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At Jernigan’s, Game On!

For a certain type of person, dining at Amway Center’s glitzy flagship restaurant is even better than watching the Magic play.

Reserve a table at Jernigan’s and you’ll get not only a great meal but an excellent view of the action in Amway Center’s arena

Reserve a table at Jernigan’s and you’ll get not only a great meal but an excellent view of the action in Amway Center’s arena

Photo By Norma Lopez Molina

I’ll come right out and say it: I’m not a sports fan.

I don’t follow teams, and I can’t get excited about who won what game when. Honestly, the last time I was in a stadium at all was in 1963, when my father took me to the final game at the Polo Grounds in New York, and we sat in the bleachers while I watched rabid Mets fans tear the seats out of the place. Now, that’s entertainment! The actual game, not so much.

So it was a revelation to walk into the brand-spanking-new, expensive and expansive Amway Center, with its $480-million price tag showing in every glistening detail and open space. Being the dining guy, I was struck by the food options at every turn as I walked—briskly, it’s really big—along the five well-lit and spacious concourse levels. It takes a lot to feed upwards of 18,000 cheering fans a night from the center’s eight bars, two dozen concession stands, catering service (for private suites) and the big restaurant called Jernigan’s. And the folks at the Amway do it so well that it’s almost like a high-end mall that just happens to have an arena in the middle.

Jernigan’s is a 300-seat, multi-leveled space offering food at “chef’s tables,” a fancy way of saying buffet, with an open carving station kitchen and several serving areas with a revolving menu.

There is a sense of Orlando history in the restaurant, with vestiges of Church Street’s past scattered throughout the décor: a sign from Rosie O’Grady’s Good Time Emporium, the beloved saloon in the old Church Street Station entertainment complex, and a window rescued from Lili Marlene’s, a once-famous restaurant next door to Rosie’s. The Amway restaurant’s name itself refers to the original name of Orlando and its first settler, Aaron Jernigan.

But it’s hard to keep all that history in mind when you walk into the restaurant. Tables on three glass-bordered levels extend right out into the enormous technology-filled arena space (there was a small blimp inside!). Practically every seat has an unobstructed and—when combined with the towering high-definition, 360-degree scoreboard spaceship thing hanging mid-court—sensory-overloading view. Forget Hollywood, this is 3-D! Even I paid attention to the game, partially because when the home team scores the noise is enough to knock the food out of your mouth, and you need to be prepared. And I mean that in a good way.

Executive chef John Nicely oversees the food service throughout the Center, but takes special pride in this flagship space, seeking out local ingredients when available, such as Zellwood corn, Winter Park Dairy cheese and decadent cakes from Orlando’s own Dessert Lady (whose café is on West Church Street).

The bill at Jernigan’s is a surprisingly affordable $35.95 for unlimited plates, not including desserts ($10 each) or wine. The high point on my visit: the Butchers Block station, with savory hickory-smoked beef tenderloin as succulent as the best steak house offering, hand-carved Niman Ranch turkey (I went back three times) and a wild mushroom ragout I’ve been trying to duplicate at home ever since. The Orlando Farmers Market station showcased the WPD cheeses, local fruits and lovely roasted beets, and the Taste of Italy stand served up very rich rigatoni with vodka sauce and a perfectly executed squash risotto. Unfortunately, the Asian Celebrations station was a miss, not much better than food court-level dishes, and I hope it will improve.

Jernigan’s is on the Club Level of the Amway, where seat prices are rather high, but even a $5 Promenade section ticket lets you reserve at Jernigan’s. There are two seatings, the first 90 minutes prior to game time; servers and managers are extremely polite but persuasive when suggesting that tables might be needed for that second, game-starting-time seating. So I recommend buying one of the nosebleed tickets, then making a reservation for tip-off and having a lovely meal from some eye-popping seats.

Jernigan’s is open for an hour after game time, but stops serving alcohol after the third period, as do all the concession areas except the Amway’s two outdoor bars, the upper-deck One 80 and the mid-level Gentleman Jack Terrace bar. Both offer views of the skyline and serve nightcaps, so you can end an enjoyable evening with a refreshingly big-city feel.

I walked into the new arena looking for a meal, not a basketball game. But I was surprised to find that I enjoyed both, and dining at Jernigan’s is worth the price of admission.

Aug 31, 2012 06:55 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

This is really neat to me,because Arron Jernigan was my GRANDFATHER.I research him all the time to try and get the history about him in its correct form.I am doing very well at this and I get more and more information on him all the time.I cannt believe the misconceptions that are out there about his history,but I do understand whats going on,there trying to mask the truth about what really went on.I refuse to allow that to continue to happen.They even say there isnt any pictures of him,but I know for a fact there are.I always say I would like to be as smart as he was but I wouldnt want to be bald like he was.There were certain people around his time period that wanted his possessions very bad and the lengths they went to,to get his things is astounding,right down to the false murder charge,which he cleared himself of.There were four other people there at the time this went on,so this should show how crooked they were at that point and time.My goal within my life is to point the finger at these low life's that thought they could walk on water so the fact that bad people like this dont get to alter the history of great people,just because they are greedy terrorist self serving nobody's! I believe I said that right!People of that caliber are the very reason there are four different stories as to how Jernigan City got named Orlando,and they are all LIES!That is so sad to understand that people today patronize this nasty attack upon our real Orlando history(JERNIGAN CITY).The Orlando Sentinel has even stated Arron Jernigan didnt pay some people that he owed money to,well they most likely didnt warrant payment and today we have civil courts to handle these matters.The bad mouthers just dont know when its time to stop,but they will.I have nothing but LOVE in my heart for my GRANDFATHER,and I like what you are doing! THANKS

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