Archive For The “Florida Foodie Finds” Category
Captiva Island: A Compact Mass of Crazy Color
The first time I drove by the Bubble Room on Captiva Island, I knew I would have to try it. The bold colors and outrageously eccentric exterior of this restaurant can’t be missed from the highway, and immediately piques your interest. In fact, the quirky conglomerate of outdoor decorations scream for your attention. I mean, how often do you see year-round Christmas decorations mixed with vintage vehicles, rainbow-colored bridges and awnings, antique soda signs from yesteryear, gnomes guarding the gate, and Bo-Bo’s gorilla cage all mixed together in perfect harmony? (And our brains were trained to believe those tiny old men with a beard and pointed hat only existed in children’s stories!)
Hubby and I were vacationing at one of our favorite destinations, sensational Sanibel Island, and had decided to take the scenic drive up to Captiva Island, a teeny-tiny sliver of land nestled between Florida’s southwest coast and the Gulf of Mexico. It didn’t take long to realize this whole island has a slightly off-kilter feel. [Maybe magical is a better word.] Although very close neighbors, Captiva has a very different atmosphere than Sanibel…actually, different from most other Florida towns — somewhat amusingly unconventional really. The Bubble Room was not the only bizarre-looking structure on Captiva. Much of Captiva was like one of those crazy colorful cupcakes you see at toddler birthday parties. The island is definitely one of those highly “instagrammable” spots in America! Captiva Island can thank the Bubble Room for all that crazy color, as it was one of the first structures to introduce the bright and cheerful colors now widely used on the island.
The Bubble Room on Captiva Island — A Totally Unique Restaurant Experience
The Bubble Room is located at 15001 Captiva Drive, Captiva Island, Florida, and is an island institution since 1979. When restaurants stick around for four decades, you know they’re doing something right! The Bubble Room has received the prestigious Trip Advisor “Certificate of Excellence” designation, and has been featured on The Food Network’s “Craziest Restaurants in America.” The Bubble Room restaurant also appears in some of those “Best Of” lists, like “The Best of Weird Florida” and “Trippy Stuff.” When your name is associated with adjectives like crazy and weird and trippy, you know the restaurant is going to be a delicious holiday from the ordinary! At the Bubble Room, lunch is served from 11:30-3:00, and dinner from 4:30-9:00, seven days a week.
Lunch at the Bubble Room
Hubby and I made it just in time to have a late lunch at the Bubble Room. Since we were combining lunch and dinner, we wanted something substantial. We were pleased to see the menu included a nice variety of luncheon entrees, in addition to soup, salad, and sandwich choices. The appetizers sounded awesome as well, but we wanted to save room for their specialty, the homemade cakes.
Some of the original menu items from 1979 are still offered, like the Socra Cheese, Bubble Bread, Carolina Moons, Tarzan, Eddie Fisherman, and some of the delicious oversized desserts.
I had the “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” entree — a fillet of fresh salmon, grilled and brushed with a blend of honey, soy, and pineapple. It was served with Caribbean rice and black beans. Hubby had the “Jumpin’ Jive” entree — a grilled fresh fillet of grouper, topped with a spicy tropical fruit salsa and served with Caribbean rice and black beans. The quality of both seafood entrees were outstanding, and tasted as if the fish had just come off the boat.
At the end of our meal, our “bubble scout” (servers wear scout uniforms) presented the much anticipated dessert tray. Oh my goodness! Even if you must get a to-go container, these decadent sweet treats are not to be missed. With ten different dessert selections, it was hard choosing just two. I decided on the famous and hugely popular Orange Crunch Cake, and hubby had the Tropical Breeze Cake. Be forewarned: the cakes are humongous! Plenty big enough for sharing, but I recommend each person getting their own and taking the leftovers home. Since we were there for lunch, unfortunately we didn’t get to sample the Bubble Room’s popular Bubble Bread and Cinnamon Buns that are brought right out to the table during dinner hours. I hear they are to-die-for — reason enough for a return visit!
TIP: I know you’re going to want the Orange Crunch Cake recipe, so I searched online for a copycat recipe. Here’s a great one from Genius Kitchen website that gets rave reviews. This link will take you right to the Bubble Room Orange Crunch Cake recipe. I loved this cake, but apparently I’m not alone, as it has developed quite a cult following. Don’t you love it when you can get your favorite restaurant recipes at home?
|Dolphin Cruise from The Florida Aquarium in Tampa Bay – $37.49
The Florida Aquarium in Tampa Bay is offering cruises aboard a 72-foot, 130-passenger catamaran, officially named Bay Spirit II. The Aquarium has partnered with the Tampa Port Authority in order to bring this important project to life. Also included is admission to the Florida Aquarium.
The Bubble Room’s Quirky Decor
The decor inside the Bubble Room is unlike anything I’ve experienced. I don’t normally dine where Christmas, nostalgia, antiques, and Hollywood are all rolled into one — a unique vibe, to say the least. There are tons of cool memorabilia throughout, in multiple rooms on three floors, including on the ceilings. In fact, there isn’t a square foot in the Bubble Room that doesn’t have some kind of vintage decor. There are Hollywood movie posters, bubble lights, planes, moving trains, antique toys from the 30s & 40s, clowns, and the iconic Christmas displays. They even have an original Christmas scene from Macy’s Department Store. Being in the Bubble Room is kind of like taking a trip down memory lane. Even the tables in the restaurant are shadow box style with nostalgic items to view while eating. The background music consists of old tunes composed in the 20s, 30s, & 40s. In its early years, the Bubble Room was popular with many visiting stars of cinema, hence the introduction of Hollywood posters with some of our idols from the big screen.
The Bubble Room Gift Emporium
Another cool thing about the Bubble Room is the on-site Gift Emporium. It’s worth a peek either before or after your meal. You can pick up a Bubble Room T-shirt, coffee mug, can koozie, etched beer glass, Bubble Room playing cards, Christmas ornaments, and of coarse those infamous bubble lights from yesteryear! In addition to the Bubble Room-themed gifts, they have some inexpensive jewelry. I picked up two nice bracelets, both under $10. If you visited the restaurant and missed the opportunity to get a special momento, you can order from the Bubble Room Emporium’s online store here.
The Bubble Room — An Iconic Captiva Island Landmark
I highly recommend a visit to the Bubble Room if you’re passing through the beaches of Fort Myers, Sanibel, or Captiva. You gotta go at least once. No, there isn’t a water view at the Bubble Room, but there is plenty to look at while you dine. If you find yourself in need of some Christmas cheer, head out to this colorful restaurant that celebrates the holiday season 365 days a year. Yeah, it’s a little over-the-top with the kitschy decor, but the weirdness is matched with indulgent eats like creative fresh seafood and steak entrees, mouth-watering appetizers, garlic and cheese smothered Bubble Bread, and massive slices of cake.
Your southwest Gulf Coast Florida vacation isn’t complete without visiting this treasure trove of nostalgia with a serving of fantastic food and fun on the side!
TIP: Interested in other fun things to do while visiting the beaches of Fort Myers, Sanibel Island, or Captiva? Check out this popular article on FloridaFunAndFork: “Sanibel Island Things To Do And Recommended Day Trips!”
***Have a suggestion for another fun and fantastic eatery on the islands of Florida’s Southwest Gulf Coast? Our readers would love to hear about it! Please leave a reply in the “comment” box below!
Epcot Festival of the Arts Premier
Epcot has a brand new festival. It’s called the Epcot International Festival of the Arts. The inaugural event runs from January 13 – February 20, Fridays through Mondays only. This first-ever celebration is the result of mixing visual, culinary, and performing arts inspired by cultures from all over the world. Anytime you introduce something new, there’s always room for improvement. Disney knows that better than any other company out there. It’s a given that future Festival of the Arts will be bigger and better than this initial one, but honestly, they set the bar pretty high — higher than my expectations.
Initially, I thought they probably just came up with a concept to fill in the low-attendance time period between the holidays and the beginning of the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival (see photos of the 2016 Epcot Flower and Garden Festival here). I was convinced it was simply Disney flexing their master-marketing muscles; a month-long money-making scheme in the middle of the off-season. I was wrong!
Color and Creativity Everywhere!
For a moment, upon entering the theme park, I thought I was at the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival. On display at the main entrance was a sea of sensational color — gorgeous fuchsia and purple blooms. It looked like someone had taken gallons of brightly colored paint and splattered them everywhere; eye catching, to say the least. This spectacular burst of color set the stage for what was to come at the Festival of the Arts; I’m sure it was strategic.
Epcot Living Statues
After leaving the impressive picturesque area just inside the front gate (probably the best “selfie” spot in the entire park), I couldn’t wait to encounter the next “wow” moment at the Festival of the Arts. I didn’t have to wait long. There was live entertainment at the Fountain View Stage and Plaza in Future World. Well, maybe “live” isn’t the best word to describe it. There were three different life-size cast figures expertly sculpted; one in silver, the next in gold, and the third in a bronze material. A large crowd had gathered around the human representations, so of course I had to investigate the reason for their popularity. Turns out the statuaries were alive and breathing. Well, I never seen them blink or utter a word, but I know real blood was running through their veins because I did see them move at times.
Long lines had formed by families who watched in awe as the statues came to life. Sporadically they would interact with guests posing for photos. Every now and then the calculated moves were downright hilarious. The living statues brought back fond memories of the ones that used to be stationed around the France Pavilion many years ago. The death of Epcot’s living statues was a sad day for me, so imagine my joy to witness their resurrection at the Festival of the Arts.
NOTE… The entertainment in this area changes throughout the day. I got to see the remarkable living statues, but you may see a vocal ensemble singing American pop tunes, a festive marching band, a splendid jazz quartet, or a lively choral performance by some of Central Florida’s finest high schools and universities.
Galleries Throughout the Park
As I walked away from the living statues, I couldn’t help but think, “How in the world do they do that?” Some of these street artists pose as statues for hours at a time. Incredible concentration and focus!
Well, I had only been inside the Festival of the Arts for less than half an hour, but I was already loving it. The immense amount of creative gifts and talents in the world never ceases to amaze me. My next stop was one of the Art Galleries spread throughout the park at the Odyssey Festival Showplace in Future World East. On display here was the work of Mary Blair, Herb Ryman, and some Disney Original Art. I’m under strict orders from hubby not to bring home any more artwork, so my willpower was getting quite a workout browsing the masterpieces on display. There was a variety of artistic styles, which made my window shopping even more enjoyable.
Food Studios at the International Festival of the Arts
Regardless of which Epcot festival you attend, it just wouldn’t be as memorable without the creative food offerings that are custom-made for each event; food items that aren’t available any other time of year. We were first introduced to food kitchens at Disney’s Food and Wine Festival, then food kiosks at International Flower and Garden Festival were added, and here they are again at the Festival of the Arts. Only this time, the food was waaaay more gourmet-ish! Each small plate was an edible work of art almost too beautiful to destroy, rivaling the presentation and flavors found in any 5-star restaurant. The prices ranged from $6 – $14, a bit hefty for just a few bites, but no regrets here. In all fairness, each one was quite labor intensive to put together. Watching the chefs work their mouth-watering magic made the delectable morsels even more wonderful. Hubby and I tried eight different gourmet treats; each was flat-out fantastic!
Meet the Artists!
Each weekend of the Epcot Festival of the Arts features different artists. A highlight of our visit was meeting the various creators. Every one of them shared unique facts and tidbits about their creative art skills. To me, the stories behind the art can be as incredible as the art itself! For example, we met Jeff Laibson who specializes in the art of music. Each musically inspired piece is full of rhythm, and emotionally evocative. You see, this artist is also a renowned composer; a musician who has performed all over the world with some very famous people. He later became a professor of music at the University of Miami. His artwork was absolutely amazing, and the conversation as warm as an old friendship.
Then there was Rodel Gonzalez. He’s got artistic DNA from his father and grandfather, who were artists. His artistry, like Jeff Laibson, also became evident in the field of music. At the age of 20 he founded “Side A” in the Philippines. He was the lead singer and the band’s most prolific songwriter. The band is still active today and is currently the longest-lived band in Manila.
When you attend the Festival of the Arts, don’t just scurry by the displays that are not your “style” — take a moment to engage the artist. I guarantee you will learn something!
What happens when you mix visual, culinary, and performing arts inspired by cultures from all around the world? You get a global masterpiece! You get the Epcot International Festival of the Arts! I believe the inaugural event was a success, at least in my book. I’m sure Disney has just laid the foundation of something awesome that will be built upon for many years to come. Kudos to “the Mouse” for producing a top-notch artistic production to fill the void between holiday happiness and those first blooms of spring at Epcot!
UPCOMING EPCOT FESTIVALS…
2018 Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival Dates: February 28 – May 28
Have you been to the inaugural Epcot International Festival of the Arts? Please share your experience with our readers. Or, perhaps you have a question about this premier event. Reply in the comment box below — I’ll try my best to answer it!
The Back Porch — A Unique Dining Experience
As a Florida resident living in Disney’s backyard (well, not literally, but a mere 30 minutes away!), I’m perpetually searching for off-the-beaten-path non-touristy eateries and attractions. Alas… I found a hidden little gem that many Central Florida residents don’t even know exists. The Back Porch restaurant is a one-of-a-kind, unusual dining experience. The concept is one I had previously never seen. I’ve had lunch there about a half-dozen times, and it never disappoints.
So, what makes The Back Porch so uniquely different from most other restaurants? The following Restaurant Review shows why it’s distinct and noteworthy.
The Back Porch — Along Florida’s Antique Trail
The Back Porch is located in The Barn Antiques and shopping complex in Lake Alfred, Florida. It’s in an area of Central Florida known as The Antique Trail whereby serious antique buffs spend 3-4 days making a loop from Lakeland to Winter Haven to Lake Alfred to Plant City and Lake Wales to find that one priceless treasure they hope The Antique Road Show will appraise exponentially higher than what they paid for it. (You know… the trash to treasure kinda thing!)
The Barn Antiques is a family owned business selling high-end antiques since 1969. But what began five decades ago as an antique store on a family ranch has grown into a magnet for shoppers. It’s now a sprawling complex of shops. Right next to the antiques store is The Stable Home Decor which sells moderate to high-end home furnishings and women’s accessories. On the opposite end is The Season’s Gift Shop, overflowing with holiday and seasonal decorations. Across from that is The Back Yard Garden Shop, an outdoor shopping experience under a canopy of native shade trees. All four shops and the restaurant have been managed and run by members of the Wales family for the past 48 years. (Here’s my article and photos of the four retail shops.) The Back Porch was created for a delicious break for hungry shoppers who tend to spend hours browsing the ever-changing jammed-packed shops in this complex.
The Back Porch — A Picnic Lunch
The unique thing about The Back Porch is that it’s a picnic-style lunch that’s mostly self-service. Here’s how it works…
- Upon entering, pick up a paper menu (photo above) and seat yourself
- Fill out your menu with the pencils provided on the table
- Put your name and table number on the little yellow sticky tab
- Take your menu to one of the registers to pay
- Help yourself to a soda, spiced raspberry tea, or coffee (beer & wine available on the deck)
- Your lunch is delivered in a quaint wooden picnic basket
Country Flare Meets Shabby Chic
I really like this place. Even when busy (which is most of the time), it’s relaxing. It has a comfortable atmosphere and the decor is a cross between country flare and shabby chic. The ambience, like the restaurant concept itself, is truly unique. There are large stained glass windows in the main dining room, and the table tops are hand painted with wild flowers by Jan Wales (this whole family is so darn creative and talented!). Off of the main dining room is a smaller private room that can be reserved for special events such as birthdays, showers, or a women’s luncheon. Another seating option is the wrap-around covered deck, called The Shady Deck. This is a great opportunity to enjoy the year-round warm Central Florida weather. The deck overlooks a beautiful nature pond and has its own outside entrance. The Shady Deck serves ice cream and refreshing beverages including beer, wine, frozen sangrias, frozen mimosas, frozen lemonade, and soda (with free refills).
Charming Spot for Inexpensive Casual American Eats
At The Back Porch you won’t find escargot, oysters Rockefeller, pub burgers, trendy flatbreads, creme brûlée or any other gourmet fare. Nope. This is good old fashioned American casual eats! Choices like creamy vegetable soup, potato salad, blue cheese slaw, chicken salad on a croissant, ham bar-b-cue, and Florida strawberry cream cake. And they always offer specials-of-the-day. The best value is to choose one item from each of four categories — soup, salad, sandwich, and dessert for $8.52, a good deal in which owner Drew Wales says there has not been a price increase in 7 years, even though the price of doing business has gone up considerably. If you have little tikes, they can have their own “Teddy Bear Picnic Basket” with at least 3 choices, all under five dollars.
Now typically, a four-course lunch would be a little much for the middle of the day, but not at The Back Porch. Portions are not huge, but I always leave comfortably satisfied. This is not the kind of lunch that will cause you to forfeit dinner, and I’ve never seen anyone asking for a doggie bag. You won’t feel stuffed and lethargic, just pleasantly full and energized for more shopping. Even men with larger appetites seem to enjoy the lunches here. As long as you realize it’s a lovely place for a “light” lunch, you won’t be disappointed. After all, it is a picnic-style lunch, not the likes of an Olive Garden with all-you-can-eat soup, salad and breadsticks. But that’s the beauty of The Back Porch!
Even though the food is simple, many of the items have a unique twist to them, like the Slaw for example, made with their own Blue Cheese Dressing (an excellent choice!). Everything is homemade, with recipes that have been in the Wales family since opening 45+ years ago. I also appreciate the seasonal options they incorporate into the menu. When I was there right before Christmas, I had the red velvet cake with red and green sprinkles for dessert. Quite yummy, and very festive looking! And, in keeping with the picnic theme, everything served in the individual wooden picnic baskets is eaten from disposable containers… just as if you were on a real picnic!
***TIP… It’s not unusual for The Back Porch to serve up to 500 meals a day, therefore, a late lunch between 1:30-2:00 seems to be less busy.
***TIP… The restrooms in The Back Porch also serve the rest of the shopping complex. As a result, there is typically a bit of a wait; plan accordingly. The good news: While you’re waiting feel free to browse the great selection of food items offered for sale. There are jams, sauces, dip mixes, soup mixes, etc. along with cute little sessional gift items.
The Back Porch… A Slice of “Old Florida!”
The Back Porch is a refreshing change of pace for locals looking to get away from the touristy hustle and bustle that is synonymous with Central Florida. I’m always amazed that despite being in the middle of nowhere, business is bustling here. Nevertheless, people are not in a hurry, no one is stepping on my toes, and any wait time is spent chatting with like-minded souls yearning for a slice of “Old Florida.” There are no billboards or other advertising means, simply word-of-mouth. But as they say, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it!”
The Back Porch — Directions and Hours
Like me, you may have driven near The Back Porch a thousand times with no idea it existed. It can be somewhat difficult to find unless someone tells you about it. Years ago, my girlfriend told me about this special little spot — and now, I’m passing my little secret on to you…
From Interstate 4
Take Exit 48, Hwy. 557, 3 miles South
From Hwy. 17/92 in Lake Alfred
At the intersection of Hwy. 17/92 and E. Pomelo follow signs to Interstate 4 on Hwy. 557 – 4 miles
Lunch served from 11 to 3, Tuesday though Saturday (closed Sundays and Mondays)
Have you been to The Back Porch restaurant for a picnic lunch? Please share your experience. Or, perhaps you have a little-known secret dining spot of your own. Our readers would love to hear about it. Simply post a comment in the reply box below!
Winter Park Walking Food Tour
Need a reprieve from the hustle and bustle of Central Florida’s touristy attractions? As a long-time Florida resident I’m always searching for non-touristy ways to take a theme park break. So, I was delighted when I came across the Winter Park Walking Food Tour. It combines one of my favorite things (food), in one of my favorite cities (Winter Park)!
This was not my first Food Tour gig. In fact, my very first Florida Food Tour was in sensational St. Augustine. A few years ago, as part of my 25th Wedding Anniversary trip, my hubby and I did the Vittles and Vino VIP Carriage Tour. It remains one of the highest rated Food Tours in North Florida, and with good reason. It’s a 3 hour food and wine tasting extravaganza via horse drawn carriage! On a scale of 1 to 10, it was a 12! Obviously, the Winter Park Food Tour had to be outstanding to measure up to that experience. So, was it? Here’s my review…
A Perfect Introduction to the History, Culture, & Architecture of Winter Park
Our tour began on picturesque Park Avenue. This famous street is well-known for its many unique specialty shops and beloved restaurants, most of which include a perfect-for-people-watching sidewalk cafe. That’s where we met our sweet tour guide, Rachael, and the other pleasant, like-minded people in our group.
***TIP… Since this is a walking Food Tour, you’ll want to wear comfortable shoes. For anyone with mobility challenges it’s important to know the Food Tour encompasses about 1.3 miles. It’s a fair amount of walking, but paced very well. It’s also a “rain or shine” event, so keep an eye on the weather forecast. An umbrella or rain gear may be in order during Florida’s rainy season.
Rachael allowed ample opportunity for each one of us to introduce ourselves. Some of us were locals, while others were out-of-town visitors to the Central Florida area. Rachael explained that interspersed throughout our 6 culinary stops would be interesting historical facts about Winter Park, its cultural heritage, and a glimpse of some amazing architectural building designs. (Awesome and amazing they were!) Even as a local, I didn’t realize Winter Park was so rich in history.
Mr. Loring Chase, who visited Florida in 1881, is accredited as Winter Park’s founder. He was a Chicago businessman who suffered from chronic bronchitis and was urged by his doctor to winter in a warm climate. Certainly, his pain was our gain! You’ll learn that this beautiful little town has gained quite a reputation as an art and literary community. Did you know that Winter Park houses the world’s largest collection of Tiffany glass? If time allows, you can visit the Morse Museum of American Art to see it. (You can read my review here.) On the Food Tour you’ll pass right by the museum. Your tour guide may also mention the beautiful sculptures at the Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens. (Here’s a review and photo tour of this incredible place!)
The Parkview — Our 1st Stop
Located at 136 S. Park Avenue, The Parkview is so much more than the advertised label of “Wine Bar.” The food was fantastic. They specialize in tapas-sized light bites, flatbreads, and crostini’s but also have a few entree items on the menu. We had the Buffalo Mozzarella Crostini. So good! It included Buffalo Mozzarella, Heirloom Tomatoes, Local Micro Basil, Balsamic Pearls, and Pesto. A few Micro Greens were also served on the side. It was my favorite food item on the Tour. The Parkview is also known for its boutique wines and craft beer but we were served a Mimosa Cocktail.
***TIP… For non-alcoholic drinkers like myself, all of our stops offered a non-alcoholic alternative beverage. Be sure to tell your tour guide beforehand, and they will arrange for a substitute with the vendors.
The Ancient Olive — An Introduction to Olive Oil Tasting
A short stroll from The Parkview was our second stop, The Ancient Olive. It’s located just off Park Avenue in one of Winter Park’s most picturesque settings called The Hidden Garden. This charming little courtyard is home to some very unique shops and several restaurants. The area has an entirely different feel from the high-energy vibe and distractions of Park Avenue. Genuinely peaceful; I love to linger by the soothing fountain. The atmosphere in this little hide-a-way is ideal for the incurable romanticist.
What a perfect place then for a new kind of tasting bar. No, it’s not wine or beer. This tasting room features more than 55 flavored extra virgin olive oils and balsamic vinegars. The oils are imported from Australia, Tunisia, Greece, Spain, and Italy. It was an epicurean adventure that I hadn’t embarked upon previously. Did you know there’s a proper technique for tasting olive oil? I didn’t. But much like wine tasting, olive oil tasting is a special skill. During our mini-workshop at The Ancient Olive I learned that it’s very much a sensory experience. Here’s my condensed version of it:
- Pour a little bit of olive oil into a small wineglass
- Cup the glass in one hand and cover it with the other to trap the aromas inside
- Hold it for a minute or two in order to warm it
- Swirl it, then stick your nose into the glass and take a good whiff of the aroma
- Take a generous sip of the oil, sucking air through the oil to coax more aromas out of it
- Close your mouth and breathe out through your nose
- Now swallow some, or all of the oil
- Expect it to be fruity, pungent, or bitter
- Repeat. The traditional palate cleanser between olive oils is water (plain or sparkling) and slices of Granny Smith apple
Our olive oil tasting was both fun and educational. Various specialty food samples were also provided — Spanish olives, French mustards, award-winning preserves, and dry-cured sausages. Afterwards, we had ample time to browse additional gourmet items in the shop. Hubby and I did a little Christmas shopping and picked up our bags after the Food Tour ended.
***Here’s a short 2-minute video clip of The Ancient Olive on their website.
Casa Feliz — Old World Elegance
Our next stop was a history break at 656 N. Park Ave. The Robert Bruce Barbour House, more affectionately known as Casa Feliz is a restored Spanish farmhouse designed by architect James Gamble Rogers II. This Historic Home Museum is open to the public during limited hours, but is more often used as a popular wedding ceremony and reception venue. With its old-world romantic charm, this is the perfect place for a true fairytale wedding. Ironically, one of the couple’s in our group had recently been wed there!
The Spice & Tea Exchange
Up next on the Winter Park Food Tour was The Spice & Tea Exchange located at 309 N. Park Ave. If you love exotic tea, spices, herbs, and unique flavors this is the place for you. Perhaps you’ve heard of this one-of-a-kind shopping experience, since the stores are franchised with 50+ nationwide. Florida has 13 locations.
Every now and then I like a little ‘comfort in a cup’ but I’m far from a tea aficionado. Since I rarely venture outside my comfort zone of Earl Grey or Chai, I didn’t approach this stop very enthusiastically. But, once again, it was an educational crash-course in the art of sipping and cooking with fine loose-leaf teas, spices, sea and mineral salts, and naturally flavored sugars. The good news, I learned, is that you don’t have to be a connoisseur of these oftentimes hard-to-find ingredients in order to cook with them. The staff was very friendly and quick to offer help, suggestions, or recipes.
We sampled Matcha Holiday Bark. It was outstanding! It’s a sweet and salty white chocolate bark with a slightly green color because of the Matcha tea. It was topped with Cypress White Sea Salt and Dried Cranberries. (Here’s the recipe.) Oh my, so good! But then came my biggest disappointment of the day… I couldn’t buy it! Nope. They only sell the ingredients, not the finished product. They offered the recipe card, but Christmas was fast approaching and there was no way I had time to make the bark. We also tasted a Pumpkin Spiced Soup which hubby didn’t like at all, and I thought it was just okay.
If you’re in need of a unique gift idea, especially for those who love to experiment in the kitchen, The Spice & Tea Exchange has a plethora of options. I picked up some pretty cool information here, but it was far from my favorite stop.
Braccia Pizzeria & Ristorante
Our culinary journey continued at Braccia Pizzeria & Ristorante. It’s located at 153 E. Morse Blvd., just a few steps off Park Avenue. The cuisine is kind of like a Brazil meets Italy thing. The pizzas at Braccia are authentic Brazilian, which are thin and crispy pies. The restaurant has a full menu, but only the pizza was included in our Food Tour. Our group was served 3 pizzas for the 12 of us. Initially, I thought that was somewhat of a small portion, but it turned out to be sufficient. Most of us were able to have 2 slices, thereby sampling 2 out of the 3 varieties. Since it’s not the traditional American version of pizza which tends to be heavier on the cheese and sauces sitting atop a lot more dough, this ultra-thin-crust style didn’t leave us with a ‘stuffed’ feeling. To me, it was almost like a flatbread with gourmet toppings.
Our pizzas were the Margherita, Arugula with Dried Tomato, and the Chicken with Catupiry (Catupiry is one of the most popular ‘soft cheese’ brands in Brazil). I tried the latter 2 flavors. I thought both were very good. Our group also had a glass of wine; red or white, it was their choice. I liked the atmosphere here. Braccia is a small unassuming little spot off the main drag, but I would definitely return. Since Park Avenue eateries tend to be more crowded, noisy, and expensive, Braccia is well worth a detour. The owners are well aware their location is not obvious to those strolling Park Avenue, so they usually have a representative standing on the corner of Park and Morse giving away pizza samples. The day we were there it was Brie with Apricot Pizza. I know, sounds more like dessert, right? It’s one of the highest priced on the menu — but it was surprisingly awesome! I’d order it in a heartbeat. I like the way they think outside of the box when it comes to pizza toppings. And really, to be a bone fide foodie, new experiences that broaden your culinary horizon are a requirement — not to mention we strongly dislike fussy eaters, (and most of our vacations revolve around food!).
***TIP… If you happen to be in Winter Park and just want dessert, Braccia is perfect. They have 3 sweet pizza choices; Banana with Cinnamon Pizza, Serenata de Amor Pizza (chocolate pizza), and Romeo and Juliet Pizza (white cheese and guava syrup). And, I’ve heard the Homemade Churros with Dulce de Leche dipping sauce are to die for!
Kilwins — Sweet in Every Sense Since 1947!
As with all progressive meals, we expect to have a sweet ending. Kilwins was the first of 2 dessert stops. It’s a franchised old-fashioned confectionery selling chocolates, ice cream, fudge, handmade sweets, and gift baskets. The location is 122 N. Park Avenue, which was precisely where our tour group originally met. From the moment I walked into the store my senses leaped with joy. I watched the handmade fudge being paddled to creamy perfection on a marble table, and the caramel apples and turtles in the dessert case were almost more than I could bear.
Our samples included 1 of their 32 flavors of ice cream and a piece of fudge. The ice cream was delicious, and while the fudge was tasty, it was a tad bit too soft and gooey for me (typically, I’m a fudge fanatic). I could tell by the very long lines that Kilwins is a popular Winter Park sweet spot. And, honestly, it’s almost impossible to walk by without going inside. You’ll catch a whiff of deliciousness a block away! Just follow your nose… it knows where to go! And don’t be shy about those “free samples,” the staff is just waiting for you to find a new favorite. Pricey? Sure, like most things on Park Avenue… but you’re worth it!
Winter Park Sidewalk Art in Central Park
As we journeyed to our final food stop, we took a leisurely stroll through Winter Park’s famous “Central Park.” It’s an 11-acre park with a gorgeous peacock fountain (with a tear-jerking inspirational story behind it) and rose garden — the crown jewel of all the parks in that town. Many seasonal events and festivals are held here throughout the year. Rachael stopped long enough to give us a few more historical tidbits. Afterwards, we got to enjoy the incredible artistic ability and creativity of some Winter Park Middle School students. Their sidewalk art was brilliant!
Our final stop on the Food Tour was at Peterbrooke Chocolatier located at 300 S. Park Avenue. Peterbrooke is a franchise locally owned and operated by a husband and wife team who were friendly and helpful. We received a tasting of gourmet Chocolate Covered Popcorn that was simply out-of-this-world yummy (it’s the #1 best seller). I just love the combination of sweet and salty flavors; so addictive. Did you know that Peterbrooke’s Chocolate Covered Popcorn was discovered by accident? (Here’s a CNBC article about the sweet accident.)
If your New Year’s resolution is to eat more chocolate, then Peterbrooke is the place for you! If not, we all need a gift idea from time to time, and, let’s be honest… chocolate is the one gift that never gets returned! I truly enjoyed browsing their creative chocolate selections. Like, for example, the Chocolate High Heeled Shoe Collection for the fashion diva with a shoe fetish who can’t stuff one more pair in her closet. (They’ll even make custom edible labels to put inside the shoe.) Ingenious. Or maybe you need a special guy-gift. Not a problem. How about Chocolate-covered Bacon?
Peterbrooke also has a large selection of gelato. Feel free to ask for a sample. The 20+ flavors looked so good, but by now my sweet tooth had been satisfied. There’s no question, this was a sweet ending to a delightful afternoon in Winter Park.
The Winter Park Walking Food Tour was a pleasurable, educational, and delicious way to spend an afternoon. Overall it was great, but not quite excellent. When compared to other food tours I have done, it was lacking enough “real” food. By that, I mean I would have liked to see more restaurants participate rather than the olive oil and spice tastings, which were more of a “gift shop” experience. Don’t get me wrong, I had fun sipping and sampling in some locally loved places, but comparably speaking it just wasn’t 5-star.
I paid a highly discounted rate of $67.99 for 2 people. Certainly, the Winter Park Food Tour was worth that amount. At the $100+ full retail price I may have been disappointed. There was an ample amount of food and drink, and most of us were comfortably full at the end of the tour. It’s a great option for couples wanting a daytime date, girlfriend get-a-way kind of thing to re-connect, or friends and family that are visiting. However, authentic foodies may be less-than-impressed. So, pretty much it comes down to your expectations. I recommend this tour if you can pay less than retail. Bon appetite!
Winter Park Food Tour — How to Make a Reservation
Like most things these days, the Winter Park Food Tour can be conveniently booked online. Simply go to OrlandoFoodTours.com and click “Pick a Tour” on the homepage. Then click “Buy Tickets Now” under the Winter Park Walking Food Tour section to view a calendar of available dates in any given month. The Food Tours are generally offered on Saturdays and Sundays at 11:15am. There is a 12 person maximum for each Tour. The reservation system will reveal any “Sold Out” dates as well as how many tickets are still available on each date. The price for Adults is $47.00 plus tax and a small processing fee.
***TIP… Being the financially responsible person that I am (hubby calls me frugal), I rarely purchase anything online without a coupon code. I bought tickets through the website “Living Social” which was having a fantastic Cyber Monday sale. It was almost a 35% discount! The popular “Groupon” website also offers discounts up to 20% off on the Food Tour. (Take advantage of the reduced prices — you’ll want to do some shopping at some of the great gift shops on the Tour.)
If you book online like I did, there’s absolutely nothing to print, and no physical tickets are needed. You’ll receive a digital ticket via email. Upon arrival, simply show the email confirmation from your cell phone, along with photo ID. The email also contains information about parking and gives the location where your group will meet. The entire reservation process could not have been easier!
Have you been on the Winter Park Walking Food Tour? What was your experience? Or, perhaps you can share the name of your favorite food tour. Our faithful foodie followers would love to know! Simply reply in the comment section below.
Welcome to the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival 2016 photo tour! Here, you’ll get a taste of what’s new, some oldies-but-goodies, what I liked, and what I loved! And, as we journey on this epicurean trip around the world, i’ll share a few helpful tips for your next visit to Epcot’s most popular annual event.
The theme for the 2016 Food & Wine Festival is ‘Taste Epcot.’ The front entrance to Epcot nicely displays the theme, and it’s the perfect back-drop for a group or family photo to begin your day. With a little patience, Disney employees are more than happy to photograph the moment for you, but be prepared to wait in line during the busiest hours.
Although the main attraction of the Food and Wine Festival is, of course, the food — let your stomach growl long enough to slow down and enjoy stunning views of fabulous flora all decked out in their finest fall colors. Sure, they’re not as spectacular as the springtime Flower and Garden Festival displays, but definitely worth a look.
Another worthwhile diversion is a quick stop at Club Cool. If you entered Epcot through the main front gates, you have to pass by it anyway enroute to World Showcase where most of the Festival food kiosks are located. Inside is a gift shop featuring pretty cool Coca-Cola-branded merchandise, along with a FREE (I know, I know, the words free and Disney are rarely used together) tasting of soft drinks from around the world. There are 8 different cola flavors found in places like Greece, Thailand, Japan, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Peru, Brazil… and my favorite, Italy. The Italian cola is called Beverly, and it’s like drinking a non-alcoholic aperitif before dinner to stimulate the appetite. It’s actually a traditional part of Italian refreshment culture. Beverly has a very bitter flavor that people either love or hate. I love it… my hubby, well, not so much! The beverage machine is self-serve, so feel free to sample as many as you like. For me, this is a fantastic place to cool down from the Florida heat and wet my whistle at the same time. Try it, and let me know which is your favorite!
My second stop (right after Club Cool) was the most ingenious idea my husband has ever had. (After almost 40 years together, that’s saying a lot!) He recommended that we purchase a pre-paid Disney Gift Card. There are a number of Festival-themed Disney Gift Cards to choose from. We selected the mini-sized gift card (which is their most popular). The mini card features the Festival logo, and is attached to a wearable wristlet. You can choose the dollar amount to put on the card. We started with $100. There are no fees involved and it is accepted everywhere, no exceptions. Some of the other gift cards have limitations regarding usage. A Disney employee took the time to explain all options and any restrictions.
They’re available at select merchandise locations throughout Epcot, like the one pictured above where I purchased mine. The beauty of these cards?… well, they make paying a breeze! The average price for individual food and wine offerings at the kiosks are between $5-$7. It was always inconvenient for me to charge such a small amount at every stop, and the added stress of making sure I didn’t lose the card. With my new Disney Gift Card on my wrist, I simply show it, they scan it, and ta-dah… I’m ready to eat! No more fiddling in my pocket or purse. Such an easy way to pay!
With more than 30 delicious and exotic marketplaces available for the Food and Wine Festival, one must choose wisely, as it’s almost impossible to sample everything. Our first stop was at Farm Fresh. We almost passed this one up, as the offerings seemed a bit boring — nothing exotic. It was more like traditional ‘comfort food.’ But I’m so glad we tried it. Hubby had the Loaded Mac ‘n’ Cheese which was superb. Made with cheddar cheese, pepper bacon, green onions and peppers, it had a nice little ‘kick’ to it. Nothing boring here! The flavor combinations were excellent and left you wanting more.
I had the Chicken and Dumplings, made with stewed chicken, mushrooms, and spinach. Oh my goodness… I never thought I would be raving about such a simple dish. The sauce was extremely tasty, it was loaded with tender generously-sized chicken chucks, and the dumplings… well, I have never had dumplings so good. They were huge, and literally melt-in-your-mouth. I’m not kidding. I was raised on Pennsylvania Dutch cooking where dumplings are king, but these were the best I have ever had! I don’t know how they got them so light and moist. Typically they’re very dense and heavy. I had to resist the temptation to order another portion! My only complaint about this stop was that the food temperature on both items was barely warm.
Look at the size of those dumplings…
Next stop for us was Mexico. One of those ‘oldies-but-goodies’ for my husband is the Taco de Camaron. It’s a battered shrimp served over a flour tortilla with crispy purple cabbage and chipotle mayonnaise. He loves his food hot and spicy… very hot and spicy! This dish is far from hot and spicy, but flavorful nonetheless with the chipotle. He would have liked it kicked up a hundred notches on the heat index, but still enjoyed it, as always.
I usually pass on the Mexican offerings being we live in central Florida where Mexican food and restaurants abound. But I broke tradition and opted for the Barbacoa Enchilada. Unlike hubby, I don’t do well with spicy food. I love it, it just doesn’t like me. Upon ordering, I asked the Disney employee if there was anything spicy in it. She patiently described the ingredients, and offered me to return it if I didn’t like it. Wow… that’s the first time I was given a money-back guarantee during the umpteen times we’ve attended the Food and Wine Festival. Turned out to be very smart customer service — I loved it! The corn tortilla tasted just like the hand-made ones I had in Guatemala. The beef barbacoa was excellent, and the mole sauce was surprisingly outstanding. And yes, I stopped by to thank the young lady on my way to the trash can. This is one of those ‘repeat’ items i’ll have during my next visit to Epcot in a few weeks.
[***Question: Have you ever taken the time to thank a Disney employee for going above and beyond what was expected of them? Please share in the comment section at the end of this article. Many Disney employees earn little more than minimum wage, work outside in the heat, humidity and tropical downpours, and hear complaints all day long. Oftentimes we’re quick to complain and slow to compliment those in the hospitality industry. Make it a point to give ‘kudos’ when appropriate. We may never know the positive effect in that person’s life!]
By now you’ve heard that one of the most popular Epcot attractions has been totally re-done. SOARIN’ has become SOARIN’ Around The World. We were able to get a FastPass for it so we took a brief respite from lunch to try the new version. It was awesome! Hubby liked the old version better, but I respectfully disagree. It remains my favorite Epcot ride.
Since the heat index was over 100 degrees this September day, SOARIN’ was the perfect way to cool down and beat the heat for a while. But after our hang-gliding experience around the world, we were ready to indulge in our next round of tasty treats. The Wine & Dine Studio is one of the new marketplaces at the Festival this year. And what a great addition it was! Of everything I tried, it was here that I had my number one tasting food item — the seared scallop! I kinda cheated with this choice because I already knew from the pre-Festival tasting event with members of the Press that this was a favorite among the voters. Because of that, hubby and I both had the same thing, something we rarely do.
The seared scallop was served over a truffled celery root puree (something I’m not usually fond of) and brussels sprouts with wild mushrooms. Oh my goodness… heaven on earth! This dish is worthy to be served in any 5-star restaurant this side of Mars. You have to try it. ‘Nuff said!
Even if you pass up on the Wine & Dine Studio, stop by long enough to shoot a couple of photos. It’s a beautiful area as evidenced by the slideshow above. It’s also one of just a few areas that offer a place to sit your food and beverage down while eating. They have an ample amount of counter space under the trellis for that.
Our next stop was the Islands Of The Caribbean, another new entry this year. This area gets my vote for the most beautiful displays. Lush landscaping and small vignette-type displays feature islands like Haiti, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica (see slideshow below). They also have a couple of thatched-roof tiki huts with tables to get you out of the hot sun while you munch on Mojo Pork, Quesito or other Caribbean cuisine tapas.
Hubby’s tummy was getting full but I was still going strong. I tried the Pescado con Coco: seared grouper, pigeon peas and rice, with coconut sauce. The concept was great (i’ll try almost anything with a coconut sauce!) but I probably wouldn’t have it again. The rice was too salty for my taste buds (the olives, most likely), and it had large chunks of sausage that weren’t mentioned in the ingredients, which I’m not a fan of. The grouper was great, as was the sauce, but was hoping for a stronger coconut flavor. Overall… good, but not a repeat item for me.
One thing I really liked this year at the Food and Wine Festival was the style of the food kiosks. Each one was a tiny replica of the type of architecture that is indicative of the country it is representing. I’ve included a few of them in the photos below…
Our final stop was at Brazil — not because we wanted this culinary adventure to end, but because our bellies were busting at the seams! We had done our homework and looked over a listing of each food item in advance of our visit. We had a good idea of what we wanted to sample before we even got there. Since we attend the Food and Wine Festival multiple times each year, we limit our food to 5 or 6 countries during each visit. With great anticipation we were looking forward to trying the crispy pork belly with black beans and tomato at Brazil. Once again, hubby and I ordered the same thing.
I have fond memories of the very first time I had crispy pork belly. It was at Disney, at the Brown Derby restaurant in Hollywood Studios. Gosh, that had to be about 10+ years ago. It was so incredible, it became the gold standard by which I measure every crispy pork belly appetizer I try. None has ever compared to that first experience. That’s why I was so excited to sample it at Epcot. Hubby and I both agreed that although it was great, it was not phenomenal as I was expecting. I thought it was a little too lean. I mean, come on… if you’re gonna have pork belly, then pork fat should rule! Despite my criticism, some people we chatted with said it was the best item at the Festival, in their opinion.
To end our epicurean tour around the world, we chose to have dessert in Norway, rather than a food kiosk from the Festival. The Kringla Bakery is a permanent part of the World Showcase at Epcot and we love the berry cream puffs from there. Plus, it was another opportunity to go inside to escape the blazing hot sun.
The berry cream puff was the perfect ending to a perfect day at Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival. Interested in the cost of today’s tasting tour? Well, for everything i’ve included in this article, plus 2 bottles of water, the price tag was $64.31. We’ve been attending the F&WF since its inception 21 years ago, and have witnessed steady price increases, but still consider this event one of our Disney favorites. Here’s another tip: as locals, we always go on a weekday, and try to get there early in the day. As you can see from the photos, most of the kiosks had little or no line!
Stay tuned for our next visit where we’ll be sampling even more delectable dishes. This year, the event runs from September 14th – November 14th, 62 days of deliciousness!
Have you been to Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival? Maybe you have a question about the event. Or perhaps you have a tip of your own that you’d like to share with our readers. Please post your question or comment in the reply box below!
Epcot Flower & Garden Features International Flavors from Around the World
Woo hoo… this year Disney has increased the length of the super-popular Epcot Flower and Garden Festival from 75 days to a full 90 days. That’s perfect for me, as I always visit multiple times throughout the dazzling display. Not only am I captivated by the horticultural genius of the Disney topiaries and spectacular bursts of color as far as the eye can see, but it takes several visits just to sample the fantastic food made especially for the festival — food offerings that are not available any other time of year.
During the Epcot Flower & Garden Festival, Outdoor Kitchens are erected around World Showcase Lagoon. These temporary kitchens (pictured below) are small kiosks which look a lot like the Marketplace Booths at Epcot’s Annual Food and Wine Festival (one of my favorite events of the year!). They feature delectable little morsels served on small plates that would be similar to an appetizer portion or tapas-sized menu item. Keeping in line with the theme of World Showcase, each Outdoor Kitchen features food from a different country. It’s a great and inexpensive way to try international flavors and cuisines from cultures you may never have the opportunity to visit.
Epcot’s Outdoor Kitchens Around World Showcase Lagoon
This year the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival included 13 Outdoor Kitchens, with most menu items priced between $3 and $8. Hubby and I have gone twice thus far, and spent an average of $50 each visit. Not bad for a date night out, including dinner! Of course, entrance into Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival requires a Disney Theme Park Ticket. (We use our Florida Resident Weekday Select Pass, which is an incredible value for us.)
TIP: For those of you participating in the Disney Dining Plan, many of the food items from the Outdoor Kitchens are available as a snack credit, a welcomed addition to the typical snack choices at Epcot!
Here’s What We’ve Sampled So Far at the 2016 Epcot Flower and Garden Festival…
The Garden Passport: A Great Epcot Flower & Garden Festival Souvenir
A fun thing to do (and a great souvenir as well) is to pick up a free little booklet called “Garden Passport” available at each Outdoor Kitchen location. As you embark on your mouthwatering Disney-foodie mission around World Showcase Lagoon, you can have your Passport “stamped” every time you purchase food or drink from the corresponding country. It’s a wonderful reminder of all the delicious goodies that you tried. Since hubby and I are local and attend the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival often, we do not usually bother with the stamps, however, we rely heavily on the Garden Passport to pre-plan our dining choices along the way. The Garden Passport includes a complete listing of all the Outdoor Kitchens along with their respective food and drink offerings. Each kiosk typically has about 3 food items and 3-8 unique beverage choices.
When you plan your visit to the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival, be sure to factor in time to try at least a few of the Outdoor Kitchens. It’s kinda like gourmet globe-trotting. Trust me, you will not regret it!
TIP: Standing in line is not usually my favorite thing to do, but in regard to the Outdoor Kitchens, it’s not a bad thing. Whenever there is no line, the food is almost always dried out from sitting in the warmers or under the heat lamps. For example: during our 2nd visit to the Epcot Flower & Garden Festival we repeated 2 of the same food items that we especially liked during our 1st visit. The Shrimp Tacos from Mexico and the Onion Tarte from France were both somewhat disappointing the 2nd time around because they had been warmed. Do yourself a favor and choose an Outdoor Kitchen where people are waiting in line. The food will likely be freshly prepared and worth the wait!
Hey Disney Foodies…
The dates for Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival 2018 have been announced!
February 28 – May 28, 2018
Have you been to Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival? If so, what was the highlight of your trip? Please share your experience or any helpful tips for our readers in the “comment” box below!