Manny's Original Chophouse was not what I was expecting. I'm not sure it was what Baldwin Park was expecting, either.
Manny's is a franchise operation that originated in Haines City. And before we go any further, it's necessary to mention that the Manny in the name is Nikolaidis, not Garcia. Nor Tato, for that matter, even though the latter at one time had a place called Manny's Chophouse on Markham Woods Road in Longwood. That was in 2006. According to the website for the new chophouse in Baldwin Park, Nikolaidis opened his first one in 2004, so apparently he has legitimate claim to the Original designation.
But back to expectations. I was expecting classy, I was expecting serene, both befitting the lakefront location in the upscale development.
But the overall mien of Manny's is garishness. It's a massive space with double volume ceilings and double volume sound to match. Tables are covered with red and white checkered cloths topped with paper. The decorations range from old license plates and gas stations signs to movie posters, road directionals and a huge sign for a drive-in theater. Over a row of booths, the light fixtures are fashioned out of car mufflers.
Even the menu is garish, at least in design and layout. It's a multi page tome with red, yellow and white lettering on black background with food photos of some of the items.
The food itself ranged from modest to unacceptable. Fortunately, this being a chophouse, the meat was on the acceptable side. My 14 ounce New York Strip, though slightly undercooked, was a good piece of meat despite a small amount of gristle in the first bite.
And my companion's 12 ounce Prime Rib was a very nice slab, though the garlic in the rub was a tad overwhelming.
The prices -- $22.99 for the strip and $20.98 for the prime rib -- were fair, especially considering the inclusion of a side dish and a salad.
Actually it's an Endless Salad Bowl, a large metal bowl with iceberg lettuce and various accouterments (carrots, onions, cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, croutons, ranch dressing) on top that the server tosses at the table. And it was a good salad, cool and refreshing.
Do not do as I did and ask your server if you can substitute the French Onion Soup for the salad. (She wasn't supposed to, but she allowed it.) The crock I was served now takes the title of the worst onion soup I've ever had. The broth was thickened and brackish, the crouton impervious to cutting, the cheese a solid block.
My friend's baked potato, though topped with cheese and bacon and something that was probably sour cream, was dry and seemingly butterless.
I chose the Chophouse Fries as my side. The name conjures an image of thick-cut potatoes. These were slender, flavorless fries.
The rolls that were served as house bread resembled hamburger buns, and were served with a treacly sweet cinnamon butter.
The servers introduce themselves by writing their names upside-down in crayon on the tabletop paper, a practice I had thought ended sometime in the early '90s (and I welcomed its demise). I liked our server very much, she was personable and chipper. There was, however, no attempt to remember who ordered what, and dishes were auctioned to the highest bidder each time something was brought to the table.
This space, which has a commanding view, was once home to Lago, a spotty Italian restaurant. It sits a bit back from the street and isn't quite as visible as some of the other businesses, though the massive Manny's sign out front should catch the attention of anyone in the turnaround.
Perhaps if you don't set your expectations too high going in, you might not be disappointed.
Manny's Original Chophouse is at 4979 New Broad St., Orlando. It is open for dinner daily. The phone number is 407-755-4110.