My last attempt at finding a local restaurant in Ocala, Florida, was a disaster. Passing several national chains I made my way along SW College Road in search of the Royal Orchid. I heard it had some very good food and hoped the praise was warranted. Driving towards Ocala the restaurant was on the left in a small shopping plaza. I turned in and parked a short distance away. Grey concrete textured brick from the 1980s fronted the strip of stores and restaurants. A corrugated red metal roof ran the length of the building. On top, a medium-sized rectangular sign stood above Royal Orchid’s front door.
It was a little before noon and the air hung heavy with humidity. I opened the car door and made my way towards the restaurant. Opening the front door the dimly lit interior slowly revealed itself. To the left was a raised area with a low slung table and pillows to sit on. Along the left side of the restaurant were a series of booths running towards the back. Wooden paneling flanked the booths and they all sat under a decorative canopy. Two lines of glass-topped tables filled the rest of the area. At the back stood a small hut where a cash register was located.
I was seated at a small table for two on the right side of the restaurant. The table was decorated with a richly colored garnet and gold table cloth depicting a dragon boat. On top was a piece of tempered glass. Woven place mats trimmed in moss green, a water glass with a cloth napkin, and a drinks menu completed the table. Everything had been arranged with care and was neatly organized.
The waiter filled my water glass and asked for my order. I decided to order the Gai Pad Prig which was advertised as chicken with vegetables and Thai chilies. The waiter asked how hot I wanted it, and I opted for medium. He nodded and slipped back into the kitchen. A few moments later a second waiter appeared with a small blue and white rectangular plate. On the left was a spring roll, on the right was a bowl of chicken and rice soup and next to it was a small bowl of sweet dipping sauce. The soup consisted of a chicken broth with chopped green onions, rice, and pieces of chicken at the bottom. Even though it was brutally hot outside the soup was satisfying. The spring roll was crisps on the outside and filled with a mixture of vegetables. I enjoyed dipping it in the sweet sauce.
The appetizer was cleared and a few moments later my entree appeared. The Gah Pad Prig was served on blue and white plate shaped like a swan. The chicken and vegetables were on the left and a large scoop of white rice anchored the right side of the plate. I grabbed my chop sticks and picked up a piece of chicken. It was thinly sliced, well cooked, and avoided the rubbery texture that appears when chicken is overcooked. The vegetables were cooked but not into submission. The entire dish had a moderate amount of heat that slowly dissipated between each bite. It was not overpowering and allowed me to enjoy my lunch without turning into a puddle. Another unexpected delight was a plate of three small crescent shaped doughnuts (Pa Thong Ko). They were drizzled with a sweet sauce and were a nice ending to my meal. The entire bill with tip came in a shade over $10.00.
I really enjoyed lunch at the Royal Orchid. The restaurant was clean and service was attentive without being overbearing. They were also quick and I was back on the road in a little over 30 minutes. I am happy I ventured off I-75 and look forward to stopping in again the next time I am in Ocala.
Sweet Tea & Bourbon’s Rating: