Heading to Orlando's rock 'n' roll eatery can easily throw a hungry visitor to Universal's CityWalk into theme-cuisine overload.
Around the bend that leads to the entrance to Universal Studios Florida and just past the entrance to Blue Man Group, Orlando's Hard Rock Cafe — the largest in the chain — strikes a Vogue-worthy pose if you frame your hands just right.
The multilevel building looks like the Coliseum of rock and houses more pieces of rock 'n' roll memorabilia than any other location.
And you might think heading there for a quick lunch is out of the question. The logistics and expense of the theme park's parking garage and the long walk could eat up most of a lunch hour. But with free valet parking 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday through Thursday, you can have lunch with a side of Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi, Tom Pettyand Dave Grohl in no time. You could call ahead or go online for priority seating, but if you make it an early lunch, chances are good you will walk right in.
Hard Rock International executive chef Jason Gronlund recently debuted eight menu items at Hard Rock Cafes across the nation.
It was a good excuse to head over to Universal's CityWalk and check things out. (OK, and perhaps I needed a little Tom Petty fix after his fab concert at the Amway Center. A girl has got to eat and rock.)
The goat cheese chicken salad sandwich ($12.95) had a delicate celery and green onion crunch and appealing bright flavor notes from the citrusy mayo dressing seasoned with Dijon mustard and dill. Dried cranberries added color and sweetness to the nicely textured poached chicken mix. My only quibble was the side salad: Fresh, but nothing-to-sing-about.
The Texan smokehouse chicken sandwich ($12.95) was slathered in chipotle and hickory barbecue sauce and draped with cheddar cheese and crunchy fried onions. It also comes with fried jalapeno rounds. I asked for them on the side and my dining companions enjoyed them — and their punch.
The South Carolina smokehouse pulled pork sandwich ($12.95) had the requisite Eastern Seaboard tang from a mustard-based barbecue sauce and generous mound of creamy coleslaw between the buns. The warm fried onions that came with this sandwich were lightly dusted with cayenne.
Before we left, we played with the interactive wall near the bar. Touch an icon and loads of trivia and information pop up on subjects such as guitars and apparel. There are no instructions, but it's an intuitive addition that was new to us.
And, yes, the free valet parking at lunch rocks.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5498. Follow Heather McPherson on Twitter: @OS_thedish
Hard Rock Cafe
Where: CityWalk, 6050 Universal Blvd., Orlando (free valet parking 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Thursday; garage $15 and up — $5 from 6-10 p.m., free after 10 p.m., Florida residents free after 6 p.m.)
When: 11 a.m.-midnight daily
How much: $12.75-$24.95
Beverages: Full bar
Wines by the glass: From $6.65
Extras: Children's menu, good for groups, rock 'n' roll memorabilia, private dining, separate lounge, specialty cocktails, priority seating requests can be made up to 30 days in advance
Noise level: Rocking
Wheelchair access: Easy
Credit: All major
Diningon a budget
Many menu options are less than $15.