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    The chain capital of the world just keeps getting richer, doesn't it? In recent weeks, our privileged little hamlet has seen a string of chain restaurants, particularly of the swank-and-swagger variety, open their doors to diners with prosaic palates and bulging wallets. J. Alexander's, a Nashville-based chain, is one such restaurant, and along with the newly opened Ocean Prime (another upscale chain) anchors the Rialto, a 350,000-square-foot mixed-use development complex on the corner of Turkey Lake and Sand Lake roads. If you've dined at places like the Village Tavern, Houston's or Stonewood Grill, you'll be familiar with what J. Alexander's has to tender ' a consistent offering of quality fare dished up in comfortably modern environs. In fact, the décor is a notch above the others; not only does its minimalist, polished cherrywood interior fuse nicely with the hushed lighting, it also ties into the restaurant's credo of simplicity, that being a vow to serve 'straightforward American food.â?�

    Sides feature prominently on their menu, and one can make a meal from small plates alone, as a group of friends and I did on one occasion. Glistening wedges of comforting iron-skillet cornbread ($4) will have you coming back for more. 'Not-your-ordinaryâ?� mac and cheese ($4), with gruyère and bacon, lives up to its name, as do the 'colossalâ?� buttermilk onion rings ($7) resembling deep-fried gaskets from an aircraft engine. Salads here are more than just an afterthought. I enjoyed Alex's salad ($9), a simple yet stimulating assemblage of field greens, grape tomatoes, cukes, cheese, bacon and croutons draped with an invigorating cilantro vinaigrette. Bursts of blue cheese in the Palm Beach salad ($10) were balanced out by a house-made basil vinaigrette, but if you're talking about 'straightforwardâ?� and 'American,â?� the old-fashioned cheeseburger ($10) with Tillamook cheddar best exemplifies the restaurant's motto. If you opt for the roti chicken dip ($12), don't expect any Indian flatbread. The 'rotiâ?� here refers to pulled rotisserie chicken stuffed in a baguette and served with a dunk-worthy chicken jus.

    Mains place the focus on steak and seafood, and on this particular evening, the two specials proved irresistible. The peppery rub of the perfectly grilled Cajun grouper ($26) made it a little easier to digest the price tag, as did an attractive heaping of Israeli couscous (minuscule pasta orbs, not grains of semolina). Filet kebabs ($25) featured a fleshy foursome of melt-in-your-mouth morsels glazed in a Maui marinade of pineapple, garlic, brown sugar and soy. Jasmine rice and a variety of thick-cut veggies rounded out the meat-lover's feast.

    The sugary finales won't astound you, but won't disappoint you either. The circle of hot fudge surrounding a scoop of vanilla ice cream was just eye candy compared to the enormous wedge of chocolate cake ($7), served warm with a molten chocolate center. A mascarpone cheese finish made mush of the crème brûlée's ($7) custardy filling, while carrot cake ($6) was a slice, rather than a slab, of life.

    Service can't exactly be described as 'straightforwardâ?� when a cadre of white-shirted waiters serve, pick up, clean, refill and tend to your table. It's pretty clear that customer service is of the utmost importance here, though the wait staff's coordinated performance, while impressive, can be distracting at times.

    J. Alexander's doesn't wholly segregate itself from the stigma associated with corporate eateries, but that doesn't warrant a negation of their efforts in the front and back of the house. What they do, they do well. Here in the city of chains, that's enough to set them apart from the rest.

    One of my favorite manhattan restaurants is Sardi's where celebrity caricatures on the walls are fun to study, and the food is good, too. On a recent visit to Jack's Place in the Clarion Plaza Hotel on International Drive, I discovered an establishment with a remarkably similar ambience.

    Soft light from wrought-iron chandeliers enhance dark woods, marble room dividers and shadowy archways. Tables are draped with linen and feature brass oil lamps.

    Soft light from wrought-iron chandeliers enhance dark woods, marble room dividers and shadowy archways. Tables are draped with linen and feature brass oil lamps.

    Upon our arrival for dinner, we were promptly seated in a cozy corner surrounded by sketches of world-class luminaries, many of whom autographed the works. The art was created by Jack Rosen during his 30-year tenure with the Waldorf Astoria and is believed to be the largest collection of its kind. (Jack's son, Harris, owns the Clarion.)

    Upon our arrival for dinner, we were promptly seated in a cozy corner surrounded by sketches of world-class luminaries, many of whom autographed the works. The art was created by Jack Rosen during his 30-year tenure with the Waldorf Astoria and is believed to be the largest collection of its kind. (Jack's son, Harris, owns the Clarion.)

    Entrees range from steak and seafood to pasta and chicken. All come with baked potato, vegetable and a basket of garlic French bread, with whipped butter and "Texas caviar" -- a novel accoutrement of cold (and undercooked) black-eyed peas, cilantro, onion and bell peppers in a mild vinaigrette. Although the mixture was refreshing, we found it impossible to keep the concoction on the bread.

    Entrees range from steak and seafood to pasta and chicken. All come with baked potato, vegetable and a basket of garlic French bread, with whipped butter and "Texas caviar" -- a novel accoutrement of cold (and undercooked) black-eyed peas, cilantro, onion and bell peppers in a mild vinaigrette. Although the mixture was refreshing, we found it impossible to keep the concoction on the bread.

    The escargot ($6.95) ordered by my guest was served with angel-hair pasta and a delicious roasted-red pepper sauce.

    The escargot ($6.95) ordered by my guest was served with angel-hair pasta and a delicious roasted-red pepper sauce.

    I found the house salad ($2.95) of mixed greens to be nice and fresh; the lovely presentation included diced tomatoes and cucumbers, plus a nest of bean sprouts. The creamy peppercorn house dressing, however, was pretty bland.

    I found the house salad ($2.95) of mixed greens to be nice and fresh; the lovely presentation included diced tomatoes and cucumbers, plus a nest of bean sprouts. The creamy peppercorn house dressing, however, was pretty bland.

    The 10-ounce filet mignon ($18.95) that my guest chose was an excellent cut, perfectly prepared. It was delicately topped with a pat of seasoned butter (we suspected rosemary).

    The 10-ounce filet mignon ($18.95) that my guest chose was an excellent cut, perfectly prepared. It was delicately topped with a pat of seasoned butter (we suspected rosemary).

    My grilled yellowfin tuna ($14.95) was fresh, though disappointingly overcooked. The generous portion was crowned with an adequate béarnaise sauce, which helped mask the fillet's dryness.

    My grilled yellowfin tuna ($14.95) was fresh, though disappointingly overcooked. The generous portion was crowned with an adequate béarnaise sauce, which helped mask the fillet's dryness.

    Large baked potatoes came wrapped in gold foil, along with a lazy Susan bearing scallions, fresh bacon bits and shredded cheddar cheese. Sour cream and butter were included. Generous squares of corn soufflé were flavorful, light and airy.

    Large baked potatoes came wrapped in gold foil, along with a lazy Susan bearing scallions, fresh bacon bits and shredded cheddar cheese. Sour cream and butter were included. Generous squares of corn soufflé were flavorful, light and airy.

    The server promoted Jack's fried ice cream ($4.25) for dessert. A fried pastry jacket hid a relatively small scoop of ice cream that was just enough to share. Sprinkled with confectioner's sugar and cinnamon, the dish was complemented by sliced strawberries and plenty of whipped cream.

    The server promoted Jack's fried ice cream ($4.25) for dessert. A fried pastry jacket hid a relatively small scoop of ice cream that was just enough to share. Sprinkled with confectioner's sugar and cinnamon, the dish was complemented by sliced strawberries and plenty of whipped cream.

    Be forewarned that an 18 percent gratuity is included in the bill rather than allowing diners the right to tip in direct correlation to the service rendered. But, all in all, it was a pleasant evening that was worth the expense.

    When you want to soak up the flavor of Key West -- the last link in the archipelago that reaches from south Miami to the open seas -- but don't want to travel, a visit to Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville might satisfy at least the drink-and-be-merry craving. Some tricky navigation is necessary, though, to find the way through the maze of parking garages and electronic people-movers at Universal Studios Escape. Just when you're ready to give up, you arrive in the heart of glitzy CityWalk, where the Jimmy Buffet-inspired party house fits right in.

    For another paradigm shift, step inside the re-created Margaritaville, which is steeped in the icons of Key West. If you could accuse this restaurant of any one thing, it would be the cartoonish, commercialization of the romanticized hideaway Buffet paid homage to in his '70s song. Witness the margarita volcano that erupts over the bar periodically and the well-stocked gift shop. The sherbet shades of gingerbread houses are perfectly refabricated here, minus the morning-after stench of Duval Street and the stray pop-tops underfoot. Safe, clean and wholesome, it's certainly not the real Key West, but then we went there for the food.

    For another paradigm shift, step inside the re-created Margaritaville, which is steeped in the icons of Key West. If you could accuse this restaurant of any one thing, it would be the cartoonish, commercialization of the romanticized hideaway Buffet paid homage to in his '70s song. Witness the margarita volcano that erupts over the bar periodically and the well-stocked gift shop. The sherbet shades of gingerbread houses are perfectly refabricated here, minus the morning-after stench of Duval Street and the stray pop-tops underfoot. Safe, clean and wholesome, it's certainly not the real Key West, but then we went there for the food.

    On a previous visit, the conch fritters ($6.45) were in top form: sizzling, sweet, meaty and blissfully free of chewy, unidentified objects. This time, they were a disappointment -- overly battered and weak on the conch. Fortunately, the "pink crustaceans" crab cakes ($16.95) were loaded with blue crabmeat, pan-sautéed with spices, fresh mixed vegetables and potatoes to perfection.

    On a previous visit, the conch fritters ($6.45) were in top form: sizzling, sweet, meaty and blissfully free of chewy, unidentified objects. This time, they were a disappointment -- overly battered and weak on the conch. Fortunately, the "pink crustaceans" crab cakes ($16.95) were loaded with blue crabmeat, pan-sautéed with spices, fresh mixed vegetables and potatoes to perfection.

    While my guest loved "Jimmy's jammin' jambalaya" ($12.95), I thought the spices were far too tame. Still, there were generous amounts of shrimp, chicken, andouille sausage and Cajun rice.

    While my guest loved "Jimmy's jammin' jambalaya" ($12.95), I thought the spices were far too tame. Still, there were generous amounts of shrimp, chicken, andouille sausage and Cajun rice.

    When dessert arrived, my guest was skeptical. True Key lime pie ($4.95) should never be weighed down with a cream-based preparation, she said, as was the case here -- it makes it too heavy and oily. This version was prepared with a 100-year-old lime-juice recipe from the famed Joe & Nellie's factory in Key West, and it was properly tart and tangy without too much of the pucker factor. It sported a fluffy meringue and crisp graham-cracker crust, but I had to admit it didn't pass the ultimate dessert test, which is to say, I probably would not order it next time.

    When dessert arrived, my guest was skeptical. True Key lime pie ($4.95) should never be weighed down with a cream-based preparation, she said, as was the case here -- it makes it too heavy and oily. This version was prepared with a 100-year-old lime-juice recipe from the famed Joe & Nellie's factory in Key West, and it was properly tart and tangy without too much of the pucker factor. It sported a fluffy meringue and crisp graham-cracker crust, but I had to admit it didn't pass the ultimate dessert test, which is to say, I probably would not order it next time.

    Our waiter was knowledgeable about the menu, and he had a casual, friendly efficiency without interfering. In the end, our trip to the theme-park Margaritaville was all flash with just a little substance. It was noisy. It was crowded. The food was OK. But there was an ocean of margarita varieties. What more could a Parrothead want?

    Sometimes it seems like beef lovers might end up with smokers and cell phone users -- out on the sidewalk (the cell phone part is wishful thinking). But there is at least one place where the burger connoisseur can indulge without fear of vegan reprisal.

    Johnny's Fillin' Station (2631 S. Fern Creek Ave., 407-894-6900) has been serving beer, burgers and baseball for over a decade. And those who throw oaths at such things swear by the half-pound bombers that come off Johnny's grill. Everything from patties plain and bacon-laden, to those served on Texas toast or grilled rye bread, to "The Roy," complete with sour cream, jalapeños and cheese, is on the menu.

    Johnny's Fillin' Station (2631 S. Fern Creek Ave., 407-894-6900) has been serving beer, burgers and baseball for over a decade. And those who throw oaths at such things swear by the half-pound bombers that come off Johnny's grill. Everything from patties plain and bacon-laden, to those served on Texas toast or grilled rye bread, to "The Roy," complete with sour cream, jalapeños and cheese, is on the menu.

    The odd few customers not accustomed to beef on a roll can order the Philly-cheesesteak-like "Station chicken," salads or nachos. But eight beers on tap should keep everyone happy.

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