A charcuterie and cheese platter, anyone? Maybe freshly made pasta or sushi, dishes crafted from what’s in season locally?
“The Orlando food scene has been evolving so quickly, with so many good chefs moving here,” said Kathleen Blake, chef and owner of the Rusty Spoon, a popular downtown Orlando eatery. Blake has pioneered the movement here toward serving locally sourced and seasonal food. “There is so much more access to really good high-quality food and it is a great way to introduce people to ingredients they may not have had a good experience with, like okra or eggplant.”
Yes, in Orlando. Sure you will find plenty of fast food and chain restaurants, but you’ll also find a growing number of independent restaurants like The Rusty Spoon, as well as those bearing the imprint of celebrity chefs like Todd English, James Beard award-winning chef Tony Mantuano whose Terralina Crafted Italian opened this summer in Disney Springs and Chef Masaharu Morimoto of “Iron Chef America” whose Morimoto Asia is popular with parents and kids.
“Even the finest restaurants accommodate kids,” says George Aguel, president and CEO of Visit Orlando. He notes that Orlando continues to set records (72 million visitors in the past year -- a half million visitors a day). “It’s as if the entire city of Atlanta is visiting us in one day,” he said.
And there is no better time to visit Orlando than this fall. Though September 30, select Orlando restaurants will offer three-course, prix fixe dinners for just $35 as part of Magical Dining month at independent restaurants like the Rusty Spoon, Terralina Crafted Italian, Morimoto Asia and STK. There are more than 100 options whether you want a good steak, seafood, Indian, Asian, Cuban, etc. “We have every option,” said Aguel. “Every time you blink, something new opens.” Plus, through Visit Orlando, one dollar from each meal will benefit Best Buddies and Down Syndrome Association of Central Florida.
At the same time and through Nov. 12, Walt Disney World’s Epcot dine-around International Food & Wine Festival is underway, complete with Eat to the Beat concerts, “Mix-it, Make it, Celebrate it! Hands-on workshops, tastings of everything from cheese to chocolate and a “Ratatouille"-inspired adventure during which Chef Remy encourages families to play together during Remy’s “Ratatouille” Hide ‘n’ Squeak scavenger hunt. This year Remy is hiding in all new locations!
The last weekend in October, the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort holds their own Swan and Dolphin Food & Wine Classic with unlimited tastings at more than 60 stations -- everything from fried chicken to Vietnamese Lemongrass Meatballs on sticks, sushi, a beer garden, original desserts and new this year, The Pig @ Poke Hawaiian Luau-themed area.
Fall, by the way, is a great time to visit Orlando. Not only is it cooler and less crowded, but there are special Halloween festivities at all of the parks and lodging deals that may be among the cheapest all year with rates under $100 a night.
Aguel and chefs like Blake believe Magical Dining encourages visitors to explore beyond the parks -- the historic downtown for example and nearby Winter Park, which has gained a reputation as a foodie haven with popular restaurants like The Ravenous Pig and Outpost Neighborhood Kitchen for Southern cuisine.
Blake, the parent of four grown children, hopes parents will take the opportunity when visiting Orlando to encourage kids to try new foods. “Help them to learn by sharing and trying new foods,” she said, “and if they don’t like it, someone else in the family will.”
“You need to educate their palates,” Blake, the mother of four, added. “It helps them learn.” She questions why some parents will order an expensive specialty cocktail but seem unwilling to spend the same for a child’s meal.
It is encouraging that kids’ menus in Orlando not only offer healthier fare but also more interesting options. At the popular Morimoto Asia in the heart of Disney Springs, the kids’ menu not only comes with origami paper and directions to make a fish -- but the entrees are also tempting for adults. There is the Bao Wow, hot dogs served on a soft steamed bun with cucumber, as well as tasty ramen, lo mein and mac and cheese, all of which the waiter assured us are as popular with adults as with kids. But there is plenty for adults to enjoy here, too -- signature cocktails and sake flights; sushi and sashimi, Peking duck, dumplings, fabulous spareribs and noodle dishes. For those who want to graze as they stroll, there is even a walk-up street food window.
And new restaurants are added continually. For example, the 200-seat Wine Bar George opened early this past summer with Master Sommelier George Miliotes at the helm. According to Miliotes, there are some 145 wines that range from $8 a glass to as much as $500 as well as a menu that includes house-made meatballs for the kids, a charcuterie platter and a delectable grilled whole sea bass. Milotes wants all his guests, whether old enough to enjoy wine or not, to “have a little fun.”
On a typical evening, guests stroll along the promenade in Town Center enjoying the street entertainment, shopping, especially at the largest Disney Store in the world, and, hopefully, trying some new food together.
Octopus fritter, anyone?
(c) 2018 EILEEN OGINTZ DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.