Restaurateur and cook Amanda Walsh adds a creative touch to popular dishes.
Photos: Nicole Hamel
Cheeser’s Palace owner Amanda Walsh receives nonstop praise for nearly every item on her menu. The only complaints occur when some customers learn what’s not on the menu.
That comes with the territory when you operate a European-style café in the South.
“Sometimes people get upset when they learn I don’t have biscuits and gravy,” she says. “You can’t please everybody.”
But Amanda certainly tries. As owner, she does everything from making electrical repairs to waitressing. A frying pan in one hand and a plumber’s wrench in the other is not unusual.
But her favorite aspect of the job is spending time in the kitchen dreaming up new ways to enhance traditional food. Her cute and cozy café in downtown Clermont offers more than standard restaurant fare. A quick glance at the menu reveals items such as European Muesli cereal, Belgian waffles, crepes, a French Brie cheese plate served with French rolls, a Whiskey Cheddar Burger, and Tomato Basil Florentine soup.
One of the true stars is her eggs Benedict. This dish may not be new or trendy, but the perfect combination of poached eggs and creamy Hollandaise sauce atop a deliciously toasted croissant has customers raving.
“Most people make eggs Benedict with English muffins, but we use croissants because they absorb the flavor better,” Amanda says.
Her eggs Benedict come in many variations besides the traditional with Canadian bacon. Other choices include Grilled Spinach and Tomato, Applewood Smoked Bacon and Sausage and Smoked Salmon. However, the most popular variety was born from Amanda’s own creative tastes and is prepared with a Florida twist. It’s affectionately called the Florida Citrus Shrimp and Crab Benedict. She has pleased many palates by blending Florida orange juice and lemon juice with sautéed shrimp and crab.
“People want a little bit of Florida,” she says. “When you take the acid in orange juice and marry it with the creaminess of Hollandaise sauce and the richness of the egg yolk, then you have a perfect marriage. For me, it is very satisfying when customers brag about this dish because this is my own creation.”
Never formally attending a cooking school has not impeded Amanda from achieving culinary creativeness in the kitchen. Amanda credits her upbringing. She was introduced to the food industry at an early age when her parents owned a seafood restaurant in South Florida.
“I started helping out my parents at the restaurant when I was five,” she says. “I’d get to my father’s restaurant at 5am and peel potatoes. Then the school bus would pick me up at the restaurant. After school, I’d go back to the restaurant to clean dishes and do homework.”
As an adult, Amanda worked for Publix for 10 years and received professional training in hotel restaurant management. She eventually got the itch to open her own restaurant, so she called her mother, Carol Kayser, who was operating a cheese shop in Ohio.
“She had a cheese shop, and I wanted a restaurant. We merged our two ideas and became partners.”
They opened Cheeser’s Palace Café in 2006. The business doubled as a restaurant and specialty shop where patrons could enjoy breakfast and lunch and also purchase imported cheese. In fact, Carol, a certified fromage expert, offered “Cheese Class 101” seminars to teach others about the finer points of making cheese.
Carol retired eight years ago, and the cheese classes are no more. Amanda has done just fine as the restaurant’s sole owner. A big reason for that is her firm belief that every cooking task, no matter how small, should be done with passion and an eye on perfection.
“I’m a home cook on steroids,” she says. “How more honorable can it get than to nourish and feed people and then have them come back to eat your food again? Some customers come here to eat several times a week, and I love being part of their everyday lives.”
She instills that passion into her employees.
“It’s exciting to pass on my love of cooking to others,” she says. “I prefer that the people I hire do not have a culinary degree. I want them to drink my Kool-Aid and do things my way. Cooking food is our love language.”
Amanda does more than make good food. She’s also a self-taught chocolatier. When entering the facility, customers will likely notice an assortment of tasty treats such as Rocky Road and Double Chocolate Rum winking at them from behind a display cabinet. Many opt for the Chocolate Goat Cheese Truffle.
“The tanginess of goat cheese marries with the richness of chocolate to make a wonderful treat,” she says. “I actually enjoy using both white and dark chocolate and filling them with peanut butter, Nutella, strawberry and coconut.”
Bakery items such as homemade cakes, strudels and jumbo yogurt muffins are also on the menu. No wonder Amanda can confidently claim that “nobody goes away from here hungry.”
So never fear, country boys and girls. Biscuits and gravy aren’t on the menu, but Amanda serves up a heaping helping of another Southern delicacy—grits. And you’ve probably never tasted any quite like hers.
“I add heavy cream to get a real delicious texture,” Amanda says. “Otherwise, they’re just grits with water and salt. That’s real boring.”
Cheeser’s Palace-Florida Citrus Shrimp and Crab Benedict
- 3 cups fresh Florida orange juice
- 3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 2 tsp blackened seasoning
- 24 peeled and deveined medium uncooked shrimp
- 4 oz crab claw meat
- 4 croissants, 2 oz each (warm in the oven)
- 8 eggs prepared over easy (you can prepare them any way you’d like)
Simmer first 3 ingredients in medium saucepan. Add shrimp stir about 2-4 minutes until cooked, immediately remove from heat. Add crab. Place opened croissant on plates. Using a slotted spoon, portion 6 shrimp and some crab onto each croissant (feel free to add a little of the juice to the croissant, do not over-do it, it’ll make it soggy). Carefully place 2 over easy eggs atop the croissant, shrimp and crab. Top with your beautiful homemade Hollandaise sauce.
- 4 large fresh free-range egg yolks
- 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice (about 1 whole lemon)
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) Firm cold salted butter, cut into 8 pieces
- 1/8 tsp sweet paprika
- 1/8 tsp cayenne or white pepper
Whisk (I prefer an Emulsifier) egg yolks, water and lemon juice in small saucepan until blended. Cook over very low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture bubbles at the edges. Stir in butter, one piece at a time, until butter is melted and sauce is thickened. Remove from heat immediately. Stir in paprika or white pepper. Serve immediately.
Chefs note: Egg yolks thicken the sauce and hold the butter and lemon juice in an emulsion. If the egg yolks are overcooked, the sauce will curdle. It’s important to use very low heat and to stir constantly. Cold butter, added very gradually, slows the cooking process and helps prevent curdling.