Thanks to Orlando Chowhounds for the advice prior to our trip to Orlando. As Durham NC foodies proud of our local scene we were pleasantly surprised at the food and drink options in Orlando, as well as the downtown neighborhoods; the local atmosphere; and all the lakes everywhere. After checking in to the Grand Bohemian downtown we headed out for an afternoon at the Harry P Leu Gardens. We stopped for lunch at Hawkers. Hawkers has an Asian street food concept which they execute very well. The server steered us to some great small plates the best of which was a Laksa curry. They also had an excellent beer list and we tried an Olde Pelican Ale from Orlando Brewing (more about that later) which went great with the food. The Leu Gardens were awesome, 40+ acres of tropical and regional plantings on a lake, and the weather was perfect.
On the way home we stopped at the Funky Monkey Wine Vault to get some wine for the room. Walking in it looked like an expensive wine place but the staff was friendly and knowledgeable and they had some great economical wine choices.
That night we took a short walk from the hotel to Rusty Spoon. The stylish urban vibe of Rusty Spoon was a bit of a surprise after the picture of cows on the website but the food and service were very good. We started with some of the best onion rings ever served with a dipping sauce made with Orlando Brewing Blackwater Porter. My wife had a Caesar salad made with local baby romaine and a lentil soup which she enjoyed. I had a plate of local Cornish game hen served with braised baby Brussels sprouts and mashed sweet potatoes with ginger. We shared a dessert of apple fritters with a caramel flavored whipped cream. Delicious.
My wife being a huge Harry Potter fan we went to Harry Potter World at Universal the next day. We got there early to beat the crowds and by lunchtime we were ready to hit Emeril’s Orlando at Citywalk. We had excellent Po Boys (shrimp for her, oyster for me) and well prepared Bloody Marys. Our theme park tickets got us a comp dessert of vanilla crème brulle. Not a cheap lunch, but delicious. The service and setting were first rate. I know Emeril is overexposed and it’s kind of a chain but they deliver on quality and service.
We were impressed with the beer we had from Orlando Brewing so after relaxing at the hotel we headed over there for the 6pm tour. The taproom was bustling and we had some of their great beer before the tour. Gene, the brewmaster and owner, gives a great tour. He is passionate and skillful about making beer and he has many awards to show for it. Also, he is one of the few certified organic brewers in the US. Orlando beer lovers, check out his beers and his taproom located south of downtown near the Medical Center.
We then headed over to Prickly Pear for a light dinner. I wish I could give a better review of them but the food was substandard and pricey for what it was. The Caesar salad had lettuce that was marginal and the duck quesadilla was very small. My wife’s chile relleno was adequate, but also small. The prickly pear margaritas were good, though, and the service was friendly and professional. An unexpected surprise was the entertainment: a campy musical revue with a Dolly Parton impersonator! Pretty hilarious.
Sunday was a lazy morning where we took a walk around Lake Eola Park .It was beautiful and the Sunday Farmers market was a pleasant surprise. We followed that by lunch of Dim Sum at Ming’s Bistro. The clientele at Ming’s was overwhelmingly Asian and the dim sum delicious and authentic. We then went to Albin Polasek the sculpture museum and gardens in Winter Park. Another beautiful setting on one of Orlando’s beautiful lakes featuring the master artist’s sculptures.
That evening we wanted to stay close to the hotel so we took the short walk to the Bento Café. Bento is one step above fast food but it was decent and inexpensive.
We really enjoyed our weekend in Orlando. The weather was awesome, the people were friendly, and there were a number of venues featuring locally sourced, well prepared food. Will definitely try Ravenous Pig if we get back there. We also appreciated all the non-theme park things to do. Thanks, Orlando!