Jimmy Hula’s is a new, beachy kind of place on Aloma Avenue in Winter Park. It took over the space that had been a sushi restaurant for many years, right next door to where the Winter Park Pebbles had been. (The old Pebbles structure has been demolished and a Panera is currently under construction, because we don’t have nearly enough Panera’s around here.)
The Jimmy in the name is Jim Hartman who owns the new business with Len Allsup. Allsup is a South Beacher and Hartman lives in Santa Barbara, Calif., although he used to live right there in Winter Park with a home off of Via Tuscany. For many years, according to his son Zach, who is managing the new restaurant, Hartman owned several Taco Bells (or is that Tacos Bell?), Wendy’s and Sonic restaurants. Which would explain the home in the Vias. And Santa Barbara, come to think of it.
But if he lives now in Santa Barbara, why open Jimmy Hula’s here? “Places like this are a dime a dozen out there,” explained Zach, referring to the restaurant’s specialty of fish tacos, which, it must be noted at some point and now is as good a time as any, cost more than 12 for 10 cents.
In fact, a single fish taco runs $3.39 or $3.69, which wouldn’t be outrageous if the tacos had a bit more fish in them. But the meager amount of mahi was the only complaint I had with the Epic Fish Taco I sampled. The little bits of fish were buried under shredded cabbage, pepper jack cheese and salsa, all wrapped in a soft flour tortilla. The flavors were quite good, and it would have been perfect if each bite had some fish in it.
Because Jimmy Hula’s puts burgers right up there with fish tacos on the sign, I also sampled one of those, the Hermosa Beach Burger. I asked the young woman who took my order at the counter (it’s quick serve: place your order, take a seat and someone delivers the food) if I could have the burger medium-rare. She nodded yes and said they all come medium. No, I said, that’s not the same. So she conferred with the cook through the window of the kitchen behind her and asked if it could be done medium-rare. He told her yes, in yet another case of “promise them anything then do it your way anyway.”
The burger was, of course, medium. But after I saw how thin the patty was I realized it had little chance of being anything less than medium once it had gotten near a heat source. Still, as with the fish taco that needed more fish, the flavors of the burger’s toppings were very good. They included bacon, guacamole and swiss cheese with lettuce and tomato. It was served on two slices of marble rye bread, which if you want to be precise is a whole lot closer to a patty melt than a burger. Although the fish taco comes with a side of tortilla chips, the burger comes with nothing.
Mr. Hula needs to work on the ordering process, which took too long even on the slow afternoon I visited. Zach Hartman volunteered later on the phone that waits were long but said he thought people expect the wait at a new place to be 35 minutes or more just to order the food, to which I replied, No, no they don’t. Also, something needs to be done with the television monitors that serve as the menu boards behind the counter. Just as you’re halfway through reading one, it changes to another screen. (Physical menus are also available, and no one snatches them away while you’re reading them.)
Jimmy Hula’s is a rustic but colorful place with an inside dining space and a large wraparound porch with outdoor seating accessible through largely open walls. The young staff were helpful if not entirely forthcoming (see burger incident above) and several of them stopped by the table to ask how things were.
This is the first Jimmy Hula’s, although it was test marketed in Santa Barbara and at a test kitchen facility near Sea World in the Williamsburg neighborhood. (The Santa Barbara test site is still operational, according to Zach; the Sea World is not.) If this one is successful -- and with the addition of some fish to the tacos and a speedier ordering time, there’s no reason to believe it won’t be -- they should be a dime a dozen in these parts soon. Maybe as prevalent as Panera’s.
Jimmy Hula’s is at 2522 Aloma Ave., Winter Park. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. Serves beer and wine. This link will take you to Jimmy Hula’s website, which is really over produced and -- warning -- plays loud music. Click here to download the Jimmy Hula’s menu . The phone number is 407-790-7838.