Taking a simple concept and making it delicious: Welcome to Five Guys Burgers.

Five Guys Burgers at Uptown Altamonte is a great place to get a juicy burger fix. (Photo by Dave Raith).

ALTAMONTE SPRINGS — Does anyone know the exact history of how, out of all the rich foods in the world, the hamburger came to be the meal of choice for fast food restaurants?
Why is it we don’t have fast food spaghetti? Or fast food Chef Salads? Or fast food steak and onions?
Maybe McDonald’s — the largest chain of worldwide hamburger fast food restaurants — got ball rolling back in 1940 when the brothers Richard and Maurice McDonald opened a restaurant in San Bernadino, Calif., and introduced the concept of the Speedee Service System. For whatever reason, burgers with fries just became the staple menu item.
In the years since, the hamburger or “burger,” depending on your preferred lingo, simply became the preferred dining option at every fast food chain that popped up following McDonald’s example. So with McDonald’s having demonstrated that the concept works, this sandwich consisting of a cooked patty of ground beef became all the rage at every chain, differing only by what the individual chains wanted as their signature design. Placed in a sliced bread roll? Covered with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles? Smeared with condiments that could include mustard, ketchup or mayonnaise? Similar in each instances, but with little differences here and there.
And have you ever noticed that no matter what time of day you hit the drive in — let’s say you want to avoid noon for the busy lunch crowd or 5-6 p.m. to bypass the lengthy dinner crowd — there’s always two or three cars ahead of you? We’re a nation of burger babies.
I sometimes wonder how challenging it is to stay competitive with a burger franchise where there’s so much competition out there. You can be cruising down Colonial Drive in West Orange County and find a McDonald’s and Burger King right next to one another, and a Wendy’s or Arby’s within view. Sometimes, though, I find this concept to be less mysterious than it initially appears whenever a friend invites me to join them at one of my favorite burger joints, Five Guys Burgers and Fries.
This chain has been around for a while, having started in Virginia in 1986. This deli-style restaurant just seems to make some of the best burgers around, and for some reason whenever I go there, I always get the feeling that it has a real 1950s ambiance about it. I wasn’t around in the 1950s, so I can’t say for sure, but it just seems to give off that genuine “American Graffiti”-type look.
The menu is simple, direct, and tempting. Hamburgers, cheeseburgers, bacon either-one … or a kosher-style hot dog, cheese or bacon dog, or veggie or grilled cheese sandwich.
Then you’ve got those free toppings to pick from, which include the standard and predictable — relish, onions, tomatoes — to slightly more distinct (Jalapeno Peppers, grilled mushrooms, hot sauce.) You’ve also got those irresistable Five Guys curly fries on the side and a tall glass of Coke to wash it down with.
I love how greasy these burgers are, or the fresh-potato taste of the curly fries fried in peanut oil with the Cajun seasoning. I think one of the reasons why the burger has remained the top menu item at fast food chains is it personifies such a simple concept, but it always ends up being so delicious — at least at this chain, for sure. Five Guys has truly perfected the concept; their chefs always seems to do it so well, and I usually find I’m loving every juicy bite.

As Five Guys Burgers is proud to note, they frequently get rave reviews. (Photo by Dave Raith).

Now, if this sounds like the kind of menu that would prompt the shrill health watchers to become aghast, and send them rushing for the latest statistics on our nation’s obesity rate, well, send me an email at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com and I’ll get you a list of great vegan restaurants that I frequent. But let’s be honest here, nobody goes to fast food joints for calorie counting — they go because those juicy flame-broiled burgers always lure us back, sapping our willpower. Besides, the Five Guys web site (http://www.fiveguys.com/home.aspx) posts nutritional information so we grown ups can decide for ourselves what we’re hungry for.
Five Guys Burgers has a lot of locations in Greater Orlando, but one of my favorites is at Uptown Altamonte, at 229 E. Altamonte Drive in Altamonte Springs. I like the people who work there — friendly, easy going, able to take large orders and get them to my table in rapid time. They’re the perfect employees for a restaurant that managed to get the concept of the fast food chains down so extraordinarily well, that whenever my friends invite me to head back for more (while warning that I could get addicted to the place), I’m there.
To learn more about Five Guys Burgers at Uptown Altamonte, call 407-478-6900.

Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.

A local landmark? If not, the White Wolf definitely should be.

If The White Wolf isn't an Orlando landmark yet, it surely deserves to be.

ORLANDO — Some people might laugh when I make this comparison, but let me give it a shot anyway.
I can’t imagine New York City without the Empire State Building.
It’s hard to think of Boston without Beacon Hill.
It wouldn’t be the same Los Angeles without Hollywood.
And likewise, I just can’t imagine Orlando without the White Wolf Cafe.
Ok, you might well be asking, how do you compare a neighborhood cafe with an attraction that offers the size and significance of the Empire State Building or Hollywood?
Well, you’re missing the point here. This isn’t to say that something has to be massive in size or hundreds of years old to be of significant value to a city. Urban America is made up of an enormous number of different landmarks, some quite old but more than a few of them representing the new kids on the block. Orlando’s Amway Center is brand spanking new, but it’s already an important part of the city’s downtown revitalization efforts — as much as, say, the historic downtown courthouse that now serves as the Orange County Regional History Center. Preservation has its place in making a city attractive; so can a newly built luxury condominimum complex with a view of Lake Eola. Everybody is looking for something a little different.
Which brings me to a second point: not all landmarks — places that bring value to a community — need to be the size of the Amway Center. So I’ll say it again — it’s hard to imagine Orlando without the White Wolf.
Every city has restaurants that develop reputations that travel far beyond the local neighborhood hosting it, and in this tourism Mecca, the Orange County Visitors & Convention Bureau would be smart to promote Orlando as a top-notch place for dining — which, happily, it is.
Now, I have no idea if the White Wolf has that kind of reputation with, say, tourists from Minnesota or Colorado who visit this city a lot, but in some ways it doesn’t matter. The White Wolf is an absolute gem for permanent residents, the people who make it a “Wow, are there any tables left in here?” spot at lunch time, since the smart ones always show up a bit earlier than noon.
It’s not a massive restaurant with multiple rooms, but then again it doesn’t boast the kind of snob-appeal prices that your average International Drive 4-Star operation does with an eye toward the business travelers staying at the Orange County Convention Center. So what makes White Wolf so irresistable?
Let me tick off a few obvious suggestions:
1. Location. This section of Orange Avenue, in-between Princeton and Colonial, is one of the great walking districts in downtown Orlando. If you stroll along this urban enclave, you’re going to find a smorgasboard of treasures, starting with the picturesque lake at Gaston Edwards Park that provides so much of the neighborhood’s charm and appeal. There are a number of very good restaurants along this strip, but you also have the opportunity to do plenty of window shopping, with the option of visiting several antique shops, the Docking Bay Comics & Collectibles comic book store, Ski World, Italian Ice, the Boxing Center Mixed Martial Arts studio, Rock N Roll Heaven used record store, the Blissful Lotis Erotic Boutique for romance-minded couples, a gay nightclub called the Savoy …. about as diverse, something-for-everyone as it gets.
At the end of the block, by Princeton Avenue, is one of Orlando’s true landmarks, Theatre Downtown, which is one of the classiest places for live entertainment in the region. The bottom line is that White Wolf did its homework when it picked this location.

Antiques and marble slab tables are a part of the White Wolf's bohemian ambiance.

2. Ambiance. There’s just something wonderfully funky, bohemian and fun about White Wolf, from the marble slabs that cover the tables, to the chandeliers hanging above, to the unique artwork on the walls and all around you (“We Are Always Intersted In Buying Antiques” reads a sign that hangs above the bar, and the antiques in the White Wolf are in fact available to purchase.) You can sit at White Wolf’s lengthy bar and enjoy a fine cocktail, or head outside on mild days and relax at the tables out there (highly recommended since, as I said, this is a great neighborhood for watching the world go by, including the Amtrak trains with tracks right near the cafe.)
3. Food. I obviously wouldn’t be praising this cafe so highly if the food wasn’t tasty, but what I like about the White Wolf is the unique, hard-to-find-elsewhere menu items you get to pick from. They have a red beans, rice and smoked sausage dish that has an irresistable Cajun-New Orleans flavor, and one of my favorite lunch items is the Cool Cuke — a sandwich mixing sliced cucumbers and cream cheese.

The White Wolf cafe has plenty of great soups and sandwiches to pick from.

They also have a delicious black bean soup that I can never seem to resist.
There’s a lot more creative items to pick from — Chilled Poached Salmon, Greek Foccacia, Chicken Marsala, Spinich Lasagna, Beef Top Kabobs, the White Wolfe Cafe Cheeseburger — so many, in fact, that this restaurant cries out for becoming your permanent lunch spot. Or dinner spot, for that matter.
You can also get beer and wines or coffee and Espresso (how about ice cream and Cappuccino?), and the cafe hosts live music performances. It’s the kind of place where, if I ask one of my friends if they want to meet me there for lunch, they almost always say, “I love the White Wolf, and I haven’t been there in a while. Great idea!” I don’t remember the last time I went in there and didn’t recognize several people I know.
White Wolf opened in 1991, and has survived the ups and downs in the Central Florida economy, including this most recent steep downturn. It can pack in a great lunch crowd, which reiterates my point that the locals understand what a winner they have in this cafe. I hope the tourists stopping here this summer discover it, too, because just as every vacation to Boston requires a stop at Faneuil Hall, White Wolf should be on the checklist for any Orlando visitor. Why should those of us who live in the city have it all to ourselves?
The White Wolf is open Mondays through Fridays from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. (and 10 p.m. on Friday), Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. It’s at 1829 N. Orange Ave. and can be reached by calling 407-895-9911 or emailing Info@whitewolfcafe.com. To learn more, log on to www.whitewolfcafe.com.

Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.

From rolled cigars to hand-rolled meatballs, Ybor City Italian restaurant combines history with hearty meals.

The Spaghetti Warehouse is in the historic part of Tampa's Ybor City Latin Quarter.

YBOR CITY — Consider this: the building that houses the Spaghetti Warehouse in Ybor City used to be a cigar making factory — and every first Monday of the month, this very good Italian restaurant hosts an Elvis Fun gathering.
Stogies, spaghetti, and Elvis … I suspect there’s a really good punch line in there somewhere, but at the moment it sadly escapes me.
No matter. In a state where history sometimes feels like anything built a year or two before the last colossal, high end subdivision opened its doors, one of the things I like most about Tampa’s great Latin Quarter is the red brick buildings that housed the cigar factories that put Ybor City on the map.
If Ybor City’s New Orlean’s-style 7th Avenue is better known today for its party-hearty night life, the truth is it also has more preserved history than so many other overdeveloped sections of Central Florida. Martinez Ybor opened his first cigar factory here in 1868, and that building still stands today, like so many other historic red brick structures along Ybor City’s La Setima (7th Avenue).
Just a few blocks away is The Spaghetti Warehouse Restaurant, located at 1911 N. 13th St., at the corner of 9th Avenue. Still a part of the historic section of Ybor City, it takes up part of a factory that continued hiring workers to roll fresh Cuban cigars straight into the 1980s. Spaghetti Warehouse is the kind of place that works hard at creating a spirit of fun and enjoyment, by celebrating things like Meatball Madness day (when $4.99 Spaghetti & Meatballs meals get served all day.)

The Spaghetti Warehouse is in a former cigar factory in Ybor City.

It’s also the kind of place that, as previously noted, hosts Elivs Fun Gatherings every first Monday of the month from 6-9 p.m. — better known as Jeremy Ewbank, a 42-year-old Tampa resident who owns a carpet cleaning business and does Elvis impersonations for fun and to entertain the spaghetti eaters. The Spaghetti Warehouse is nothing if not about the sheer pleasure of getting outdoors with friends and family for a relaxing meal. The decor helps set that mood. It’s a spacious restaurant, with three separate dining rooms, each one surrounded by those magnificent and all-too-rarely-seen (in Florida, anywhere, if not Pittsburgh) red brick walls. There are giant billboards decorating the walls, obviously collected from decades past — “Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey, World’s Biggest Menagerie” reads one, with a painting of a rhino racing across it.
But the best is the trolley car located inside one of the dining rooms, with a flashing green traffic light hovering just above the front end — as if giving that trolley car the signal to start its engine. Happily for the diners who get to sit at the tables inside the trolley car, it never does. But considering that Ybor City still has a trolley system that takes visitors around town, it’s a fitting tribute to both the city’s history and Spaghetti Warehouse’s penchant for making it all a playful experience.
And then there is … l’alimento. Eccellente, i miei amici! Consider these choices (and ponder the dilemma I faced narrowing it down to one): You can be very traditional, and try the spaghetti and meatballs plate, which offers pasta topped with homemade tomato sauce and two hand-rolled meatballs.
A bit more adventurous, you could have the Incredible 15-Layer Lasagne — noodles baked with layers of meat sauce and a blend of cheeses, herbs, and spices.
The Fettuccini Alfredo, which I ordered and found to be an absolutely delicious gourmet meal, won me over, though I did still have the temptation of trying the Four Cheese Manicotti (two pasta tubes filled with a blend of cheeses, and topped with tomato and alfredo sauce), or the Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad.
Your waitress starts you off by bringing to your table a large bowl filled with house salad in Italian dressing for everyone in the party to share, along with sourdough bread served hot and fresh from the oven. The main dishes arrive quickly — the service is prompt and friendly.
That, the quality of the food and the appeal of dining in one of those historic brick buildings all sold me rather quickly on Spaghetti Warehouse’s appeal. And as I was leaving the restaurant and walking back to my hotel, the feeling of satisfaction after a good meal slowly morphed into a question that began to haunt me.
From hand-rolled cigars in the “Cigar Capital of the World” to meatballs in a trolley car — I know I’m missing a good one-liner here somewhere. I spent hours trying to think of a clever gag, but my mind kept going blank.
Oh, well. I do know this: the real joke is on anyone who visits Ybor City and bypasses Shaghetti Warehouse. Dining rare seems this fun, or rich, or tasty.
To learn more, call the restaurant at 813-248-1730.

Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com

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