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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).

A good old-fashioned country diner may seem a wee bit out of place on the modern suburban thoroughfare of Lake Mary Boulevard, but that hasn't stopped families from tolerating Appleton's fruity decor (a decor that gets ridiculously kitschy once Halloween and Christmas roll around) and gorging on heaping plates of hearty, greasy goodness. Maybe it's because the Old South vibe here isn't uncomfortably Old South ' it's relaxed, friendly, even a little dowdy, but it's got a distinct charm, and it offers a pre-noon alternative to the Heathrow housewife scene at the Peach Valley Café a couple of miles down the road.

The waitresses at Appleton's are delightfully old-school and defiantly pleasant in the face of sluggish and disinterested diners. And they can certainly perk up the senses with comments like 'I wouldn't recommend the fruit today,â?� which, while somewhat off-putting, had me in stitches nonetheless.

So, forgoing the cup of fruit ($2.95), we dove headfirst into one of their 'hearty breakfasts,â?� namely the country-fried steak and eggs ($7.95), which lived up to all expectations. The crunch of the pounded steak was perfect, and the thick sausage gravy that smothered it added a nice kick. Interspersing each bite with eggs over easy sopped up with a homemade country biscuit just made the meaty morning meal all the better.

'Grits,â?� my dining partner remarked, 'are a serious personal choice.â?� The ones served here are on the thicker side, in need of quite a bit of butter and salt to give them the desired consistency and flavor. On the potato front, I preferred the home fries over the hash browns, though, really, both were good. From the griddle, both the thick French toast ($5.95; short stack, $4.25) and the pillowy pancakes ($5.95; short stack, $4.25) were flawlessly cooked. In keeping with the café's theme, warm apples and cinnamon can be added to your hotcakes for a couple more bucks. My only complaint, and it's an oft-cited one with me when it comes to breakfast joints, is that pure maple syrup isn't offered, even as an upgrade.

All omelets are prodigious three-egg envelopes with enough sides (your choice of home fries, hash browns or grits and your choice of toast, homemade biscuit or English muffin with plain or cinnamon-raisin bagel) to keep you going until dinner. The Greek omelet ($7.95), however, was just too dry to fully enjoy. The cook was likely distracted from all the other dishes he was cooking and left it in the pan a few minutes too long, a shame considering I was looking forward to downing this eggy number with gyro meat, pepperoncini, black olives and crumbled feta.

Coffee snobs need to leave their java judgments at the door ' the cup of joe served here is dark, strong and not for the faint of heart. A lunch menu is also offered (the place is open until 3 p.m.) with a variety of comfort food and greasy-spoon fare.

'The Next Best Thing to Mom's Cookingâ?� is emblazoned on their menu, and while that may be true, their furnishings, particularly in the screened-in back porch, are the next best thing to a Motel 6. Then again, I wouldn't have expected anything less from a place that celebrates its Old Florida character. Biscuits to bacon, Appleton's is down-home to the core.

Briar Patch has much working in its favor: A primo location on Park Avenue that guarantees a steady influx of old fans and curious newcomers, and a menu that's meant to be enjoyed rather than comprehended. That is, if you can get your foot in the door.

Just try to snag a table around noon on busy weekends, on Saturdays in particular. As countless others have found over the 10 years since it opened, you'll be cooling your heels by the ice-cream counter or out on the sidewalk for 20, 30, even 40 minutes.

But that doesn't seem to stop most people from coming back for more.

There's a front-porch coziness that pervades the restaurant, all the way back to the deepest recesses. Althought the seating is packed in as comfortably as possible, you're still likely to be elbow-to-elbow with the diners at the next table.

The menu rarely overreaches: salad nicoise with albacore tuna ($7.95), two-fisted guacamole and Swiss burgers nestled in piles of potato chips ($7.50), omelets perfumed with pears and Gorgonzola cheese ($6.75), and bow-tie "picnic pasta" with ham, pecans and cheese ($8.95). Many items are tried-and-true favorites that have been on the menu since the beginning.

Soups of the day are usually pleasing, as we found with the creamy, pungent cheddar-bacon chowder ($3.25). A yummy Gorgonzola and walnut salad was studded with apples and poached chicken ($8.95), proof that the heart-healthy offerings are as tempting as the rest of the menu.

Among the entrees, eggplant Florentine was worth diving into, with its spinach and mushroom stuffing. The marinara sauce added balance, with the light scent of garden fresh tomatoes.

By comparison, the "chicken Briar Patch" ($10.95) was inexplicably slim on meat, so that the accompanying cream sauce disappeared into a mountain of angel-hair pasta. Artichokes and mushrooms were tossed generously into the mix, but that was scant reward.

In the unlikely event that all else fails to please, the Briar Patch has one sure saving grace: awe-inspiring desserts. The ice-cream parlor at the front of the restaurant offers everything from milk shakes and malts, to old-fashioned egg creams, to the infamous "New Orleans Gold Brick Sundae" ($5.95). But we opted for an eye-popping, 10-inch-tall wedge of chocolate layer cake ($5.25) that was worthy of a Bon Appetit cover photo.

Briar Patch sports the patina of a well-worn gathering place. Despite the occasional menu misses and service that inevitably slows down during peak periods, it remains a favorite dining spot for one really good reason: You can relax over breakfast, lunch or dinner, rather than think about it.

The smell of bacon wafts out the front door and hits your nose if you’re within a 100-foot radius of Chubby’s Family Restaurant in east Orlando. It’s the kind of place you don’t mind eating alone in; there’s always a friend willing to sit down across the booth from you and take your order. Almost everyone is greeted by name as they walk through the door, along with a compliment about their current haircut or shirt color. It’s a comfortable place, and the food exponentially accentuates that comfort.

Breakfast is the main meal, I find out, as my “Sherry’s skillet” ($6.50) is slid in front of me. Crispy potatoes and sautéed onions line the bottom of the bowl, followed by savory sausage, two eggs, cheddar cheese and white sausage gravy. Beside it is a biscuit so buttery and soft that jam is rendered unnecessary. I load a heaping pile of breakfast onto my fork and I’m in heaven. When I take a sip of coffee and my mouth is set aflame, I realize that my cup has been refilled under the radar in the 3.5 seconds I was digging in my purse for a pen. That’s the way Chubby’s does things: unceremoniously and swiftly. Like a good doo-wop group, each part harmonizes to create a proficient unity of service, food and ambience.

As I chew blissfully, the man with the full-white beard and the Harley-Davidson shirt in the booth behind me orders a mushroom cheeseburger ($5.95) at 10:30 a.m. I smile inwardly as he skips the french fries. The ones I had yesterday were in dire need of salt, making them useless starch vehicles. But the Chubby’s Burger ($5.95), a 6-ounce beef patty piled with white American cheese and more than a few slices of smoky ham, garnered a jealous gaze from the kimono-clad Betty Boop on the wall opposite me.

The menu at Chubby’s Family Restaurant is filled with sandwiches, salads and a whole host of side dishes, from fried okra to Spam. The pancake special is possibly the best deal in town; for $5 you get two enormous, fluffy pancakes, two eggs any style, and either bacon or sausage.

As long as you pass on the fries, you’ll be satisfied. Glancing up at the print of Lucy and Ethel’s jam-packed faces at the chocolate factory will be like looking in a mirror, but at least you’ll be smiling.

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.

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.

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?

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