetizers include the Brussels sprout petal salad with strawberries, goat cheese, toasted pine nuts and a berry vinaigrette and the “jailhouse fries” with fingerling potatoes, pimento goat cheese and crispy pork rind. Keep in mind, though, that the menu is ever-changing as fresh ingredients go in and out of season, and The Old Jailhouse is all about “fresh” and “local” ingredients. They also boast various in-and-out specials—it’s all about what’s current and fresh, Chef Bram says.
The Old Jailhouse has a full bar that features craft cocktails, such as the “Birdman of Alcatraz,” “Cukes of Hazzard,” and “Hard Thyme.” They also boast a robust wine list, which is sold by the bottle or the glass, and a variety of locally brewed craft beer and others, such as Guinness, on tap. You can even get a flight of wine or beer to sample some of your favorites at a great bargain. They also have a children’s menu and a pet friendly, open-air, covered courtyard.
Our recent Friday night dinner there was typical—and very good. We were quickly seated and served. Since I like dry reds and Tommy is a sweet
wine fan, we decided on a flight—four different 3-oz. pours allowed us each to sample what we like best, and we did find some new favorites. It was hard to decide on an appetizer as we’d had some in the past, but we chose something new, the crispy Brussels sprouts with okra. While neither of us is a huge okra fan, this dish is mainly about the sprouts, and they were excellent, slightly crispy with a mustard aioli. This is a winner, and by the way, the fried okra was good, too! We were excited to learn they had a daily soup special, which was the mushroom soup, and soon it came out. OMG, it was outstanding! I don’t think I’ve ever had a better mushroom soup in my life. Rich, woodsy, earthy, creamy, this had everything a mushroom soup could and should have. I highly recommend it. For his entrée, Tommy had the fire-grilled steak cooked medium rare, and it came out perfect. Though he asked for a steak knife, it was not needed because it was fork-tender. The street corn with roasted mild poblanos and an accompanying chipotle crema were perfect for this dish and made for a very attractive plate as well. It was outstanding. I had the Creole lamb. All I can say is “wow.” The lamb was very tender with a great gelatin-mouth-feel to it. The accompanying Creole sweet potato hash was very tasty as well. My only “complaint,” which is petty, is that the colors were mostly meaty-orangey, so there wasn’t a lot of contrast between the lamb and the hash. But from a flavor perspective, it was excellent, and I’d order this again in a heartbeat. Service was quick and attentive, without being intrusive. They did a wonderful job taking care of us.
The Old Jailhouse is the brainchild of a local restauranteur family who purchased the dilapidated building from the city and undertook its meticulous restoration. Their mission is to delight their guests by giving them a memorable experience, delivering exceptional food and drinks with flawless service every time. Based on my time in their jail, they have met and exceeded this goal. You must try it out—you will not be disappointed.
The Old Jailhouse is open for dinner Monday through Saturday at 5, and for lunch Thursday through Saturday at 11:30. Currently, they are running a Monday to Wednesday “2 for $50” dinner special. You and your guest can choose an appetizer to share, two from the soup/ salad selection, two entrées, and a dessert to share from a limited selection menu. It’s a real value at only $50. You may also want to check out their T-shirt drink challenge, as
well as their daily happy hour, that takes place Monday through Friday from 5 to 7. Check their website for more details. The Old Jailhouse has a walk-in policy and only accepts reservations for parties of 8 or more. Now that they are past their opening and have found their stride, we found no wait. They were busy, but not overloaded. With so many great dining choices, Sanfordites and visitors now have an additional choice—and dilemma—of where to eat in historic, downtown Sanford. The Old Jailhouse has really raised the bar for dining in downtown Sanford and taken fine dining to a new level of excellence. I have sampled many of their appetizers and dishes and wholeheartedly give The Old Jailhouse (https://theoldjailhousesanford.com/) my two thumbs up. I cannot wait to go back again, and will do so very soon
Leon Konieczny is a local Central Florida foodie and food blogger who’s been writing about Sanford and Seminole County area “good eats” restaurants for the past seven years. He’s big into eating at local mom ‘n’ pop shops where high quality ingredients, love, and a dose of home cooking make all the difference. While he occasionally eats at the big chains, he claims it’s only to remind him where a real quality dining experience lurks — in the small restaurants which are the heart and soul of every neighborhood and community
Photo by: Mike Yebba
Bar Manager Nick Sprysinski
Executive Chef and Director of Operations Bram Fowler