It’s difficult to describe the Bubble Room to anyone who didn’t experience it firsthand. It occupied a building in Maitland that is now the home of a Buca di Beppo and it was known for its humongous portions and its over-the-top decor. Eclectic doesn’t begin to describe it. One of my reviews said, “The decor looks like grandma’s attic exploded and landed in the Land of Oz on Christmas Day.”
Here’s what I wrote in my first review of the Bubble Room, which ran in the Sentinel on July 21, 1991:
Approaching the gingerbread building on the yellow brick walkway from the parking lot might make one think the restaurant’s theme is children’s fairy tales. Entering through the doorway outlined like an old jukebox, hearing the music of the ’30s and ’40s, you figure it’s a musical nostalgia theme.
But wait -all the walls are covered with photos from old movies and the shelves are loaded with antique toys and gewgaws from the past. A train runs on an elevated track through all the rooms.
And then there’s the Christmas memorabilia. From the life-sized snoring Santa in the alcove off the lobby to the glittery “Merry Christmas” signs here and there, Christmas is most certainly one of the main themes. In fact, it’s from those old Christmas tree lights -the ones that look like candles and have colored liquids inside that bubble when you turn them on -that the restaurant gets its name.
Each table is a glass-topped memory box, with harmonicas, toy cars, old cigarette packs and other things that grab your attention and make you say, “I remember those!”
Old cigarette packs. People could still smoke in restaurants in 1991.
The menu seemed to be built mainly on the ability to use a cutesy name. there was Socra-cheese; Porky Pig a la Bobby Phillips (pork chops named after the man who voiced the cartoon character); Liebert Lombardo, a paella dish that for some reason was named after bandleader Guy’s brother, whose auld acquaintance was obviously forgot; Pastablanca; Duck Ellington. You get the idea.
But ask people who dined there what they remember and they’ll respond with three words: red velvet cake. It was legendary not only because it was good but because the portion was ridiculously large.
Maitland’s Bubble Room was a second location for a restaurant in Captiva Island. There was also one in Naples and another planned for Fort Lauderdale.
In the mid nineties, the ownership changed and in fact the restaurant operated under the adjusted title of Pete’s Bubble Room for a couple of years. Its quality declined and it closed in 1998. (Buca di Beppo moved in two years later.)
Although its ownership has also changed, the Captiva Island restaurant, which first opened in 1979, is still going, the only remaining one.
And yes, it still has red velvet cake.