Mojo Bar & Grill has opened in the former Rosie O’Grady’s Good Times Emporium at Church Street Station. Ol’ Rosie wouldn’t recognize the place.
Of course, Rosie O’Grady’s wasn’t the last business to be here -- but it was the most enduring. The nightclub/bar, reminiscent of an old-time Western saloon with show girls, a Red Hot Mama and Dixieland jazz, was a destination for locals and tourists from its opening in 1974 to 2001. After Disney opened Pleasure Island and Universal launched CityWalk, the Church Street Station entertainment venues saw a decline in patrons. And revenue.
Among the businesses that have occupied the space in the last decade were a comedy club and a very short-lived restaurant called Rustic Steak. Both were good, but both were unable to survive while waiting for the resurgence in downtown, something most everyone is sure is upon us with the opening of the new arena, um, I mean event center.
So Mojo has the luck (mojo?) of timing its opening to coincide with the rebirth. The question is, what has opened? Is Mojo a bar with food or a restaurant with a heavy bar scene. If it’s the latter, there’s little else for it to do. Open up the doors, let the crowds and let the music play. But if its goal is to be primarily a good Cajun restaurant, it will need to spend a little more time on the food.
The Low Country gumbo was the best of what I sampled. The stew had shrimp and bits of andouille sausage in a dark rouxy base, served over a small amount of rice and topped with fried okra croutons. The gumbo was evenly seasoned and full flavored. The croutons were a bit precious -- I’d rather have the okra in the stew.
Shrimp remoulade didn’t quite make it. The smallish shrimp were rubbery and had little distinctive taste. They were served on anemic shredded lettuce and drizzled -- drizzled! -- with remoulade sauce, which didn’t taste much different from a basic thousand island dressing.
But the shrimp was slightly better than the debris po’boy. Debris (pronounce day-bree) is a New Orleans classic made of bits and pieces of roast beef, sort of a cow version of pulled pig. Instead of barbecue sauce, however, a debris po’boy is smothered in gravy. But instead of a rich fatty mouthfeel, as it should have had, Mojo’s debris sandwich just tasted greasy. And not in a good-greasy way. Our server suggested we add cheddar and provolone, which were served melted in a very thin layer on top of the beef -- and which added $2 to the cost. I found that rather, well, cheesy.
I like that the redesign of the space included opening the front bar to Church Street, even though much of what can be viewed through the open doors -- over which air curtains blow to keep insect out -- is the elevated Interstate 4. Squint and it might look like a levee.
There was live music in the front bar, where I chose to eat. The massive main room has the surrounding balconies done up to resemble some of the second-story verandas in New Orleans, though nothing that makes you want to yell “Stella!” Other stereotypical touches are placed about, a sign pointing the way to the “bat rooms,” for example.
Mojo was doing a good business on the night I visited, but I saw more beers and drinks (there is a full bar) than food go by. That may be just what they want from the place.
Mojo Bar & Grill is at 129 W. Church St., Orlando. It’s open for lunch and dinner daily, late night until 2 a.m. Here’s a link to the Mojo Web site. The phone number is 407-422-6656.