You will find a lot at Red Door Wine Market. A young chef with boundless creativity and crazy culinary chops. A menu that changes not only with the seasons, but nightly if necessary, to incorporate the freshest foods. An expansive wine and craft beer selection. There also are several things you’ll never find at Red Door. A microwave. Budweiser. Coca-Cola or Pepsi products.
Red Door has earned its place in the hearts of many Lakelanders as the neighborhood bistro of choice as much for what it doesn’t offer, as what it does. Patrons come here seeking something different; not a dish or beverage that can be found everywhere else. With each dish, the goal is to present common food items in an uncommonly good way to create truly unique meals.
Some examples: a lot of restaurants can make a good burger, but Red Door offers the lamb burger, a mountainous patty topped with house-made bacon, olive tapenade, tzatziki, lettuce, tomato and red onion on a pretzel bun. Chicken and waffles are all the rage at numerous restaurants these days, but Red Door’s version includes a chicken atop a freshly made, plate-sized Belgian waffle and served with a bourbon maple syrup. Red Door house cures its own lamb and pork bacon, and offers house-made pickles.
“We set out when we opened to provide an experience that you couldn’t find at any other restaurant in town,” says owner Richard DeAngelis. “Fortunately for us, it proved to be a breath of fresh air in this community that was welcomed with open arms.”
If there is a chef made for Red Door, it’s Jason Boniface, a quiet 30-year-old with gauged ears and more than a few tattoos. His father and grandfather are restaurateurs who focused their attention on the front house aspects of their restaurants. Boniface always loved being behind the scene in the kitchen, where he could flex his creativity. He joined Red Door shortly after the restaurant reopened in January.
“I really liked Richard’s vision of where he is and where he wants to go,” Boniface says. “I thought I could be an asset to him.”
This New Hampshire native is a true foodie. If there’s any doubt, his skin paints the picture. Mixed in with images of meat cleavers and a skull wearing a chef’s hat, a meat grinder is tattooed on his arm, a hog head on his shoulder and a hop on his forearm.
In addition to being New Hampshire natives, Boniface and De Angelis are kindred spirits when it comes to the role food has played in their lives. DeAngelis recalls standing on a red stool between the stove and sink at age 4 and cooking with his grandparents.
While other kids watched Rawhide to follow the challenges of life faced by men on a cattle drive, DeAngelis looked forward to the scenes involving the chuck wagon. At 13, he lied to get his first job at a family-owned seafood restaurant.
DeAngelis and his wife Lori moved to Lakeland in 2001. In 2009, he opened Red Door at a Dixieland location. He relocated the business in 2012 when he purchased the 1,300 square foot 1920s craftsman bungalow at 733 E. Palmetto St. The new location offers a larger dining room and a spacious patio where live music can be heard every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. Fire pits keep the patio cozy during winter months.
An organic garden maintained by Lakeland Montessori School students lines the patio area, and lettuces, tomatoes, herbs and other vegetables routinely are harvested from it and used in Boniface’s dishes.
DeAngelis pursued a “wine country feel” when creating the restaurant’s atmosphere. He hit a home run, according to Lakeland resident Mellisah Bruce-Weiner.
“I never thought Lakeland would ever support anything like Red Door,” Bruce-Weiner says. “The first time I went there, it felt like a little piece of vineyard life had been picked up in California and dropped into Lakeland.”
The goal is to continue building on that theme, says Jonathan LaCombe, Red Door’s front house manager and a partner in the business.
LaCombe teamed with DeAngelis in fall 2012 because he liked the business concept. He has been instrumental in helping transform Red Door from a “wine bar that serves food” to a “restaurant and wine bar.” The current location makes it more feasible to offer full service meals all the time.
“When we looked at new locations, we felt like if we could find a new spot that enabled us to do more in the kitchen, it would be a faster way to grow,” LaCombe says.
Quality always has been paramount, but food quality is front and center since Red Door reopened at its current location.
“We’re really putting emphasis on that,” LaCombe says. “We want to be as ‘farm-to-table’ as possible and offer not only the freshest products available, but products we perceive as better. We can give customers a better product not by microwaving something, but by providing the freshest ingredients.”
In that sense, a dining experience at Red Door becomes an education, as well. DeAngelis and LaCombe don’t hesitate to explain to customers their meal will take a few minutes longer to prepare, and they will get a better product as a result because of the ingredients’ freshness.
“A great dining experience isn’t about fast service,” DeAngelis says. “It’s about a quality meal paired with an excellent wine or craft beer that accentuates the best flavors of the food and the beverage. When that is presented in an atmosphere that has a great vibe by staff who are knowledgeable, professional and personable, that is a great dining experience. We shoot for that mark every day.”
DeAngelis and LaCombe introduced a new feature in the summer known as “The Hoodie,” a takeout-only menu available Monday through Wednesday each week. Designed with the residents in the neighborhood surrounding the restaurant in mind, Boniface concocted several menus heavy on comforting summertime foods such as meatloaf, ribs and whole roasted chickens served with hearty sides, salad, a bottle of red or white wine, and dessert. The Hoodie serves two to three people.
“We were looking for a way to boost business during our slower season, and this was a huge success,” DeAngelis says, adding The Hoodie always sold out.
It also has proved to be a great way to get neighbors to try Red Door for the first time. Those who may have worried Red Door was “too fancy” for them to feel comfortable dining in have ordered the takeout menu, only to discover when they picked up their order that Red Door is as accessible to casual diners as it is to those looking to dress up and have a fine dining experience.
One constant at Red Door is that the menu items and the wine and beer offerings routinely change.
“It keeps the menu from becoming stale, and when you’re trying to be a farm-to-table establishment, it’s necessary to change with the seasons,” LaCombe says. “The customers enjoy the path we take them on.”
Education is another important element of the Red Door experience. Special events are held monthly that focus on a variety of food and beverage pairings. Some events feature regional wines and foods to accompany them, while pasta-themed and Champagne-themed events have been held as well. Wine education classes are held throughout the year.
“We’re not trying to turn everyone into a wine snob,” DeAngelis says. “We want people to feel confident ordering wine and understanding how the right wine and food pairings can bring out a layer of flavor you didn’t even know existed.”