Sitting like an oasis on the north side of Lake Eola, 903 CitySide is all about location. On my first visit, I met a friend in the afternoon, and we enjoyed this outdoor eatery under the canopy of sun umbrellas and aged oak trees.
The first enterprise of owners Nick Massoni, Rick Sitzer and Jim Ellis makes use of the outdoors, too. Since 2003, 903 Mills Market has been housed in a quaint corner market just south of downtown near Lake Davis, where they dish up deli food for enjoyment at tables outside the upscaled convenience store.
When we sat down, an older woman with coral lipstick walked by, talking to her Yorkshire terrier, while a couple sporting tattoos passed, arguing arm in arm. We had scored prime people-watching territory. But the 903 CitySide menu was hard for me to follow. At first glance it seemed easy, with large headings announcing simple fare salads, sandwiches, wraps and burgers but I found myself losing focus as I ran down the jumbled lists of various ingredients. They all start running together.
There are 11 salads, all named after Orlando-area lakes, and my choice was based on which lake I like best. The Lake Davis ($6.50), a mix of spring greens flecked with pecans, cherry tomatoes and blue cheese, was colorfully bright and absolutely fresh. I chose raspberry vinaigrette, but with a change of dressing, these salads can suit the whims of individual tastes.
My Vidalia onion chicken wrap ($6.50) consisted of grilled chicken, veggies and Vidalia onion sauce hiding beneath a slightly gummy, tortilla-like sheath. My friend got one of the vegetarian dishes ($6.50), named after Lake Emerald: a sandwich on whole wheat, slathered in pesto mayonnaise and packed with lettuce, onion, red pepper and tomato.
On a meatier note, the pulled pork specialty ($6.50) was a mess of shredded pork on a toasted Cuban roll. The server proudly mentioned that 903 smokes the pork by hand, and although there was a satisfying mix of flavors, I can't say that smoke was one of them. The crunch of bread coupled with tender pork and peppery barbecue sauce was good, though. Side items are a mixed bag: The coleslaw is drenched in overly sweet, undersalted dressing. The potato salad was better, with seasoned potatoes in a light, creamy dressing. The pickles are stunning handmade crisps laced with briny garlic and fragrant dill, and they produce a tang that hits the roof of the mouth like fireworks.
Despite hearing of complaints of previous bad service, I found the experience to be fast and friendly, and the food was fine. But what I'll really be coming back for is the view and great people-watching.