I stopped in at Graffiti Junktion the other night and had a really good burger. I wish I could say the experience was as good as the burger, but it was rather unpleasant. However, it wasn’t the restaurant’s fault, at least not totally.
Graffiti Junktion is a funky little eatery in the funky little space that has occupied the corner of Washington Street and Hyer Avenue in downtown’s Thornton Park for a very long time. It has, over the years, been restaurants named Midnight Blue, Rocco’s, La Fontanella da Nino and Thornton Park Cafe, the latter under different owners. But it started its life as a service station (inviting the obvious references to gas in its foodie days). For many of its early years, the space was mainly an outdoor venue -- the interior is very small and much of it is dedicated to the kitchen and operations. Someone along the way -- I forget who -- put a more permanent awning over the open-air patio, providing a more sheltered dining experience while remaining largely al fresco.
Most of the previous tenants tried to operate in a moderately upscale -- or at least stylishly casual -- manner. Some managed to pull it off.
Graffiti Junktion, if the name doesn’t already give it away, goes more for a grunge aura, not that there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, it seems kind of appropriate. The decor relies heavily on the graffiti part (must have been easy to decorate -- just leave a few cans of spray paint out overnight and when you come back in the morning, voila!). Its subname is an American Burger Bar, so red, white and blue figure into the scheme.
It wasn’t the decor or the grunge factor that caused the unpleasant experience recently. It wasn’t even the loudness of the music, although it was louder than I wanted it to be and wasn’t to my taste. That was almost to be expected.
But the whole place seemed to be as chaotic as the music. The interior patio (you must now enter through the inside space to get to the old outside space, if that makes sense) was packed with people, and if there were folks designated to give seating advice, I couldn’t find them. So I wandered to the outside outside patio (the space that wraps around the front) and found two available tables: one next to some children playing a beanbag toss game and one in front of a television about to show the Magic game. Not wishing to have a beanbag in my burger, I chose the tv.
Bad choice. My table became the go-to place for people wanting to take a cigarette break. I even had one guy place his drink on my table while he smoked. As I said, some of this unpleasantness was not the fault of the restaurant, although the children’s game seemed to be sanctioned. And smoking is not allowed on the inside patio, so I should have waited for a table there (that wasn’t about to happen) or I could have left.
So I don’t want all of this to discourage you from trying one of GJ’s burgers, because they are pretty darned good. I had the one called the Lone Star, a big thick patty, cooked close to the requested medium-rare, topped with thick rashers of bacon and cheddar cheese and slathered with barbecue sauce. It had crispy lettuce, tomato and pickles on a fresh bun. And it was accompanied by a generous portion of slender, spiced fries.
My server was pleasant but didn’t seem to be handling the pressure of a full restaurant very well. She asked if I wanted another beer when mine was only half empty. I told her I could really use a glass of water. She reemerged surprisingly quickly with a tall glass of ice water, walked past me and gave it to a guy a few tables away. He looked at her bemusedly and pushed the glass aside.
I would return to Graffiti Junktion, but I think I’ll choose a less frantic time. Maybe I’ll go late -- the kitchen is open until 1 a.m. most nights (midnight on Sundays).
Graffiti Junktion is at 900 E. Washington St., Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-426-9503. This link will take you to graffitijunktion.com where you can download the menu.