One of the wonderful things about living and working Downtown is the anticipation that builds as a new business lays its roots in our little town. Most recently, the District, a new gastropub on 2nd street, set the town abuzz as owners Brad Plummer and Anne McNamara began renovating their corner storefront, mysteriously swathing the windows in butcher paper for several months.
Since I ride my bike past the space (located in the Avalon building, next to Dreamy Cakes) almost every day, I will openly admit to being pretty darn antsy to find out what was happening behind the paper. What sort of food would they serve? How will they set themselves apart from other restaurants in our increasingly upscale dining scene? What sort of decor look are they going for?
And of course, the question on most people’s minds: when will they open?
It’s easy to get anxious when you suspect delays in an opening, and I’m happy to say that after meeting with the District last week, I know exactly why their opening took longer than expected.
They do things the right way, which only means Sanford is in for a real treat.
Despite what Brad calls “a few snags”, including the revelation that the concrete floor was about 7″ thick and all needed to be removed for new plumbing, the renovations have yielded a gorgeous result, hopefully indicative of the future. Even tearing up the concrete floor resulted in a hopeful surprise, the discovery of an antique horseshoe, a piece of Sanford history which now hangs in a shadow box inside the restaurant.
From the moment we walked into the restaurant, we were in love. The sophisticated color palette and mix of industrial metal fixtures with warm wood tabletops, furnished by local craftsman Michael Nall of Park and Seventh, ground the space with a type of Sanford-y down-to-earth quality, creating a wonderful setting for the wonderful family bringing their dream to life inside.
And that’s the key word for the District, family. Anne and Brad, busy, but cool and collected, welcomed us with open arms and treated us to a fantastic tasting prepared by son, Chef Chris, who studied culinary arts in Colorado, “for the snowboarding,” as his mother says. We certainly felt as if we were being spoiled by a doting family, stuffed to the gills with a slew of delightful dishes like a college kid on winter break.
The meal opened with sautéed Cape Cod mussels, dressed in a lemon and shallot cream sauce. I adore shellfish, and these were doubtless the largest, richest mussels I’ve ever had. Bartender Charles paired this dish with a Gin and Jam, a sprightly, lightly tart cocktail, garnished with candied lemon and rosemary, ideal for sipping with seafood.
Next came the braised short ribs, served with Chef Chris’ signature mushroom risotto and vegetables. The beef was impossibly tender, and the sauce bound the starch and veggies together perfectly, playing well off the namesake cocktail paired with it, the District. A play on a classic Old Fashioned, the drink is a combination of Old Forester, aromatic and orange bitters, sweetened with a local honey simple syrup.
Right about then, I started filling up. You might have guessed that when the Sanford365 crew eats together, we don’t just dig in right away, but spend about 10 minutes per dish taking photos for our article. Needless to say, our minds had plenty of time to catch up to our stomachs, and things were feeling a little Thanksgiving-y, but the next course was so delicious, we couldn’t stop!
We next enjoyed a beautiful (yes, beautiful) bone-in pork chop over creamy Boursin mashed potatoes and broccoli rabe, topped with a savory fig and onion jam.
Good lord, what an incredible bite. The pork was perfectly cooked, with a slightly crusty exterior and succulent internal texture, with just enough fat to keep me happy but not enough to overwhelm a typical diner (I like a lot of fat, sue me), and a smear of the fig jam on the top of each bite pushed me over-the-top into savory-sweet heaven.
Charles served the Avalon 212, his take on a classic Manhattan, a chilly coupe glass of Michters Rye and E**X**R Bitter Liqueur from Bitter Truth in place of the traditional sweet vermouth, lending the cocktail a spicy, woodsy character.
And right about then, we almost gave up eating any more (on account of bursting at the seams), but then the chef revealed possibly the most heartfelt dish of them all, a slice of his grandmother’s chocolate cake, topped with ganache and garnished with bright slices of strawberries.
I’m the type of person who will order another appetizer as dessert instead of something sweet, but like an actual slice of cake baked just for you by a grandmother, there was something special about ending the meal with this family tradition.
A few sips of the Sanford Smash, the palette-cleansing signature cocktail Charles served us to accompany the cake, and our incredible afternoon feast came to an end.
We so enjoyed being adopted by Anne, Brad, Charles, and Chef Chris for the afternoon that we are already planning how we will coordinate our orders with our spouses on our next visit. The District has turned out to be worth the wait, and we hope that now they are open, you won’t lose any time trying out this new favorite.
The District is open daily for lunch and dinner (Tuesday – Friday, closed Monday), for dinner on Saturday from 5-10pm and for brunch on Sundays from 11am-3pm. Happy Hour is Tuesday – Friday from 4-7pm!
The District in Sanford, 112 W. 2nd Street Sanford, FL 32771