What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when I say the words, “hotel restaurant?” What about “hotel bar?” For me, the images flow pretty quickly: a poorly lit space with over-cooked, day old chicken priced with the corporate expense account in mind. A lounge singer tickles the keys with a whiskey-soaked rendition of Johnnie Ray’s 1951 hit song, “Cry.” Someone at the bar does just that, while a drowsy bartender dreams of the life he thought would be his, but which somehow slipped away.
Now picture the complete opposite and you’ll have the new restaurant at the Holiday Inn World’s Fair Park. Windows on the Park held a soft opening Monday and an official opening last night. Three million dollars went into renovations that transformed the space into a delightfully airy, open and inviting restaurant and bar. The changes came as a part of the fifteen million total dollars being spent to upgrade and update the hotel. The money was well spent in the restaurant and bar.
Thanks to a tip from our friend Johnathan, Urban Woman and I decided to try an opening night meal. The first impression when entering the space is the gorgeous and very unique bar which is stone, but doesn’t seem rustic in any way. The seating is comfortable and arranged in conversational groupings around small tables as well as private tables more designed for full dining. Seating is also available at the bar.
No matter your choice of seating, there is no escaping the point of the space: massive windows overlooking the World’s Fair Park. I’d never really thought much about the view from the downtown side, although it’s impossible not to notice the eyes on the KMA. I love the view from the other side, particularly after dark. The windows at the KMA yield an enchanting view of the lights of the city. Now that I’ve enjoyed a meal while looking west out over the park, I wonder why this space hadn’t been utilized properly before. We found ourselves wondering what the view would be like after dark and in Autumn and we’ll definitely go back to see.
The staff patiently waited while we debated the perfect place to sit and put us there immediately. The hostess and waiter both seemed anxious to please and ready to tell us their favorites from the menu. We pretty much followed their recommendations. While waiting on our drinks, Doug Porter, restaurant and lounge manager talked about the changes which have taken place, the decor, which is still a work-in-progress, and the general excitement surrounding the project. Complimentary parking at the hotel will be included for dinner guests and he suggested that people might drive in, have a meal, walk to a show in the city and end the night with a drink in the lounge.
We had Mozzarella Marinara as an appetizer and, which seemed good, but not necessarily as great as we’d been led to expect. The sauce was the best part and was completely delicious. We shared a soup and entree, getting the soup of the day which was an acorn squash and shrimp bisque. For an entree, we negotiated until settling on the Benton’s Smoky Mountain Bacon and Onion Ravioli. The pan-seared rainbow trout will have to come next time. So what did we think? Urban Woman declared first the soup, then the Ravioli, then the soup again to be her favorite. Both completely delicious, we couldn’t make the call. The soup had a perfect blend of flavors and a subtle crunchiness in each bite, while the Ravioli, stuffed with Benton’s bacon could not have been better, its bacon aroma lifting from the plate with the first cut.
We finished the low calorie night with a Mason Jar Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding which is made with Jack Daniels Whiskey Sauce, topped with whipped cream and includes a chocolate straw. It also did not disappoint. The Folgers coffee, however, could be improved upon. It wasn’t terrible, but with such a good meal, it could be better. Why not invest in some locally roasted beans like Three Bears or Golden Roast? Probably for the average coffee drinker it is fine, but it could definitely top the meal off a bit better for coffee lovers if it was upgraded.
The wine list isn’t massive, but is certainly adequate. I found a number of my favorites on the list. The somewhat limited tap includes local favorite Saw Works’ Pale Ale. To call it limited may be unfair, but after having recently written about the impressive taps at Casual Pint and Suttree’s, it was hard not to compare. In fairness, those are beer pubs and this is not.
In the end, we definitely give it a thumbs-up. The view alone is worth the walk across Henley Street. It’s a perfectly pleasant place to enjoy a drink and talk with friends or eat a meal while watching people frolic in the park. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served and outdoor seating is available. Check it out.