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.