It’s nice to see Red Mug Diner open in downtown Orlando, and not just because it replaced a perfectly dreadful restaurant that occupied the same space for a mystifyingly long time.
Red Mug brings an old timey style diner to the area’s urban core. It serves basic hash house type items as well as more chef styled entrees in a polished tile and Formica countered decor. And it is open 24 hours a day every day of the week (though just between you and me, don’t expect that to last very long; I doubt that there’s enough business to sustain that model).
The menu stops just short of being overwhelming. It features a section of egg dishes, another with waffles, then sandwiches, then soups and salads, followed by entrees and desserts. Then there are 14 items listed as sides or small plates.
I met a friend for both breakfast and lunch — at the same time — recently. From the breakfast items, we chose the Shakshuka, which has nothing to do with a former player for the Orlando Magic. Shakshuka is a seldom seen egg and tomatoes dish traditional on Jewish and Middle Eastern menus. It’s base is a spicy stew of tomatoes with onions and plenty of chili pepper and cumin, plus a few jalapeños for those who want it even spicier. The eggs — three of them here — are poached in the sauce. The spicing was wonderful and multi layered. It wasn’t just spicy for spicy’s sake, it was an integrated heat. And the yolks running into the tomato stew made a terrific blend.
The egg whites were still glistening around the yolks, which didn’t bother me, but you might want to request yours to be poached a bit longer.
Like the Shakshuka, the Open-faced Roast Beef Sandwich had a star next to it indicating that it was a house speciality. Actually, it was the only house specialty among the list of entrees. And I wondered what could be done with such a classic diner dish to make it special, so I ordered that.
Two thick slices of brioche bread served as the platform for several slices of beef layered in ribbons over the toast. The meat, which had an appearance of being dried but tasted fine, was topped with melted cheddar cheese, a ladle’s worth of brown gravy, and a capper of frizzled battered fried onions.
Despite the high mound and plate-filling presence of the sandwich, I realized right away that something was missing. Where were the mashed potatoes? Forgotten, apparently. When I inquired about them, the server immediately brought a plate of them on the side. And they were good mashed potatoes, too — thick and lumpy and well buttered. But I would have liked to have seen them incorporated into the dish.
We did not order dessert, but I was happy to see that the cakes and pastries are provided by The Dessert Lady and for Patti Schmidt to get a shout out on the menu. (It’s nice that Red Mug credits the origin of the desserts rather than trying to pass them off as house-made, as many restaurants do with Schmidt’s cakes.)
Mark Dollard, who also owns Brick & Fire Pizza, is behind Red Mug Diner. That’s encouraging; his pizzeria always offered a good product.
And I like the details that have gone into the design, including thoughtful touches like wall sockets next to the tables with USB plugs for device charging. And, of course, the crimson cups. (Odd, though, that the home page of the diner’s website shows a gleaming white mug next to a plate of bacon and eggs.)
Red Mug Diner will likely be popular with the after hours crowd from the myriad bars, but it should also attract downtowners looking for a casual lunch.
Red Mug Diner is at 63 E. Pine St., Orlando. It is open 24 hours daily with all menu items available at all times. The phone number is 407-734-5065.