I finally got to eat a meal at Cafe Red Downtown. It's not like I hadn't tried before.
Cafe Red is the new restaurant on Church Street from the folks who own Graffiti Junktion, the boisterous burger joints. The Junktion burgeries seem to do very well — they've become a homegrown mini chain of six locations now, all in a fairly short time frame. So why is this place not a Graffiti Junktion?
I suppose the owners had a desire to start a new brand, to do a different cuisine. But what does it say that the best of what they offer — and what my server touted as the restaurant's specialty — is a line of burgers?
The burger was served with what the restaurant calls Fatty Fries. (I think it's a bad idea for a restaurant to associate their items with obesity, but that's just me.) These are so called because they are half-inch thick cross-cut potatoes that look more like home fries. I believe I could have put the slices back together and reassembled an entire potato. So fatty fatty indeed.
My lunch companion chose the fish tacos, which featured strips of mahi that had been cooked with blackening seasonings and placed on two large, soft flour tortillas (which really should have been heated more before serving). There were also a couple of slices of avocado, a nice touch, and a glop of red cabbage. When the taco was picked up in the appropriate eating maneuver, red juice gushed out the other end onto the plate. I don't mean dripped, I mean gushed so that there was a large red puddle on the plate. My companion, ever the optimist, said, "How nice — I get a taco and cabbage soup all in one." I say the kitchen should squeeze the excess juice out of the cabbage before placing it on the taco. The fish on the taco was just OK, a little bit tough. And the beans and rice that accompanied were fairly bland.
I don't know why, but each table is offered complimentary hummus and pita points. The hummus was overly garlicked, and the pita was chewy. It was also doused with more paprika than was necessary. Perhaps that was in line with the Red theme.
I think that's also why the waiters, garbed in black, have a dash of red in some fashion. One waiter had a black and red scarf tied around his neck. Another had a red pocket square, though some of the elaborate ink on his arm would have met the requirement.
Service on a whole is lacking. Considerably. Which is why it took three tries before I actually had a meal at Cafe Red. The first time, an evening visit, my companion and I were seated first at a table in the back that was next to the kitchen entryway with a great view of a Coca-Cola cooler. When I balked and asked for another table — there were plenty empty — the host obliged. But after too long a time without being greeted by a server, we decided to leave.
The second time I visited I was shown to the same table with the cooler view. Not cool. And as a single diner this time, I was offered only a seat at the bar as another option. I left.
And on this third visit, an acceptable table was offered. But after another long wait without a greeting — not so much as an "I'll be right with you folks" — it took pleading looks before a manager came by the table to ask if we had been helped. To his credit, I noticed him running food, which he delivered better than another server we saw nearby who was not only auctioning off two plates of pasta but doing so to the wrong table. Time to review the restaurant's training protocols.
Cafe Red Downtown is at 54 W. Church St., Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily, although you won't find that little nugget of essential information on the restaurant's website or Facebook page. The phone number is 407-849-2328.