Senor Frogi

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Frogi burritoIf Senor Frogi has escaped the ire of the attorneys for Grupo Anderson, it’s only because they are completely off the radar of the Mexico-based restaurant company. Grupo Anderson, of course, is the parent company of Senor Frog’s, a chain restaurant that opened an Orlando location on International Drive earlier this year. Yes, the names are not identical, but you’ll agree they’re pretty darned close (so would a judge, I’m thinking). Add to it that they both serve Mexican food and you can just see the cease-and-desist letters start flying.

It doesn’t matter that Senor Frog’s is a large operation and Senor Frogi is smaller than small, or that anyone who visited both would ever think they were related in any way.

Some of you might remember when Pizzeria Uno first came into the Central Florida market, back in 1989. One of the first things the large chain did was to send a letter to the owners of tiny family-owned Numero Uno Cuban restaurant that they were claiming all rights to the word Uno in the realm of all restaurants, and Numero Uno would have to stop using that name immediately or face legal action.

That’s right, P.U. was claiming the rights to an integer, the Spanish word for one. And what really took some brass, to paraphrase Bill Clinton, was that Numero Uno was here first! Or Uno-ist.

Several media types took umbrage with the issue and took sides with Numero Uno, including the still-new restaurant critic at the Orlando Sentinel (me). I made a number of snarky comments about the Big Bad pizza chain attacking the Little Guy mom-and-pop cafe. I even worked a reference about the brouhaha into a review of Ichiban, which I explained was Japanese for numero uno.

Then one day I got a call from Pizzeria Uno’s CEO, who was phoning from a car. (You have to remember this was 1989, and calling from a moving automobile was a really rare thing.) The executive (I don’t recall his name anymore) was pretty exasperated with all the negative press his Florida restaurant was getting. I explained to him that his company was beating up on a small restaurant that had a loyal following.

Then he said, even more exasperatedly, “If all of you guys would just stop talking about it, it will just go away.” He explained that in the corporate world, any company that becomes aware of another company infringing in the least little way on its name or identity, the company is required to send a cease-and-desist letter laying claim to it. If it did not, maybe because the infringer wasn’t very big or threatening, as was the case with Numbero Uno, then they would have a weaker case against any other future restaurant that might want to use Uno in its name. Pizzeria Uno had no intention of taking Numero Uno to court -- indeed, Numero Uno still exists on South Orange Avenue. It just wanted to be able to show the court in any future case that it vigorously defends its identity.

I wonder if maybe the owners of Senor Frogi know that. Maybe they’ve already received notice from Grupo Anderson, and they’re waiting for local media types to take up their side. That won’t be me this time. In fact, I’d cheer on Senor Frog’s if they went ahead with a full on complaint. It’s clear -- at least to me -- that the little restaurant on Curry Ford Road is trying to ride the tail of the Frog on International Drive (even though frogs lose their tails after the tadpole stage).

Not that I have any love for the senior Senor. Nor that I would wish ill on the little Frogi.

The Senor Frogi menu is a simplistic gathering of burritos, tacos, tortas and sopas; most of them feature the same ingredients on different platforms. A sign out front declares that it is a Mexican Kitchen, although another says it is California style. I’m not sure it’s either.

Frogi tacoOn my first visit to SF, I had a combination platter of a beef burrito and a cheese enchilada, which also included rice and beans. The burrito was rather smallish, quite the opposite of the California style of burrito, but it was well-packed with shredded beef, green peppers and onions. The enchilada seemed to be nothing but melted cheese -- very little substance there. I found the rice and beans to be rather modest, but I suppose it was worth the $6.59 fee.

On my second visit, I was offered a basket of tortilla chips with salsa upon seating, something I had not gotten on the first visit.

This time I ordered a carnitas taco and the machaca plate. Machaca originally was a Mexican version of beef jerky, beef dried for preservation. These days it’s usually well-cooked shredded beef. At Senor Frogi, it’s served more along the lines as it would be in the state of Chihuahua, mixed with eggs. It could best be described as an over-filled omelet, which also included big strips of sauteed green bell peppers. It was served with two flour tortillas (which is more traditional than the corn).

I liked the taco, although it was rather small, too. Still, the roast pork was tender and flavorful, and the bit of guacamole added a rich note.

Service is rather detached. Our server on the first visit was a bit more engaged, and I believe she smiled once or twice. On the second visit I could have sworn my server was sleepwalking.

Senor Frogi occupies a small building that has been home to a number of Latin American and hispanic eateries over Frogi interiorthe years, but most recently was a second-hand thrift store. It’s been redecorated with brightly colored walls of yellow, orange and red. It’s a tiny space with only about si{jcomments on}x tables. The table tops more simple and bare; drinks are served in foam cups and food is delivered on plastic, disposable plates (utensils likewise).

It’s not meant to be fine dining, and you can fill up for under 10 bucks, certainly. But somehow I’d hoped for a grander representation of Mexican cooking.

Senor Frogi is at 2420 Curry Ford Road, Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. It does not have a website. The phone number is 407-228-8281.