If you were to look only at the website for Nikki's Place without first visiting the restaurant in the Parramore district restaurant, you might expect something quite different than what it actually is, a quaint neighborhood diner. In fact, you might be expecting someplace quite grand and celebrated. And if you reverse the order and check out the website after a visit, you might wonder if you'd been to the same place.
That's because the website for Nikki's Place was apparently designed by someone who was trying to get the attention of Internet search engines by inserting key phrases into the copy. Go to the site and try to count how many times the phrase "best restaurants in Orlando" appears. That's so that if someone, perhaps a potential visitor to the City Beautiful, types that phrase into, say, the Google search bar, Nikki's Place might be one of the top results. (By the way, be warned that the website has an annoying autoplay video with rather loud music, too).
The problem is that Mr. Google and other search engine moguls long ago figured out that people were trying to game the system and the algorithms that determine search results have been rewritten several times over. Search with that phrase now and Nikki's will not appear until several pages in. And that's how it should be.
Better that it be at the top of a page for a search for "charming neighborhood restaurants with good food," or "soul food restaurants with a friendly and welcoming staff." Because both of those phrases more accurately describe Nikki's Place.
I had two enjoyable meals at Nikki's. The first was during a busy lunch time when the only available parking was on the grassy boulevard across the street from the restaurant and directly beneath the East-West Expressway that parallels Carter Street. Inside the tiny, cluttered space, my lunch companion and I chose the special of the day, a rib stew, which featured cleavered bits of meat with a gravy that stuck to the ribs (both ours and the meat in the bright blue dish). And while the flavors were hearty and satisfying, the bits of bone and gristle made it a difficult dish to eat delicately. But I could have made a full meal out of the side dishes of okra stewed with tomatoes and collard greens.
On a breakfast visit I had the corned beef hash with two eggs, which featured two patties, flattened and griddled, served with my usual over-easy eggs and a dish of grits (it was either the grits or hash browns and my server recommended the grits without hesitation). It was a modest but satisfying way to start the day.
On both visits the staff couldn't have been more welcoming and friendly. I was treated as though I were a regular, which made me want to become one.
The restaurant, which occupies a small wooden structure, is cooled by a couple of window unit air conditioners. Tables are covered with cloths under clear plastic sheeting. Every bit of wall space seems to be covered with yellowed newspaper articles, some about the restaurant, some about the people involved in the restaurant. Nikki, by the way, is owner Nick Aiken, who, according to that wordy website, started in the restaurant business in 1952.
The restaurant that now bears his nickname is not the best restaurant in Orlando, and that's just fine. It should be satisfied with being what it is: A comfortable and familiar place with a loyal following of friends and neighbors who appreciate a meal of simple but good food.
Nikki's Place is at 742 Carter St., Orlando (between Parramore Avenue and Westmoreland Drive — note that Carter Street is one-way going east). It is open for breakfast, lunch and early dinner Wednesday through Monday. Be sure to call ahead — published hours aren't strictly adhered to. The phone number is 407-425-5301.