Orlando samples the Big Easy at Tibby’s New Orleans Kitchen
Published: Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, March 30, 2011 17:03
Shrimp Creole, crawfish etouffee, beer served in goblet-style glasses, and traditional po'boys are all signature dishes of Brian Wheeler's latest restaurant, Tibby's New Orleans Kitchen.
Wheeler, a UCF alumni and founder of Tijuana Flats, opened the New Orleans-style restaurant on February 21, and has since been enjoying Winter Park's rave reviews and general excitement about the new hot spot.
Tibby's has already received complimentary reviews from Urbanspoon, Yelp.com, and Nation's Restaurant News.
Julien Newton, manager at Tibby's, credits its success to Wheeler's vision, as well as the never-failing expectations the restaurant provides to new and returning customers alike.
"We have great service and great food; there's consistency," Newton said.
Wheeler founded Tibby's in honor of his late, great uncle, Walter Tabony, (Tibby). His biography, which can be found on the backs of the colorful menus given when seated at the bustling restaurant, explain Tabony's life growing up in the Big Easy. After fighting in WWII, he returned to his hometown and built a fish camp on Bayou Bienvenue, all of which would be lost in the waters of Katrina. Wheeler calls his great uncle a "survivor," as well as an uncle that would "share his stories and share his love" of the life he led in his beloved New Orleans. Tibby lived to be 93-years-old.
"He was true New Orleans," Wheeler said in an email. "Born and raised and never left except during the time that he fought in the war."
Wheeler opened his first Tijuana Flats in Winter Park after graduating from UCF in 1995 after feeling dissatisfied with the restaurants and bars he frequented during his college years.
"There are a lot of restaurant operators out there that give this industry a poor reputation," Wheeler said. "They are lazy, float through the day and really have no desire to give their guest a reason to come back. You must truly respect this business to be successful."
After experiencing local success for four years, Tijuana Flats went on to experience national success after industry hotshot Camp Fitch adopted the restaurant in 1999. Since then, Tijuana Flats has expanded to more than 75 restaurants in several states.
Unlike Tijuana Flats, Tibby's is a "sit-down" restaurant, with tattooed waiters and waitresses happily ready to serve whatever Cajun food may be desired from the assorted menu. The restaurant, complete with a full bar and plenty of seating, features dozens of New Orleans-inspired folk art pieces that cover nearly every empty space on the walls, as well as police signs straight from Bourbon Street and pieces of Mardi Gras floats.
Large, exaggerated mardi-gras glasses stand along the back of the waiting area, and a hand-painted mural covers the back wall to the kitchen. Jazz music blares from the speakers, and bottles of hot sauce are placed at every table, including Wheeler's own brand of sauces, which according to Tijuana's website include some of the hottest sauces in the world.
"When we created Tibby's we wanted to make it like a restaurant that you would find in uptown New Orleans. We didn't want to make it into a restaurant you find on Canal Street or somewhere in the Quarter," Wheeler said. "I would hope that our guests get a true sense of what New Orleans really is: a unique place, deep in culture, full of sprit, with a passion for food."
When asked if Tibby's was college-student friendly, Wheeler said, "Only if they like inexpensive giant po'boy sandwiches, big frozen schooner beers that are very cheap, great tasting Hurricanes, drinks that are generous with the alcohol and of course, amazing beignets!"
"It's busy and loud and a lot of fun, and the food's delicious. Anyone could come here," said Richard Fellows, a waiter at Tibby's.
"The food was great and we had the best waiter," said sophomore Christopher Fahey. "The atmosphere was a lot of fun too for college students. I will definitely be going back."
Tibby's is located in the Publix shopping plaza at 2203 Aloma Ave., Winter Park, about 20 minutes from UCF. For more information about the restaurant or to download their menu, visit www.tibbysneworleanskitchen.com.