They call it comfort food for a reason. It makes us feel good. Warm in the belly and the heart. And that's not just because too much of it will necessitate the services of a cardiologist. The Orlando restaurants listed here are among the tops in town for down-homey delights, dishes you may not want to eat every day (and probably shouldn't), but are guaranteed to 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. Want something more upscale? Check out Thornton Park's posh SoCo or the Ritz-Carlton's lauded Highball & Harvest (where craft cocktails are a must!). 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.
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)
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)
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)
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)
Soco Thornton Park
Soco offers up loads of plated Southern comfort, though its name is actually a representation of Southern contemporary – which means you'll find some down-home diner favorites that have undergone an evolution into something more upscale. Think boiled peanut hummus, mac-and-cheese croquettes and chicken and dumplings that infuse the latter with lobster. Its dining room is warm and inviting but its al fresco sidewalk seating infuses meals with a hip, urban vibe that ticks everything up a notch. As appealing for dinner as it is for Sunday brunch or happy hour cocktails, Soco's patio is lively and hip. But the food here is exemplary, and well worth the visit even if the Florida rain is teeming outside. (407-849-1800)
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)
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)
Highball & Harvest
Quality homestyle fare can be acquired at roadside diners and church socials to be sure, but that doesn't mean it isn't appreciated at the top end of the dining spectrum. Case in point: Highball & Harvest, where fresh produce is farmed on site in a 7,000-square foot garden, incredible craft cocktails with fancy orbs of herb-infused ice are the norm and the ribs are as good as any you'll grab off a roadside smoker as you wend your way through the countryside of the American south. So it goes, as well, for the modern takes on Southern cuisine for all three squares: pecan pie pancakes at breakfast, pimento grilled cheese at lunch, pork and beans or shrimp and grits at dinner. (407-393-4422)
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.
Visit her colorful compendium at www.amydrewthompson.com.
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