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BEEFY QUEEN
Get your fill of meat at this campy diner

Gregg Matthews
NO POPPERS: But plenty of other finger food

Years after the landmark San Francisco diner shut its queer-friendly doors at the turn of millennium, Hamburger Mary’s has re-emerged in cities across the country, finding new life through franchising, while continuing to market its fare to “open-minded people.” And given Orlando’s rep as a gay-friendly hamlet, setting up shop in the heart of Church Street seems like a perfect fit for this ol’ burger queen. Sure, it’s a campy retread of a ’50s-style diner, and the swaths of bright turquoise, hot pinks and lime greens make you feel like you’re dining inside an acid-drenched Beatles flick directed by Paul Lynde, but at no point can you say the place is dull. Not when a waiter shoots a bit of sass your way, or when their plasma screens air videos from Nu Shooz followed by Ladytron; it all serves to enhance the mood, as does the lively cocktail scene. (Hamburger Mary’s is fully licensed.) Still, diners with toddlers and hetero carnivores will feel as welcome here as the nanciest of patrons – while diversity is key to Mary’s clientele, her menu is unquestionably all-American.

A variety of finger foods, comfort staples and (what else?) burgers dominate the offerings here – nothing particularly fab, but all sufficiently satisfying. Mary-mac & cheese balls ($7.95) were more triangles than orbs, but addictive little buggers nonetheless. In keeping with the kitsch, the menu is replete with cutesy names – this particular “appeteazer” came with a tangy “Mary-nara” sauce. Crispy caramel chicken salad ($5.95) will “leaf you green” (my words, not theirs). The caramel drizzle on the fried chicken was sweet enough, but lathering the mixed greens in ranch dressing created a clash as resounding as Charles Nelson Reilly’s wardrobe.

Ranch dressing reared its creamy head once again in the “spicy Mary” burger ($8.95), this time meshing well with the melted jack cheese, jalapeños and mojo sauce. The lower bun proved too weak to sustain the gloppy half-pound Angus beef patty; the top bun, flecked with sesame seeds, was fabulously poofy, however. The side of seasoned fries was better than average, and much better than the runny mashed potatoes. Mary’s meaty meatloaf ($10.50) can be had as an entree or as a sandwich ($7.95), and if you’re a meatloaf lover, you’ll be pleased with the slabs of turkey-beef mix. I chose the latter, with a side of onion rings ($4.95) that came with a ramekin of that ubiquitous ranch dressing, this time spiked with chipotle that was just plain awful.

Desserts here are caloric juggernauts. If you’re the type to test your ticker at meal’s end, fried Twinkies ($5) will vitrify your ventricles; one bite was certainly enough for me. An enormously dense square of banana-nut bread pudding ($5) had plenty of hot nuts, but it was big enough to share among the group. Mary Tyler S’mores ($6.95), roasted tableside, will turn your world on with a gooey, sticky smile.

If, at any point during your meal, you feel the room resonate, chances are the source is a passing train, though a parade of bellowing drag queens isn’t out of the question. (Should it be a choo-choo, $3 tequila shots will be tendered, a la PR’s Taco Palace.) In keeping with the restaurant’s flamboyance, the campy coup de grâce arrives in the form of a red patent-leather shoe containing the check, allowing diners, gay or straight, a chance to foot the bill in style.

dining@orlandoweekly.com
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