With an influx of original restaurants specializing in local food and chef-created menus, the city of roller coasters and Mickey Mouse sets hot dogs aside to experience down-home elegance.
Text: Mitchell Nover @mmtakemiami | photos: Mark Tomaras
It’s no secret that one of the best ways to explore a city’s culture is through its food. Orlando, however, has long been associated with theme parks like Walt Disney World. Fortunately, thanks to a growing year-round, non-tourist population – Orlando has seen a nearly 30% population increase in the past decade – a diverse, local culture has established itself outside of the amusement parks. With this thriving community comes a demand for varied dining options, and Orlando has stepped up to the plate, or should we say, the stove.
Back to the Roots
The gastropub movement took off in the United States in the early 1990s in California, and it’s still going strong in Orlando – nowhere more successfully than in the Winter Park area. This suburban neighborhood in northern Orange County, Florida, is only 25 miles away from the area’s main attractions but worlds apart in terms of its food offerings.
Leading the charge are hometown heroes and the unofficial King and Queen of Winter Park, James and Julie Petrakis. Their philosophy of providing guests with high-quality comfort food in an unassuming and welcoming environment has made their three restaurants wildly popular. “It’s about taking things that people are comfortable with and giving them a twist that’s more refined and something that people probably couldn’t do at home,” says chef James. And as they say, the proof is in the pudding. Their first restaurant, The Ravenous Pig, has been open since 2007 and shows no signs of slowing down. As one of Florida’s first restaurants to champion local farmers, fishermen and artisanal purveyors, the menu is famous for its house-cured charcuterie boards; fresh Florida seafood like grouper, Gulf shrimp and cobia; meat dishes that include a pork porterhouse, steak frites and a pub burger; and specialty desserts such as warm fritters tossed in cinnamon sugar (aka “pig tails”) and a sweets board.
The Petrakis’ second restaurant, Cask & Larder, opened in 2012 and adds Southern flare to a gastropub menu. This repeat James Beard Award nominee features upscale versions of Southern-inspired fare, such as deviled eggs with trout roe; a Low Country Boil of grouper cheeks, Key West pink shrimp, clams, blue crab, mussels and smoked sausage; and Nashville Hot Chicken with Alabama white BBQ sauce (made with mayonnaise instead of ketchup), cornbread and melon salad. But the most unique feature of Cask & Larder is the fact that they offer nine different varieties of craft beer brewed on site.
If you’re looking for a gastropub closer to the city proper, try The Rusty Spoon in downtown Orlando. Another James Beard Award nominee, chef/owner Katherine Blake’s menu is best characterized as locally sourced American food with European roots. Think of it as Florida “pub grub”: slow-roasted lamb shanks, fried green tomatoes, “handheld” sandwiches, charred squid and octopus. And leave room for dessert!
Fine Dining, Casual Ambiance
Today, everybody wants to be a gourmand, but without the stuffy, pretentious qualities traditionally associated with high-end food. Luckily, Orlando has just that, serving unique and innovative gourmet experiences in relaxed, casual environments.
A perfect example of this is Artisan’s Table. Located in the heart of downtown Orlando, this eclectic, globally inspired restaurant is both inviting and delicious. Equally suited for hosting a business lunch or serving up a casual post-theater bite, Artisan’s Table is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and will satisfy adventurous appetites (the Japanese breakfast bowl of eggs, sticky rice, scallion, bacon, sweet chili sauce and togarashi) as well as those looking for something more familiar (chipotle BBQ lamb shank with smoked corn and goat cheese whipped potatoes and roasted broccoli).
If you’ve spent plenty of time at the parks and you’re looking for a quality meal, head to the East End Market in the Audubon Park Garden District. A mini version of Seattle’s Pike Place Market or San Francisco’s Ferry Building, this culinary hub is loaded with Orlando’s best and edgiest food and drink purveyors, most notably Txokos Basque Kitchen and Kappo.
Then there’s Kappo, a Japanese restaurant serving up fresh sushi and sashimi omakase-style, which means “chef’s choice.” Have you seen Jiro Dreams of Sushi? All you need to do is have a seat, trust the chef, and enjoy the ride. Be forewarned, Kappo doesn’t take reservations, and there are only seven seats. However, if you arrive early (the restaurant opens at 11 a.m.), you just might be in for the Japanese meal of your life.
Through the Side Door
Who doesn’t like a good cocktail before (or after) a quality meal? When it comes to their drinks, Orlando locals like them crafty – pun intended. “Speakeasies” are all the rage with a growing number of hidden bars operating via secret doors and passwords. Pharmacy, located on Orlando’s “Restaurant Row” – a section of Sand Lake Road home to more than two dozen restaurants and bars – is paradoxically the city’s best-known speakeasy.
Another speakeasy option is Hanson’s Shoe Repair, located inside a former cobbler shop downtown. To gain access, you’ll need to call and follow directions that will end with you receiving a passcode via text message. Once inside, you’ll be invited to enjoy a craft cocktail on the cool rooftop terrace.
So next time you visit Orlando, we’re not saying to skip the parks altogether, but when it comes to dining, do your taste buds a favor and eat like a local. in
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The Ravenous Pig
1234 N Orange Ave, Winter Park
Cask & Larder
565 W Fairbanks Ave, Winter Park
Swine & Sons Provisions
595 W Fairbanks Ave, Winter Park
The Rusty Spoon
55 W Church St.
22 E Pine St.
East End Market
3201 Corrine Dr.,East End Market
Txokos Basque Kitchen
3201 Corrine Dr., Suite 100,
East End Market
3201 Corrine Dr., East End Market