Fish 'N' Loaves

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fishnloaves_dining_roomI finally paid a lunch visit to Fish ‘N’ Loaves, the soul food restaurant that took over the former Johnson’s Diner space on Church Street in downtown Orlando. For many Orlandoans, and for many years, Johnson’s Diner was the definitive southern/soul food restaurant (and for most of its white customers with roots in the north the only soul food restaurant they had experienced). I thought so, too, before Johnson’s moved from its original location on Livingston Street. The food was good, but even then there was something about the cramped, unvarnished surroundings that heightened the experience.

Johnson’s Diner closed in October probably more as a result of mismanagement than anything else, although I had noticed the food wasn’t as good as it had been in the past.

So when I heard that Fish ‘N’ Loaves would move in and continue the tradition, albeit a nascent one, of serving a soul food menu, I was hoping for a return to the days when the food was the focus.

Unfortunately most of what I sampled was disappointingly bland. I liked the service very much; I felt invited and welcomed the second I walked through the door. And I found the spacious dining room spotless and well tended. But nothing I tasted made me want to go back for more.

I had the meatloaf at the suggestion of my server. For my two side dish choices I selected the Meatloafmacaroni and cheese and black-eyed peas. The meatloaf was slathered in gravy that had developed a skin, probably because of the air-conditioning draft overhead. The loaf had an aroma and taste of rye bread, and more than a few times I bit into pieces of bone. You expect bones with some foods; meatloaf isn’t one of them.

There wasn’t a thing special about the mac and cheese, which might have benefitted from a little more cheese. The black-eyed peas were equally unexciting. Diners are presented with hush puppies upon seating. The were good fritters with a slightly sweet taste, and the dough balls were nicely nongreasy.

This is a small sampling of the menu, to be sure, but most of it was recommended as the best of what the restaurant has to offer. When I think about the food at other restaurants, such as the recently reviewed Lowe’s Good Eaton, I have to conclude it could be better.

Fish ‘N’ Loaves is at 595 W. Church St., Orlando. It’s open for lunch and dinner daily, though it closes at 6 on Sundays. Here is a link to the website, although it is missing a lot of key information and the home page has “lorem ipsum” placeholder text and the “Locations” and “About Us” pages say “coming soon;” that shouldn’t be too difficult to fill out. The phone number is 407-841-8130.

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