O’Charley’s Restaurant & Bar

Exterior

Entry

Interior

Interior

Bread

Wedge side salad

Cedar plank salmon

Appetizer sampler

***** (5 stars)

I rarely give five stars to a chain restaurant, but this place really deserves it. Sunday lunch here was one of the best dining experiences I’ve had in months. Everything about our visit was perfect, from the hostess stand to the friendly and attentive server, James, to his helpful assistant and the manager. And the food was far above expectations.

The first surprise was the interior decor. From the outside I was expecting a dark and dreary steakhouse. But it turns out those brown walls are panes of smoked glass, and inside the place is lit by a two story atrium. There’s also outside seating, which wasn’t apparent from the parking lot.

I had the cedar plank salmon. It was a huge, succulent piece of perfectly seasoned fresh salmon, and had really picked up the cedar flavors from the plank it was served on. This was honestly better than the cedar plank salmon at Disney’s Artist’s Point, at about one-third the cost.

Not only was the salmon great, the sides were, too. I selected the wedge salad and a loaded baked potato. Both were every bit as good as you can get at any high-end steakhouse in town. For all that fabulous food I felt like $16.99 was an extremely fair price.

My companion went a completely different route and had the appetizer sampler. The potato skins, fried cheese, and chicken tenders were all perfectly crisp and excellent–everything you’d expect from a good sports bar-type place, but served in a much nicer environment, and at $8.99 another great value.

Our drinks were refilled multiple times, the waiter stopped by to check on us and chat several times, and the manager bid us farewell on the way out the door. I can’t really imagine a better dining experience than this.

O’Charley’s Restaurant & Bar
8081 Turkey Lake Rd
Ste 700
Orlando, FL 32819
(407) 354-0010
http://www.yelp.com/biz/o-charleys-restaurant-and-bar-orlando

Gibson Cafe

Breakfast sandwich

Chicken and chips

Egg white omelet

Interior

*** (3 stars)

I thought this place was pretty good for an airport restaurant.

The breakfast sandwich had a nice flaky biscuit and the accompanying hash browns (which were silver dollar shaped) were nice and crispy, as requested, and had a hint of onion.

The chicken tenders and fires were nice and crunchy, and it was nice that they offered the Buffalo sauce on the side.

Service was friendly, and the food was well-prepared.

Gibson Cafe
1 Terminal Dr
Nashville International Airport
Nashville, TN 37214

http://www.yelp.com/biz/gibson-cafe-nashville

Johnny’s Fillin’ Station

Sign

Bacon cheeseburger

Fries

Interior

***** (5 stars)

For at least 20 years Johnny’s has been acclaimed for having the best burger in Orlando (they even have the 1998 plaque on the wall to prove it), and it still is. The secret is a thick, meaty patty perfectly cooked to order served on a bun with some substance. And the bun is grilled on the insides to make sure it doesn’t get soggy as you make your way through the burger. The bacon cheeseburger is the way to go. And it comes with all the fixin’s you’d expect of a fillin’ station.

The fries that come with the burger could be better, as they are steak fries rather than something skinnier, but if you order them crispy they will do.

The atmosphere is also unchanged in at least twenty years: quintessential dive bar. It’s a real dive bar that has earned its designation, not some artificially decorated pretender. The junk on the walls is all there for historical reasons.

Service is not what you’d call attentive, but it is pleasant.

Johnny’s Fillin’ Station
2631 S Fern Creek Ave
Orlando, FL 32806
(407) 894-6900
http://www.yelp.com/biz/johnnys-fillin-station-orlando-2

Shakers American Café

Exterior

Interior

Shakers

Shakers

Shakers

Shakers

Shakers

Shakers

Shakers

Shakers

Shakers

Shakers

Shakers

Western omelet

***** (5 stars)

Shakers recently won a people’s choice award for best breakfast in Orlando, and I can see why. My Western Omelet was overflowing with fresh vegetables and savory ham. Hash browns were extra crispy, just like I ordered them. And my server’s suggestion to grill my biscuit was pure genius.

I also loved the decor, with unique salt and pepper shakers on every table, and many more lining the walls.

Service was excellent, and all the servers I encountered were very friendly. Indeed, this was the best breakfast I’ve had in a long, long time.

Shakers American Café
1308 Edgewater Dr
Orlando, FL 32804
(407) 422-3534
https://www.yelp.com/biz/shakers-american-caf%C3%A9-orlando-2

Canvas Restaurant & Market

Interior

Bar

**** (4 stars)

This is a convenient stop on your way to or from Orlando International Airport. The restaurant has a modern look, and is beautifully situated overlooking a lake.

Upon entry there is a bit of an identity crisis, as it seems more like a convenience store and casual eating area. But proceed to the hostess stand and you’ll be ushered into the restaurant proper, which is large, and has a modern looking bar at the far end. The booths near the bar are actually the quietest place to eat, as they are away from most other tables and hard surfaces.

We tried several small plates. The smoked fish dip was a surprise, as it was more of a hot cheese queso with fish chunks. It was tasty, but the accompanying crackers could have been fresher.

Mussels were served in an interesting tomatillo broth that was quite good, and accompanied by a couple of pieces of nicely grilled bread.

The grilled shrimp salad was pretty good; the greens were lightly dressed and studded with several hot grilled shrimp.

Service was friendly.

Canvas Restaurant & Market
13615 Sachs Ave
Orlando, FL 32827
(407) 313-7800
https://www.yelp.com/biz/canvas-restaurant-and-market-orlando-3

Landry’s Seafood

Snapper

Mussels

Exterior

*** (3 stars)

For seafood I often go to Oceanaire, which is owned by Landry’s, but I thought I’d try the mother chain for a change. There is definitely a big difference in food quality and service between the two, but there is also a price difference, and if you’re just looking for a decent seafood meal, Landry’s is adequate.

I wasn’t a big fan of my grilled snapper, which was overcooked and served with some fairly flavorless rice and some oddly saffron-flavored green beans. On the other hand, for $27 it also included a good sized house salad with a pleasant balsamic dressing.  

Had that been the extent of it, it was a two-star experience. But I started with the mussels, and they were excellent–perfectly cooked in a garlic and butter broth that was flavorful without being too heavy, and served with delicious garlic toast slices. I will likely return and just order this and perhaps one other appetizer. At $11 the mussels were a great deal.

Service was friendly and fast.

Landry’s Seafood
8800 Vineland Ave
Orlando, FL 32821
(407) 827-6466
https://www.yelp.com/biz/landrys-seafood-orlando-5

33 & Melt

The Melt

Exterior

Interior

***** (5 stars)

When you specialize in one type of sandwich you’d better be good at it, and indeed 33 & Melt is very good at grilled cheese sandwiches. Many varieties are available with various additions, but I went with The Melt. The combination of cheeses was perfect, and the bread was grilled to a lovely deep golden brown.

The sandwich came with a small cup of homemade tomato soup for dipping, but I just sipped that by itself. Delicious. There was also a mixed green dressed in a vinaigrette, but I thought it was a bit salty. Fries might have been a better option. It all came for one reasonable price.

There’s an inside counter and a few tables, plus several nicely shaded outside tables. I liked the classic rock soundtrack. Service was quick and friendly.

33 & Melt
13790 Bridgewater Crossings Blvd
Ste 1000
Windermere, FL 34786
(407) 614-3843
https://www.yelp.com/biz/33-and-melt-windermere

The Tam O’Shanter

Prime rib English cut

Toad in the hole

Exterior

Bar

Interior

***** (5 stars)

Opened in 1922, Tam O’Shanter is one of LA’s oldest restaurants. Although it is owned by Lawry’s, the atmosphere is quite different, with cozy nooks and fireplaces everywhere throughout the rabbit warren of rooms.

As at Lawry’s, prime rib is a major attraction, but there are many other interesting dishes, some with an Old World history, such as Toad in the Hole, which here is served as a large Yorkshire Pudding filled with stew ingredients.

The wine list at first looks small, but it is simply compact. Extensive selections are available in every category, and pricing is reasonable.

Our server, Mark, was that rare mixture of professional waiter, interesting personality, and gracious host, and he made our evening a delight.

The Tam O’Shanter
2980 Los Feliz Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90039
(323) 664-0228
https://www.yelp.com/biz/the-tam-o-shanter-los-angeles

Pacific Dining Car

Onion rings

Lobster Mac and cheese

Chilean sea bass

Scallop appetizer

Sign

Interior

**** (4 stars)

Great ambiance and excellent food are the highlights at this historic restaurant near downtown.

The original section, build in 1921 to look like a dining car and actually equipped with wheels, was indeed moved to its current location a few years later. The rest is added on.

Steaks are excellent here, but my favorite item was the wedge salad, which had an interesting balsamic ranch dressing and real Roquefort cheese. Onion rings and truffle lobster mac were also excellent sides.

The Chilean sea bass was the best I’ve had, a giant piece perfectly seared and not overcooked.

Chocolate souffle didn’t seem particularly special but was okay.

The downside here is the pricing, which is 50-100% higher than any other steakhouse in LA. $26 for a salad appetizer? True, it could be split, but still…

Oddly, the wine pricing is very reasonable, so if you order a couple of bottles you might come out even.

Professional service that didn’t rush us, even on a fairly busy day. It’s interesting that the restaurant is open 24/7. I wonder what a fine dining resturant is like at 5am.

Pacific Dining Car
1310 W 6th St
Los Angeles, CA 90017
(213) 483-6000
https://www.yelp.com/biz/pacific-dining-car-los-angeles

River Roast

*** (3 stars)

I was expecting River Roast to be like all the steakhouses in town, but it’s not. For one thing, they don’t have steak. It’s also much more casual.

The concept here is that almost everything is roasted. I guess that makes sense, given the name. On the day we visited there was one selection of fish, prime rib or chicken as the protein sources. We didn’t choose any of them, although perhaps we should have.

Instead, we tried almost everything else on the menu. Unfortunately, despite that diversity, we didn’t really find anything we’d want to eat again. Here’s what we had:

House pickles were good, actually the best thing we had, but beware the red peppers as they are insanely hot.

Chicken “gobbets” were bite size chunks of fried chicken in a crispy batter, served with honey. They were the other dish we liked.

Shaved salad had a broad mixture of fennel, radishes, mushrooms, arugula, carrots and other stuff, dress in a lemon vinaigrette. The ingredients didn’t really come together into a cohesive dish.

Smoked salmon was served in a sauce that didn’t do it any favors.

Roasted carrots and “dirt” were pretty plain tasting carrots with some crumbs on them. A bit of the honey from the chicken helped them.

Peas were served in a bowl, and couldn’t decide whether they wanted to be soup. The bits of ham added some flavor, and these were probably the best vegetable.

Roasted curry cauliflower had a nice char on top, but the only flavor was from the red sauce underneath which it is a stretch to call curry.

Overall, nothing would bring me back unless I had a craving for prime rib, which might be good.

The service staff was friendly and efficient.

The night we visited there was a live jazz trio playing in the dining room, even though it was early. They were talented and the music was at a reasonable level.

River Roast
315 N La Salle Dr
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 822-0100
http://www.yelp.com/biz/river-roast-chicago-3