Orlando Chow: Restaurants for the Rest of Us, by Bob Mervine
After I finished reading Bob Mervine's new book Orlando Chow: Restaurants for the Rest of Us, I began to consider the various ways I might include the greater Orlando area in my travel schedule over the next twelve months or so. Maybe the next RoadTrip Rendezvous should undertake the author's challenge of "eating through Orlando Chow" as part of its festivities. Even if joining a Rendezvous is not part of your roadtrip planning future, this book will amaze and expand your perceptions about the cuisine that is available in the Orlando neighborhoods.
This glove-box-sized book reviews about 100 restaurants ranging from inexpensive (less then $15) to very expensive (more than $51) for a typical meal (not including the tip and any alcoholic drinks). As in the other "Chow" book, the added value of this volume is the insider info about when to go to the featured restaurants along with what to wear and how to look like a "local." The author is a self-described "professional eater" who works as a food service and restaurant analyst for the Orlando Business Journal. As such he brings a keen understanding of the challenges faced by both large and small restaurant operators. One of the interesting things I learned about Orlando is that major chains frequently introduce new menu concepts there since the tourist base is so wide and never-ending. One of these new ideas is being developed at Seasons 52 (owned by Red Lobster) where the chefs use no butter or sauces in the preparation of their entrees. Each entrée is kept under 475 calories per serving, and the menu selections change daily based upon what fresh ingredients are available.
Another aspect of this book I really admired is that the author resists the popular notion of singling out "mom & pop" diners as somehow being "better" than those establishments that have corporate bankrolls -- the only criterion that counts is the quality of the dining experience. Mervine does a masterful job of getting that point across by including restaurants at both the Disney resort (California Grill) and Universal (Emeril's Tchoup Chop). But what really makes this book a standout is that he provides tips for finding restaurants that casual visitors will never find on their own. The ones I am going to check out upon my next visit are Bravissimo, Cedar's, Johnny's Fillin' Station (the author's best pick for "redneck burgers"), and Moonfish. Last but certainly not least, I want to visit the Black Hammock in Oviedo. It's located at a fish camp on the St. James River and about as different from Disney World as you can find in central Florida. Mosquitos, gators, and real Florida crackers are part and parcel of this dining adventure.
Mervine's wry humor can be found in nearly
every review -- his comments about the ambience and what he
calls "Special Considerations" are worth reading
for entertainment value alone. This is a great book, and I
can just about guarantee that you will be suddenly hungry
after reading only a few of the selections. Pay special attention
to his choices for "Floribbean" cuisine -- very
interesting cultural perspective.