They call it comfort food for a reason. It makes us feel good. The Orlando restaurants listed here are among the tops in town for down-homey delights, dishes you may not want to eat every day, but are guaranteed to fill the tummy and warm the soul. Lots of them offer breakfast and/or brunch. And nutritionists have long said we should make that the biggest meal of the day. Think about that if you’re feeling guilty for the warm, buttery biscuits and ladles of sausage gravy, then do an extra mile at the gym! Dixie Belle’s Café is the sort of place the servers will come to know you if you pop in regularly for country-style breakfast and lunch. Looking for late-night eats on a weekend night in Sanford? You’ll find a soul-food haven at Shantell’s Place. The wait’s not usually long but if you pick a night with live entertainment, you may not mind if the kitchen gets backed up. Down in the tourist-laden I-Drive corridor, folks love the beyond heaping helpings available at the famed Hash House A Go-Go chain, where you may just want to order one plate per two diners in your party. It’s the sort of place where “come hungry” is better presented as “come starving.” Consider yourselves warned.
Melissa's Chicken & Waffles
I'm sure if you ask some people, they'd say that deep-frying chicken, slathering it in some or other delicious goo (Buffalo sauce, country gravy, melted cheese) and then folding the whole thing up in a fresh-made waffle is a bad idea. The folks waiting Melissa's Chicken & Waffle truck would beg to differ, of course, but they'd be happy to see one less person getting on line. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, largely via creative twist on this classic soul-food offering, Melissa's is comfort food on wheels, hitting up food truck events across Central Florida to the delight of people begging for excuses to fall off the diet wagon. Entrees here come with a knife and fork, but the best way to tackle most of Melissa's creation, whether laden with eggs and bacon or chicken and gravy, is to fold the whole thing up and stuff it in your waffle-hole. Grab extra napkins.
No one would dispute that there are some style-deficient venues from which to enjoy stellar soul food. In fact, you can get it good off the right food truck! But Shantell's Cafe, housed inside a charming, historic storefront in Sanford's ever-burgeoning historic downtown, is no such venue. With its exposed brick and detailed dark wood interiors, the place has style that goes right down to the plate, on which you might find fried chicken or hot wings, a smothered steak or a pile of macaroni and cheese. Or, you know, a sampling -- as is oft the nature of soul food. Come for a late night snack and enjoy live music and the company of friendly locals. You may just meet Shantell herself. ((407) 732-7728)
Hash House A Go Go
There's an old saying about eating breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper. Hash House A Go Go's policy is all King, all the time. Serving up what this San Diego-based chain calls "twisted farm food," HHAGG does up super-sized spins on Southern and Midwestern home-style favorites. Some inspirations you may know: chicken and waffles, chicken pot pie and an Indiana classic, pounded, crispy-fried pork tenderloin. Those familiar will immediately note that this one is portioned for when the monsters from "Pacific Rim" head inland to destroy Indianapolis. Open for all three squares and brunch on the weekends, just about every entree is suitable for sharing. Come seriously hungry and plan on leaving with a box or two. ((407) 370-4646)
The Crooked Spoon
After beginning its life as an Orlando-area food truck, the Crooked Spoon's popularity began to swell and, lo and behold, it became a full-fledged restaurant in the rolling, citrus-laden hills of nearby Clermont. Serving up comfort-food favorites with a leveled-up gastropub twist. Gooey six-cheese mac and cheese is made to order, bacon-wrapped Angus meatloaf is served alongside herbed rice and the double-cut chamomile-brined pork chop is slathered in bourbon glaze and comes paired with sausage and Brussels sprout hash. This ain't your gram's country cookin', but it derives some of its best qualities from those yellowed recipe cards she used for 50 years. (352-404-7808)
From those who brought you the line-up-around-the-building flavors of the 4 Rivers Smokehouse comes the Coop. The focus here is fried chicken but visitors will find that and much more in its extensive, Southern-influenced menu. Beef oxtail stew, shrimp 'n' grits and fried green tomato po'boys pair with Souther collards, corn bread, hoppin' John and more. Located on the edge of Winter Park's Hannibal Square, the Coop offers copious seating inside and out; a good thing since it's not likely the lines will die down anytime soon. Icebox lemon pie and banana pudding are among the rich desserts. Buckets and sides are available for take out if you're not one to wait for a feast. ((407) 843-2667)
All the usual suspects of a breakfast/lunch joint are lined up for your inspection at Leo's, a downtown diner that's welcoming, warm and exceedingly casual. They also pile that food high because they know you love to eat. Big, classic breakfasts -- omelets, corned beef hash, French toast and gravy-smothered biscuits -- share the bill with hefty burgers and homemade comfort food. Gravy-licious sandwiches like hot open turkey, meatloaf and roast beef are available daily, not relegated to the specials menu. Lighter fare comes in the form of salads and sandwiches, but you might end up b-lining for the gooey grilled cheese just the same. ((407) 423-5367)
Dixie Belle's Cafe
Lots of breakfast-lunch diners have down-homey Southern names, but the food at Dixie Belle's backs it up. If we had to narrow it down to two words, we'd use "sausage gravy," but it doesn't end there. Dixie Belle's charming, unfancy atmosphere and friendly servers will happily tell you the daily specials and have your drinks on the table in no time. If you'd care to move beyond the breakfast offerings -- it is admittedly difficult to move past the eggs and biscuits and country-fried steak -- you might give the homemade meatloaf or open-faced roast beef sandwich a try. And those daily specials? You might find Sloppy Joes on the menu. Or fried chicken. Or roast turkey with dressing. Regardless, it's bound to be a rib-sticking comfort-food classic. Come hungry. ((407) 812-7012)
This quaint working Milk District bakery is open for breakfast and lunch with a manageable, fresh-made menu that changes near daily and makes choosing easy. Okay, that's arguable, since how one chooses between homemade chicken pot pie and a decadent meatloaf sandwich is subjective. Easiest method? Bring a dining partner and share everything! You likely won't want to miss out on the desserts here, either. Cakes, cookies, cupcakes, pies -- the smells are wrong in all the best ways possible. Be thoroughly prepared for a sweet-related impulse buy to take home. Eggs and biscuits, scones and soups, Southern comfort classics and lots of surprising modern twists. ((407) 203-0727)
Yellow Dog Eats
This charming, off-the-beaten-path venue is charming and rustic, evocative of some diamond-in-the-rough surprise you'd stumble upon while road tripping. Its food is surprising, too. Sandwiches, salads, scrumptious starters and a whole lotta barbecue (which is primarily what landed it on the "Homestyle" list). A host of offerings showcase piles of YDE's signature pulled pork, including the Fire Pig (a wrap with apple wood-smoked bacon, gouda, fried onions and sriracha) and the Rufus (pork topped with thick-cut Brie, cherry ring peppers and topped with raspberry melba sauce). Ribs are available by the half-rack, as well. And YDE's house slaw is a sweet, tangy treat. Live music in the restaurant's outdoor beer garden adds ear candy to the menu. (407-296-0609)
Cask & Larder
With a rotating menu that features upscale 2.0 versions of apps like boiled peanut hummus and entrees such as fried chicken, catfish sandwiches and a succulent low country seafood boil, Cask & Larder -- which is billed as a Southern public house, gets to the home-style heart of the matter, no joke. Come at brunch and it gets even less funny (when it comes to deciding what to eat). Crawfish beignets, chicken and waffles and a stunner called the pig muffin -- which brings together sausage, egg, pimento and collards on an English muffin -- are enough to spin the head if not clog the heart. ((321) 280-4200)
About A.D. Thompson
A.D. Thompson has spent more than 20 years as a professional writer and roughly 15 as a Floridian. The words, she has found, come easier with bare feet and rum.
A roller coaster enthusiast, A.D. readily admits there is fun to be had amid the madness of the theme parks, but has found there is magic, as well, in the outer-lying reaches of Mickey’s long shadow. She is delighted to share with you the spoils of her adopted city.
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