Rise & Shine
Whether you’re feeling egg-centric, craving chicken and waffles, or want to expand your morning horizons by trying something totally different, we’re here to help. Join our dining critic as he ventures to 20 terrific breakfast spots, plus four must-try places for brunch.
This is the kind of place where an old regular can sit at the counter and converse with the cooks in remarkably rusty high school French, where toast comes unbuttered because you like it that way, where the special of the morning is a cheeseburger Benedict. The slogan on the menu says “Where the Locals Eat” and by gum, they certainly do and with good reason. It’s near impossible to believe that a chain owned by a group of restaurant veterans (formerly of Hooters, Outback and Carrabba’s), with 67 locations across the Southern and Eastern seaboard—five in our immediate area—can serve up fluffy real eggs, house-cut fresh mushrooms and the best home fries I’ve ever had. Ever. The physically compact diners hum with energy and smiling servers, the coffee is always filled (a small miracle in the land of the vanishing endless cuppa) and the chicken and waffles comes with half a fried chicken and strawberry butter. Huevos rancheros! Cinnamon roll pancakes! House-made corned beef hash! $2.99 Bloody Marys! And did I mention the home fries?
UCF area, Casselberry, Altamonte Springs, Hunters Creek, Oviedo, Metrodiner.com
Black Bean Deli
When Andres Corton took over the Winter Park space formerly inhabited by Winnie’s Oriental Garden, he knew it was a location begging for breakfast. The OMag Dining Hall of Famer had bought the original Winter Park BBD in 2002, expanded into a second location at the original Vega’s on Colonial Drive in 2015 and finally transformed Winnie’s last year and closed the vintage location. A cool, modern interpretation of casual consumption, the bright new space is made for relaxation. You want a Cafecito to jumpstart the day? That’s fine. A super-rich media mañana sandwich, rich bread stuffed with house-made chorizo, egg and cheese like a Cuban McMollete? Perfect choice, as is the Frita Burger, ground chorizo, beef and grass-fed pork sourced from an organic farm in Gainesville, Ga. Breakfast and brunch dishes are remembrances of things past, reflections of mamas and grandfathers cooking Sunday meals in the childhood homes of Corton and Nick Grecco, his executive chef. Grecco, who has worked at Cask & Larder and points south, has spearheaded the early morning initiative, introducing satisfying Cuban breakfast bowls brimming with superbly crisp potatoes, shredded slow-cooked pork and eggs, as well as Cuban “French toast” called torrejas—egg bread soaked in dulce de leche, fried and soaked in thick syrup.
1346 N. Orange Ave., Winter Park; 1835 E. Colonial Drive, Orlando. blackbeandeli.com
The H Cuisine
In Turkish culture, breakfast and brunch are interchangeable and omnipresent. One doesn’t wait for special occasions to consume morning meats, cheeses, eggs and fried goodies; it’s a part of daily life, a meal called kahvalti (“before coffee,” because Turkish coffee is a big deal). While it’s not a daily occurrence (yet), The H Cuisine, already known for its exotic dinner menu, offers a weekend Turkish breakfast to such prominence that a dish is called, simply, The Turkish Breakfast—a presentation of Turkish beyaz peynir feta, goat’s milk tulum, hard sheep milk kasseri, highly seasoned pastrami, olives, honey, fresh jams, kaymak (clotted cream), fried eggs and an addictive walnut pepper and tomato spread called acuka. Just translating these tastes into familiar terms will take up the morning. Spicy fried soujuk sausage in tomato sauce; menemen, gently scrambled eggs mixed with tomatoes, chilies, and tons of olive oil (like the Arabic shakshouka); and a Benedict with sliced fillet called lokum are more Turkish delights. When the Croque-Madame, a béchamel-covered fried cheese and ham sandwich the size of an unabridged dictionary is carried through the room, all eyes follow. And the chocolate donut hole French toast profiteroles drizzled in vanilla sauce are impossible to resist. Trust me.
Marketplace at Dr. Phillips, 7512 Dr. Phillips Blvd, Orlando. thehcuisine.com
Chubby’s Family Restaurant
Chubby’s opened more than 25 years ago, named after its original owner, the late James “Chubby” Miavitz, and was purchased by the McBride family in 2015 (Eddie is in the kitchen and not particularly chubby). But the vibe is way, way older, with décor devoted to the 1950s, and an old-fashioned slant favoring regular customers and home-cooked meals. There’s a grilled biscuit, and skillet dishes named after waitresses: Lucy (sausage, ham, bacon); Chrissy (corned beef hash); and Sherry (home fries, onions, chopped ham, and two eggs covered in sausage gravy). It may seem like an oxymoron, a fast breakfast place that takes time to cook real food, but nestled in the breakfast and lunch menus are house-made blintzes (cottage cheese-stuffed crepes), slow-cooked soups (15 bean, bacon cheeseburger), and a Wednesday special of the kind of meatloaf Mama made if you had that kind of mama. There’s a wall plastered with Elvis memorabilia, a Marilyn Monroe wall, and a space filled with pictures and stuffed figures of Betty Boop, including a rather R-rated one of Ms. Boop in bondage attire with a whip.
10376 E. Colonial Drive, Union Park. facebook.com/chubbyscreation
@ The Diner
@ The Diner is pretty much a real diner, not one of those themed morning places with salt shakers on the wall or waitresses in 1950s hairstyles. Just plate upon loaded plate of morning staples and the kind of over-the-top waffles that kids adore. Eggs, avocado toast and a focus on Benedicts (The Bennyffle of poached eggs, bacon and ham stacked on crispy waffles) rule. But also… wickedly good chicken and waffle sliders. Loaded biscuits smothered in cheese, bacon and sausage gravy. Fruity Pebbles, Reese’s Peanut Butter and Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal pancakes! Cannoli cream stuffed French toast! Bottomless mimosas! It’s practically a breakfast theme park!
Lake Cay Shopping Center, 9938 Universal Blvd. Orlando. atthediner.com
Dixie Cream Cafe
Open since 2010, Dixie Cream might be called a polished diner, right in the middle of the small-town feel of downtown Windermere. Bright surfaces, sunny yellow walls and a giant cake and muffin case right at the register; portions are big and plates end up empty. Breakfast and lunch are served concurrently, so if you feel brunchish and want a burger, go for it. Stacks of buttermilk pancakes (lemon ricotta, very nice) and the “38 Special” omelet packed with smoked ham and Applewood bacon, are recommended. Dixie Dream was featured on Rachael Ray’s show in 2018 as a “Viewer’s Fave” (the 12-hour slow-smoked brisket hash is a winner, according to a video from Orlandoan Antonio Harris).
434 Main St., Windermere. dixiecreamcafe.com
Dabeni’s Latin Café & Bakery
Their specialties of guava pastries, flan and tres leches cakes make Dabeni’s important in the local Latin community, but the focus on authentic and wide-ranging Latino breakfasts also gives them appeal for an adventurous morning. Green plantain bolon de verde, mashed with cheese and pork chicharrones, called “ecua” for Ecuadorian at breakfast; a platter of tostones, beans, eggs, fried cheese and Puerto Rican pan sobao bread; Mexican spiced tortilla strip chilaquiles; bracingly strong espresso; and the only place I’ve found the sweet Central American corn beverage called morocho dulce.
239 E. Michigan St., Orlando. latinfoodinorlando.com
Nic & Luc Scratch Kitchen
Chef Leroy Bautista cooked in acclaimed restaurants in New Orleans and Miami (The Court of Two Sisters, Il Corso) before starting his Nic & Luc’s Small Batch Provisions jam company, named after his sons, from his home in South Florida. His preserves quickly showed up in high-end area restaurants, West Elm stores and on Martha Stewart’s radar. Now Bautista has turned to a one-to-one relationship with diners, and his menu at Scratch Kitchen leans toward the farm-to-table and plant-based spectrums. Each dish has the hallmark of a fine chef’s attention to detail. Scratch-made chorizo, turkey sausage and his array of preserves—bacon marmalade on a grass-fed beef burger—turn seemingly simple dishes into eye-opening treats. The until-lunch-only kitchen serves particularly well-made three-egg omelets and breakfast sandwiches, and the vegetarian bowls top hummus with various raw and pickled veggies. They can be flourished with pork or shrimp, proving that all diets can coexist.
851 E. State Road 434, Longwood. nicandluc.com
College Park Café
New owner Julio Pelegreno, along with brother Juan and mother Barbara Martinez, took over the College Park landmark in late 2019, heavily renovating the floors and walls and basically spiffing up the place, which had been run by the Babajko family since 1988 (it was the College Park Diner for at least 10 years prior). While Pelegreno has added family favorites from his Cuban grandmother’s recipe box for lunch and dinner (Palomilla Cube Steak, Grandma’s Beef Stew), a simple, familiar all-day breakfast can still be had that puts eggs, bacon and potatoes on the plate. The neighborhood is happy that some things don’t change (the new paint job is accented with the graffiti of returning customers), and the real prize is the handmade biscuits and the not-on-the-menu Cuban coffee.
2304 Edgewater Drive, Orlando. Search for College Park Café on Facebook
Paris Banh Mi Café Bakery
It is entirely reasonable to eat a banh mi sandwich for breakfast, and the in-house bread at Paris Banh Mi is so much better than the prospect of toast at home. But the real enticement from Hien Tran and Doan Nguyen’s bakery is the meticulously crafted patisserie that occupies the center of the shop, a marvel of French-influenced Vietnamese baking and an Instagram-worthy sight on its own. Apple turnovers and eclairs, goat cheese puffs and Danish share space with more eye-catching creations. Beautiful leaf-shaped apple custard pastries, tomato and cheese “Margherita” tarts, the artistic butter and caramelized sugar-laden Breton cake called kouign, chocolate-laced croissants and twisted sticks, and astounding flavored flowers floating in clear gelatin that the young man behind the counter called “3-D printed food.” Decipher names like le carioca, the ironic l’Oriental, le magenta, saveurs epicees and la symphonee au chocolat and add an exotic air to a sweet breakfast. Tip: Even though there’s no listing for it on the board of tea offerings, you can indeed order a straight-up cup of coffee.
1021 E. Colonial Drive, Orlando. parisbanhmicafebakery.com
Pom Pom’s Teahouse & Sandwicheria
Three a.m., or 5, or 4:30 in the afternoon is the new morning. Orlando hasn’t had much luck maintaining a 24-hour independent diner (Lord knows we try and try), but if you’re willing to wait until the weekend, Pom Pom’s can satisfy the need for hearty breakfast-type food from Friday night until Sunday afternoon, continuously. Aside from it being THE place to see everyone in town (just sit and watch some evening, and count how many politicians, musicians, late-night hipsters and very early morning moms stop in), the food is worth setting the alarm, and always has been. Opened in 2005, the sandwicheria offers some of the best and most elaborate sandwiches in town during “normal” hours, but the overnight brings out offerings like the Dragon Lady Napoleon of potato pancakes stuffed with cream cheese and cranberry ginger chutney, or the giggle-inducing One Eyed Wong, a meat and cheese covered toad-in-the-hole, Pom style. Shrimp and grits on Fridays, sake mojitos on Sundays. And a great vibe at any time.
67 N. Bumby Ave., Orlando. pompomsteahouse.com
Easy Luck Coffee & Bodega
Toast. Breakfast at Easy Luck, sharing space with Whippoorwill Beer House on the edge of the Almond Milk District, is mostly toast, from good Olde Hearth bread. Food on metal sheet pans, pour-over Ligature coffee in Mason jars, cushy couches in corners, and shelves and fridges loaded with drinks and goods from Orlando and Florida. It’s sort of like if a 7-Eleven opened in your son’s dorm room. Easy Luck serves semi-vegan takes on the BLT (oven-browned bacon and vegan mayo) and the “just toast,” with Earth Balance soy butter and cream cheese. The now-requisite avocado toast sprinkles coarse-mashed ‘cado with pepper, garlic and sea salt; the “Petunia” offers a fish-free “tuna” salad made of chickpeas on, yes, toast.
2425 E. South St., Orlando. easyluckorlando.com
Olivia’s at Old Key West Resort
You can be forgiven if you’re not familiar with Old Key West. The charming vacation spot isn’t as grand and glitzy as other Disney resorts. It was the first Vacation Club property, built nearly 30 years ago for Disney timeshare participants. These days, regular vacationers also can rent the Conch Republic-themed rooms and wander the very relaxed grounds. And anyone can eat at Olivia’s. Probably because of its relative obscurity, Olivia’s is a favorite of Disney cast members, particularly now that local superstar chef Camilo Velasco is overseeing food at the resort. He first came to Orlando’s attention in the kitchens at Norman’s, Barnie’s CoffeeKitchen, 1921 by Norman Van Aken and (briefly) The Ravenous Pig. Breakfast and brunch are tropically accented delights, highlighted by banana bread French toast, topped with banana-rum syrup and coconut whipped cream. “When I was a kid in Colombia,” Velasco says with a smile, “my favorite food was banana bread.” Savory crab cakes topped with tart Key Lime hollandaise make the most of a Benedict, and a Key West hash of tamari-marinated tofu, roasted peppers, spinach, and tomatoes is a unique take on meatless dining. Even if it’s not brunch time, you can probably beg for the Southernmost Buttermilk Chicken. Insider plan: Old Key West is a short water ferry ride from Disney Springs. Park there, hop on the ferry, have breakfast, go back and shop.
1510 N. Cove Road, Lake Buena Vista. disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/old-key-west-resort
Coffee Factory & Cafe
It’s obvious that coffee is the main focus here and taken seriously—beans from Sumatra, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Colombia and Brazil, and a dizzying selection of latte flavors from simple to practically dessert. I’m not sure I could handle a coffee flavored with Lady Luck (Irish cream, hazelnut and cherry) or Coconut Cream Pie (white chocolate, caramel, coconut) first thing, but that’s just me. An easier choice is the all-day breakfast options, including topped waffles (bananas Foster, mmm; the peanut butter, strawberries, bananas and granola, messy), wraps and very stuffed breakfast sandwiches, wraps and protein bowls. Or here’s a surprise: a simple cup of coffee is just $2.10.
Waterford Lakes and Winter Springs. coffeefactoryandcafe.com
A Disney-area spot for unpretentious and very authentic Latin food, Sofrito covers a disparate community with dishes from Venezuela, Cuba, Colombia, Dominican Republic and Argentina. Breakfast starts at 7 a.m. and can begin with empanadas, beef papas rellena or Colombian pandebono cheese bread. Eggs with fried yucca; cachapa, a sweet corn pancake filled with soft Venezuelan queso de mano; and the Cuban media mañana egg sandwich are highlights.
8607 Palm Parkway, Lake Buena Vista. sofritocafe.com
Oscar’s Brasserie at Waldorf Astoria Orlando
Just being able to tell friends, “I’m having breakfast at the Waldorf” should be enough. But a deep dive into the history of the enduring mainstay, eggs Benedict, makes Oscar’s the logical place for breakfast. The old Waldorf Hotel in New York City, it seems, was the place where one Lemuel Benedict, a stockbroker with flair and a taste for Hollandaise sauce, invented the eponymous dish in 1894 after a night of drinking. He caught the attention of their legendary maître d’hôtel, Oscar Tschirky (get the connection now?), who put it on the menu (Oscar also claimed in his autobiography to have invented Thousand Island dressing and the Waldorf salad). The Waldorf Classic might be the definition of Lemuel’s efforts, a tower of poached eggs, Nueske Canadian bacon, slow roasted tomato, asparagus and buttery lemony Hollandaise. A densely packed blue crab cake version is practically obligatory. If you can tear yourself from the Bennie, the breakfast buffet is loaded with eggs, waffles and crepes to order, a charcuterie bar and masses of pastries, coffee included.
14200 Bonnet Creek Resort Lane, Orlando. waldorfastoriaorlando.com/dining/oscars-brasserie
The French Cafe
French chef Francois Paille has crafted pastry for Norman’s, Croissant Gourmet and restaurants in Miami and Lyon, France. Now he heads his own restaurant in Winter Garden, with a from-scratch menu that brings the sadly neglected crepe back to prominence. Savory thin pancakes of prosciutto and molten Raclette cheese; sausage, potatoes, ham and eggs; and smoked salmon with goat cheese join sweet creations enveloping Nutella, strawberry jam, caramel and whipped cream. Omelets, croissants and house-made quiche make for a decidedly continental start to the day.
16412 New Independence Parkway, #140, Winter Garden. thefrenchcafe.com
Like Metro Diner, Village Inn shows that multi-location chains are keeping the neighborhood breakfast spot and the idea of the mom-and-pop diner alive, even if pop is a corporation with more than 180 restaurants in 20 states and Guam. Village Inn likes sweet stuff: giant (I mean giant!) cinnamon rolls; doughnut holes flavored with pumpkin spice or stuffed with cherry pie filling; strawberry and cream crepes. Breakfast combos are substantial enough to let you skip lunch, like the half-pound chicken fried steak and sausage gravy with eggs, or the bacon queso-stuffed hash browns. Pancakes, omelets, pork carnitas skillets, breakfast all day, 20 different kinds of pie—it’s all there.
SeaWorld area, Winter Garden, St. Cloud. villageinn.com
Eggs & Oats
While you might be tempted to hum the songs of Hall & Oates, there won’t be any background tunes playing at E&O. A clock-bedecked wall in one restroom is inscribed “Take Your Time,” and the open, urban-rustic atmosphere of exposed brick, chalkboard wall and concise locally sourced menu lends itself to long, lingering dining with an actual newspaper. Restaurant veterans David Murray-Lyons and Andrew Beal try to offer something for everyone, from the sausage, bacon and chicken-loaded Hangover Omelette to vegan “chicken” or Impossible burger paired with waffles. The “oats” include slow-cooked oatmeal with fruit and organic Cascadian Farms granola; the eggs are from Lake Meadow Naturals, a mere five miles east. Servings are large (although toast comes only one slice per order) and beverages are crafted from an in-house installment of the otherwise mobile Piccolo Coffee Co. If only the roasted potatoes came without truffle oil. I can’t go for that.
126 W. Plant St., Winter Garden. eggsandoats.com
Owners Lisa Matson and Linda Moore opened the original roadhouse Sweet Mama’s location in 2007, a former bar & grill that looked lonely on its vast open lot. Now nestled amid a strip of other restaurants in Lake Nona, it seems homey and inviting, with a menu of made-from- scratch biscuits and gravy, country fried steak and large pancakes. Mama’s Florentine Benedict is distinct—poached eggs and spinach over English muffin—as is the Greek gyro omelet. The other morning selections are familiar and rewarding; it’s hard to go wrong at Mama’s. The assortment of house-made desserts, I am assured, is available all day, and as certain teenage members of my family will attest, a slice of triple layer chocolate cake is a perfect breakfast.
10743 Narcoossee Road, Lake Nona. sweetmamasrestaurant.com
Yes, weekend brunch. Even more yes, brunch served every day. Hamilton’s Kitchen might be the only area restaurant with a dedicated brunch menu seven days a week. “I like eggs Benedict,” says Hamilton’s chef, Stephen Doyle. “Why shouldn’t I have it every day?” Doyle left Dublin, Ireland, when he was 19, eventually ending up in Orlando kitchens such as Church Street Station, Pebbles and the banquet kitchen at Dubsdread Golf Course. The art-filled atmosphere of The Alfond Inn suits Chef Doyle, who uses the freedom of a scratch kitchen and availability of Florida’s bounty to good advantage. Lake Meadow Naturals eggs and chicken dominate the menu, and Chef has a special place in his heart for mushrooms from Nearby Naturals and grits via Bradley’s Country Store in Tallahassee. “I don’t think in terms of particular cuisines,” Doyle says. “I cook food. And if that means an Asian flavor would go well with a Spanish dish, that’s where I’m going.” Brunch starts early (7 a.m.) and embraces the simple, such as quinoa bowls, oatmeal (Irish oats, of course) and avo toast, along with the more structured. Truly outstanding shrimp and grits; a baguette loaded with meaty lion’s mane mushrooms; and the Brunch Burger of Midwestern Creekstone beef, pecan smoked bacon jam, a sunny side egg, avocado mash and white cheddar on a brioche bun are reasons enough to book a reservation.
300 E. New England Ave.
The former location of Chuck’s Diner gets more underground buzz than almost any other place I can think of…I know several people who order large quantities of Chef Joe Rees’ exceptional soups for holiday feasts. It might be easier to just cram the family into The Strand. These are crafted and thoughtful brunch dishes. The buttermilk chicken salad, crisp breast meat paired with greens and delightful buttermilk dressing, is a flavor and texture that pops into my head unbidden quite often. Don’t dismiss the words “sausage macmuffin” until you’ve had Strand’s egg, cheese and sausage on English muffin bread. Richly savory egg dishes, from fried fish and Basque pepper sauce on grits to an intense mushroom and Gouda bowl, could make you forget any other. There are signs that the ever-changing stretch of North Mills might be attracting larger players; go have brunch at The Strand while the neighborhood is still funky.
807 N. Mills Ave.
Wine Bar George
There are limited ways to stand out on the Orlando food scene. Offer something attention grabbing (or wacky); be very, very good (much harder than it might seem); or be truly unique. Master Sommelier George Miliotes, not willing to take any shortcuts, has embraced all three. Local hero Miliotes is one of only 269 master somms in the world and three in the Orlando area (all Disney alums). He opened California Grill in 1988 and fashioned the wine programs at Capital Grille and Seasons 52. What he knows, therefore, is taste, the sensual variances of flavor and aroma, and what wine goes with what. Along with fellow California Grill originator Chef Ron Rupert, Miliotes has crafted a one-of-a-kind wine bar at Disney Springs, West Coast in style and attitude and altogether enjoyable. Saturdays and Sundays bring brunch to the party, with everything from simple finger food like spiced olives and smoked salmon on ciabatta crisps, to omelets and eggs. Chef Ron’s take on biscuits and gravy is gooey, messy and deeply bacon flavored. Eggs Benedict is deceptively simple— house-made chicken sausage on crisp polenta cakes and perfectly poached eggs—and the steak frites stacks tender medium-rare skirt steak atop well-seasoned fries with an attention-getting sriracha hollandaise. And as the only place in America with 150 wines available by the ounce, you’re going to meet your perfect match.
1610 E. Buena Vista Drive
Lake Buena Vista
Proper & Wild
The world has gone plant-based crazy. In our corner of the world, there are several new and upcoming vegan/vegetarian restaurants, food halls and food trucks, and Disney has launched an impressive and extensive initiative to include plant-based meals at every park and in every eatery. Hopefully, all the new entries warm Chelsie Savage’s healthy heart. From the casual air of The Sanctum Café to polished sophistication at Proper & Wild, her veggie creations stand up proudly, and P&W’s weekend brunch is unapologetically meat free. Taste, texture, heartiness and satisfaction are all there in the P&W “scram-bowl,” merging rich black rice grits, fried potatoes, a convincingly breakfasty chickpea egg, caramelized onions and arugula. Toasts galore arrive in surprising constructions: artichoke toast with whipped white beans, pickled cipollini onions and crispy capers; smoked carrot “lox” with a cashew-chive schmear (nut allergics, be aware: many of the cheese substitutes are made with cashews); and savory avocado toasts using beets, tempeh and kalamata olive jam.