The first time I saw Bananas, which bills itself as “a Modern American Diner,” I knew it was going to be somewhat different. Instead of a bright and cheery decor — I was expecting lots of yellow, you know, like bananas — its dominant color scheme is black and red, as in the custom-made padded leather ceiling tiles that create a checkerboard effect overhead. I suppose that reflects the Modern in the name. (We could argue that American Diner is redundant, since diners are uniquely American, meaning the eateries and not the people eating there — you can find those all over.)
But I didn’t know that Bananas would distinguish itself from other diners with its food, which is exceptional in comparison. It offers the types of food you would find in a typical diner, and serves three meals a day, all day, and 24 hours on weekends. But the quality is so much better than the usual “greasy spoon” or hash-slinging saloon.
I paid three visits to Bananas — four counting the time I was turned away because the restaurant was full and could not accommodate more diners; more on that later.
The breakfast side of the menu (which is a bright yellow design) has many of the basic morning items, including pancakes, waffles, biscuits & gravy, omelets and other eggs done to order. An usual segment of the menu features five variations on eggs Benedict, including versions with crab cakes, avocados and Buffalo hot sauce. My breakfast companion chose the Southwestern version, which had, as all of them do, Canadian bacon with two poached eggs on muffins but regionalized with salsa and pepper jack cheese for a bit of spiciness. The eggs were done perfectly, and the gooeyness of the cheese and luscious hollandaise sauce was delightful.
I was happy to see my favorite “morning after” item: a chili cheese omelet. It was big and fluffy, the cheese inside, and topped with a generous plop of meaty chili and a dollop of sour cream. Hangover? What hangover?
Burgers dominate the other side of the menu. There are a baker’s dozen with various toppings, and each is available with angus beef, turkey or chicken breast, which probably should put them in a different category altogether, but there you go. I especially liked Daddy’s Burger, which had blue cheese, applewood smoked bacon and caramelized onions on top of a thick, juicy patty (beef, of course). The bun was fresh, and the lettuce and tomato were all the other toppings it needed. One criticism: the fries were fairly pedestrian and unsuited for such a good burger.
During my evening visit I ordered the meatloaf, a fairly standard diner offering and one that frequently falls short. Here, though, it was pretty wonderful — the slices of loaf with a Dijon crust served atop a mountain of mashed potatoes with corn nearby. I felt like a kid again, eating meatloaf, mashed potatoes and corn in the same bite.
I was pleased with all the servers I met. They were equal parts professional and playful, appropriate for the setting.
My breakfast visit was on a Sunday morning, but only after I made reservations. A couple of Sundays before I showed up without calling first and was turned away. (In fact so popular is the diner that a second location is already in the works.) That’s because the Sunday gospel shows, which are performed by lip-syncing female impersonators. Coupled with the rainbow flags that fly outside, you might get the notion that this is a gay restaurant. (We won’t even get into the Freudian implications of the monkey holding a banana in the logo.) But when I finally did get inside I found a great number of couples (the kind that can marry legally), many of them with children. And everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. And why not?
Bananas is at 924 N. Mills Ave., Orlando. It’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily, until midnight most days (11 p.m. Sundays) and around the clock on Fridays and Saturdays. Click here to download the front of the menu and here to download the back of the menu . Here’s a link to the Web site. The phone number is 407-480-2200.