When people talk about chain restaurants in a negative way, I think they’re talking about chains like O’Charley’s. The restaurant, one of more than 230 across the country, opened recently in the center directly behind the Whole Foods store at the corner of Sand Lake Road and Turkey Lake Road. It’s the first Central Florida O’Charley’s from the Nashville-based company. If they’re all like this one, let’s hope it’s the last.
This is the sort of place that has a scent of beef juices constantly in the air, the kind of restaurant where the laminated menu with colorful photos of the dishes can still be stained. The sort of place where the servers can be perky and blissfully clueless to their incompetence.
O’Charley’s places a tremendous amount of responsibility on its rolls. In fact, on the company’s Web site, there is an interminably long feature with a cockamamie story about the origin of the house roll, complete with an animated blob of dough, which is touted as “unsliceably soft.” Our server proudly served a couple of rolls in a basket with butter. It should be noted that the rolls arrived sliced.
My guest, a food writer from South Florida, and I thought we would start our meal with a new appetizer on the menu, the Southwestern twisted chips, which appeared to be a, well, twist on a nachos theme. But as fate would have it, the device that turns a potato into twirling ribbons had broken that afternoon. So instead we ordered the shredded beef quesadilla ($8.99). Instead of a folded tortilla, this quesadilla was fashioned more like a sandwich with a top and bottom tortilla. In the center was plenty of beef, but not nearly enough in the four slices to warrant the price.
I also had a cup of the potato soup, which was terribly over-floured and thickened.
The soup was included with my 7-ounce sirloin steak, which was offered at a very reasonable $9.99 and also included a side choice. I chose the mashed potatoes. When the steak was delivered to the table the server admonished me to slice into it to ensure it was cooked to the proper temperature. It was way overcooked, but I didn’t want to wait for the kitchen to practice on another one. (But for the record, she did ask.)
For her entree, my friend had the Key West citrus chicken ($11.99), which came with a choice of side dish. My friend said she would have the broccoli casserole. “The broc cass,” our young server shorthanded back to us, obviously proud to have mastered the kitchen lingo. The chicken breast was smothered beneath a salsa of mango and papaya that was heavily seasoned with cayenne. There was no balance between the sweet coolness of the fruit and the fire of the spice. It was just all hot. Can’t say much for the broc cass, either.
My friend did allow as to how the bar made one very good mojito, which means a lot. And the restaurant offers free wi-fi for its guests, which allowed us to compare Web sites.
And yes the prices, with the exception of the nine buck quesadilla, are low. But I won’t go so far as to call them a bargain. You get to a point where the money you’re saving doesn’t justify the quality of the food. O’Charley’s passed that point.
O’Charley’s is at 8081 Turkey Lake Road, Orlando. The restaurant is open daily for lunch and dinner, with brunch served on Saturdays and Sundays. The phone number is 407-354-0010.