Cooking with a Southern drawl

JW’s Southern Fixins puts just the right accent on lunch, but breakfast is another matter.
By Scott Joseph | Sentinel Restaurant Critic
Posted February 18, 2005

Central Florida has a dearth of Southern restaurants. That’s a detail that will seem odd to you only when you discover, as I did recently, that Florida is in the South. I always figured that since the state sort of dangled off the end of the United States, it was a separate region unto itself.

That might explain why Florida has no real cuisine to call its own. Some folks claim that Cracker cooking is Florida’s own, and for the longest time I thought that meant making food using the recipes on the side of a box of Ritz Crackers. You can’t build a cuisine around mock apple pie.

But you’d think that Southern-style cooking would be more prevalent if for no reason other than gravity — Southern food should trickle farther south.

Well, Orlando has another Southern eatery, albeit one with limited offerings, but what JW’s Southern Fixins lacks in volume it more than makes up for in excellence.

JW’s ribs, for instance. Although this isn’t a barbecue joint per se, it’s ribs are better than just about anyone else’s in town. The rib dinner I sampled included four big meaty bones with just the right amount of fattiness. The chewiness had been slow-smoked out of the ribs, leaving tender meat that needed only the slightest bit of coaxing to leave the bone. Sauce, which is served on the side, is milder than some people might like, but I was pleased that the "hot" sauce wasn’t so fiery that it overwhelmed the smoky characteristic of the meat.

JW’s also does a fine meatloaf, a dense slice of meat served on top of a pile of white rice then doused with dark gravy. Yum.

There is no set menu. A board on one of my visits had the day’s selections scribbled on it. It was blank the second time I went in, but the offerings were the same. Maybe they just figure everyone has it memorized.

Or maybe everyone is ordering the same thing. Each person in front of and behind me ordered ribs with black-eyed peas and collard greens. You don’t’ need anything else to live a happy life. Well, if you’re really greedy, you can add macaroni and cheese. JW’s is baked so that it has just the right bit of crunchy crust.

My only complaint at lunch — hey, it’s what I do — was with the iced tea. I know that sweet tea is a Southern thing, yet even after nearly 17 years here, I still am surprised after I request iced tea to be asked "sweet or unsweet?" It was seldom an option when I was growing up in the Midwest, and when I request iced tea I’m looking only for those two ingredients in the glass. Otherwise I might order a glass of, oh, I don’t know, sugar water perhaps.

But I knew I was in a Southern eatery, so I knew I had to specify that I wanted unsweet tea, especially when no one asked which I preferred. I said "unsweet, please" twice. I would have said "pretty please with sugar on top" but I figured that would confuse things. But there I was, driving away with a takeout order, reaching for a sip of cold refreshing tea when my mouth was filled with something syrupy. I believe Southerners have a phrase that sums up my reaction perfectly: Dagnabit!

Unfortunately, my problem with the tea wasn’t the only complaint. Although my two lunch visits were most enjoyable, things really fell apart when I stopped in for breakfast. There is a printed menu in the morning, but you still order your food at the counter, just as you do at lunch. My guest and I placed our orders, which included two cups of coffee, then took a seat to read the paper. I had read three sections thoroughly before the man behind the counter called me to come get the coffee. When I got up there, I saw that none of the food I had ordered had even been started. And the place was all but empty. I canceled the order. It may be that the food at breakfast is every bit as wonderful as the lunch, but I think I’ll wait until they figure out a better system before I return.

You may choose to eat your food in JW’s dining room, which is small. Tables are covered with a plastic red and white checkered cloth and another flimsier red plastic cloth on top of that.

And you can certainly feel safe at JW’s because it seems to be a favorite spot for members of the police force. I don’t think I’ve seen that many cruisers outside a business that wasn’t also surrounded by yellow tape.

JW’s Southern Fixins — you know it’s an authentic Southern restaurant because they spell Fixins without a "g" — is at 900 W. Colonial Drive, Orlando. The hours are 6 to 10:45 a.m. for breakfast Monday through Saturday, 11:30-6 p.m. lunch and early dinner daily. Prices are $5.59 to 8.99 and you can use credit cards. No alcohol is served. The phone number is 407-236-9411.



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