Attention to detail, pride in service and the overall dining experience has elevated Vintage on 5th to a true destination restaurant for those seeking something beyond the ordinary.
The eclectic restaurant in the historic district of Crystal River is an upscale oasis that attracts faithful residents, as well as visitors from far-flung places in the United States and abroad.
From innovative appetizers such as crisp pork bellies and a she crab bisque laced with sherry, to full entrées of rack of lamb and Gulf grouper Francese and tempting finales like creme brulee, the menu offers something to please the most discriminating tastes.
It is all due in no small part to the friendly host and owner, Rodney Carr, chef Aaron Davidson and gracious server Michael Parker, all of whom have been at the helm for many years.
The site was once a church built in the 1940s and evolved into a landmark restaurant under the direction of Carr and his staff.
“The thing I am most proud of is that most of our original staff is still with us,” Carr said.
Davidson, who began his culinary duties 12 years ago at Rodney and Jennifer Carr’s former restaurant, Crystal River Wine and Cheese Co., segued to Vintage.
All are Crystal River natives.
“Consistency is the key,” Carr described his restaurant’s popularity, and emphasized that Chef Davidson “has a lot of leeway to be as creative as he wishes. We give him time to play with fresh ideas.”
Davidson emphasizes dishes with a Southern and contemporary flair.
Parker is a server so popular with guests his service is requested by new and returning customers from as far away as England, the Netherlands and other distant locales.
Parker’s amazing memory often surprises patrons when he greets them at the entrance and always recalls their favorite dishes and wine selections. He is never to busy to exchange pleasantries and good wishes.
A major part of the success of Vintage is the attention to fine wines served at table and in the adjoining lounge and open air veranda areas, as well as in a separate dining room with a full wine cellar that can accommodate parties of up to 30 guests.
The restaurant earned the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for six successive years, 2009 through 2014, and was honored by the magazine “as having one of the most outstanding wine lists in the world.”
The restaurant decor is as charming as the menu, with a variety of old-fashioned photos, paintings and the original heart of pine wood trim.
Seafood is very popular at Vintage, Carr noted, and said the traditional Southern entrée of shrimp and grits “has been our trademark dish from day one. We’ve sold more of that than any other item.”
Diners can also find fresh Gulf seafood, as well as Cedar Key oysters and clams and a full line of certified Angus steaks.
Entrée prices range from $18 to $32, but those with lighter appetites will also enjoy a menu of small plates such as hickory smoked pork belly with a sweet chili glaze, sirracha, garlic, cumin and paprika; Fried green tomatoes sliced and served with goat cheese and applewood bacon crumbles; and Caribbean jerk shrimp pan seared in a creamy jerk seasoning ($5 to $9).
Notable among the full entrées are the bourbon-glazed Frenched pork chop, a 12-ounce beauty, and the Signature (very large) veal chop, Frenched with house baste. The house salad and dinner rolls are included.
We recently feasted on the rack of lamb with an indescribably delicious baste and the shrimp and grits infused with Gouda cheese in a creamy sauce.
The service was exemplary.
The Carrs have homes in Jacksonville Beach and Crystal River, with Carr visiting the restaurant several days a week for staff consultations and to host the front of the house.
Chef Davidson manages the kitchen and menu, Parker is lead server and Valarie Bibb is the dining room manager, all members of the team praised by Rodney Carr.
Though Carr said nothing is firm as yet, he hinted at possible future plans for a second restaurant venue in the Crystal River area.
“We are looking at several ideas,” he said.
Vintage on 5th is at 114 NE Fifth St., Crystal River. Hours are Tuesday through Thursday from 5 to 9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday until 10 p.m. Closed Sunday and Monday. Call 352-794-0004 for reservations and information. Major credit cards accepted.