Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Orlando Food Adventure

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One tradition my husband and I have every year is to celebrate our anniversary by travelling. This year we decided to visit Orlando, FL since its a place we haven't been and my sister in law lives. Immediately upon arriving, we realized we were in a whole different food culture unlike Chicago.

As we drove out of the airport, we were bombarded with chain restaurants. For most people it's not a big deal, or perhaps it's a relief to see familiar eats. But for both the hubby and I... well, we are the types that prefer eating at establishments that represent the culture and vibe of its surroundings. You know... dives, mom & pop joints, hole in the walls, ethnic eats, hidden gems.

We realized coming into Orlando that it may be a challenge to find some local gems deep within an area so densely populated with touristy offerings. But we were up for the challenge and wanted to dig through all the tourist traps to discover and experience a different side of Orlando that isn't always reflected in brochures, websites and books. With today being our first full day in Orlando, we started early to check out what it had to offer 2 die hard food enthusiasts from Chicago.

First food stop: Old Town, Kissimmee FL
One of our friends recently moved from Chicago to Kissimmee 2 months ago and we were thrilled to see her again. We met at a fun park called Old Town and had lunch at Jam Rock Cafe. The restaurant was quaint with an island feel, right down to the nylon printed tablecovers, Jamaican tunes in the background and very slow, casual service. There were four of us who had lunch together and we ordered the Jamaican Curry Goat, Jerk Chicken and Braised Oxtail. All entrees were served with rice & beans and a side of steamed mixed vegetables. To drink, we had these tasty "Miami Vice" smoothies, which was a pina colada + strawberry frozen treat. The food came to the table nearly 30-45 minutes... and there were only 2 other tables of patrons in the restaurant. We weren't sure as to what took so long, but sadly the food was not worth the wait. The braised oxtail was dry and over cooked; the curried goat was too "gamey" and had little curry flavor; the jerk chicken was overdone and charred to a crisp resulting in very dry chicken. However, despite the barely palatable lunch, the conversation and company more than made up for it. It's great to reunite with friends and catch up on each other's lives.

Second food stop: Winter Park

After our lunch, we headed to a nearby town, Winter Park, FL. This was such a lovely town with so much character. We immediately fell in love with the cobblestone streets, cute boutiques and warm hospitality. For an afternoon pick me up, we came across Authentic Cuban Cafe. Here, we chatted with the restaurant owners, sipped our cafe con leche and shared a slice of a very decadent tres leches cake. It was refreshing to find a small and modest Cuban spot among the many wine bars and chic boutiques that lined Winter Park's popular Park Ave. It was great to talk to the owner about the neighborhood and local food industry. I'd love to check out this area again. Some of the boutique stores along the main street, Park Avenue, included a cute cheese shop, a number of wine bars and a couple local chocolatiers. Unfortunately, by the time we stumbled on them, they were already closed.


Third food stop: International Drive, Orlando
International Drive is known as "the strip" of Orlando where many hotels, bargain shops and restaurants are located. My sister in law took us to a cute little sushi place called Sushiology. I was a bit skeptical at first... as it was small, had very few seats, and the loud club music made me expect strobe lights to be flashing any minute. We ordered a "gigabite" platter of sushi to share among us. In included 8 different maki rolls: California roll, Salmon Cream Cheese, Eel California, Salmon California, Tuna California, Shrimp Tempura, Salmon Tempura and a Rainbow Roll. We also shared some seaweed salad which was exceptionally good. I was quite impressed with the quality and price of the sushi and I can honestly eat here every day for the rest of our vacation! The best part? Our meal with drinks was less than $40 for 3 people.

After we finished with dinner, a parrot came in to take some pics with us. Here are some my sister in law managed to get from her cell phone... So for our first day in Orlando, we succeeded in finding some great places that weren't bombarded with tourists. It was a great introduction to Orlando eats and we're looking for the upcoming days to come.

Unfortunately - I forgot my camera at my sister in laws house today so I don't have any pictures... but pictures will be available in the coming days!

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