I was sitting at the bar at Johnny's Other Side, the expansion of the hugely popular Johnny's Fillin' Station that opened up on the "other side" of the parking lot, when a couple of guys came through the door and started looking around the small space. Someone eventually asked if they were looking for the restroom. No, one of them replied, we're looking for the restaurant.
This is it, he was told.
Well, this -- the seven or eight stools at the bar, which overlooks the kitchen -- and the outdoor deck with much more seating they had to walk through to get to the bar, which is the only part of this newer venture with air-conditioning.
I have to admit I did the same thing the first time I walked in to Johnny's Other Side. I think we had all been expecting something more, and we'd been expecting it for a long time. Johnny's, known for its award-winning burgers, had been planning the new space for what seems like several years. (I had reported on the "new" venture in late 2007.) Early information had it that it would be a Mexican restaurant. Then it seemed it would be more of a restaurant to counter the decidedly bar atmosphere of the Fillin' Station. (Although it is very much a bar atmosphere, Johnny's Fillin' Station sells a lot of food, so much so that it does not qualify for the assinine smoking ban exemption and therefore is smokefree.)
Indeed, the first time I looked in on Johnny's Other Side, before I stopped in to dine, I looked over the menu and was impressed with the ambitiousness of it. These were full dinners, and featured items like fresh fish, lobster and crabcakes.
But by the time I got around to visiting the Other Side as a diner just recently, the menu had changed and was featuring mainly sandwiches and the burgers that made the Fillin' Station so full, although there seemed to be a selection of unique burgers not on the FS menu, such as one topped with a fried egg. And, besides the menu for the Other Side, I was also handed the Fillin' Station menu, so someone has apparently come to the conclusion that the Other Side may best serve as overflow to the Fillin' Station.
Still, I was anxious to see what the kitchen could do beyond patties and wings, so I ordered the lobster quesadilla from the list of starters and the grilled pork chop from the entrees section.
Someone didn't quite grasp the concept of a starter because both dishes were delivered at the same time. The shellfish in the quesadilla had a shredded texture and the overall taste was a little too rich.
The pork chop itself was good, and the frenched bone was a bit chi-chi (I wonder if they come that way from the supplier or if someone actually spends prep time scraping sinew from the bone). But the meat was topped with a cloyingly sweet cinnamon apple concoction that overwhelmed the dish. Well, it would have overwhelmed if the garlic mashed potatoes hadn't been stronger. Honestly, I thought it was a serving of mashed garlic.
I also visited one Sunday for the restaurant's brunch, this time sitting on the spacious deck. Despite the dominant view of the parking lot, it's a comfortable and pleasant space. I had the biscuits and gravy and was impressed with spicy edge of the sausage gravy. The best biscuits and gravy in town? No, not even the best in the nighborhood, given that All-American Cafe is just up the block. But good noentheless. And, for five bucks, a more than ample serving.
Johnny's Other Side isn't the restaurant that most of us were expecting, and I have to believe it isn't the restaurant that Johnny was expecting, either. But ultimately it must play to its base, and the base seem to like it just fine.
Johnny's Other Side is at 2631 S. Ferncreek Ave., Orlando. JOS is open 10 a.m. to midnight every day, breakfast is served on Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The phone number is 407-894-6900. There doesn't seem to be a proper Web page for Johnny's Other Side, but it has a MySpace page (which seems so 2005!) that has photos of the menus. Here's a link to those.