Monday, June 3, 2013

McKnight's: Orlando Soul Food Review

When Johnson's Diner closed back in 2010, Orlando soul food lovers lost a dear friend. For 25 years, Johnson's was an institution in the Parramore neighborhood, and home to some damn fine fixin's.

The restaurant space, across from Amway Center, was briefly another soul food establishment -- Fish 'N' Loaves -- but it never took root, or drew the faithful as old Johnson's once did. It soon closed.

Today, another concept has taken over the location, and is attempting again to serve up heaping plates of southern soul.

I visited McKnight's on an early Saturday afternoon, and expected to mingle with a like-minded soul food congregation. Unfortunately, save for a single table finishing up, my party was the only one in the house. Lord, where are Orlando's soul food believers?

The interior seemed much the way I remember Johnson's Diner, but with a few namesake "medieval" touches. There was a knight's statue of armor by the front entrance, for instance. Otherwise, the décor was contemporary, comfortable and clean.

The staff greeted my party with a warm welcome and seated us near the large aquarium in the middle of the room. I felt at home immediately. I could linger here a while.

Of course I started with iced tea, and it was sweet and refreshing. It seemed I hadn't had a good slab of ribs in a while, so I was pleased to see Spare Ribs listed as one of Saturday's daily specials. I was equally displeased when I was told they were out of ribs. The other special of the day was Barbecued Pig Feet. I passed.

Catfish suddenly popped into my mind and I was told that it was available. I ordered two pieces, with a side of cabbage and macaroni and cheese. Cornbread came on the side. Curious, I looked for catfish on the menu to see how much I was in for -- it was not listed.

Anyway, the catfish was fantastic. Plump, juicy, and fried to a nice crispness in cornmeal, the fish made me forget all about ribs. The cabbage was also excellent, but the macaroni and cheese was served only slightly warm and seemed to have been sitting under a heat lamp for a while.

One of my guests tried the Fried Pork Chop with the same macaroni and cheese and yams. There was a debate at the table whether or not these were true yams or sweet potatoes. I have to believe the menu. You must believe.

Fried dishes are obviously a strong point at McKnight's, as the chop was fried, again, to perfection. I would, however, have gone with the smothered pork chops.

I should note that all the main dishes come with two sides, and there are a number of them to choose from. Come hungry, the portions are large.

Another of my guests chose the Smothered Baked Chicken (now we're talking) served on white rice with two sides of choice: collard greens and black eyed peas. The chicken was, unfortunately, just average, even with the gravy. The peas, average as well. The greens were the star of the plate with a pleasant flavor, and hearty chunks of bacon.

For dessert, I had only one thing on my mind: peach cobbler. They were out. Oh the trials and tribulations of an Orlando food blogger.

I settled for Sweet Potato Pie. No, settled isn't the word. I celebrated for Sweet Potato Pie. I loved the not-so-sweet,creamy taste, and the gingerbread crust was a very nice surprise to my taste buds. A dollop of whipped cream would have helped the presentation. The pie was my favorite part of the meal.

I was also able to sample the Banana Pudding, but it was a letdown. We Southerners know a good banana pudding when we taste one. This was not an example.

Overall, I really enjoyed my visit to McKnight's. The friendly service more than made up for any missteps in the kitchen or discrepancies on the menu. If you love soul food as much as I do, please stop by for a visit sometime soon and support a locally-owned and operated small business. You'll feel good about yourself, and maybe save a soul, or at least some good soul food.

4 Redemptions out of 5

McKnight's Soul Food on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said...

Philbert Phignewtyn.

This review really doesn't make me want to eat at this restaurant anymore than if I had no knowledge of said restaurants existence. Furthermore, yams aren't indigenous to the U.S. There shouldn't have been any doubt for someone who claims to love food. In conclusion, you said you ordered the peach cobbler, but they were out so you settled, no celebrated the sweet potato pie. So then why didn't you order it in the first place? Are you sure it wasn't yam pie you were eating?

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