Review: O'naturals

ORLANDO | Friday, February 22, 2008

he concept, 'organic fast food,' might sound odd, but the results are delicious

Well, here's a place that just might be a contradiction in terms: a fast-food restaurant that serves natural and organic items.

It's called O'Naturals, which should not be confused with au naturel. Consider yourself warned that you may not remove your clothing; learn from my mistake.

Even more unlikely than a fast-fooder serving healthful food is one that is part of a franchise, albeit a nascent and as yet very small one. But if the quality of the food I sampled at the Orlando O'Naturals is any indication -- and if there is any justice in the world -- there will be a lot more of these places around soon.

Now don't confuse natural food with vegetarian. This place serves plenty of beef, chicken and fish items. The difference is that the meats served here were naturally raised and steroid-free. I can just see this place becoming the official fast-food restaurant of Major League Baseball.

And don't confuse natural with wimpy. The sandwiches I had were big, jampacked with meat and other goodies.

I liked the chicken & roots, which had naturally raised grilled chicken on delicious flatbread made with unbleached and unbromated flour with germ, honey, sea salt, olive oil and yeast. Bromated flour is flour with potassium bromate, a maturing agent and possible carcinogen, added to promote the development of gluten in dough. It's banned in much of the world but still available in the United States. The germ is nothing to be concerned about. And the bread, it should be noted, is wonderful, cooked in a brick oven The sandwich also had pesto, brie and big batons of root veggies, most notably beets and carrots. It was a very good sandwich, but I think I preferred the wrangler.

The wrangler featured roasted free-range, grass-fed, organic beef with rosemary, red onions, Swiss cheese, leafy lettuce, tomato and, if my sinuses aren't mistaken, horseradish. The tomato was rather anemic looking, proving that it, too, was probably organically grown.

The O'do O'Nats features an array of soups that are designated to days of the week. On a Wednesday visit, I had the white bean and escarole, with so much beany flavor and even spicing I didn't mind that there was no escarole in the bowl.

On a Thursday visit, I had one of the premium soups, a Maryland crab, with a spicy tomato broth and shredded crabmeat.

I was intrigued by the Asian noodle selections and tried the one called five spice, from China. It had big, thick udon noodles tossed with snow peas and zucchini. Unfortunately, one of the five spices was more dominant than the others, and the noodles had a sharp taste.

I authorized the addition of tofu, a $2 surcharge, but it didn't add much to the dish. Then again, I rarely expect tofu to add anything to any dish.

What was impressive about the noodle dish was that after I had stepped up to the counter and given my order to the young woman behind it, she turned and placed a skillet on a hot plate and set about to assembling the dish from scratch. No steam-table serving here. No fryers or microwave ovens, either.

It's that sort of made-to-order policy that keeps this from becoming fast fast food. On one visit, the line was backed up and just getting to the front to place an order took an unusually long time. But the sandwich assemblers work fast enough, and I'm willing to wait a few extra minutes for food this good.

I wonder if it's possible to have slow food fast food? O'Naturals is located in a former bank building and shares the space with a coffee shop and an ice-cream vendor. It's sort of like a mini food court. There is plenty of seating at various tables in what I assume was the bank lobby. The high, sloping ceiling keeps the place from feeling cozy, but the fire from the bread oven adds a bit of warmth.

O'Naturals is at 44 E. Central Blvd., Orlando. The hours are 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m Saturday and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday. Sandwiches range from $5.89 to $7.69; organic beer and wines are available; and credit cards are accepted. The phone number is 407-872-7422.

While O'Naturals is in a converted bank building, we find a former restaurant space will be converted into a bank. Limoncello, which for many years was Petit Four Bakery and Cafe, will soon serve a different kind of dough.

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44 Exchange St., #305
Portland, ME

Phone: (207)874-4911
Fax: (207)874-6645

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