Breakfast/Brunch in Orlando

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    When I was growing up in DeLand, there just weren't any kosher delis around. I didn't discover blintzes, latkes and matzo ball soup until going off to college in Atlanta. And while these days Orlando hardly brims with traditional Jewish food, the unassuming market and deli Amira's is worth a visit.

    As a kosher deli, cleanliness, food and service at Amira's are supervised by the Orlando Rabbinic Council. But don't ask about the name; I felt like a real schlemiel when I asked our waitress for a translation, and she informed me that "Amira" is the owner's first name.

    My companion and I visited for lunch, served between 11 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. For starters, we split the mini Israeli sampler ($4.95), a smaller version of the Israeli platter ($6.95). I could have made an entire meal out of the falafel (think chickpea hushpuppy) and the eggplant relish, which was similar to ratatouille. The tabouli also was tasty; heavier on parsley than bulghur wheat, it tasted more like a regular salad than other versions I've tried. And while I thought the hummus had too much tahini, my companion pronounced it delicious. Our sampler also came with a big plate of pita bread.

    For my entree, I ordered half a "Virgin Rachel" and a cup of chicken noodle soup ($5.95 for the combo). Even without the customary Swiss cheese, this Rachel was superb. Served grilled on rye bread, it came with a huge, hot stack of pastrami, sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing. The soup stock was marvelous, although there was only one measly piece of chicken hiding in a cup full of noodles. My companion's overstuffed cold corned beef sandwich on rye ($6.95), served plain with condiments on the side, was similarly outstanding. His sandwich came with cole slaw and potato salad, fries or a potato knish. He chose the latter, a spicy mashed-potato mixture inside flaky pastry.

    Other sandwiches include hot or cold beef brisket ($7.25), chopped liver ($5.25), half-pound turkey burgers ($6.25), and quarter-pound chili dogs ($4.45). And excepting Friday evenings, when Amira's is closed, the dinner menu includes stuffed cabbage ($9.95), prime rib ($12.95), half a rotisserie chicken ($9.95), and open-face roast beef or turkey sandwiches (both $7.95).

    We didn't expect to be greeted with a remote beeper and a 20-minute wait for a table when we arrived at Le Peep on a Saturday morning. But then, it was our first visit, and those who live in the Bay Hill/Dr. Phillips area were way ahead of us. In fact, Le Peep has been packing them in for 12 years at the intersection of Kirkman and Conroy/Windermere roads.

    Le Peep was originally an upscale Aspen breakfast spot, founded by a ski buff who wanted to pay the bills and hit the slopes in the afternoon. As the restaurant has expanded into a national chain, some of the individual charm has given way to formulas and concepts. The menu reads like a series of cutesy one-liners, many of them trademarked, like the "pampered eggs," "berry patch waffles," "Sir Benedict omelettes" and "proud bird" chicken sandwiches.

    Le Peep was originally an upscale Aspen breakfast spot, founded by a ski buff who wanted to pay the bills and hit the slopes in the afternoon. As the restaurant has expanded into a national chain, some of the individual charm has given way to formulas and concepts. The menu reads like a series of cutesy one-liners, many of them trademarked, like the "pampered eggs," "berry patch waffles," "Sir Benedict omelettes" and "proud bird" chicken sandwiches.

    We were won over by the muffins. "Gooey buns" ($1.95) are nothing like they sound. They're actually English muffins transformed into toasted-brown-sugar-and-cinnamon rolls, and served with a dollop of cream cheese and a side of baked apples.

    We were won over by the muffins. "Gooey buns" ($1.95) are nothing like they sound. They're actually English muffins transformed into toasted-brown-sugar-and-cinnamon rolls, and served with a dollop of cream cheese and a side of baked apples.

    The dining area is a step up from a Denny's or a Perkins, with patio seating and umbrellas over some of the tables. Every table was filled, so the waiters were on their toes. But with an ever-present crowd of people waiting in line out front, there was understandably more emphasis on turning tables than encouraging customers to linger.

    The dining area is a step up from a Denny's or a Perkins, with patio seating and umbrellas over some of the tables. Every table was filled, so the waiters were on their toes. But with an ever-present crowd of people waiting in line out front, there was understandably more emphasis on turning tables than encouraging customers to linger.

    With dozens of combinations of omelets, skillet dishes, French toast, Belgian waffles and pancakes, there's something for everyone here. Some of it is original, like the "granola blues" pancakes that have crunch thanks to the blueberry granola ($4.55). But even better are the pancakes textured with sliced bananas and crumbled Southern pecans ($4.15).

    With dozens of combinations of omelets, skillet dishes, French toast, Belgian waffles and pancakes, there's something for everyone here. Some of it is original, like the "granola blues" pancakes that have crunch thanks to the blueberry granola ($4.55). But even better are the pancakes textured with sliced bananas and crumbled Southern pecans ($4.15).

    By comparison, "original French toast" ($4.50) isn't as exciting as the menu's detailed description. The thick slices of Vienna bread, soaked in custard batter and grilled until light and golden, taste like plain old French toast.

    By comparison, "original French toast" ($4.50) isn't as exciting as the menu's detailed description. The thick slices of Vienna bread, soaked in custard batter and grilled until light and golden, taste like plain old French toast.

    Many items are featured with hollandaise sauce, and a little bit of caution might be in order here. A heavy helping of the sauce weighed down an otherwise fine seafood skillet crepe ($6.15), which was filled with crabmeat, broccoli and veggies. On the side, "peasant potatoes" were a lame rendition of diced potatoes that tasted dry and flavorless.

    Many items are featured with hollandaise sauce, and a little bit of caution might be in order here. A heavy helping of the sauce weighed down an otherwise fine seafood skillet crepe ($6.15), which was filled with crabmeat, broccoli and veggies. On the side, "peasant potatoes" were a lame rendition of diced potatoes that tasted dry and flavorless.

    The "light" omelets are quite good, made with whipped egg-whites and light cheddar cheese. We liked "white lightning" ($6.15), a Southwestern version with chicken, green chiles and guacamole.

    The "light" omelets are quite good, made with whipped egg-whites and light cheddar cheese. We liked "white lightning" ($6.15), a Southwestern version with chicken, green chiles and guacamole.

    And if you're a fan of fresh-squeezed orange juice, Le Peep offers one of the best deals in town. A half-liter carafe ($2.95) easily serves two, and then some.

    And if you're a fan of fresh-squeezed orange juice, Le Peep offers one of the best deals in town. A half-liter carafe ($2.95) easily serves two, and then some.

    With its wide variety of breakfast and brunch meals, Le Peep fills a niche in the high-traffic area. But there isn't anything new going on here that would drive hungry brunchers to traveling extremes.

    Offbeat a.m.. fare ranges from a California vegetarian frittata to the meanest sausage-and-potatoes platter outside of Bavaria. Cheery, with generous portions and a limited lunch menu.

    To celebrate their third birthday, House of Blues has strayed a bit from its Southern menu, introducing dishes that might be based on Delta traditions but have taken a few detours.

    First, some HOB dining secrets. After listening to the "30-minute wait" speech and getting a beeper from the hostess, you should stroll around back to the Voodoo Garden. It overlooks the lake, there's live music, and – best of all – there's often an empty table. Second: The Voodoo Garden music ends at 10 p.m., when it becomes a very peaceful place to dine. The last secret? Order extra rosemary corn bread – even at $3.95 – since it's moist, crunchy and satisfying.

    First, some HOB dining secrets. After listening to the "30-minute wait" speech and getting a beeper from the hostess, you should stroll around back to the Voodoo Garden. It overlooks the lake, there's live music, and – best of all – there's often an empty table. Second: The Voodoo Garden music ends at 10 p.m., when it becomes a very peaceful place to dine. The last secret? Order extra rosemary corn bread – even at $3.95 – since it's moist, crunchy and satisfying.

    The staple "seafood gumbo" ($3.95 a cup) has a flavorful soup base, which takes a lot of concentration to notice, since the slightly burnt taste of blackened seasonongs masks everything. With almost none of the promised ingredients showing up (andouille sausage, shrimp, oysters and crawfish are listed, but you couldn't prove it by me), it's not the enjoyable dish it could be.

    The staple "seafood gumbo" ($3.95 a cup) has a flavorful soup base, which takes a lot of concentration to notice, since the slightly burnt taste of blackened seasonongs masks everything. With almost none of the promised ingredients showing up (andouille sausage, shrimp, oysters and crawfish are listed, but you couldn't prove it by me), it's not the enjoyable dish it could be.

    Options for appetizers include "Caribbean jerk chicken wings in Pickapepper sauce" ($8.95) and "seared Gulf shrimp with Blackened Voodoo Beer" ($10.25). For the latter, six decent-sized shrimp come coated in a dark, spicy sauce, the deep flavor accented by a mound of radish sprouts. It's a good precursor of the interesting combinations of textures and flavors to follow.

    Options for appetizers include "Caribbean jerk chicken wings in Pickapepper sauce" ($8.95) and "seared Gulf shrimp with Blackened Voodoo Beer" ($10.25). For the latter, six decent-sized shrimp come coated in a dark, spicy sauce, the deep flavor accented by a mound of radish sprouts. It's a good precursor of the interesting combinations of textures and flavors to follow.

    For the "ahi tuna salad" ($10.95), rare slices of quickly seared tuna are wound around a heap of red cabbage and topped in a drizzle of wasabi mayonnaise. The fish is sushi-grade and splendid, and while the cabbage is a bit too oversoyed, the crisp texture offsets the buttery feel of the fish.

    For the "ahi tuna salad" ($10.95), rare slices of quickly seared tuna are wound around a heap of red cabbage and topped in a drizzle of wasabi mayonnaise. The fish is sushi-grade and splendid, and while the cabbage is a bit too oversoyed, the crisp texture offsets the buttery feel of the fish.

    Some of the so-called "Southern specials" come from South Elsewhere. I don't think any bayou cook has ever rustled up a mess of "chicken and penne pasta with wild mushroom cream sauce and Gouda cheese" ($14.95). The "grilled rosemary chicken" ($14.95) comes nicely charcoaled and juicy, along with mashed potatoes that are richly creamy and wonderfully lumpy at the same time, and perfect, tender sautéed asparagus.

    Some of the so-called "Southern specials" come from South Elsewhere. I don't think any bayou cook has ever rustled up a mess of "chicken and penne pasta with wild mushroom cream sauce and Gouda cheese" ($14.95). The "grilled rosemary chicken" ($14.95) comes nicely charcoaled and juicy, along with mashed potatoes that are richly creamy and wonderfully lumpy at the same time, and perfect, tender sautéed asparagus.

    Our attentive server recommended the "white chocolate banana bread pudding" (all desserts $5.95). CrÈme anglaise and dark-chocolate drizzles accent the muffinlike pudding, but by the time we got to the car I felt several pounds heavier. Try the "sweet potato cheesecake" for something lighter.

    Our attentive server recommended the "white chocolate banana bread pudding" (all desserts $5.95). CrÈme anglaise and dark-chocolate drizzles accent the muffinlike pudding, but by the time we got to the car I felt several pounds heavier. Try the "sweet potato cheesecake" for something lighter.

    HOB will always be a theme restaurant, but this theme has the food to back it up.

    Seasoned shoppers will tell you that if you plan to tackle the holiday madness in any of Orlando's major malls, a good pair of walking shoes is just as important as strict adherence to the 3 Ps ' patience, perseverance and pancakes. Yes, pancakes. Or waffles, eggs, cereal, yogurt ' whatever your breakfast meal of choice happens to be. A good start is critical, even essential, when the time comes to elbow a septuagenarian or two out of the way for that marked-down sweater at the Gap.

    So, if the Mall at Millenia happens to be your credit-leavener of choice, consider popping into this area brekkie joint for some pre-shopping sustenance, though judging from the quick closure of the previous tenant ' Mama Fu's Noodle House ' and the demise of the neighboring Storehouse furniture store and the Testa Rossa Caffe, you'd better hurry.

    The interior hasn't veered much from its Mama Fu's days; in fact, even some of the waiters are holdovers, as is the maddening '80s and '90s pop music playing overhead. The coffee-colored walls, suspension lighting and floor-to-ceiling windows tender a level of slickness a step above your local First Watch or IHOP, and the breakfast fare, though not dazzling, is properly satisfying.

    Where else to start but with the classic Belgian waffle ($5.59)? The signature from Brussels is light, crispy and simple. The lone square-shaped hotcake is a refreshingly minimalist breakfast portion, served in a square dish with an orange slice and a wee bowl of butter. But the only available liquid topping is table syrup, which is essentially super-thick high-fructose corn syrup. Is it too much to ask for a breakfast joint to serve real 100 percent maple syrup instead of this fabricated goop? Yeah, it's a tad more expensive, but if I'm paying six bucks for a waffle, I'll gladly foot a few extra cents for real maple syrup. Until that day comes, your only choice is to head over to your nearest supermarket, purchase some fancy grade-A Canadian maple syrup and carry it with you the next time you dine at this or any other pancake/waffle house. It'll make your meal considerably more gratifying and, really, it's no different than bringing your own hot sauce to a restaurant.

    My dining partner opted for the granola crunch waffle ($6.69). For $1.10 more than the Belgian waffle, you get a sprinkling of rolled oats and raisins along with a plate of whipped cream. I have to admit, it just didn't look very appetizing. Perhaps it was because the granola looked like chicken feed scattered over a subway grate, or that waffles and granola seem about as culinarily mismatched as foie gras and Cheerios. No matter, traditionalists can select from other, less health-food-y options such as chocolate chip, baked pecan and strawberries with cream.

    Similarly flavored pancakes are also offered, as are a range of omelets in time-honored ingredient combos, but I was more intrigued by the Florida french toast ($6.79). Though I expected to see wheat germ, bananas, strawberries and powdered sugar dusted over thick slabs of Franco-American-inspired toast, our austere waitress set down a plate of four fluffy slabs of regular french toast ($5.79). Though I was disappointed by the lack of Floridian embellishment, my frustration was tempered by the aesthetically appealing plating and the savory cinnamon-tinged eggy bread, which I ravenously devoured.

    The Florida Waffle Shop also has a selection of burgers, sandwiches, salads and other lunchtime faves on hand, all of which can be enjoyed until 3 p.m., and their 'you've got to love it guaranteeâ?� ensures customers are satisfied with their orders. But until I can pour real maple syrup on my griddled cakes, complete customer satisfaction will evade me. Guess what's on my shopping list?

    Greg Richie’s imaginative take on Southern classics has made Soco one of downtown’s premier dining destinations, thanks to such renditions as cassoulet of duck confit with boiled peanuts, molasses-glazed hanger steak with smoked brisket hash browns, and hot-smoked cobia with buttermilk potato cakes. Bourbon hounds will appreciate the extensive selection, while those with a penchant for indulgent endings will appreciate oatmeal spice cake with a pink peppercorn whiskey syrup or house-made moon pies served with a vanilla RC Cola float.

    Offbeat a.m.. fare ranges from a California vegetarian frittata to the meanest sausage-and-potatoes platter outside of Bavaria. Cheery, with generous portions and a limited lunch menu.

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