This is when reality television really bites.
But shhhh! It really hasn't happened until the reality show airs in March. That's the way the reality show universe works. Until two days of filming is edited and given an airdate, the experience exists in a surreal waiting room. It's the dining room version of "don't ask, don't tell."
Even Soup to Nuts owner Sharon Whitmore can't talk about the makeover because her contract with the network prohibits her from discussing details of the show.
But the doors are open at Soup to Nuts and we foodies are a curious lot by nature. Regulars and Food Network fans have been stopping by since the big reveal — for taping — on Dec. 12. The eatery reopened to the public on Dec. 13.
When I first heard Irvine was headed to this particular restaurant, this former Midwesterner cringed.
"If he takes off the pork tenderloin sandwich," I thought to myself. "I am going to kill him."
Just kidding. Have you seen the guy? Irvine is an imposing figure who seems to have one foot in the kitchen and one foot on the stage of a body-building contest.
The good news: The pork tenderloin sandwich ($7.49) is still on the menu and as good as ever. The breaded behemoth, similar to wiener schnitzel, was served on a warm bun slightly toasted with butter and dressed with crisp iceberg, sliced tomato and mayo.
Also still available is the home-style meatloaf ($7.99) with gravy. At Soup to Nuts the meatloaf has a loose texture that allows it to meld nicely into the mashed potatoes and rich brown sauce. The comfort universe could have tilted if this dish had disappeared.
At the host stand was a menu of four specials "from our Robert Irvine menu": Disco fries ($5), fried green tomatoes ($7), buffalo shrimp ($8) and a salmon burger ($8). You can see the full Irvine menu at souptonutsdiner.com.
The tomato appetizer was a refreshing turn on a Southern staple. Instead of a creamy remoulade sauce, the stack of four crisp rounds was deftly drizzled in balsamic vinaigrette and sprinkled with feta.
Come March I'll return to see what Irvine inspirations are integrated into the menu. For now, at least, the pork tenderloin sandwich is safe.
The makeover, which had a $10,000 budget and took 48 hours, involved decor as well. The eatery, which for years looked like a sloppy party store from the '50s and '60s, now has a hip, retro diner feel. The diner still has a '50s vibe, but gone are the images of Elvis and assorted Coca-Cola memorabilia. In their place are simple wall treatments and updated light fixtures.
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Soup to Nuts Diner
Where: 381 E. Burleigh Blvd. (U.S. Highway 441), Tavares (in the Village Marketplace behind Twistee Treat)