“If cameraman Korey (@KoreyDavisPhotography) don’t shoot it I won’t eat it.” There is a high probability that whoeverisreading this has visited Disney World, Universal Studios, Sea World,or any theme park in Orlando. Consequently, I wonder how many visitors to these theme parks have eaten at Chef Eddie’s? Chef Eddie’s is located in the heart of downtown Orlando, just three blocks from the Amway Center, home of the OrlandoMagic, and just a two block walk to the Citrus Bowl—now home of the Orlando City Soccer Club Lions soccer team. The restaurant is the creation ofhusband/wife duo Chefs Eddie and Bessie James. The couple, who has been married for 30 years, dreamed of opening a restaurant after they both spent a lifetime working for various restaurant giants. I had the opportunity to eat some amazing food, but also hear the intimate story behind the opening of Orlando’s largest Soul Food restaurant.
The motivation to open a restaurant was rooted in the fond memories of their collective pasts as family cooks, but also based on unfavorable experiences Mrs. James underwent as an employee with Charlie Steakhouse, Disney, and Darden. “We opened a restaurant because the two of us have been in this business since we were children. Both of us worked for Disney and Darden. We got tired of working for people. I, specifically, felt that it was time for the both of us to step out on faith, because I originally didn’t see the need to keep working and making other people rich. We took money out of our 401 K and used it to open our business. I was really motivated to get our restaurant opened so people could feel comfortable and wanted. I remember as an employee for my previous employers how badly the staff and managers would treat older people, young people, single moms, and especially black people. I would see the coldness of business and how black people weretreated, andit was not good. When black people would come in therestaurant, nobodywanted to wait on them, because they said they didn’t tip and they were ghetto. I wanted a place where you wouldn’t be subjected to this stereotyping and judgement. I want everyone to feel comfortable and wanted, so my husband and I opened ChefEddie’s,” Bessieexplained as she fought back tears in her eyes.
Chef Eddie’s opened its doors 20 years ago and has been going strong since. The eatery has served the likes of former President Bill Clinton, Jessie Jackson, Tom Joyner and other celebrities who are proudly displayed on their website (http://chefeddies.com/). As we celebrate National Black Business month highlighting exemplary experiences and services, specifically restaurants across the nation, I must say, Chef Eddie’s is serving some of the most authentic soul food you can find in all central Florida. With that said, let’s eat! I started off with the 411 Tilapia Salad ($8.95), which was served with iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, and a well-seasoned grilled fish. I didn’t get any dressing because the juices from the fish gave the lettuce all it needed. However, they do carry three signature salad dressings, each one just as goodas the next, if you prefer dressing. Also, you should request some other lettuce than iceberg if they have it, because iceberg lettuce is a piece of [emailprotected]#%. Next, I ordered the Fried Fish Dinner ($11.99), whichcame with two sides–I chose macaroni and cheese and collard greens. Listen very carefully to me, the Fried Fish is a MUST HAVE. It was pan fried and came out with very little oil dripping throughout,and was well seasoned with Chef Eddie’s house seasonings.
Next, I ordered the oxtail dinner ($13.95) with macaroni and cheese, sweet potato casserole, and yellow rice. Being from Miami, you have tons of Caribbean places that make great oxtails. The cooking styles are different when prepared in the African-American tradition. Chef Eddie’s stays close to his African-American heritage in serving this dish with country style gravy, carrots, and onions, absent of both the spice and sweetness as prepared in the Caribbean tradition. I enjoyed the oxtails, but did need a dab of Hillary Clinton’s hot sauce she keeps in her bag. She apparently left it there when Bill came tovisit a coupleyears back. I still can’t believe that lady said that bulls#[emailprotected] to us, but I’m with her anyway to preventApocalypse of MarvelComics from winning the white house. Please go vote.
Anyway, the macaroni and cheese was creamy and had a pleasant, yet unique taste. They use chicken stock to make the mac and cheese by the way, so if you area vegetarian, don’t eat it.The sweet potato casserole is prepared with twice baked yams and fresh ingredients to create an amazing Black Thanksgiving approved side dish. The rice was slightly bland, but it didn’t matter because of all the delicious gravy smothered on top with the oxtails that, as I stated, were great with a dab of hot sauce (LOOK AT MY DAB). The Jalapeño muffin was just a sweet cornbread muffin with hints of jalapeño spice. If you like your cornbread sweet, then you will love this muffin. I prefer the antebellum era cornbreadmade on an iron skillet. You know the one that tastes like a hoecake? Yeah,that’sthe s$#@ I like. People who like that sweet cornbread have taste buds ruined by too many trips to the corner store as a child eating all those little Debbie cakes and othersnacksthe Klan distributed to inner city stores. Yes, I am a conspiracy theorist. You remember that water Crystal Bay and Ritz sodas? Mhmm…they put them in there as well to kill us, but God stopped their evil plans.
Next, the chicken and waffles ($8.95) arrived. The fried chicken is definitely Big Mama approved. The seasoning was nothing short of perfect. Like for real, for real. You know when you go to a gathering and they fry up some chicken and you expect it to be pedestrian, but then you biteit, you’re like who made this damn chicken? Well, this isone of thosefried chicken recipes—definitely a MUST HAVE if you visit. The waffle was just a waffle,good, but nothingspectacular. If you like the Waffle House waffles, you would like these. For me, I poured syrup over everything and that made it even better. I would recommend the syrup to be pre heated before you pour. I have very high standards for waffles. Everyone at my table who ordered the waffles loved theirs, so if you are not a waffle snob like me, more than likely you’re going to enjoy it. What I do like is the wide variety of options–theyhave 10 different flavorsof waffle.
Following the Chicken and Waffles, we ordered the BBQ Chicken and Rib Dinner ($13.95) that came with a side of au-gratin potatoes that were good—and the collard greens that were goodtoo, but not the best. The collard greens were Auntie approved, but not Grandma approved. However, the BBQ Chicken is a definite MUST HAVE. The chicken had the most delightful smoked flavor along with being tender and drenched in a sweet Carolina style barbecue sauce. The ribs and BBQ chicken had similar flavorings, but the cut of rib meatwas a little too fatty for my taste. I would say this was one of my top three dishes right behind the fried chicken.
I’m worried at this point, because I’m experiencing acute “itis” symptoms, but I bind that devil in the name of Jesus. I will keep going. He wills it! Thank you Lord for giving me the strength and courage to review this food with diligence and poise, Amen. The next dish was actually a friend’sfried chicken, but they just had different sides of fried broccoli andmashedpotatoes. The fried broccoli was good, nothing amazing but definitely something I would get as a regular side. I like fried broccoli, and this one was good enough to order routinely if you are able to visit. The same for themashedpotatoes and gravy. Literally, they are both acceptable sides if you like those two items. I mean, they both are way better than Cracker Barrel and other similar restaurants, so if you get them as sides, you won’t be disappointed.
I was blessed to have friends accompany me on this trip, and one of them bought their adorable little girl, who ordered the Spaghetti ($4.95) off the kid’s menu. It looked very appetizing once it arrived. You know when you have kids with you, and they bring the kid’s meal to the tables, and you were surprised and envious? Well, that’s what happened to me. I was glaring at it and wanted to taste it. I waited for my moment, when everyone was distracted by this woman singing slave hymns by the door (Chef Eddie’s has a gospel brunch everySunday, where there is a duo performing live) and attacked her plate, tasting thespaghetti, andit was definitely Black MommaSaturdayNight Dinner Approved.
You know exactly what I’m talking about when BlackMommas makesspaghetti, it is truly something magical. They don’t use fresh ingredients all the time. My mom woulduse thatsauce that comes right out of the jar, but would alsostart adding all this s$#@ to it, including thesquare American cheese that comes in the plastic pack, then shake she wouldParmesan cheese from the green canfor an amazing meal. It tasted just like that. Unfortunately, I was caught by her mother who began scolding me for being a food fanatic. I wish I were more athletic and quick, then I probably wouldn’t have gotten caught. Next time, I will definitely be more stealth about it.
Moving on, weordered theRed Velvet Waffle Burger with cheese and fries ($6.95). This was good, but not something you would get at a place like this with so many other amazing food items. If you just feel like trying it out,it was OK, but I wouldn’t get itover the REAL food Chef Eddie’smenu has to offer. If you’re just in the area and need something quick to go, then by all means get this. It’s just what it sounds like. The waffle isacceptable, and the patty is a quality prepackaged patty. The syrup makes it all come together, so definitely try this if you’re in the mood or on the run. The fries on the other hand are spectacular and seasoned to perfection. I honestly couldn’t tell if they seasoned them by hand, or if it camefrom a prepackaged frozen fry bag. If you go visit Chef Eddie’s, ask them and put it in the comment section of the blog. Either way, they were really tasty.
Moving along, I put in an order for Fried Green Tomatoes and Crab Meat ($10.95). This was worth every dime. It came over a bed of grits. I honestly never had fried green tomatoes before I visited this spot, and I would definitely get it again. They weregood and hearty, which if you’re not careful can make you full before your food comesout, sopace yourself. I really liked this and would say it’s a go to on the appetizer menu.
Everyone is full at this point. Chef Eddie and his lovely wife are making their rounds to customersaround the restaurant, which was set up almost diner style, and decorated in the quintessential African-American baby boomer style. You know what I’m talking about…the Africanstatues, pictures of Black icons, inspirational stuff on the walls, and all that jazz. The service was great, but the wait staff is a bit on the matureside, so just imagine your Great Aunt Shirley being aserver, andthere you go. Thestaff is dressed like UncleBenat a plantation dinner. It’s cool though. Like, they are literally wearing bow ties and oxfords with black slacks. I felt at home and comfortable in this place. They also carried a pretty decent wine and beer selection.
As I preparedto pay my bill, Inoticedsomething on the menu—Milkshakes and Hamburgers. SWEET JESUS! Why didn’t I see this? How could I miss something like this right smack on the damn menu? I felt ashamed and disappointed in myself. I simply could not eat anymore. I vowed that I would return the next day and devour one of those burgers from a section of their menu titled “I Love Burgers.” As promised, I returned the next day and ordered thelargestburger on the menu, The Challenge Burger with seasoned fries ($13.99) along with a vanilla and chocolate milkshake. It was everything I expected. That burger was delicious (Again, it’s the black people burgers that I also remember mymother making when I was a child). It is made with a quality prepackaged patty with mayo, lettuce, tomato, and cheese. You can add bacon foranadditional cost, and I would definitely recommend it. Their bacon was thickcut, andyou can honestly eat it as an appetizer—they give you plenty. The milkshakes were classic and honestly, wellworth ordering with the burger. It just goes so well together. The shakes are similar to the shakes at Johnny Rockets if you’ve ever been there. They make them from scratch andI would definitely recommend trying one.
During my secondvisit, I hadthe opportunity to talk with the owners before I headed back to Cuba, I mean, Miami. They expressed their gratitude for me dining in their establishment and prayed that I enjoyed the food. I thanked them for having such a nicely dressed wait staff, shook their hands and left. I never let business owners know how I feel or what I think about the food when I go to these reviews. Ido, however, letthem know if I enjoyed the place, itwill make the cut for the blog, but if not, I will not post it. I will only post reviews where I actually enjoyed the food and service. I think it’s pointless to tell people where not togo. That’s why I hate Yelp. It’s just full of people hating or not really getting to the taste of the food, and mostly people who do not have the African-American or Hispanic palate when it comes to judging certain ethnic eateries. I also really only visit mom and pops to mid-size eateries, and definitely no major chains. I’m looking forward to Hispanic Heritage Month so I can get really out of control, and I’m not even going to think about the awesomeness of Black History Month. I’m saving up for that right now to let you guys know where to really get your grub on. If you stop by Chef Eddie’s on yourway to the Magic Kingdom, make sure you tell Chef Eddie you heard about him on TheHungryBlackMan! One last thing. Do not order the buffet at this restaurant. Just don’t. It does not reflect my experience.
Chef Eddie’s Restaurant – 595 W Church St, Orlando, FL 32805 Phone: (407) 826-1731
Hours: Lunch and dinner daily, Gospel Brunch-Sunday
Reservations: For large parties only (over 10)
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Beer and Wine
Sound level: Low
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: Highchairs, boosters, menu items on request
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Small parking lot
Starex Smith is an accomplished and experienced public administrator, fundraiser, foodie, and culinary business developer who has committed himself to maximizing the Black experience in the United States! He currently serves as Vice President of Strategy and Development for Black Tech Week with over twelve (12) years of experience in managing public/private partnerships, large scale events, and nonprofits. He has successfully raised over 20 million dollars in funding for various governmental entities, food companies, and individuals. Starex has assisted countless food industry businesses successfully obtain funding, taking mom and pop storefronts to scalable businesses. His success in working with restaurants sparked a passion for food and entrepreneurship which led to the launching of Sothern Bytes, a teaching platform food business dedicated to an ever evolving food industry with a focus on technology, culture and innovation. Having constantly run into stereotyping negatively affecting his dining and vacationing experiences, Starex decided to curate great destinations, restaurants, and discuss issues surrounding being a hungry Black man. Starex completed both his Bachelor’s and Master’s coursework in Public Administration at Florida International University where he served as president of the Black Student Union and Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Incorporated, Lambda Tau Chapter