| By Kathryn Deen |
UPDATED 1/29/18: Jalea just reopened, after a month without electricity due to financial challenges. Owner Kirk Golan told Clermont Magazine that it was tough to get back on their feet after Hurricane Irma wiped out business for awhile. Kirk and partner Mario Marcano decided to drop their evening hours and dinner service, adjusting hours to 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily (closed Mondays). “We’re directing ourselves more into it seems what Downtown needs – a coffee shop and bake shop. We will have a larger selection of baked goods and a few salad/sandwich options, along with coffee, beer and wine,” Kirk said. They had a bustling brunch crowd when we visited on Jan. 28 and seemed optimistic about the new plan.
Fun and flavor infuse the atmosphere at Jalea.
Chef Mario Marcano belts ballads in the kitchen while Chef Kirk Golan gets his groove on in the dining room.
The dynamic couple own the vibrant, eclectic cafe, wine bar and bake shop in Downtown Clermont.
And the Groveland residents have been ramping up their offerings since May, when they opened Jalea (pronounced ha-lay-uh, Spanish for jelly).
The brightly painted house at 658 W. Ave. was built in 1930 and last held Greens N Grains Organic Cafe.
The 2,400-square-foot restaurant sits on the western edge of Downtown Clermont, just a few blocks south of Clermont Historic Village Museum.
The enthusiastic owners previously ran a smaller operation within the former Rabbit’s Hole Book Store on Montrose Street, which closed in April.
At Jalea, there’s Sunday Brunch with bottomless mimosas and live music, Taco Tuesday with margaritas and Wine Not Wednesday. Newer additions are Ladies Night Thursday and Story Time Saturday. There’ve been paint parties, Yappy Hours, Mad Tea Parties and reading/craft time. They recently started offering a grab-and-go food fridge and late-night hours with pastries and coffee.
Next up, they’d like to start enrolling guests in a coffee mug club, renting the place out for special events (capacity: 35 people), and within a handful of years, they hope to open a standalone bakery in South Clermont.
Who knows what else is up their sleeves?! That’s part of the charm of the place.
But what we do know is the food and drinks will be flavorful and you’ll have a fun, relaxing time. Just make sure you have a few hours to enjoy the leisurely service.
“We care that you melt into the moment and you feel at home,” said Mario, who has a bachelor’s from Johnson & Wales’ former Caribbean Culinary Institute, and opened a couple restaurants in his hometown of Puerto Rico. “Kick back and know that you are taken care of.”
Jalea does a lot well, but brunch is their pride and joy. Selections range from about $6 to $16, from health-conscious to indulgent – but mostly indulgent. Like, you-can-add-ice-cream-to-your-waffles indulgent.
Mario’s fluffy, gigantic homemade pancakes are topped with fresh-made Apple Pie, Banana Pudding, Coconut Cream Pie or Nutella Bacon. Yes, we said Nutella Bacon.
Heaps of gravy-like grits are piled high with scrambled eggs, crispy bacon, thick-shredded cheddar and savory sausage crumbles.
Then there are the Granola Bowl, Fritatta, Cinnamon French Toast, Loaded Home Fries… and on and on. The Grit Cake with Steak and Mushrooms might be our favorite. It’s topped with two fried eggs and it’s over-the-top delicious.
Now, don’t even get us started on the coffee. Jalea serves up cold brew on draft from Golden Hills Coffee Roasters in Groveland. For their espresso drinks, Mario makes flavored syrups like maple and gingerbread. Our taste buds were dancing over the Bori, a Puerto-Rican style coffee with brown sugar and whole milk. It’s silky, sweet and bold all at the same time.
As for lunch, you’ll find fresh salads with chicken or steak, plenty of veggies and delightful house dressings like Creamy Basil Ranch or Blood Orange Vinaigrette.
And their sandwiches include melted cheese, bacon, chicken, steak, you name it. The popular Parisian brings ham, brie, fennel, brown sugar apple butter together on a croissant. As for another big seller, the VG Delight is filled with a flavorful assortment of portobellos, tomatillo, chutney and greens on sprouted bread.
In case you’re curious, lunchtime meals cost from about $8 to $13. Not bad for fresh, gourmet food.
Dinner, served 6 to 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, showcases their Spanish flair. Choose from plantain-stuffed chicken, pork Mofongo, a pork sandwich, plantain soup and melon salad.
Dinner entrees cost about $13, but special nights give good deals, like $5 to $7 for a taco dish on Taco Night.
“Comfort fusion – that sums it up,” Mario said.
Alcoholic drinks are as crazy-creative as the rest of the place! For one, the chefs like experimenting with hard float combinations of craft beer or cider and the local Yummi’s sorbet or ice cream. They also serve up beer, wine and craft sodas.
Adventurers will want to try The Jalea, made with champagne, wine tequila, fresh fruit juices and wine. A bubbly delight.
Now, let’s talk dessert!
Chef Kirk does the baking. He entered the food world later in life, after several years in fashion retail. He earned a culinary degree from Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, Calif., has baked for hotels and other shops, and opened the first Yard House in Long Beach, Calif., as a pastry chef.
“I just love the whole process – the texture, the feel, the emotion, the structure of it all,” Kirk told Clermont Magazine.
Fun fact: He also has a dance background and performed on American Bandstand in the mid-’80s; hence, all the dancing around the restaurant.
Kirk’s creations include popovers with cherry jelly and berries, magic bars, lemon cheesecake with blackberry compote, almond bars, and he’s always dreaming up something new.
His gluten-free baked goods particularly are a hit among guests. His best-seller is the macaroon – variations of which include Almond Joy, Cranberry Walnut, Calypso (papaya and pineapple).
Even dogs have options at Jalea. Owners are welcome to bring their canines to dine on the patio with dog cookies in flavors like applesauce and carrot; or carrot and peanut butter.
The owners have two part-time servers and one full-time staff, and they may hire additional help soon.
Share your experience at Jalea with us in the comments below.
Kathryn Deen is the founder and editor of Clermont Magazine, a Clermont resident and an award-winning professional journalist.