This article was originally published in the Orlando Sentinel 24 years ago today, on May 29, 1988. It was my first byline for the paper and the first of the 935 Chow Hound columns that I would write. (Chris Sherman wrote the Chow Hound column before that.) In rereading it, I was surprised to see the names Bananas and Nick’s Italian Kitchen in the review. Those are the names of existing restaurants, both from FMI Restaurant Group, but have no relation to the current day restaurants. I also winced at some of the writing, including the now unacceptable description of one menu as “Oriental.” We move on, but I thought it would be fun to share this with you.
(May 29, 1988) Church Street Station Exchange, the new multilevel retail center in downtown Orlando, has been touted for some time as “a whole new reason to shop.” The big question as far as Chow Hound is concerned: Will it offer a whole new reason to eat? Not that you need a new reason to eat, but then, did you really need a new reason to shop?
The answer to the question on eats, though still developing, can be found at the top of the stairs in the Exchange’s food court. So far, this is what’s available in the way of edibles:
— Chinese Cafe offers your basic Oriental favorites a la carte or in one of four combo plates. You get your egg rolls, your chow mein and your fried rice, among others. There is also a lot of cabbage. A lot of cabbage. A word of warning: Chinese Cafe charges 20 cents for chopsticks. It seems silly to charge extra for what should be considered basic eating utenils. Someone suggested they should charge extra for forks and give the chopsticks away. A great idea.
— Nick’s Italian Kitchen features pizza, calzone and other traditional Italian fare. Also available is something called King Nicoli’s Sandwich, which is more commonly referred to as a submarine sandwich. It’s served on a “homemade” bun. Judging from the freshness of the one served to Chow Hound, the home where the bun was made is somewhere in Sicily.
— Bananas — that’s the name of the place — has shakes and drinks made with fresh fruits. Banana — the fruit — is only one of the flavor choices, making it perhaps an inappropriate name.
— Even more inappropriately named is Everything Yogurt — because everything isn’t. Chow Hound, looking for something to eat for lunch, bypassed the E.Y. stand and got in line at the Chinese Cafe. It wasn’t until after dining on a plate of cabbage (a lot of cabbage) and curried onions (don’t ask) that Chow Hound noticed Everything Yogurt also offers quiches, sandwiches and soups. Poor marketing to say the least, unless of course the soup du jour, Creole-style gumbo that particular jour, was made with . . . nah.
Other foodstuffs within the shopping center include Mrs. Fields’ Cookies, which need no introduction, and The Fudgery, featuring the singing fudgemakers.
Coming soon to the food court are . . .
Wait a minute, the singing fudgemakers?
Apparently, the owners of the Fudgery don’t think the fudgemaking process is entertaining enough by itself, so the young folks making the candy also sing and tell bad jokes. How bad are the jokes? The fellow who cleans the metal bars used to hold the fudge on the marble slab is called the bartender — not because he tends to the bars but because in order to clean them, one needs a “licker license.” It would seem that a main ingredient in this fudge is corn. But seriously, folks . . .
The crowd seems to enjoy it, though, or maybe they just put up with it because they’re promised a free sample at the end of the show. Why else would they endure a couple of choruses of “Joy to the Fudge” — sung to the tune of Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World”?
Coming soon to the food court are Bain’s Deli and Naco’s Mexican Bar and Grille. Bain’s won’t open for about 60 days, but Naco’s should appear within the next month. The latter will be operated by the same folks who serve eats at the Mexican pavilion at Epcot.
All the vendors serving food at the Exchange have other locations in Florida. As a matter of fact, you can find this food, or something like it, in just about any shopping mall in the country. After all, that’s what the Exchange is — a shopping mall.
But no ordinary shopping mall this. Here you have the proverbial gilded lily. Everywhere you look there’s a feeling of big bucks. So why did they nickel and dime the food court?
Perhaps there’s still a chance for redemption. According to Christopher Ralph, marketing director for the Exchange, two other food shops will be announced soon. Maybe they’ll offer something more exciting. Ralph couldn’t give any details just yet, but look for one to involve a form of seafood.
Also coming soon to the third floor of the Exchange is Commander Ragtime’s Midway of Fun, Food and Games, a turn-of-the-century carnival-style game room, if you can imagine video games at the turn of the century. This area, says a press release, will feature “fun foods” like those you’d expect to find at a carnival. Let your imagination run wild on that and keep watching this space for an update.