Harvest swoon

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There appears to be some congenital defect preventing many local eateries from providing efficient service. When business is slow, employees act like customers are an imposition. How many times have you stood at a counter repeating your order because distracted staffers chat with each other instead of paying attention? When business booms, staffs scurry about haplessly like U.S. embassy employees an hour before the fall of Saigon.

What a treat, then, to find Season's Harvest providing attentive and efficient service despite a downtown lunch crowd that often stretches out the door. During my first visit, I encountered a mob packed around the shop's glass counter. Skeptical, I suggested to friends that we go elsewhere. The manager behind the counter picked up on our hesitation and immediately engaged us. "Hey, how ya doing? Come on in, we'll take care of you."

Pleased that this guy knew the first rule of managing a crowded business -- that is, greet every customer ASAP -- we entered and surveyed the blackboard menu. Somebody here obviously knows and likes food. A typical offering isn't limply described as "turkey and cheese" but enticingly labeled "smoked turkey and white Vermont cheddar." Sandwiches are accented with tasty additions like mangoes, green apples, black-bean corn salsa and pesto. A variety of breads are offered, including tortilla wraps.

True to his word, the manager took care of us, and division of labor behind the counter helped to fill our order quickly. I hate to admit it, but as so often happens when one finds a well-run Orlando business with the tiniest hint of sophistication, my first thoughts were, "Wow. Just like in a real city."

Most sandwiches are priced under $6 and include a choice of side salad (my faves being the delicious tomato, mozzarella and basil, closely followed by the tomato-cucumber). I've tried a number of sandwiches and have never encountered a loser. Among the best were the "Caribbean chicken wrap," featuring a lightly seasoned chicken breast topped with mangoes and island-citrus sour-cream based spread, the "pesto chicken wrap" with pesto-chèvre spread, and the hearty "Virginia baked ham with Swiss" on marble rye.

I was not as knocked out by the entree salads, which relied on a mound of lettuce instead of the toppings customers truly seek. Also, anyone craving sandwiches of the hulking, overstuffed variety a la Toojay's Deli will not be overwhelmed by Season's Harvest. Fillings are satisfying but not overly generous.

Season's Harvest focuses on freshness and creative preparation. Combine that with fast and engaging service, and you have good reasons to visit often.

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