Archive For The “Florida Foodie Finds” Category

Epcot Festival of the Arts Premier – Review and Photos

 

Epcot International Festival of the Arts

Epcot International Festival of the Arts

 

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 Abounds at Epcot Festival of the Arts!

Color Abounds at Epcot Festival of the Arts!

 

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.

 

Colorful Entrance to Epcot's Festival of the Arts

Colorful Entrance to Epcot’s Festival of the Arts

 

A Sea of Sensational Color at Epcot Festival of the Arts

A Sea of Sensational Color at Epcot Festival of the Arts

 

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.

 

Living Statues at the Festival of the Arts

Living Statues at the Festival of the Arts

 

Living Statues at the Festival of the Arts

Living Statues at the Festival of the Arts

 

Living Statues at the Festival of the Arts

Living Statues at the Festival of the Arts

 

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.

 

Artwork by Mary Blair and Herb Ryman on Display

Artwork by Mary Blair and Herb Ryman on Display

 

Disney Original Art

Disney Original Art

 

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!

 

Deconstructive BLT with Crispy Pork Belly, Tomato Jam, and Soft Poached Egg

Deconstructed BLT with Crispy Pork Belly, Tomato Jam, and Soft Poached Egg

 

Shrimp Ceviche with Lime-Mint Foam

Shrimp Ceviche with Lime-Mint Foam

 

Charcuterie Palette with Artisan Cured Meats, Applewood-smoked Duck Breast, and Cheese

Charcuterie Palette with Artisan Cured Meats, Applewood-smoked Duck Breast, and Cheese

 

Smoked Salmon Tartare, Caviar, Crisp Lavash, and Traditional Accompaniments

Smoked Salmon Tartare, Caviar, Crisp Lavash, and Traditional Accompaniments

 

Pan-seared Scallop with Chorizo, Roasted Red Pepper Coulis, and Parmesan Crisp

Pan-seared Scallop with Chorizo, Roasted Red Pepper Coulis, and Parmesan Crisp

 

Braised Beef Short Rib with Parsnip Puree, Broccolini, Baby Tomatoes, and Aged Balsamic

Braised Beef Short Rib with Parsnip Puree, Broccolini, Baby Tomatoes, and Aged Balsamic

 

Port Wine-poached Pear, Vanilla Panna Cotta, and Pistachio Crumbs

Port Wine-poached Pear, Vanilla Panna Cotta, and Pistachio Crumbs

 

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!

 

Artwork by Jeff Laibson

Artwork by Jeff Laibson

 

A Masterpiece Taking Shape Right Before Our Eyes!

A Masterpiece Taking Shape Right Before Our Eyes!

 

Live Painting of a Mural

Live Painting of a Mural

 

Colorful Creations at Epcot Festival of the Arts

Colorful Creations at Epcot Festival of the Arts

 

Imaginative Chalk Artists

Imaginative Chalk Artists

 

In Conclusion…

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…

2017 Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival Dates: March 1 – May 29

2017 Epcot Food & Wine Festival Dates: August 31 – November 13

 

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!

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The Back Porch Restaurant in Lake Alfred – Review and Photos

 

The Main Dining Room at The Back Porch Restaurant

The Main Dining Room at The Back Porch Restaurant

 

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 Restaurant

The Back Porch Restaurant

 

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 Restaurant Menu

The Back Porch Restaurant Menu

 

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

 

 

Table #26 at The Back Porch Restaurant

Table #26 at The Back Porch Restaurant

 

Hubby's Picnic Lunch at The Back Porch Restaurant

Hubby’s Picnic Lunch at The Back Porch Restaurant

 

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).

 

Beautiful Stained Glass Windows

Beautiful Stained Glass Windows

 

Beverage Station for The Shady Deck

Beverage Station for The Shady Deck

 

The Shady Deck Separate Entrance

The Shady Deck Separate Entrance

 

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.

 

My Picnic Lunch at The Back Porch Restaurant

My Picnic Lunch at The Back Porch Restaurant

 

Gift Items at The Back Porch Restaurant

Gift Items at The Back Porch Restaurant

 

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 "Rules!"

The Back Porch “Rules!”

 

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

Hours

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Winter Park Food Tour – Review and Photos

Winter Park Food Tour

Winter Park Food Tour

 

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…

 

Sweet Rachael, Our Tour Guide!

Sweet Rachael, Our Tour Guide!

 

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 Morse Museum - Largest Collection of Tiffany Glass

The Morse Museum – Largest Collection of Tiffany Glass

 

Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens

Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens

 

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.

 

Our Great Group of Foodies at The Parkview!

Our Great Group of Foodies at The Parkview!

 

Buffalo Mozzarella Crostini

Buffalo Mozzarella Crostini

 

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:

  1. Pour a little bit of olive oil into a small wineglass
  2. Cup the glass in one hand and cover it with the other to trap the aromas inside
  3. Hold it for a minute or two in order to warm it
  4. Swirl it, then stick your nose into the glass and take a good whiff of the aroma
  5. Take a generous sip of the oil, sucking air through the oil to coax more aromas out of it
  6. Close your mouth and breathe out through your nose
  7. Now swallow some, or all of the oil
  8. Expect it to be fruity, pungent, or bitter
  9. 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.

 

The Ancient Olive

The Ancient Olive

 

Our Tasting Instructor

Our Tasting Instructor

 

Olive Oil & Balsamic Vinegar Tasting Bar

Olive Oil & Balsamic Vinegar Tasting Bar

 

Gourmet Goodies from The Ancient Olive

Gourmet Goodies from The Ancient Olive – Yes, that’s a Football-shaped Summer Sausage

 

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!

 

Casa Feliz Historic Home & Venue

Casa Feliz Historic Home & Venue

 

Casa Feliz Rear Courtyard

Casa Feliz Rear Courtyard

 

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.

 

The Spice & Tea Exchange of Winter Park

The Spice & Tea Exchange of Winter Park

 

Our Tasting Instructor

Our Tasting Instructor

 

The Tea & Spice Exchange Interior

The Tea & Spice Exchange Interior

 

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!

 

Braccia Pizzeria & Ristorante Interior

Braccia Pizzeria & Ristorante Interior

 

Margherita Pizza

Margherita Pizza at Braccia

 

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!

 

Kilwins Ice Cream and Fudge Tasting

Kilwins Ice Cream and Fudge Tasting

 

Handmade Fudge Being Made on a Marble Table

Handmade Fudge Being Made on a Marble Table

 

Handmade Caramel Goodies!

Handmade Caramel Goodies!

 

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!

 

Central Park Sidewalk Art in Winter Park

Central Park Sidewalk Art in Winter Park

 

Central Park Sidewalk Art in Winter Park

Central Park Sidewalk Art in Winter Park

 

Central Park Peacock Fountain and Rose Garden

Central Park Peacock Fountain and Rose Garden

 

Peterbrooke Chocolatier

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.

 

Peterbrooke Chocolatier of Winter Park

Peterbrooke Chocolatier of Winter Park

 

Chocolate High-heeled Shoe

Chocolate High-heeled Shoe

 

20 Gelato Flavors at Peterbrooke Chocolatier

20 Gelato Flavors at Peterbrooke Chocolatier

 

In Conclusion…

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.

 

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