Ghosts tend to set their own schedules. It’s difficult pinning them to show up on a whim, unless, perhaps, you happen to be a spiritual medium. But even then, imagine trying to contact ghosts and getting a message through your Ouija board that they can fit you in tomorrow.
That’s sort of how I felt when I set out to order food from Ghost Kitchen Orlando, a new virtual restaurant operation working out of an industrial park in south Orlando offering pickup and delivery service only. I had already discovered from a previous attempt that the hours of operation were limited – Monday through Friday with pickup between 1 and 5 p.m. But it wasn’t until a few weeks later on my second try after making all my selections on the online ordering site and proceeding to checkout that I learned I would not be clicking to confirm purchase and hopping in my car to fetch the food. That’s because the soonest one can schedule pickup or delivery of food from GKO is for the next day. So much for immediate gratification. (There's an exception, which I'll explain below.)
From a business model standpoint this makes sense. A conventional restaurant has to place orders for delivery of produce, meats, seafood and other comestibles based on guess. How many poached salmons will it sell today? How much lettuce will be needed for salads? Guess wrong and the restaurant either runs out of certain menu items or has to dispose of food that is no longer fresh.
Ghost Kitchen Orlando knows what it needs to fulfill the next day’s orders and can purchase accordingly. And it’s not like preordering from a restaurant is new. I know that if I want to order pastrami delivered from Katz’s Delicatessen in New York I’m not getting it the same day.
But Katz’s is Katz’s. It sells a product that is legendary, something people are willing to wait for. Only those close enough to the Lower East Side restaurant can satisfy a sudden pang.
GKO enters the market as an unknown commodity, so its potential for destination dining, even if the destination is eventually your own home, is not assured.
But perhaps it is hoping that the quality of its food will make it so. The Tuscan sandwich could do it.
The sandwich, which I had not purchased but was included in my order, featured soft and fresh focaccia bread with salumi – capicola, Genoa, prosciutto, ham – provolone cheese and arugula generously in between. The sandwich had a peppery note whose source I couldn’t detect, whether it was in the bread, one of the meats or from the spicy greens. All I know is I took one bite after the other until it was suddenly gone. (I view the inclusion of the sandwich in my order as a tradeoff since the tomato-basil soup I requested was inadvertently omitted.)
And by the way, that sandwich and others, along with an array of salads, can indeed be ordered and picked up the same day from a different Ghost Kitchen Orlando lunch menu from a separate website. Neither website has a link to the other, for some reason. Links to both are below.
From the prepared meals list, I had ordered ropa vieja and enchiladas suizas. (Not all items have a Latin flair, I just leaned that way.)
Prepared meals are delivered cold and packaged with concise instructions for reheating, including telling the customer to remove the lid and take out any plastic ramekins of sauces before heating. (You’d be surprised how necessary such instructions are.) The containers are dual ovenable, a word I would have coined if Ghost Kitchen hadn’t beaten me to it, so they can be microwaved or put in a conventional oven.
The enchiladas featured flour tortillas with chicken meat and chihuahua cheese with a mild and creamy suiza of various peppers. It was accompanied by sour cream for topping, a grilled lime for squeezing and a medly of pickled vegetables.
The ropa vieja was a traditional presentation of shredded, stringy (ropey?) beef mixed with bell peppers, tomatoes and green olives. The dinner included black beans, white rice and sweet plantains, all of it perfectly fine.
For dessert I had a chocolately caramel cookie sprinkled with Himalayan pink salt and a Gooey Butter Cake with a cream cheese and butter filling inside a flaky pastry shell. (Pair the cake with the Tuscan sandwich and you have a solid meal.)
Ghost Kitchen Orlando was founded by Johnny Nartowicz, his parents, Jay and Julie Nartowicz, and Colton O’Dwyer. Jason Vanatta serves as the executive chef.
If you choose to pick up your order, as I did, you’ll find the Ghost Kitchen nestled among other businesses in the largely unmarked and identical buildings. Set your mapping software to the address and you’ll be fine. There is plenty of parking next to the building. Ring the bell and your order will be brought to you.
Ghost Kitchen Orlando is at 7648 Southland Blvd., Suite 109, Orlando. It is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Here is the link to the ghostkitchenmeals.com for preordered meals and this one will take you to the same-day-optional ghostkitchenlunch.com. The phone number is 407-363-1546.