I’ve never been big on over theming a restaurant, especially if it involved creating a contrived backstory on real or imaginary characters who may or may not have had something to do with the restaurant. Portobello Yacht Club comes immediately to mind. Part of the original Pleasure Island, the restaurant was required to justify its existence with a story of the fictional Merriweather Pleasure’s pleasure of boating. Thankfully all that was dropped when the restaurant was rebranded and renamed simply Portobello. More recently Chico’s Dirty Tacos in downtown Orlando has felt the need to create a history of Chico’s checkered past. It adds nothing to the experience.
On the other hand, the Palm does a very nice job of presenting the restaurant’s history, which is necessary in order to understand why the walls are covered with caricatures.
But I found myself utterly confused with the information provided on the menu of Tommy Addison’s Fine Food, a new and mostly enjoyable restaurant south of downtown. I have no idea if Tommy Addison was a real person, and I’m not at all sure what to make of this line from the menu: “Steadfastly American, the Addison Family came through the War and the Great Depression, outfitting kitchens and club cars.”
What does that mean? Did they install kitchen equipment on trains? Did they cook the food? Was Tommy a railway worker or merely an aficionado? Am I supposed to know the Addison family? (Never mind trying to determine what makes one family more “steadfastly American” than another.)
I think this is one of the cases where I would have liked to have known more. And I think it could have been offered in the sort of tasteful way that the Palm handles its background.
Even the items on the dinner menu are only half thought through. There’s the Illinois Central meat loaf and Baltimore & Ohio Railroad chicken. OK, I get the railroad connection there, though a counter argument could be made that those rail lines and the dishes have no connection. But then you have other items that mundanely -- and I would say thank you to that -- say what the dish is: broiled Scottish salmon, grilled steak, shrimp & grits.
Said food is mostly decently done, and the price point -- entrees ranging from $7.99 for a dinner portion of mac & cheese to $15.99 for that salmon from Scotland -- make it a bit of a dinner bargain, even before you factor in the salad that is included with each entree.
My guest and I started with the shellfish griddle cakes, crab cakes that also included shrimp and scallops, sauteed until they had a delightful crisp crust.
My friend had the shrimp & grits, and at first we thought that one of the players had been left out. There were plenty of nice shrimp, evenly spiced with a firm texture, sauteed with bits of sausage and tomatoes. But we could see no grits. And then we realized they were disguised to look like a wedge of bread standing decoratively on edge. So instead of a creamy puddle to blend in with the shrimp, the grits were eaten more like a corn cake and could be forked with a shrimp or not. Not the way this dish is generally served, but I must say I liked it.
The Shanty Irish Stout beef stew -- and here we’re back to wondering if this is supposed to have some railroad reference or not -- was not as nicely done. The sirloin bits themselves were good and tender but there might have been more vegetables to make it more stewy. But the gravy was way too thick, as though too much kitchen bouquet had beenadded.
As I mentioned, dinners include a salad, though ours seemed to have been plated up a bit too far in advance.
Servers could benefit from better training, though I must say they all seemed friendly -- I noticed several spending great lengths of time standing and chatting at one table or another.
The space is functional though not what I would call decorative. But again, let’s consider the price point. Much could be done, however, simply with swapping out the flimsy paper napkins for cloth, at least with dinner service. Tommy Addison’s occupies a building that started out as a Perkin’s and sits between Orange Avenue and the railroad tracks, which probably had something to do with the half-hearted theme. I suppose the circa 1920s photograph on the restaurant’s wall and in the menu is of Tommy himself. But then again we may never know.
Tommy Addison’s Fine Food is at 4120 S. Orange Ave., Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. Beer, wine and full bar. Here’s a link to the website, which is only one page but has most of the information you need (other restaurants could take a note from this website’s design). The phone number is 407-826-9990.