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Restaurants & Bars 3

Jarrett's Grill, O'Neal's, Concha Me Crazy, Cheesecake Factory (new in Orlando)

Tim | Jun 23, 200105:45 PM

Tried all of these for lunch, not much good to report except at the last one, which was not too bad.

Jarrett's is in the old Townsend's location on Michigan. Nice older building, but the lunch menu is pretty plain. Rock shrimp salad looked best and had some loyal fans, but I had a not-bad grilled chicken sandwich with pesto. Fries, from the freezer bag, were an extra-cost upgrade (that's what the server called it) over chips, but overall, prices were very reasonable. Service was way too chatty while being excruciatingly plodding and amateurish, even on a slow lunch day. Please, just shut up, take the order, and bring the food (when it takes 20 minutes to get your order taken at lunch in a 3/4 empty restaurant, you've got problems.)

At the next table, someone got a dinner plate the size of a trashcan lid with a tiny little dessert in the center, covered with whipped cream. She gave it that "what am I supposed to do with this" look, trying to figure out why the unimpressive tyke of a sweet needed to be presented so that it looked even more sad and lonely, a long way from the plate's perimeter. I passed on dessert.

O'Neal's of Boston is a seafood place in the old Italian Oven south of town on Orange Avenue. Nice building, but the tables are so close you can't even pull your chair back. Service was poor, both the server and the hostess said it was their first day at work. They just started opening for lunch (the restaurant, that is, not the staff.) Took forever.

The fish and chips were OK, but the fries needed to spend more time swimming in the grease after their sleep in the freezer - they were as pale as a Canadian tourist. Fish was pretty good as pollack goes (malt vinegar would have helped, but catsup was the only condiment provided,) coleslaw nothing exceptional. I wouldn't go back. New England style seafood is way too boring to me, anyway. With all the vibrant Florida flavors we have around us, this just seemed tasteless and bland, unless the nostalgia lure is strong for ex-New Englanders. I predict a quick demise if the service doesn't get a lot better.

Concha Me Crazy attempts to bring some of those tropical flavors to downtown, in the new Embassy Suites. It's a creation of Johnny Rivers, the ex-Disney exec chef who created Johnny Rivers' Smokehouse, a pretty good BBQ place. This one's got a lot of Disney overbearing "theme," with an attempt at whimsy and imagination that's kind of interesting, but also kind of annoying (like the name, in other words.) It's a loud, tables-too-close room that seems misplaced in an Embassy Suites.

Talk about self-important and chummy waiters. They must get these guys from used car lots. They yak on and on about their "personal recommendations" and prattle endlessly about how the dishes are prepared, looking painfully chic in their black clothes and magazine-cover facial hair. They add additional value when the food is served, managing to completely confuse the three orders at our table, even with three of them involved. The most popular dish was some kind of stir-fry with lettuce leaves to deposit it in for eating. If you want to appear worldly by waving around chopsticks over iceberg lettuce, this might be the entree for you.

The conch chowder was a flavorless cornstarch-thickened, artistically decorated disappointment. If this is the signature menu item, that signature must be a childlike scrawl. $4.99 Chinese buffet quality egg drop soup is better, and the black bean soup didn't look any more interesting. The pork BBQ sandwich, ostensibly Thai on a menu attempting to convey world-wide influences, was the same pulled pork BBQ sandwich served at Johnny Rivers' Smokehouse, with a peanut butter and Hoisin sauce instead of the better BBQ stuff. Fries were pure Ore-Ida that needed more grease time. Iced tea was some sort of tropically flavored mess, another specialty gone wrong. The menu is overpriced, and add an $8 charge to valet park at lunch (since waived, I believe) and the annoying staff, and you have what I consider a complete failure. I wanted to like it, but just couldn't, despite its corporately mandated hipness.

Cheesecake Factory is new to our area, opening in Winter Park Village north of Orlando. It's been drawing huge crowds, most of whom cruise confusedly around the Village looking for a parking space (except those who valet park for free, and in typical Winter Park fashion, if your car has an adequately high resale value, you get front-and-center display right at the door.)

Interesting decor, big menu, lots of choices. The sandwiches were large and creative. Fries disappointed (you see my pet peeve here!) by being those freezer-to-grease fakes (why aren't restaurants that pride themselves on homemade-everything ashamed of the same fries you can get at your OWN damn grocery store?)

I liked it, but I haven't found a reason to go back. Food was pretty good, but $10 sandwiches and $7 slices of cheesecake SHOULD be good, and they just weren't better enough to return for. I thought the white chocolate and raspberry cheesecake was OK, but not as good as it sounds (or as good as it costs.) Still, it was good enough that I would recommend trying it.

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