Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Olde Dixie Fried Chicken: A blast from Orlando's past

Olde Dixie Fried Chicken: anachronistic, rundown dive or treasured blast from Orlando’s past? A bit of both?

It’s quite a shocker the first time you come upon the Olde Dixie Fried Chicken sign while driving down south Orange Avenue. Not only because the sign is huge, but because it features a giant chicken wearing a confederate soldier hat – rebel flag and all. How the sign has survived changes in zoning laws and changes in good taste, I do not know. But there it is – in your face - beckoning you to time travel as easily as Captain Kirk into Orlando’s past.

When you walk inside the restaurant, you’ll immediately notice there is no air conditioning. The two young girls working the counter were sweating but smiling. An older changeable letter menu board hangs overhead and flea-market-found chicken figurines line the counter and deli case. A wood-panel-lined A-frame ceiling arches high above, and dusty, sixties-style pendant lights hang low, illuminating the space - no retro-mod fixtures from Ikea, they’re the real thing.

The back counter wall is lined with small fryers, caked with grease. In a window to the left, a baking sheet piled high with fried chicken sits under a heat lamp and the warm Florida sun. Beside the chicken, a mound of pre-fried French fries.

The menu is simple: fried chicken, fries, mashed potatoes and gravy - just what you’d expect. I’d guess nothing has changed on the menu, but the prices, in years.

I order a 2-piece meal with mashed potatoes and fries ($4.45). The girl behind the counter instructs me to go ahead and sit down in the air conditioned dining room and that she would bring the meal out to me.

When I walk into the dining room, a blast of cold air hits me, and so do the stares of several tables of Orlando locals. I find a seat in the back of the restaurant and sit down in an old wooden chair at a laminate covered table. I think we had the same Formica on our kitchen counters when I was a child – but that was the seventies - and we also had avocado-colored appliances to match.

While I waited on my chicken, I admired the white stone wall to my left. It is so out of style that any yuppie would kill to have it torn down and rebuilt in their living room to coordinate with their furniture from Design Within Reach.

My chicken arrives on a paper plate, accompanied by a dinner roll and butter pats. According to the menu, the 2-piece included a thigh and wing, but I was served a thigh and leg. The chicken looks dry. The chicken tastes dry. Of course it’s dry. From the looks of the stack of chicken sitting in the window, I wouldn’t expect anything less. You just can’t cook so much chicken ahead of time, let it sit around, and then serve it. Chicken must be served freshly fried or it’s just no good.

Being the connoisseur of fried chicken that I am, I could tell the chicken would probably have been delicious had it just been taken from the fryer. The seasoning was right, and the breading was flaky and light. I was disappointed that so much was made ahead of time. I would gladly wait for fresh chicken.

The fries were crinkle cut, my favorite, but they, too, were old tasting. Is it really that much trouble to cook fries to order?

The best part of the meal was the mashed potatoes and gravy, well, not the potatoes - they were the usual dehydrated potatoes you’d get anywhere. It’s the chicken gravy that was so delicious. I don’t know when I’ve had gravy this light and this meaty. So thin it could almost be chicken stock, yet so full of chicken meat it could almost be a soup. The best “fast food” gravy I’ve ever had.

You must visit Olde Dixie Fried Chicken at least once. Ignore glances from the good old boys at the next table, and enjoy your meal in a restaurant that time forgot. As any Star Trek fan will tell you, conduits that allow you to transverse space-time are few and far between, and always fleeting. Do hurry.

2 ½ Rebel Yells out of 5

Old Dixie Fried Chicken
South Orlando
5925 S Orange Ave
Orlando, FL 32809
(407) 855-0681

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What time you came in might make a difference. Got in there there around 10:30 am and got freshly fried chicken and she fried the fries in front of me (they were crispy and light). The cole slaw is sweet light and fresh. The take out box is just as retro as the location. I thought I hope this place stays here forever, but more people have to eat there for it to happen... the last time the place was busy on a regular basis was in the 90's.