City Dining on Church Street
Photo By Norma Lopez Molina
Have the burger, with a drag queen on the side
By day, Hamburger Mary’s is a pink-bedecked burger bar with more flamboyant servers than can be found at Steak ‘n Shake (although they do have the shake). By night, there are trivia quizzes, bingo and cabaret dinner extravaganzas, all featuring female impersonators and more sequins and wigs than a country music awards show. I have to admit I’m not a fan of dinner shows, in any form, so the attraction escapes me. What does appeal to me are the namesake Angus beef hamburgers, like the Mary Burger, the Proud Mary Burger, the Queen Mary Burger—depends on your toppings; $9-$13—and desserts like chocolate bread pudding ($7) and fried Twinkies ($6, make up your own joke here). HM is a chain with locations across the country—wonder what the uniform in Grand Rapids looks like?
110 W. Church St., Orlando, 321-319-0600; hamburgermarys-orlando.com
The Dessert Lady Café
A post-game treat
As you may have been able to tell from my Best in Dining list in November, I’m a fan of Patti Schmidt’s Dessert Lady. In addition to supplying cakes to restaurants and private boxes at the Amway, the Church Street café is a sweet après-sport destination. “After a game on the weekend it’s complete madness,” Schmidt says. “You can watch women pulling their husbands down the street for dessert.” She serves lunch during the day, and offers cheese courses and dips along with beer, wine and towering cakes at night (cakes, $10 a slice).
120 W. Church St., Orlando, 407-999-5696; dessertlady.com
The place to be—before a game
Here’s my suggestion for dining at Kres: go in the afternoon or early evening, before a Magic game. Happy hour is from 4 to 7 p.m., straddling the lunch and dinner menus, and, particularly during the week, it’s a time when the restaurant isn’t the packed gathering spot it becomes at night. I like the space, with its red leather banquettes and multileveled seating; it’s quite a comfortable blend of vintage (the building is from 1935) and modern, and the towering bar is a magnet for the pretty folk. The menu is pretty too, and changes often. On my visit, I was smitten with a lusciously simple French onion soup with duck meat ($7), blackened tenderloin medallions marinated in gorgonzola ($25) and a chicken breast braised in cognac and Cabernet (lunch item; $19). A good place to relax before tip-off.
17 W. Church St., Orlando, 407-447-7950; kresrestaurant.com
A little goes a long way here
There’s nothing quite like passing good food around the table to make for a fun evening. Ceviche serves traditional Andalucian tapas (little plates) like smoky grilled squid ($5.95), albondigas (spicy pork, veal and chorizo meatballs; $6.95), deep fried ham and cod croquetas ($5.95), as well as some of the best gazpacho ($5.50) in town. It is a huge space, half of the former home of the legendary Rosie O’Grady’s Good Time Emporium, with a live flamenco music stage by the bar and an immensely high-ceilinged dining area that is made cozy by well-prepared food shared with friends.
125 W. Church St., Orlando, 321-281-8140; ceviche.com
Mojo Cajun Bar & Grill
Church Street meets Bourbon Street
Mojo opened in October and immediately became a post-game party spot, owing to the open-to-the-street bar and live music (shades of New Orleans!). The building has a legacy of entertaining the masses, as it was the other half of Rosie O’Grady’s, and then—briefly—the Improv Comedy Club & Restaurant. New residents John SanFelippo and George Maltezos (who also own Tabu Nightclub) have made good use of the space, retaining the wood and copper-ceilinged room and adding Bourbon Street pizzazz. The menu is full of Cajun specialties: crawfish etoufée (nice, but using an undercooked roux; $12.99), shrimp remoulade (superb; ask for more sauce! $7.99) and “lo country” gumbo ($5.99) with authentically spicy sausage. A grill for broiling oysters on the second floor and a crawfish boil every Tuesday are highlights.
129 W. Church St., Orlando, 407-422-6656; mojocajunbarandgrill.com
Still a favorite for sushi
While Amura (Japanese for “little village”) has spread beyond its humble roots, to restaurants in Lake Mary and Sand Lake Road, the original Church Street location is still a favorite with downtown residents. Amura, along with the original Ichiban on Orange Avenue, introduced a lot of locals to inventive sushi rolls, and the menu is enormous. Some of the flavor combinations are quite enticing, such as tuna, salmon and mango in the Coco-mango roll ($12.98), or the Bonsai roll with seared tuna and tempura seaweed ($6.98). The updated space and attentive but relaxed service feel like an escape from the sometimes frantic Church Street scene, and it’s worth a revisit if you haven’t been in a while.
54 W. Church St., Orlando, 407-316-8500; amura.com