Review: Bigfire American Fare is Average with Promise

Emeril’s Orlando had a good run at Universal CityWalk, but there wasn’t much sadness on our end when the restaurant closed its doors. When Bigfire was announced to be filling the spot that used to be Emeril’s, to say we were excited is an understatement. The concept of having a rustic, lakeside eatery with meats, spirits, and s’mores just sounded perfect and different from the rest of the offerings at Universal CityWalk. In this case, it turns out that we hyped Bigfire up way too much and it couldn’t live up to expectations. That’s not to say it isn’t a bad restaurant, but our experience wasn’t mind-blowing.

There are plenty of things that Bigfire does right – first and foremost is the decor. The restaurant has a very modern vibe from the exterior, but plenty of windows showcase the amount of ambient light that can shine through into the restaurant. There’s an outdoor patio with fire pit and plenty of seating that will most likely go unused unless long waits become a normal at Bigfire. Overall, the exterior is elegant, contemporary, but inviting.

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Once inside, the theme really starts to transcend. Earth tones run rampant throughout the restaurant on the floor tiles and walls, giving the entire place a comforting feel. The color scheme is accented with wood, stone, and even a plaid wall decorated with lanterns. The restaurant is very large and feels open like a lodge when seated in the main portion of the building. There are other small dining rooms in the restaurant the take you away from the action, but provide a more cozy experience. The bar area is a perfect example of this, and also a great place to dine since it offers full service.

The pride and joy of the restaurant has to be the kitchen. It is partially open-air allowing you to see into where the magic happens, but the primary focus is centered on the massive grill. The grill utilizes a blend of oak, pecanwood, and cherrywood, and it’s very impressive. As a fan of grilled meats, I could’ve sat and stared at it for hours, but then I’d just look plain crazy.

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Before getting to the good part, I want to mention the service. Based on our dining experience, it’s clear that the serving staff is very attentive. Servers were constantly moving around the restaurant checking on their tables, refilling water for tables they didn’t serve, and providing a smile with every experience. Some might even argue that they were too attentive, but it was nice to see a serving staff that was so eager, knowledgable and bringing their best game to work in a restaurant that’s only been open for a month.

Hearth Oven Baked Bread – $4.00

Typically at a restaurant of this calibre, you’d expect a bread service with the meal, but that’s not the case at Bigfire. Instead, they offer a Hearth Oven Baked Bread appetizer that is served with herbed butter, whipped butter, and peach preserves. The bread comes to the table warm, providing that fresh-baked feeling. The exterior of the bread is very crispy, but the inside is soft and fluffy. As for the toppings, the herbed butter was probably the best of the three, but could’ve used a bit more flavor. The whipped butter was standard and the peach preserves paired very well with it and helped to balance out the sweetness from the preserves that were nearly too sweet to eat alone. The bread is cut into four thick slices, so the appetizer feels worth the price, but it could really stand to be complimentary.

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Fried Green Tomatoes – $9.00

Fried Green Tomatoes are truly a southern staple, so you might not expect to find them in a restaurant that feels like a northwestern hunting and fishing lodge, but the restaurant does their best to incorporate many different American dishes. These Fried Green Tomatoes were served alongside burrata, arugula, walnut pesto, white balsamic, and smoked salt. Ultimately, they were a big swing in a miss. The tomatoes were sweet for some reason, which was very off-putting. It could’ve been balanced with some salt in the crispy coating, but it just wasn’t there. The burrata was perfectly creamy and actually helped balance out the tomatoes, but I would’ve preferred the mozzarella on its own. The dish comes with two tomatoes, which would’ve been disappointing for the price if they were actually good.

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Beer Glazed Scallops – $25.00

Scallops aren’t an item that I would typically go out of my way to order, but it seemed like a dish that could be easily shared and is considered a signature option. The scallops are served in a Bigfire Smoked Amber broth with fire grilled vegetables and charred hearth bread. Without overselling it, this dish was great. The scallops were a quality product and also cooked perfectly. The Bigfire Smoked Amber broth provided a hint of salt and smokiness, but the scallops didn’t need any help. The broth did elevate the vegetables to the next level and it made the bread absolutely delectable when you let it sit and soak in the broth. There was nearly 10 scallops served in the pan, so it definitely felt worthwhile considering the price tag.

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Signature Bison Burger – $16.00

If the pricier entrees on the menu aren’t appealing to your wallet, there is a small selection of handheld sandwiches that all cost $17.00 or less and come with an additional side of your choice. One of these items is the Signature Bison Burger, which shockingly is a signature menu item. The burger is topped with a red wine aioli, caramelized onions, and a beer cheese sauce. This burger borders on a knife and fork sandwich for sure, but that’s never a bad thing. We ordered the bison to be medium and it was served pretty much at the right temperature, maybe closer to medium well, but not dried out at all. The beer cheese sauce was a dominant flavor adding a smokey, creamy balance to the salty, juicy bison burger. The caramelized onions and red wine aioli brought some sweetness into the mix. It was a solid burger, but it also wasn’t the best burger you’ll find in a world overrun with craft burgers.

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Crispy Smashed Potatoes – $5.00

This was a head scratcher. You would expect a side dish that was called crispy smashed potatoes to be crispy and smashed and that wasn’t the case at all. They were just roasted, salted fingerling potatoes. They were slightly crispy in a way thanks to being roasted, but not enough to be part of the name. The side was a good portion for the price and it tasted fine, but it should be renamed. Maybe they weren’t properly made for us?

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Pork Belly Mac & Cheese – $5.00

One of the items I was most excited to try was the Pork Belly Mac & Cheese. We ordered it as the included side dish with the Signature Bison Burger and thought the two items would complement each other. Unfortunately, the Pork Belly Mac & Cheese is a big disappointment. The first problem is the size of the portion. It would’ve been a bigger issue if we paid for it separately, but it wasn’t ideal. Next, the pork belly was basically overcooked bacon and almost nonexistent. It doesn’t need to be overflowing with big hunks of pork belly, but it shouldn’t be accented with small pieces of bacon bits. Finally, the cheese sauce was basic. We didn’t ask the server what the base was, but its very possible that it was also the beer cheese sauce from the burger. If it was, it’s possible that the cheese needs a meat with a stronger presence to be more impressive. Either way, we decided that it wouldn’t be a side we’d order again.

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Baked Alaska – $9.00

Most people will probably steer towards the kitchy, but fun Tableside S’mores if they’re looking at desserts, but we opted for the Baked Alaska thanks to the fact that it looks similar to the stacked onion train you will see at some hibachi joints. That being said, the Baked Alaska is huckleberry ice cream covered in meringue and torched tableside. It’s not as fun as making your own s’mores, but it’s a fun moment. This dessert is definitely a mixed bag. It’s not bad, but it definitely doesn’t seem universally appealing (like the Dutch Apple Pie on the menu). It wasn’t listed, but there was also a chocolate cake layer inside that apparently could pair well with the huckleberry if you like the mixture of fruit and chocolate, but it produced a slight bitter taste. We probably wouldn’t order this one again.

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The Classic Old Fashioned – $14.50

The Classic Old Fashioned is made with Bigfire Select Barrel Woodford Reserve and it is exactly what it is – a classic old fashioned. You can’t go wrong with Woodford Reserve as the base, but there was nothing extraordinary to make you go out of your way for the cocktail.

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The Classic Manhattan – $14.50

The Classic Manhattan is made with Bigfire Select Barrel Woodford Reserve and sweet vermouth and it’s slightly more interesting than the old fashioned, but it’s still a very routine manhattan. It would’ve paired deliciously with a thick, juicy steak, but I’ll stick to making Woodford Reserve manhattans at home, or I’ll leave the sweet vermouth out and just drink it neat.

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Overall, Bigfire has a lot of promise and potential. The food seems to be hit or miss, but when it hits it hits hard. The atmosphere of the restaurant could be better. The decor implies a relaxing, but classy establishment and unfortunately the loud music and its location keep it from being what it could. The restaurant evokes a romantic vibe that could be taken to the extreme at night with the right lighting and musical choice, but it still remains a family restaurant trying to reel in those leaving the theme parks. I would’ve preferred it implementing a smart casual dress code and being more similar to Emeril’s, but it is what it is. At the price point, they could arguably do this without any issue, and they still have NBC Sports Grill & Brew, Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen, The Cowfish, Margaritaville, and Hard Rock Cafe to keep families happy.

Should I eat at Bigfire American Fare?

Since the restaurant is still relatively new, I’d have to say yes, give Bigfire a shot if the menu seems appealing to you. If you’re looking for a good date night option, maybe wait until later in the night to go. Stick to the signature options and you should walk away happy.

What should I eat at Bigfire American Fare?

Right now, my greatest recommendation would be the scallops. During the media preview, I was also able to sample the Brook Trout and Cowboy Ribeye and I can say wholeheartedly that they know how to grill, so maybe consider a steak or fish as an option. The BBQ Shrimp was also impressive. There’s nothing I’d say to avoid wholeheartedly except for the Fried Green Tomatoes and Pork Belly Mac & Cheese.

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