I wanted to light a fire the other night and I couldn’t find the clicker. That’s what I call the long-handled butane lighter with the trigger. Couldn’t find it anywhere, so I had to go the analog routed and use a book of matches. I reached up into the cupboard to the tall stein I store old matchbooks in and pulled down a piece of Central Florida dining history.
Do you remember Freddie’s Steak House? For many years it was a mainstay for local diners. It opened in 1943 as a roadside diner and was purchased in 1960 by Steven Larsson who turned it into a fine steakhouse. It was in a freestanding wooden structure at 7355 U.S. Highway 17-92, just south of State Road 436, in Fern Park. It was old-school steakhouse and even served a complimentary relish dish to each table.
Larsson sold the restaurant in 1977 to a partnership, which leased the name and concept to other restaurateurs. It closed in 1988 — the year I came to town — but reopened in 1989.
I don’t remember much of my review of it that year other than an observation that most of the patrons “looked as though they hadn’t had a steak since breakfast.” It closed soon after.
It reopened again in late 1991 and I went back to review it. My article ran in Florida magazine in the Sunday Sentinel on Jan. 5, 1992, along with a notice in the front of the paper that read: “Freddie’s Steak House in Fern Park, reviewed in today’s Florida magazine, closed last week. Due to publishing schedules, it was not possible to change the review. The magazine is printed in advance of the date of publication.” My review wouldn’t have done much to encourage the owners to keep it open.
(From that review I recall that the menu was in the shape of a piano. That was back in the days before printed takeout menus were offered and long before menus were printed online, mainly because there wasn’t an online. So I frequently had to steal…um…spirit away menus so I’d have something to refer to as I wrote the review. The piano shaped made it difficult to conceal.)
After it closed, there was a move by one of the property’s owners to turn it into a strip joint, but Fern Parkers protested. I seem to remember one or two other concepts giving it a go there with little success, but eventually the place was boarded up and razed.
I’ve been collecting matchbooks and boxes from restaurants for decades. I don’t look at them often, but it’s always fun to be bring back memories when I grab one, as I did Freddie’s. By the way, I don’t know why it’s Freddies on the matchbook. The missing apostrophe would make it seem that there were multiple Freddies involved. But no, there was only one Freddie’s.
All of this is to remind you that we’re currently accepting votes for the Best Steakhouse in our Foodster Awards for Independent Restaurants. Click here to place your vote.
Not sure how Freddie’s would fare in the poll — or if it would even be on the list. Thirty years ago, it was probably just one of a handful of steakhouses (including Linda’s La Cantina, which is indeed on our list of finalists) so it might have had a shot. But I think the quality of our steakhouses today is a whole lot better.