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    Never say what a restaurant is not. Writing that one restaurant would be better if it were more like another is unfair and pointless. So I won't say that the Market Street Café in Celebration is not Dexter's or Tu Tu Tango or even the College Park Diner because -- of course -- it is none of those things.

    I can say that the Market Street Café is not Max's Café. That's because Max's is gone and Market Street has taken its place. The new cafe is being run by Restaurant Partners Inc., which operates four Pebbles restaurants around Orlando. They've done a good job of assimilating the old-days' Celebration atmosphere. If halogen lights and computers had been around in the '50s, Market Street would have fit right in with its retro-modern diner design. Big booths, wide windows and earth tones prevail, making the place something of an upscale, new-urban greasy spoon.

    I can say that the Market Street Café is not Max's Café. That's because Max's is gone and Market Street has taken its place. The new cafe is being run by Restaurant Partners Inc., which operates four Pebbles restaurants around Orlando. They've done a good job of assimilating the old-days' Celebration atmosphere. If halogen lights and computers had been around in the '50s, Market Street would have fit right in with its retro-modern diner design. Big booths, wide windows and earth tones prevail, making the place something of an upscale, new-urban greasy spoon.

    The eatery is the antithesis of existentialism. One doesn't wear black, drink bitter espresso and read Kierkegaard at Market Street. You order a shake and a burger -- and are happy if you get the special round booth by the front door so you can watch resident Celebrants buzz by on rented electric scooters. I heard one of the waitresses, who was about half my age, say "groovy." Another server must have done well in Celebration Diner school, as she made a point of calling me "hon."

    The eatery is the antithesis of existentialism. One doesn't wear black, drink bitter espresso and read Kierkegaard at Market Street. You order a shake and a burger -- and are happy if you get the special round booth by the front door so you can watch resident Celebrants buzz by on rented electric scooters. I heard one of the waitresses, who was about half my age, say "groovy." Another server must have done well in Celebration Diner school, as she made a point of calling me "hon."

    I'm not complaining, mind you. The Market Street Café is pleasant, just not very exciting. Regardless of whatever preconceptions you may have walking in, the food is prepared well and nothing seems processed. Market Street serves turkey with cornbread stuffing and meatloaf with mashed potatoes. They're so traditional that you'll be tempted to see if mom is in the kitchen.

    I'm not complaining, mind you. The Market Street Café is pleasant, just not very exciting. Regardless of whatever preconceptions you may have walking in, the food is prepared well and nothing seems processed. Market Street serves turkey with cornbread stuffing and meatloaf with mashed potatoes. They're so traditional that you'll be tempted to see if mom is in the kitchen.

    Salads and "starters" are enormous. "Portobello" salad ($5.95 small, $9.95 large) is a dinner plate piled high with romaine, diced tomato, slivers of Gouda, corn and big slices of mushroom with a sun-dried tomato vinaigrette. Order the small. A cheese quesadilla ($5.95) is as big as your head, and if you order fried-chicken tenders (simple white meat rolled in cornflake breading, $6.95) as an appetizer, don't bother with an entrée.

    Salads and "starters" are enormous. "Portobello" salad ($5.95 small, $9.95 large) is a dinner plate piled high with romaine, diced tomato, slivers of Gouda, corn and big slices of mushroom with a sun-dried tomato vinaigrette. Order the small. A cheese quesadilla ($5.95) is as big as your head, and if you order fried-chicken tenders (simple white meat rolled in cornflake breading, $6.95) as an appetizer, don't bother with an entrée.

    I had the smoked chicken pasta ($11.95). The definition of "pasta" is spaghetti, but it was firm to the tooth and dressed in a pleasant wine and garlic sauce -- lots of garlic. The meatloaf ($10.95) was covered in brown mushroom gravy almost as dark as cocoa, with excellent homemade potatoes.

    I had the smoked chicken pasta ($11.95). The definition of "pasta" is spaghetti, but it was firm to the tooth and dressed in a pleasant wine and garlic sauce -- lots of garlic. The meatloaf ($10.95) was covered in brown mushroom gravy almost as dark as cocoa, with excellent homemade potatoes.

    If you're looking for an undemanding meal in a "smallville," you might consider the drive.

    Neighborhood jewel offers an eclectic pan-Mediterranean menu, with Indian, Latin and Asian influences on the horizon. Curry-crusted fish is deftly executed, as is chef Bret Ashman's intriguing take on gnocchi alla Sorrentina. A delightful smoked onion mince offers a contempo take on traditional Caprese salad. The wine list is ample and studied. Sunday brunch offered from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. 


    Teaser: Neighborhood jewel offers an eclectic pan-Mediterranean menu, with Indian, Latin and Asian influences on the horizon. Curry-crusted fish is deftly executed, as is chef Bret Ashman's intriguing take on gnocchi alla Sorrentina. A delightful smoked onion mince offers a contempo take on traditional Caprese salad. The wine list is ample and studied. Sunday brunch offered from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

    On a trip to Medina's Restaurant I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes from Arthur Hoppe, longtime columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle: "Never let the facts get in the way of a good story." The corollary to that is: "Never let the restaurant get in the way of a good dinner."

    I enjoyed Medina's, and so do many others who frequent this local landmark. Medina's specializes in hearty Cuban and Puerto Rican home-cooking, and that alone brings 'em back for more -- from businessmen on cell phones to college couples in jeans and flip-flops.

    I enjoyed Medina's, and so do many others who frequent this local landmark. Medina's specializes in hearty Cuban and Puerto Rican home-cooking, and that alone brings 'em back for more -- from businessmen on cell phones to college couples in jeans and flip-flops.

    But Medina's counters its word-of-mouth popularity with spotty service. The pace was glacial on a recent evening, but nobody appeared to mind, maybe because it's such a humble setting. The dining area is festooned with homey touches, almost like it's set up for a birthday party. Murals of Latin beaches are framed by twinkling Christmas lights. Crêpe streamers are twirled across the ceiling. A board lists "especialidades de dia."

    But Medina's counters its word-of-mouth popularity with spotty service. The pace was glacial on a recent evening, but nobody appeared to mind, maybe because it's such a humble setting. The dining area is festooned with homey touches, almost like it's set up for a birthday party. Murals of Latin beaches are framed by twinkling Christmas lights. Crêpe streamers are twirled across the ceiling. A board lists "especialidades de dia."

    An array of side-orders make good appetizers, like the empanada (99 cents), a succulent meat turnover, the pastry neatly crimped and fried until crispy and dry. Tamal preparado ($2.39) was a variation on the traditional tamale, with soft, sweet corn dough topped with thin-sliced roast pork and melted white cheese. Even better was the croquetta ($2.39), a tubular roll of minced, seasoned ham, breaded and deep fried.

    An array of side-orders make good appetizers, like the empanada (99 cents), a succulent meat turnover, the pastry neatly crimped and fried until crispy and dry. Tamal preparado ($2.39) was a variation on the traditional tamale, with soft, sweet corn dough topped with thin-sliced roast pork and melted white cheese. Even better was the croquetta ($2.39), a tubular roll of minced, seasoned ham, breaded and deep fried.

    While waiting -- and waiting -- for our entrees, we dallied over bottles of Polar Beer ($2.39), a South American import that tastes a lot like Old Milwaukee. Finally the waitress returned with a delicious plate of bistec de palomilla, steak Cuban-style ($4.89), a simple cut of beef pounded thin, lightly seasoned and slightly charred. Arroz blanco was proof that white rice never need be bland. The grains were pearly and plump, glistening with a bit of oil. Black beans were stewed until tender in a thick, natural gravy. My friend's lechon adado, or roast pork ($5.89), was a lean cut of meat, yet juicy. He had more of the beans and rice, and sweet, firm platanos maduros, or ripened plantains (99 cents).

    While waiting -- and waiting -- for our entrees, we dallied over bottles of Polar Beer ($2.39), a South American import that tastes a lot like Old Milwaukee. Finally the waitress returned with a delicious plate of bistec de palomilla, steak Cuban-style ($4.89), a simple cut of beef pounded thin, lightly seasoned and slightly charred. Arroz blanco was proof that white rice never need be bland. The grains were pearly and plump, glistening with a bit of oil. Black beans were stewed until tender in a thick, natural gravy. My friend's lechon adado, or roast pork ($5.89), was a lean cut of meat, yet juicy. He had more of the beans and rice, and sweet, firm platanos maduros, or ripened plantains (99 cents).

    We were there about 45 minutes longer than necessary, but it was a pleasant stay. We might have been there even longer, except my friend ventured past the door that warned "Waitress Only" to ask for dessert and the check. But I did enjoy the flan con coco ($1.39), a rich custard with sweet coconut meat.

    Mimis Cafe is new construction trying to wear an old-world face. Sitting on Millenia Boulevard, on the fringe of our most popular consumer mecca, there wasn't anything authentic or quaint about it.

    Actually, Mimis is exactly the kind of restaurant I hate. Don't get me wrong, the food is fine. Not great, but good enough. What I hate about this kind of restaurant is the jumbled, unfocused menu of more than 100 items. Mimis features everything from comfort food to New Orleans jambalaya to diner fare to brunch to pseudo-Asian to middle-of-the-road Italian – all of it trying too hard to unexceptionally please the masses. Also distasteful are the bright, prefabricated rooms filled with assembled paraphernalia – a fake 2-foot wrought-iron porch hosting a phony candlelit table hovered over our table. When dining at an establishment like Mimis, one can't help but think of the market surveys and trend magazines that must have inspired it.

    The ruling theme at Mimis is New Orleans, although one can't help but wonder why. I searched and searched for an answer. Was the founder/CEO Tom Simms from New Orleans? No. Did he spend a lot of time there? No. Was his muse Mimi Cajun? No.

    "We used to be more French countryside," the PR representative told me. "But we found that the New Orleans theme had BROADER APPEAL." Say no more.

    So Mimis has nothing to do with New Orleans, despite the décor, and even the proprietors do not consider it a New Orleans-style restaurant. Mimis, in fact, started in 1978 in Orange County, Calif., as a place that served hearty portions of freshly prepared food at reasonable prices. And that mission is what Mimis continues to do moderately well. The only problem is that when you see a New Orleans theme you mouth-wateringly expect Cajun or Creole dishes, which are sparse on their bloated menu. We tried the pasta jambalaya ($12.29), an oversized dish of penne with chicken, shrimp, sausage and pork tossed in a lightly spicy sauce. It was good enough to finish, but lacked depth. The other Cajun-style offerings on the menu included popcorn shrimp ($8.99), a Cajun chicken sandwich ($8.79) and a rather large portion of bread pudding with whiskey sauce ($4.79). Clearly, none of these dishes were made by that breed of New Orleans chef who has the flavor of the "holy trinity" (green peppers, onions and celery) running through his or her veins.

    As for comfort food, I tried the barbecue meat loaf ($9.99), which is made fresh daily. The meat was tender and flavorful, while the sauce was a sticky, sweet concoction that seemed a cross between pan gravy and Texas-style barbecue sauce.

    We tried the soup special, corn chowder ($3.99), which was a little on the thick side but was spiked with fresh red peppers and sweet kernels of corn.

    As of last July, the Bob Evans restaurant company has owned Mimis Cafe, and they are expanding (like every other chain outfit). By next spring they'll have gone from zero to six restaurants in Florida alone. A new store already opened in Altamonte Springs on Feb. 15 and I have to wonder: Will Orlando's local market take to it as well as tourists have?

    Fill your belly at Mimis, yes. But if you really want to eat – in the sense of engaging in a transcendent journey of culinary sensations – head somewhere that is run by passion rather than market surveys.

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