ORLANDO – Old-time Orlando residents will tell you legends about how Church Street was absolutely the place to be at night for decades, until Downtown Disney and then Universal Studios’ Citywalk became the happening nightlife spots instead, prompting the decline of Orlando’s once thriving downtown.
If Church Street is starting to experience a real renaissance – and it should be clear to everyone by now that it is – it could be because it’s building up a reputation for being one of the most eclectic spots to find a good place to eat.
Church Street right off Orange Avenue now hosts an interesting mix of choices for diners – starting with the Amura Japanese Restaurant being right next door to Five Guys Burgers, which is a pretty good example of the diversity on this street.
Further down you can decide between Hamburger’s Mary’s campy fun, The Dessert Lady’s delectable after dinner servings, or more upscale options like the European-style Rusty Spoon or Ceviche’s Tapas Bar.
If you cross Garland Avenue and keep walking under the Interstate 4 overpass, you’ll spot another reason why Church Street is seeing better days. The new Amway Center is bringing in concert-goers and sports fans to the neighborhood, becoming an anchor for sports and music entertainment in downtown. All this provides an enjoyable number of options for people who live in or near downtown and no longer want to fight I-4 to get to Disney or Universal, and a clear reminder that downtown Orlando is experiencing a genuine revitalization these days.
In the midst of all this is a restaurant and convenience store that’s been around for 26 years, one of the real anchors in a downtown that’s experienced its share of highs and lows over the past three decades. It also happens to be one of the real gems in downtown. Conveniently located right across the street from the Amway Center, let’s hope a lot of the foot traffic heading in there for the next big concert or Orlando Magic game discovers the Paradise Island Café before they head back home.
The Paradise Island Café is at 377 W. Church St., right next to the new Draft Global Beer Lounge & Still. If you’ve never been to Paradise, let’s just say it’s no pun to say this restaurant truly is just that — paradise, particularly if you savor truly fine Caribbean food.
Paradise Island Café has a menu that includes everything from the Paradise Caribbean Salad to a plate of Grandma’s Meatloaf, to a New Orleans Bourbon Chicken Wrap – but on your first visit, anyway, I would strongly recommend you sample the buffet. Depending on what they’re serving on any particular day, you’re in for a real treat.
When you walk into Paradise Island Café, the cental room has the café’s selection of specialty items to buy (including boxes of Ovaltine), cookies, candies and a huge selection of beer and sodas – no doubt something for the Amway crowd to appreciate.
The second room has the restaurant itself – a cozy spot where you can choose among the nine tables set around the buffet. There’s a Bob Marley painting on the wall, and the smell of chicken and lamb preventing you from leaving, even if your cell phone rings with an emergency back home.
Your server will meet you at the buffet and ask what you want: your selections usually include white or brown rice, steamed vegetables, steamed cabbage, and macaroni and cheese – and that’s just for starters. The real “meat” of the buffet could be any number of tasty items on the Paradise Island menu.
There’s jerk pork, ox tails, jerk chicken, curry chicken, curry goat, escoveich fish – each one stewed to perfection and making it difficult for you to rush back to work once your lunch hour is over. You might want to sit there for a spell once you’ve devoured your meal, and perhaps sample a cup of the café’s Blue Mountain Coffee as you relax for a while. The meal is deliciously filling and you’ll be sorely tempted to go right back for seconds.
“Paradise Island Café’s mission is to serve healthy, nutritious and tasty meals,” the menu notes, “and to provide service that’s courteous and friendly.” They succeed on both counts, because this is a place for great Jamaican food, and it is a very easygoing and pleasant staff.
Paradise Island Café also has a few tables outside for those warm but not excessively hot days when you might want to try one of their smoothies (banana, mango, etc.) and watch the Amway crowd pile in.
If the Amway Center turns out to be the long term hit that city leaders expected it would be, let’s hope that everyone who rediscovers the pleasures to be found in downtown Orlando doesn’t miss out on Paradise Island Café. It’s been around for 26 years for a reason, and it truly deserves to be around for a very long time to come.
To learn more about the restaurant and its buffet, call 407-841-8937.
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