Locations in North

Clear Filters
Loading...
6 results

    I don't know why, but I was expecting a dive. Maybe it was the fact that R.J. Gator's seemed to be named after somebody's uncle. Maybe because it was called a "Florida sea grill." Maybe just because it was founded 20 years ago. But R.J. Gator's was far from being a dive. It was more like an efficient urban development in dive disguise. Think of it as a warehouse-sized, Everglades-themed Cheesecake Factory attached to a mall.

    We first came upon the restaurant's outdoor bar, which wraps around the building's facade. Among the few tables, the music was blaring, giving one the fleeting feeling of drinking in an outpost in the thick of a swamp. Pulling on the gator-head door handles, my friends and I stepped inside.

    The hostess started to show us to a booth near the front window when we noticed a gimmick that we had to partake of: rocking booths. "Can we sit at one of those?" I demanded, pointing to the middle of the room. She mechanically turned and led us to our very own swinging banquet, where we delighted in play as we rocked the booth with our feet, testing to see if our drinks would spill on the swaying but steady table.

    As we waited for our food, a wall of hot sauces kept us entertained. We grabbed a handful and tested them with saltine crackers, then kept our favorites and smothered our meals in them when they arrived. The menu was enormous, and we only scratched the surface of what they offered, sticking mostly to the Florida specialties and bar/grill food.

    We rocked and rocked until a dozen oysters were placed in front of us, half raw and half steamed. A few minutes later, the refuse of Hurricane Oyster left a trail of cocktail sauce, drawn butter, crackers and shells across the table. R.J. Gator's is no Lee & Rick's Oyster Bar (on Old Winter Garden Road), but the huge, delicate mollusks nestled in their shells were still completely satisfying. Next came alligator tail ($5.49), tender chunks of golden fried meat served with cocktail sauce and another thyme-laden Caribbean-style one. We also got a plate of "strings" ($6.99), a mile-high pile of thin, fried onions that had been rolled in a spicy batter before being plunged into hot fat – definitely bar food at its best. Actually, any pub fare you could dream up, R.J. Gator's touches on – nachos, quesadillas, spinach dip, wings, fingers, pizza, burgers. And they always feature a fresh Florida catch, so don't hesitate to consider a grouper sandwich, too ($8.99).

    Actually, we tried an assortment of recommendable seafood dishes. The selection of fried seafood is astounding, including platters of scallops, clams, shrimp and myriad types of fish. We munched down an order of pleasingly crunchy coconut shrimp ($13.99) that had an alluringly tropical flavor. The Florida-style crab cakes ($12.99) live up to their name: fluffy cakes seasoned with Caribbean flair and with a texture that could live up to any Maryland taste test.

    R.J. Gator's serves several dishes "Havana banana"-style, which is a grilled piece of jerk-seasoned meat (I tried mahi-mahi for $11.99) covered in orange sauce and served with black beans, rice and fried plantains.

    Skip their desserts, which tended to be gooey, over-the-top messes, except perhaps the Key lime pie. Their version was a creamy tart custard nuzzled into a graham cracker crust and finished with an unnaturally bright green lime concoction that tasted like a Now and Later candy – the kind of sauce that a true dive would dish up.

    dining@orlandoweekly.com

    Rabbitfoot Records Coffee Lounge
    Vintage and vinyl records, coffee, pastries, and live music.

    Hero, hoagie, wedge, bomber, grinder, po' boy, torpedo, submarine, zep -- whatever you call them, the problem with a takeout sandwich is that by the time you get it home, the bread is all soggy and limp.

    So plan on staying when you order any variety at Rhino Subs, the yellow building at 805 Lee Road, and then get comfortable at the umbrella-covered tables. Because fresh from the oven is the best way to appreciate the hot sandwiches that are the high point of this new endeavor from the experienced owner of Straub's Seafood.

    So plan on staying when you order any variety at Rhino Subs, the yellow building at 805 Lee Road, and then get comfortable at the umbrella-covered tables. Because fresh from the oven is the best way to appreciate the hot sandwiches that are the high point of this new endeavor from the experienced owner of Straub's Seafood.

    Step up to the window and order steamy varieties like the "explorer," with smoked turkey, sautéed mushrooms and Swiss cheese, or the "outfitter," with roast beef, ham and turkey. On the cold front, several concoctions are offered, and even though the sign still offers it, ice cream is, alas, no longer available.

    We were waiting for a table at Romano's Macaroni Grill, and we had plenty of company. Flurries of customers milled around the front door and lined up in groups on the sidewalk outside, prepared for one hour waits. We had chosen to bide our time in the bar, lulled into complacent resignation by Peroni beers and frozen Bellinis. We stifled hunger pangs as we watched a full house chowing on pastas, grilled meats and wood fired pizzas that came from the bustling exhibition kitchen.

    And then something happened that really got our attention. Five tables opened up right in the middle of the restaurant. Then they stayed open -- for five minutes, then 10. It was excruciating to watch them go unclaimed in the middle of a restaurant where people were clamoring to be seated. When our mobile "Macaroni" beeper never signaled us, we went back to the hostess to ask if anyone was going to be seated at the empty tables. But she told us our turn would come soon, and directed us back to the bar.

    And then something happened that really got our attention. Five tables opened up right in the middle of the restaurant. Then they stayed open -- for five minutes, then 10. It was excruciating to watch them go unclaimed in the middle of a restaurant where people were clamoring to be seated. When our mobile "Macaroni" beeper never signaled us, we went back to the hostess to ask if anyone was going to be seated at the empty tables. But she told us our turn would come soon, and directed us back to the bar.

    When a restaurant can flubs the seating arrangements like that and still remain so filled with customers, it's obviously doing something right. And Romano's Macaroni Grill is the kind of Italian restaurant that lots of people like. It's noisy, fun, fast-paced and filled with lavish Italian food at neighborhood prices. The setting is spacious, rustic and casual with stone walls, lights strung overhead, fresh flowers all around, waiters who occasionally belt out "Happy Birthday" serenades in Italian, and wine that flows. Jugs of house wine are on the honor system at $3.29 a glass. Bread is limitless too, and it's always hot, crusty, and plentiful, served with a dipping plate of olive oil, shredded parmesan and pepper.

    When a restaurant can flubs the seating arrangements like that and still remain so filled with customers, it's obviously doing something right. And Romano's Macaroni Grill is the kind of Italian restaurant that lots of people like. It's noisy, fun, fast-paced and filled with lavish Italian food at neighborhood prices. The setting is spacious, rustic and casual with stone walls, lights strung overhead, fresh flowers all around, waiters who occasionally belt out "Happy Birthday" serenades in Italian, and wine that flows. Jugs of house wine are on the honor system at $3.29 a glass. Bread is limitless too, and it's always hot, crusty, and plentiful, served with a dipping plate of olive oil, shredded parmesan and pepper.

    The kitchen doesn't stint on portions, either. "Fonduta Gamberi" ($6.99) is just what the name suggests in Italian: A ravishing fondue of shrimp, artichoke hearts and spinach, roasted into a melted mess with Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses. It's appetizer heaven with a heap of garlic toast wedges.

    The kitchen doesn't stint on portions, either. "Fonduta Gamberi" ($6.99) is just what the name suggests in Italian: A ravishing fondue of shrimp, artichoke hearts and spinach, roasted into a melted mess with Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses. It's appetizer heaven with a heap of garlic toast wedges.

    "Pizza di Pollo Barbacoda" is another winning choice: A wood-fired pizza on a thin, chewy crust with vigorous toppings of barbecued chicken, pecorino and mozzarella cheese ($7.49). It manages to be light and filling at the same time.

    "Pizza di Pollo Barbacoda" is another winning choice: A wood-fired pizza on a thin, chewy crust with vigorous toppings of barbecued chicken, pecorino and mozzarella cheese ($7.49). It manages to be light and filling at the same time.

    "Scaloppine di Salmone" salmon fillet ($12.99) is a winning entree that leaves a citrus impression, sauteed with fresh lemon butter. It's adorned with capers, tomatoes and fresh bright basil. But on the night we visited, the accompanying bowl of linguine had no flair whatsoever. It looked and tasted like someone had dumped it out of a pot to get it out to the table in a hurry. And the "Ravioli Formaggi" only hinted at the asiago, parmesan cheeses that were stuffed into the pasta, because the roasted garlic cream sauce had been drenched with a heart-stopping dose of salt.

    "Scaloppine di Salmone" salmon fillet ($12.99) is a winning entree that leaves a citrus impression, sauteed with fresh lemon butter. It's adorned with capers, tomatoes and fresh bright basil. But on the night we visited, the accompanying bowl of linguine had no flair whatsoever. It looked and tasted like someone had dumped it out of a pot to get it out to the table in a hurry. And the "Ravioli Formaggi" only hinted at the asiago, parmesan cheeses that were stuffed into the pasta, because the roasted garlic cream sauce had been drenched with a heart-stopping dose of salt.

    Popularity notwithstanding, Romano's Macaroni Grill doesn't belong in the big leagues of Italian restaurants. It's so busy being sought after that when customers start flooding in, the kitchen stops sweating the details. Best to try this restaurant when it's not quite so busy, and the heady flavors of Tuscany are more dependable. In the meantime, if you're looking for ultimate Italian breads and grilled Tuscan meats, your search has ended.

Calendar

Newsletters

Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

© 2019 Orlando Weekly

Website powered by Foundation