Dexter's, the once-thriving local chainlet that held sway when Orlando was a culinary cesspit, seems to have been revived in a hidden recess in Maitland. It goes by the name of Fredster's, not Dexter's, and it's a joint venture between Fred Badalli (leader and drummer of local band Soul Funktion) and Adrian Mann, who, along with Dexter Richardson, owned Dexter's of Winter Park. It also happens to be a live music venue, one that appears to have filled the void left by another Dexter's — Dexter's New Standard — after it was kicked to the curb following eviction proceedings last year.
And Fredster's featuring Adrian Mann's Bar & Grill pops, particularly on weekend nights, when retirees pack the dance floor to test out their new hips and feast on Dexter's turn-of-the-millennium specialties. Yes, many of Fredster's menu items are chips off the ol' Dexter's block — remember the chicken tortilla pie? You probably don't, but it's served here as a "chicken tortilla stack" ($12), comprising a trio of crispy tortillas layered with sauteed chicken breast, tomato sauce, jalapeños and melted provolone. It's baked, then topped with sour cream, more jalapeños and sun-dried tomatoes. Like the rendition of "My Girl" being played by the band on stage, it was a real crowd pleaser (and a Temptation).
But eggplant roulade ($10), a take on Dexter's eggplant Napoleon, met its Waterloo. The fried, flour-dredged lumps rolled with ricotta, Parmesan, spinach and garlic, then baked in marinara, weren't crispy in the least. "Seems like these were frozen and reheated," I said to my pal as he pushed the plate aside in favor of the tiny lamb sliders ($13) set before us. They're served on King's Hawaiian rolls and topped with feta, tzatziki, tomato and cuke. It's another item from the Dexter's recipe Rolodex, and it's a worthy starter. So are the leek and potato latkes ($9). They're listed on the brunch menu, which the host inexplicably handed to us at 7 p.m., but they happened to be on the dinner menu as well. And they were fire. Like eye-openingly spicy — not that it bothered us too much. Besides, there was likely no shortage of antacids in this crowd.
The bit of burn in the blackened triggerfish sandwich ($15) was all but extinguished by the copious amount of salt seasoning the fillet. A shame, considering the fish was cooked perfectly, and the accompanying sweet potato fries were addictive. But looking around the large room, the blunder took on less importance. Folks genuinely seemed to be having a blast.
"I'm having a pretty good time," confessed the pal, who then proceeded to take a sip of his old-fashioned ($12) and sing along to the chorus of "Take It Easy." I spooned some chocolate mousse ($8) into my yap and took in the lively scene. "It's like Dexter's on steroids," Badalli says of his restaurant, and it kind of is. Steroids mixed with Lipitor, plus a whole lot of conviviality and throwback feels. There's an endearing quality to the place, but there's also no denying that, at Fredster's, what's old is old again.