The Garlic in New Smyrna Beach hits on all four cylinders. Not all fire perfectly, mind you. But overall, dinner at this casual Volusia County eatery is an event.
The bricks take a slight left at the first and foremost focal point of the restaurant — il forno. The behemoth wood-fueled hearth oven is covered in red, jewel-toned tile. There are few seats for guests in front of the fiery beast, which are likely prime restaurant real estate for the cold snaps of winter.
Inside, guests pass by bins and displays of beautiful pottery before reaching the host station. To the right, is a lively bar that wraps from the inside into the patio. To the left, you pass a small stage where nightly entertainment sets the mood.
Tables are arranged for intimate dinners or for large groups. It's clear all are welcome. The decor is a well-thought out mish-mash of pottery, iron work and candles. A fireplace centered along the patio enclosure ramps up the casual sophistication.
The menu is Italian with a selection of traditional offerings. Daily specials are cleverly hand-written on dried lasagna noodles. Servings are huge and sometimes a little messy but copacetic with the prices.
For starters, the kitchen shines with the Mediterranean antipasto ($10.95) and garlic-potato soup ($3.95). All tables are served a warm baguette and a bulb of freshly roasted garlic. The wait staff will smash it for you with a fork and then drizzle the plate with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
But for entrees and two other appetizers, the 800F hearth oven rocks. The baked creamy artichoke dip ($10.95) is concocted with five cheeses and is served with crostini. The flavor of an assortment of olives ($7.95) is transformed by the blistering hearth heat. The piquant flavors have unmistakable undertones of robustness. (Be warned, there are pits in the olives.)
For entrees, the hand-trimmed, cedar-planked salmon ($22.95) reveled in the oven's unrelenting blast. The rich fish was juicy and the seared wood plank imparted a subtle earthiness.
For the rosemary chicken ($21.95), half a bird was seasoned with a light touch of garlic and rosemary butter. The meat was a little unevenly cooked, but delicious nonetheless. All dishes prepared in the hearth oven are accompanied with a cheese-topped roasted tomato and a potato.
The Garlic offers gregarious dining in a cozy atmosphere. The kind of place, locals and weekenders seek after a day in the sun.
Food editor Heather McPherson can be reached at 407-420-5498 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The dish on diningThe Garlic
Where: 556 Third Ave. (restaurant is visible from State Road 44), New Smyrna Beach.
When: From 4 p.m. daily.
Wheelchair access: Easy inside, outside has some tight maneuvers.
Extras: Kid's menu, heated outdoor dining in the cooler months, catering, private events.
Entree range: $13.95-$24.95.
Beverages: Full bar.
Noise level: Comfortably loud with a great soundtrack from live entertainment.
Credit: All major.
Dining on a budget
Dinner for less than $20: Chicken roulade ($18.95), breast meat stuffed with cheese, spinach, garlic and herbs and presented on pasta.
Dinner for less than $15: Early bird specials ($12.95) are served from 4-5:30 p.m. and include 8 entrees that come with salad, bread, roasted garlic and choice of soda, tea, coffee, house wine, draft beer or one liquor drink.