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!