Fresco’s: Connoisseurs of Delicious

In 1589 fresco meant painting on moist lime plaster with water based pigments. In 2013 Fresco’s means an imaginative little restaurant, wine bar, bakery, jazz club on South Kentucky Avenue in Lakeland. You can stand across the road and almost see the place vibrate with new ideas from owner-chef Tina Calhoon and owner-husband, Tim. Tina and Tim, has a cute ring to it doesn’t it, opened on May 18, 2009 in a place about half the size the restaurant is now. It’s the same place but they expanded into next door a while back. Why else would it have two front doors? Tina opened her first restaurant 21 years ago in Little Rock, Arkansas. She learned to cook when she was young and helped her mom with kitchen chores. That was in Ocala. She went into corporate restaurants and swore she would never have a place of her own again. You should never say never. Tina says the location came first . . . “I convinced Tim that it’s an easy job.” That’s when they envisioned a breakfast and lunch spot—In at 6 out at 5. But, soon their business exploded and so did downtown Lakeland adding four or five restaurants in the same year. “The business is a piece of pie during the day,” Tina says. Speaking of the day menu, Tim says there is always something different. “People can eat here five days a week and never have to repeat themselves.” A look at their almost 75 item menu proves that. Where else in town can you get a knuckle sandwich that doesn’t hurt? It’s a hoagie stuffed with chicken, sausage and shrimp with onions and peppers tossed in a jambalaya seasoning that’s topped with cheese. Typical of the way the Calhoun’s listen to customers, a diner asked why the knuckle mixture couldn’t go into an omelet. Presto! A knuckle omelet. Tina says that’s because the owner is the chef. She can do what she wants with her place and accommodates requests from diners. If someone with an allergy, for instance, lets a server know what can and cannot be eaten, the chef will add, subtract, multiply and divide a dish so it adds up to something tasty and safe. All this takes dedication. And with success comes more hours. One hundred hour weeks are not unheard of, Tina says. “I live in these four walls. I live and breathe in here. I could complain that I’m too busy, but you’ll never hear that coming out of my mouth.” Tim says Fresco’s is really two restaurants; a friendly breakfast and lunch spot with a bakery during the day and a different one at night, sharing the same name and the same 68 seats. When the sun goes down the Dr. Jekyll day menu goes in a drawer and the Mr. Hyde dinner fare appears. Both are imaginative, but the night version is more daring. The mild-mannered daytime fare moves over for a jazzy wine bar with more than 80 beers and 50 wines, almost all the wines served by the glass. Tina gets to let her short hair down and gives her imagination free rein. “We get to play with everything. We can experiment.” She does confit of duck. “That’s duck roasted in its own fat. It’s not quick or simple or cheap, but it turned into inspiration for a sandwich called “House Duck Confit Club” on Hawaiian sweetbread topped with lettuce, tomato, purple onion, bacon and garlic aioli.” But experimenting has its drawbacks. “I have to make myself write things down,” Tina says. “There is so much from scratch that it’s hard to duplicate.” Given her druthers, Tina says she would like to play with quail “and more exotic stuff. We started with buffalo and I want to try more exotic meats.” But with all there is to eat when surrounded by so much and so many possibilities, Tina’s comfort food is pasta or any carbohydrate. Her nose turns itself up at mushrooms and sushi made with raw fish. Pausing a few seconds (something she doesn’t do often) Tina sums up her philosophy of the food business: “You have to love what you do and don’t be afraid to try something new.” Though there are a few foods she doesn’t like. “I have learned to cook with them. I don’t smoke or drink and I can taste a dish and take it apart and recreate something I like. I like to step outside the box.” With all the subtle and not-so-subtle changes, the small kitchen is maxed out. “Everything” is produced on a six-burner stove, a 2-foot by 2-foot grill and a 2-foot by 2-foot flattop (griddle). Oh, and a Panini press and two toasters. And a little electric fryer.” “Everything” includes the restaurant, the in-house bakery with a few hundred pieces a day and a thriving catering business. Tina says she and her assistants do all the baking, with the ovens on 16 hours some days. Though she has a hard time saying no, catering has to come before custom cakes. “Everything goes through me. People call at 9 at night for catering.” When Tina says she lives in these four walls she really means it feels like it. And it’s not always a good thing. “Being here all the time, I don’t know anything different. The challenge is how to do something outside the restaurant. I don’t know how to shop any more. I never saw a Christmas flier. I’m missing it.. but I don’t miss it.” She says she would like to have five more hours in a day. “I got my love of food from my mother,” Tina says. “I was close to her. She baked and decorated cakes. I learned to cook from her and it helped being by her side.” Tim says, “I would like to have more time with my wife when we’re not here. That’s the part nobody sees.” They have staff they can depend on, Tim says, and they are not there every night until closing any more. His one dish is meatloaf. “I’m more in the way on the line. But I make the Monday special meatloaf.” Tim’s background is in sales and his gift of gab and love of people make him ideal for the spot behind the bar dispensing smiles with beer and wine. “I never expected to be this business. Running a business is scary as hell.” He still works at a full-time job but is aiming to retire from it in a few years. You can bet dollars to donuts that he will transition from a part-time restaurateur to a full-time one then. At least he will get to spend more time with his wife in a business that is an “easy job”.

132 S Kentucky Ave

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