Can a deli and salad bar restaurant tell us something about how we live today? At Jason's Deli, the answer is definitely yes. (Photo by Michael Freeman).
ORLANDO – Jason’s Deli at the Colonial Market Place can be a busy place around lunchtime, but there’s an interesting twist to those long lines that always strike me as a bit intimidating when I first walk in the door.
Jason’s Deli, the cafeteria and deli-style restaurant on Colonial Drive in Orlando, actually has two lines, for one take-out orders, and the other for those dining in-house. On a recent afternoon I met a friend there for lunch, struggled to find a parking space in a fairly massive shopping plaza, and then opened the door to Jason’s … only to find a line the size of a few small cities waiting to place an order.
Since the lunch “hour” gets that title because it is, in theory, only supposed to be an hour or so, I felt a tinge of anxiety. My task seemed daunting. Wouldn’t it take at least an hour to get to the counter and place my order, I wondered? Then I suggested to my friend that we consider going someplace less crowded.
He shrugged. “This line will move fast,” he said.
And he was right. It only took a couple of minutes for the people ahead of me to whisk through the line, and suddenly it was my turn. I’ve blinked faster than that.
When we first walked in, most of the tables were taken. We’ll never get a table, I cringed. But I was wrong on that count, too. People place their order, take a tray and a clean plate, hit the salad bar, grab a table, eat, and leave. It’s such a speedy process altogether that in some ways Jason’s Deli is the perfect embodiment of today’s fast-paced culture.
In the competitive world of salad bar dining, Jason’s Deli has plenty to tempt the crowds. “Try our new egg salad with celery and green onions!” the blackboard notes, while favorites like a Reuben THE Great sandwich, Smokey Jack Panini, Spinach Veggie Wrap or Zucchini Garden Wrap could tempt you away from the salad bar.
Maybe that task will fall on the Pollo Mexicano potatoes topped with chicken breast, cheddar, sour cream and Southwest spices – or simply the Plain Jane potato. You might also be tempted by the Decadent Dessert Bars like cream cheese pecan, chocolate caramel, and white chocolate raspberry.
Those are all good options in a city where salad buffets are plentiful, and let’s be honest, there’s only so much variety or originality to offer at the salad bar itself, because mostly it offers … salad. Lettuce, vegetables, fruit, some pasta, olives, etc. That’s why the deli in Jason’s Deli offers greater amounts of variety, like the Chicken Alfredo, Club Royale on a toasted croissant, or Ham and Hard Salami Muffaletta.
But a documentary crew looking to capture the ways in which our society operates today could do far worse than filming inside Jason’s Deli for a week. It says a lot, I think, about our current sense of priorities.
In addition to offering healthy eating at that salad bar – nutritionists worried about a rising obesity rate, rejoice at all that salad being consumed! – it also demonstrates that when it comes to dining, more and more people want to get in – and out – of a restaurant as quickly as possible. Salad bar restaurants eliminate the need to wait for a waitress to come over to the table, take your order, then deliver your drinks, then deliver your appetizers, then deliver your meal …. a fine process after work, during a leisurely dinner, but with the office calling you back by 1 o’clock, a Jason’s Deli is the make-it-quick alternative to, say, hitting a fast food drive through – and it’s a lot healthier for you than burger and fries.
Glancing around at Jason’s Deli, I notice the vast majority of people in there around lunchtime are in their 20s and 30s – the young urban professional work crowd. I compare that to another, very different restaurant I’ve been to for lunch, a Spanish place on U.S. 17/92 in Winter Park called El Bodegon. It’s a wonderful spot with excellent Spanish meals, and in the tradition of fine European dining, the staff takes their time serving you. Whenever I’ve gone there, it’s never packed around lunch time, and the crowd is considerably older – retirees, perhaps, or the self-employed who don’t have to rush back to the office within the hour.
Like many others, I often feel the need to make it fast when I eat out for lunch – too much work is piled up on my desk to dine at a relaxed pace. Jason Deli’s seems like it was made for people like me who want that fast pace.
The fact that their food is quite good, and healthy, is a definite bonus.
To learn more about Jason’s, call 407-898-9806.

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