Authors Posts by Dana Spencer

Dana Spencer

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New Jersey native turned Orlando girl, Dana Spencer is a graduate of The University of Delaware, and a former middle school teacher of eleven years. Dana enjoys seeking-out new Orlando restaurants and foodie events with the company of her husband, two children, and when feeling courageous, her crazy puppy, turning her eating adventures into written word. When not eating, you can find Dana writing women’s fiction, reading, occasionally going to the gym, and enjoying time with her family and friends (while eating). You can follow Dana on Instagram and Twitter at @danaspencer06

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When I was young (even typing that sounds old), gourmet popcorn was one of two things: tossing some M&Ms in a bag of freshly-made, buttered popcorn, or a massive tin of buttered, white cheddar, and caramel popcorn evenly distributed into three compartments (most often found in our home during the holidays, eventually tossed out when all but the buttered popcorn was eaten). Well, gourmet popcorn has certainly come a long way. Just ask Steven, owner of Pipoca Gourmet Popcorn in Baldwin Park, and he will be happy to share with you his twenty (made on site) flavors of popcorn. I recently enjoyed a sampling of Pipoca popcorn and now I’m hooked (send help).

Counter Display in Pipoca
Various Sizes of Bags to Pick From

Pipoca, meaning popcorn in Portuguese, started as, and still is, a food cart located inside the Orlando Eye. With growing popularity, the store opened about nine months ago in Baldwin Park, close to downtown Orlando and Winter Park. Steven, former hospitality manager, turned his passion into a full-time career. I believe his risk paid off (as I longingly stare at an empty bag of Churros-flavored popcorn that my husband and I devoured in minutes). Churros is one of my favorites by far, but there are so many flavors that are delicious, you really can’t pick just one, or two…or three. Birthday Cake, Oreo, Chicago Style, Spicy Buffalo, Nutella, Garlic Parmesan…just to name a few. Another favorite, would have to be Hot Jalapeño. I’m not one who loves spicy, hot food, and I was pleasantly surprised to like the jalapeño flavor so much, that I couldn’t stop eating it. The popcorn has a real kick to it, but a definite tasty flavor, and not a snack that merely burns your mouth, making you desperate for a glass of water (dare I say Hot Cheetos and Takis…I’m not judging, I swear).

Churros-Flavored Popcorn
Hot Jalapeño-Flavored Popcorn
Hot Jalapeño-Flavored Popcorn
Almond Flavor
Coconut Flavor
Garlic Parmesan Flavor
Nutella Flavor

Popcorn is available for online order through the Pipoca website; but, you have to visit the store location in Baldwin Park to really understand the love this popcorn is made of. The store is beautifully decorated with detailed displays, and available for private events. Plus, all popcorn is made where it is sold, in this lovely “boutique” in the heart of downtown Baldwin Park.

Thankfully, I have family that lives in Baldwin Park…so, I have plenty of reasons to “stop in” for a bag of Churros Popcorn every now and then. However, new flavors are added often…meaning, I may need to stop by more often than usual for a taste test (journalism integrity in the name of research).

Pipoca Gourmet Popcorn makes the perfect snack, the perfect addition to any event, and the perfect gift for children and adults of all ages. It’s delicious and the bag is really pretty (much more eye-appealing than the massive tin decorated with Christmas carolers). While I love the flavor, and the store interior, I admire the passion Steven has in turning his love for popcorn into something everyone can now enjoy.

Follow Pipoca Gourmet Popcorn on Instagram and on Facebook.

Pipoca Gourmet Popcorn

 

I love nothing better than going to dinner with friends. Especially, a couple that both you and your partner mutually like, meaning all four people are happy and no one has to pretend to like someone for the benefit of their relationship. I know you understand what I’m talking about, we all go through it. Finding good friends, especially at the age I am now (a much wiser age), friends that my husband also enjoys being with, can be challenging. Thankfully, on this occasion, all was right in the world. Friday night, the kids are home with our amazing sitter (she paints my daughter’s nails and bakes), meeting terrific friends (a couple we both love to be with), for a casual, but classy dinner at RusTeak Restaurant and Wine Bar in Ocoee. One of my local favorites!

Mahogany walls, dark cherry wood bar and furniture, chrome fixtures, a perfect mix of trendy and casual, rustic, as the name of the restaurant implies…this is RusTeak. A seasonal menu of American, farm-to-table favorites with an edge, and a selection of over two-hundred wines from around the world, a large variety of craft beers, and handcrafted cocktails. RusTeak has an upscale feel while creating an atmosphere in which I feel completely at ease in, wearing shorts and flip-flops, as I did on this night. Walking in, I quickly realized that RusTeak is one of the many restaurants taking part in Bite30 during the month of June. During all thirty days of the month, RusTeak is offering a special prix fixe, multi-course dinner menu for a set price of $30. We didn’t partake in the Bite30 menu on this night, but I do plan to return and try it soon. With our friends running a few minutes behind, we had no trouble finding a seat at the bar for a little pre-dinner conversation and drinks (Ponga Sauvignon Blanc for me, dirty martini for my husband). My glass of wine was icy-cold perfection for this humid night (welcome, summer weather, can’t say I’ve missed you).

Bite30 Menu Now Offered
Sauvignon Blanc and Dirty Martini – RusTeak Bar

With our friends arrival, we sat down at the high-top table, each of us merrily looking at our menus, my legs happily dangling from my bar stool (short girl problems), finally settling on a few appetizers to share: Pumpkin Seed Edamame, Tomato Jam Jar, and Soft Jumbo Pretzel Sticks with two dipping sauces (mustard and cheese).

Tender edamame sautéed with butter, garlic, parmesan, and toasted pumpkin seeds…it’s one of the best edamame appetizers I have ever tasted. Savory, salty, fresh, and rich all at the same time. The buttery parmesan coated each piece of edamame so perfectly, it took all my willpower not to suck the pod after I had already eaten the soybean. Good thing I stopped doing that after the third or fourth one.

Pumpkin Seed Edamame

The Tomato Jam Jar is one of RusTeak’s favorites (always on the menu). A jar precisely filled with layers of house-made ricotta cheese, spinach almond pesto, and cherry tomato jam, served with toasted Naan bread. The cheese is creamy, the pesto is grainy and thick with herbs, while the jam is pleasantly sweet. A trifecta of velvety, earthy, and nectarous.

Tomato Jam Jar with Naan Bread

You can’t go wrong with soft pretzels, especially dipped in mustard and cheese. Doughy, salty pretzels at RusTeak, are a surprisingly perfect pairing with super Tuscan red wine (I should know, I had plenty of both).

Soft Pretzels with Mustard and Cheese

Moving on from our appetizers, and plenty of conversation, we ordered our main entrees. RusTeak offers flatbreads, salads, burgers, sandwiches, and entrees such as Pesto Salmon and Scallop Ratatouille. My friend ordered the Shrimp Tacos, my husband went with the Fig & Rib Flatbread, while two of us settled on an entree called Stay Gold Ponyboy. The name alone, caught my eye. The Outsiders! But, the dish itself did it for me: grilled flat iron steak, spinach-maple bacon yukon gold mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus, all topped with creamy gruyere mornay and two jumbo shrimp. My steak was tender, the potatoes were hearty, the asparagus crisp, and all of it nestled deliciously well with the sauce. I would order this again and again (and not just because of my childhood crush on Ponyboy).

Shrimp Tacos
Fig and Rib Flatbread
Stay Gold Ponyboy

Everyone at the table was completely stuffed…so, of course, everyone refused dessert…except me. In the name of journalism and foodies everywhere, I convinced my husband and friends that we had to try the Dulce de leche Bread Pudding served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce. Wow! Spongy bread pudding made with sweetened milk and caramel, warm out of the oven plated with cold, rich ice cream. Everyone refused at first, but, they were thanking me in the end.

Dulce de leche Bread Pudding

RusTeak Restaurant and Wine Bar is a restaurant I frequent often and recommend consistently. I love that the atmosphere is comfortable, but also eye-appealing. It’s a place you can make as “dressy” as you wish. The staff is always polite and knowledgeable, and helpful when recommending a bottle of wine from the expansive list. The food is always freshly prepared and prepared with creativity. Every meal is fantastic, and even better when in good company.

 

RusTeak Restaurant and Wine Bar

 

 

 

 

When you combine excellent tasting beer from Orlando Brewing, with the delicious, farm-to-table food of American Kitchen Bar & Grill and Chef Venoy Rogers III, what do you get? A perfect pairing! We were invited to the American Kitchen Bar & Grill, located inside of the B Resort & Spa, for a special preview of the restaurant’s Tap Takeover. Beginning this Friday, May 25th, American Kitchen embarks on a new and exciting partnership with Orlando Brewing, “the only U.S.D.A. certified organic brewery east of Colorado”. The restaurant will now serve some of Orlando Brewing’s most popular beers on tap, while also incorporating the beer in a few new dishes. I had the fantastic, and most appreciated, opportunity to sample these dishes and beer a few nights ago, and now…I’m ready for the main event on Friday night! American Kitchen is hosting an open house with special drinks and menu items, plus, giveaways and raffle prizes. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I could sure use a spa treatment from Aveda Spa, located inside the B Resort. A spa gift certificate is only one of the terrific raffle prizes to be awarded on Friday night.

My night at the Tap Takeover Preview was only made better when I got the chance to meet and speak with Chef Venoy. Before coming to American Kitchen, Chef Venoy was the Executive Chef of Essensia restaurant, located inside the Palms Hotel & Spa in Miami. A San Diego native, Chef Venoy’s experience in the culinary world is expansive, but he always stays true to using fresh, local, farm-to-table ingredients in his menu. American Kitchen offers a variety of these dishes, including Tomato Tartare, Forest Mushroom Mac-n-Cheese, Blueberry Grilled Cheese, Grilled Fish Tacos, and Bourbon Chocolate Cake, just to name a few. When speaking with Chef Venoy, his passion, his love, for cooking, for using the best ingredients, for making food fun and creative, shines through immediately. It’s written all over his face…his dedication to creating unforgettable dishes for those who come to American Kitchen, sometimes at the sacrifice of time spent with his family for extra long hours in the kitchen. But, as he said to my husband and I, he does it all for the love of those he loves and for his love of food. How lucky for us patrons!?!

Here’s a glimpse of our night at the American Kitchen and Orlando Brewing Tap Takeover Preview:

Beers on Tap and Special Menu Items

 

Beers on Tap

Music Provided by DJD Entertainment Professionals

Specialty Drink: “Greg Norman”
Foie Gras Donuts with Fig Marsala Sauce
Short Rib Flatbread with Pickled Ramps and Manchego
Smoked Crispy Chicken Sandwich with House Aioli and Coleslaw
Crispy Fish “Chips” and Beer Battered Potato Sticks with Orlando Brewing Beer Vinegar

GM of B Resort and Spa: Michael Allen with Chef Venoy Rogers III
Chef Venoy Rogers III
Meeting Chef Venoy Rogers III

American Kitchen Bar & Grill is a must-try all on its own; but, with the addition of Orlando Brewing, it’s even better. I have to admit, my drink of choice is not usually beer. However, after tasting Orlando Brewing’s La Guera Blonde Lager and I-4 IPA, while enjoying salty and sweet Foie Gras Donuts and the tender, flavorful Smoked Crispy Chicken Sandwich, I’m hooked! But, don’t take my word for it. Enjoy the pairing yourself at American Kitchen Bar & Grill. I know I will again…and again…and again.

 

American Kitchen Bar & Grill 

Orlando Brewing 

B Resort & Spa

DJD Entertainment Professionals 

 

We were invited to the Pre-Opening Party for Wine Bar George at Disney Springs; and it was certainly a “magical night”. The rain stopped just in time for the party to begin, and a rainbow appeared. How perfect is that?

Wine Bar George officially opens Saturday, May 19th, and from my experience during the event, I only see a very busy future ahead for George and his amazing crew (I’m booking my babysitter in advance to return soon). George Miliotes, Master Sommelier (one of only 249 in the world), has personally hand-picked every available ounce of wine in the wine bar. Paired perfectly with small bites (such as house-made meatballs, jicama salad, grilled octopus), family-style platters (such as skirt steak and wine braised chicken), charcuterie and artisanal cheese boards, and desserts (olive oil cake and key lime pie).  One dessert is an event in itself: The Chocolate Experience (pairings of wines and chocolates). Plus, other amazing offerings of beer and cider, and specialty cocktails. Presently, Wine Bar George is the only Master Sommelier-led wine bar in Florida. George brings a lifetime of wine knowledge and education to his new venture. Practically growing up with a glass of wine in his hand (I like this family), working alongside his father (Chris Miliotes) at a young age in his father’s former restaurant off of John Young Parkway, Chris’ House of Beef, success with California Grill, Seasons 52, and Capital Grille, George Miliotes and Wine Bar George are truly special. George also has an amazing crew working by his side, and from what I saw, working extremely hard. All of them passionate about being an intricate part of Wine Bar George, and it shows with their every gesture and word, so quick to recommend the perfect pairing, and share what they know and love with guests. As if the fantastic staff, wine, and food isn’t enough to love this place, there is also the amazingly beautiful atmosphere of Wine Bar George. Soft lighting, large paneled windows overlooking great views of Disney Springs, oak floors, elements of stone and metal, brick walls, and hints of George’s personal wine collections and treasures, make up the two-story (a bar on both levels) wine bar with plenty of comfy seating. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but I don’t think my pictures (taken on my iPhone) adequately do the beauty of this place justice. Until you can see for yourself, here’s a sampling of our night at Wine Bar George:

Meeting Chris Miliotes
Meeting George Miliotes

I want Wine Bar George to be my Cheers, where the staff knows my name, I have my very own bar stool in both the upstairs and downstairs bar, and my favorite glass (or glasses) of wine awaits when I enter. This was an event I will never forget and I loved the experience of trying new wines hand-picked by George, eating delicious bites, talking with the amazing staff and fellow foodies, and having the honor of meeting George Miliotes and his father, Chris (both completely modest and easy to talk to). I know you will enjoy Wine Bar George as much as I did…so, plan a visit soon…but, if I find you sitting in my stool at the bar…game on (who am I kidding…I’ll just smile at you and find another spot).

 

Wine Bar George

https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/disney-springs/wine-bar-george/

 

Today, I was humbled…inspired…by coffee. Axum Coffee in Winter Garden, to be exact. It’s hard to believe, but it’s true, one-hundred-percent of Axum’s profits are donated “to make a better world” (as clearly defined on their coffee menu above the counter).

Insert on Coffee Menu

Being the sometime skeptic I am, I needed further proof. I spoke to the charming and intelligent, young girl behind the counter who spilled the beans (get it…coffee beans…moving on). No lie, it’s a true statement. Profits go to the city of Axum, Ethiopia (hence the name of the coffee), a city void of clean water, adequate medical care, and streets over-crowded with orphans and beggars, most of which are physically-impaired in some way. For over ten years, since the coffee shop opened, Axum has been supplying the means necessary to help this community. However, their charity extends to other non-profit organizations as well (locally, nationally, and internationally). Organizations that fight human trafficking, aid women and children in need, place children in need of homes with loving families, and so on. Axum wants their coffee shop to be a place of openness in which people come together, to share ideas, in order to help those in need and our world as a whole, “We had been envisioning a gathering place for the community to do life together.  Not just a place about the coffee, tea, smoothies, pastries, panini and desserts, but rather a place about people in the community coming together around a cause.  A place about helping those in need: locally, nationally and internationally.  A place about giving instead of taking.  A place where guests are not just numbers, but people with stories to tell.  We wanted to find a way to tangibly touch the lives of people in need: orphans, human trafficking victims, the poverty-stricken, those without potable water, etc while creating a place that unites the local community.” (http://axumcoffee.com/our-story/)

Humbled by the giving attitude of Axum as I am, fantastic tasting coffee and food can’t hurt, right? First, I love the feeling of Axum in Winter Garden (Axum coffee can also be found in other locations in Clermont and Dr. Phillips), the industrial feel of the piping that covers the high ceilings, over-sized windows that gladly welcome in the Florida sun, plenty of comfy seating inside and out, with painted walls in tranquil hues of blue and mahogany.

Front Corner Seating in Axum

With so many specialty coffee combinations to choose from (plus the usual favorites), thankfully, I had a good friend with me who suggested I order the Creme Brûlée. So glad I did! Made with espresso, caramel sauce, vanilla syrup, your choice of milk, and topped with foam and sugar in the raw…this is my new favorite! I felt like I had dessert before lunch. Axum coffee is beyond smooth-tasting to begin with, but this drink takes it to a-whole-nother level. Not to mention, it’s pretty. Expertly decorated topping like a piece of art.

Creme Brûlée Espresso

Of course there are many other drink options to pick from: black, green, and herbal teas, smoothies, cold drinks like Italian soda, hot chocolate, and several types of coffee/espresso drinks (cold brew, french press, manual brew, Americano, Cappuccino, etc.) You can also take some delicious Axum coffee home with you (perfect for those days when you can’t make it out of the house because of some menial task like laundry, or your daughter is sick, you know…life…or, is that my life?).

Coffee To Go

As if my Creme Brûlée espresso wasn’t treat enough, of course, my hungry eyes had to try more. Not just pastries, muffins, and other sweet favorites, but Axum also offers savory bites (panini, quiche, bagels, etc). Now, you tell me your will-power is strong enough to resist these goodies:

After much back-and-forth with my friend (what do you want? – well, what do you want? – you pick – no, you pick…you know how that story goes, got to be polite and all), we settled on the Caprese Panini and Bacon Quiche to share. They were hard to share, but, we kept our cool. The Caprese Panini was perfectly toasted, buttery, with soft mozzarella, sweet tomatoes, and zesty pesto. Not heavy or dense, the Bacon Quiche tasted light and airy, but also had a perfect combination of savory and salty from the cheese and bacon.

Caprese Panini
Bacon Quiche

Cozy spot, heart-warming talk with an amazing friend, and delicious food, what could be better? How about something sweet to only confirm how much I love Axum?! Thankfully, my friend and I didn’t do the “what do you want” dance, and we quickly decided on what to order. We are smart women…we know our desserts. Next up – the Coconut Creme Bomb and Peanut Butter Pie. No lie, at first bite of the Coconut Creme Bomb, I rudely interrupted my friend’s story and said, “What is this? Why does it taste so good?” Simply fantastic! Imagine, if you can, your best Pina Colada flavor and favorite yellow cake, got together, and well, you get it. A perfect amount of white icing with flakes of coconut adorn the outside, and sweet, coconut cream nestled between two layers of soft, yellow cake on the inside. Heavenly. However, the Peanut Butter Pie is no slouch, and also deserves a bow. If you love the combination of peanut butter and chocolate (as I do), this pie is perfect for you. The chocolate pie crust is rich and the peanut butter is velvety.

Coconut Creme Bomb
Peanut Butter Pie

Axum also offers vegan sweets from CayCakes Bakery. If you read my last blog (of course you did), you will remember my husband is now on a vegan kick (no joke, we had vegan burgers last night for dinner), and after a brief phone conversation while I was enjoying my lunch at Axum, in which he told me he ate avocado with salt and olive oil for his lunch, I figured, I better bring something home for him. My husband was very happy with his vegan cinnamon bun and vegan cinnamon, brown sugar pop tart.

CayCakes Bakery Items Sold at Axum

I would say, after our two desserts, our lunch date was complete. It was exactly what I needed – a good cup of coffee, terrific food, and conversation with a loving friend. Also, in a comfortable and inviting spot – Axum Coffee in Winter Garden – doing “good” for the community here and far.

 

Axum Coffee

CayCakes Bakery

 

 

I’m worried about my husband. A couple weeks ago, he ate at a vegan restaurant…and liked it. Last week, he made a sandwich with vegan cheese and vegan mayonnaise. But, it wasn’t until he came home with vegan bacon from Publix, that I knew he had truly gone to the dark side. This may not seem suspicious to most, but this is coming from a man who rolls his eyes when I suggest humus as an appetizer, and who proudly wears a t-shirt with the phrase Part Wolf embroidered on the front. So, twenty questions later, the five stages of grief behind me, I now accept the fact that my husband isn’t a complete traitor, he just simply likes eating vegan (on occasion). Hey, I can be vegan too (on occasion), and after eating at Dixie Dharma and Valhalla Bakery, I can eat vegan AND love it!

Dixie Dharma and Valhalla Bakery are both located inside Market on South in Downtown Orlando on South Street. I had the pleasure of trying Dixie Dharma’s Beet Tartare during the Beard in Baldwin event a few weeks ago, and I immediately knew I would visit the establishment soon (don’t tell my husband). To my over-joyed surprise, upon entering Market on South, I also found Valhalla Bakery (I stalk their donuts on Instagram). My vegan dreams came true: dinner and dessert! Now, this was by far not a date night. In a moment of sheer insanity, my husband and I decided to go as a family of four. Our ten-year-old son is an adventurous eater, but our seven-year-old daughter is not. Our chances of a happy dinner is always 50/50. Thankfully, Market on South is a kid-friendly environment with inside and outside seating, and tons of local craft beer and wine to choose from. Which is exactly what we ordered first: Quantum Leap Winery Kaley’s Rescue Red and Quantum Leap Winery Garda White. Both drinks were the rescue we needed. The red and the white are smooth and easy on the palate, with no bitter aftertaste. Thank you, Market on South, for a heavy pour (see…kid-friendly).

Quantum Leap Winery Garda White, Quantum Leap Winery Kaley’s Rescue Red

While we sipped on wine and the kids drank their Martinelli’s Gold Medal Apple Juice in the old-school glass bottle (the kids loved this), we decided on dinner. Thankfully, Dixie Dharma offers vegan hotdogs. A perfect choice for my picky-eater! But, will she be fooled…stay tuned. My son, a huge lover of chili, cheese dogs, ordered the HillBilly Chili Dawgs. My husband (#1 healthy eater) ordered four Nopales Tacos, and I ordered the Florida Fried Green Tomato (the secret’s in the sauce…get it?). Our meals would not be complete without sides. Dixie Dharma offers three different versions of mac and cheese: original, garlic, and buffalo. We decided on the original and buffalo, plus a side of Crispy Brussels and Cheesy Homies. Don’t forget: everything you are about to see is 100% vegan.

HillBilly Chili Dawgs with Cheesy Homies
Nopales Tacos
Florida Fried Green Tomato with Crispy Brussels and Original Mac and Cheese
Buffalo Mac and Cheese

My son’s chili dogs (of course I had a taste), were no ordinary hotdogs. Two vegan, not-dogs in pretzel buns, covered in house-made, Indian-spiced, chili and cheese sauce, with blackened onion and scallions. The chili alone was amazing! It was spicy but also sweet, and I loved the texture of the hearty beans. After two chili dogs, my son tapped-out (a win for my husband and I), and we finished off his side of Cheesy Homies. I need a bigger plate of these. Imagine a bowl of mini baked potatoes covered in cheese…and then imagine yourself smiling.

Tacos with jackfruit and cactus…any takers? I know that sounds crazy, but, it’s truly delicious, and it completely satisfied my need for meat. My taste buds were fooled! The Nopales Tacos are made with jackfruit carnitas, smoked Nopales cactus, blackened onions and corn, chili lime aioli, and pickled radish on a grilled corn shell. I love tacos: steak, chicken, fish, and now…jackfruit and cactus! I am simply amazed by the taste of these tacos. The jackfruit and cactus is tenderly cooked and shredded, creating a perfect bed for the crunchy pickled radish and tangy aioli. These are no dainty tacos, they are filling. We mistakenly ordered more than we had room for…but guess who is having them for lunch tomorrow…me (I bet you guessed my husband).

Finally, on to my dish: the Florida Fried Green Tomato. A delicious sandwich of Texas toast, thick-sliced green tomato, breaded, and deep-fried, with smoked, eggplant remoulade, toped with garlicky kale and the house chow-chow. Crunchy and tender at the same time. The tomato is sweet and lightly breaded, giving it an airy feeling instead of the greasy, fried food effect. My husband liked this sandwich so much, he finished one of my halves (and that’s why I’m eating his leftover tacos). My side of mac and cheese, made with creamy cashew, was silky and velvety, cheesy-perfection, with a crunchy, bread crumb topping. The Buffalo Mac and Cheese was just as good as the original, but with a spicy kick from the buffalo sauce. The Crispy Brussels were also outstanding! Charred in all the right places, mush-free (is that a word), without the bitter aftertaste some brussels sprouts dishes can have. Honestly, I know brussels sprouts get a bum rap, but Dixie Dharma does them proud.  So, did we enjoy our dinner? Was my daughter fooled by her vegan hotdog? What do you think:

Dinner is Done

Obviously, we loved our dinner at Dixie Dharma, and we will return, more than just occasionally. Dinner is done, but there is always room for dessert! My son, who couldn’t eat another bite, mysteriously had room for a S’mores Bar, while the rest of us shared Coconut Cream Pie and a Sprinkled Vanilla Cupcake. All egg free, dairy free, and vegan (not gluten free…that’s a whole other conversation). Thank you, Valhalla Bakery, for these fantastic goodies! I was shocked by the amount of sweets to choose from: cookies, brownies, blondies, doughnuts, pies, cakes, cupcakes, you name it!

Valhalla Bakery – Take Your Pick!
Coconut Cream Pie
S’mores Bar and Sprinkle Vanilla Cupcake

My poor son, we all had a couple bites of his S’mores Bar, which was chocolatey, chewy goodness. The Coconut Cream Pie was luscious and rich, and refreshingly not too sweet. Our Sprinkle Vanilla Cupcake had the perfect amount of thick, vanilla frosting, to match the spongey, vanilla cake. It had the ideal frosting to cake ratio. By the way, when it comes to sweets, my daughter is adventurous (she tried all three desserts without being asked, and loved them all).

No, I’m not a true vegan (neither is my husband, don’t let him fool you), but I am a fan of creative and tasty dishes…which Dixie Dharma and Valhalla Bakery have mastered with their vegan fare. Therefore, I am a huge fan of Market on South, and I am greatly looking forward to my next meal there (sans kids).

 

Dixie Dharma

Valhalla Bakery

Quantum Leap Winery

Market On South

 

There is nothing better than playing hooky.  Leave your responsibilities, your obligations, your worries behind and go play!  This is exactly what my husband and I did on a Friday afternoon while the kids were in school.  Granted, my husband took the day off from work and I work from home, but still, it felt delightfully naughty of us to take some time for just us two.  Especially, time spent at Disney Springs, “hiding out” at Enzo’s Hideaway. Sometimes you just need an escape, and that’s how we felt dining at Enzo’s, an old rum-running underground tunnel during the prohibition era, that was later turned into a restaurant by Enzo himself when he accidentally stumbled upon it. Maria and Enzo, a lovely, Italian couple, new to Orlando straight from Italy (Enzo literally flew in on his airplane), here to bring us three divine places to eat: Maria & Enzo’s Ristorante, Pizza Ponte, and Enzo’s Hideaway.  All three eateries located in Disney Springs, but Enzo’s Hideaway is not as obvious to find, given the mystery of its origins.  This “secret location” can be found below Maria & Enzo’s Ristorante, underground, giving it a very cozy and romantic feel, but also perfectly welcoming to families and friends of all ages.

Entrance to Enzo’s Hideaway at Disney Springs

Our amazing waiter told us this heart-warming backstory about Maria and Enzo, and how their three restaurants came to be.  Personally, I love when Disney does this with its establishments.  It makes the dining experience even more special (that might be my own opinion, but I am a storyteller after all).  Rumor has it that the original concept of this speakeasy included a password-only entrance; hence, the window in the top-center of the door.  The idea was scrapped, but the door remains.

Enzo’s Hideaway Speakeasy-Style Door

Once inside, diners are whisked away to another time period, listening to popular music by classic Italian crooners (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and more), seated under vintage-style Edison bulb lighting, at mahogany wood tables and booths with red-cushioned seats, while curiously reading the graffiti decorating the “tunnel” walls.  I couldn’t help but feel we stumbled upon an old, Italian restaurant on the streets of the Bronx or Brooklyn.  Any minute Martin Scorsese is going to walk in and start filming.  I can see my Italian relatives scurrying around their deli and restaurant in Toms River, New Jersey, while I hang-out behind the counter with my accordion-playing, great-grandfather who calls me bella.  I’m home.

Enzo’s Hideaway Mock Bar – Prohibition Style
Enzo’s Hideaway Dining Room
Enzo’s Hideaway Graffiti-Themed Walls
Enzo’s Hideaway “Gambling Room”
Enzo’s Hideaway Table Setting

Now, on to the best part of our secret date – the drinks and food!  I’m a sucker for anything with Prosecco in it (Prosecco by itself too), so, it didn’t take long for me to notice the Luciano Spritz on the menu, made with Solerno Blood Orange, Aperol, blood orange juice, and Villa Sani Prosecco.  However, the Sangria, also caught my attention.  What is a girl supposed to do with this dilemma?  Order two drinks when it’s barely past noon?  Sadly, this is not an option, when picking up kids from school is involved.  I got it!  Demand, no, politely ask my husband to order the Sangria – problem solved.  Enzo’s Sangria made with a house blend of Malbec, Burgundy, Apricot and Peach Brandy, seasonal fruits, and cinnamon spice simple syrup is refreshingly sweet and smooth. It complimented the bubbly, soured-sweetness of my Luciano Spritz nicely.  Both drinks were the perfect accompaniment to our appetizer – Salumi e Formaggi for two.  This antipasto platter is made-to-order, with fresh cuts of meat and cheese sliced in front of you at Enzo’s very own “deli counter”.  The platter consists of 24-month-cured Prosciutto, Salame Piccante, Finocchiona, 24-month-aged Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, Fontina, olives, pickled vegetables, bread sticks, and a mustard fruit spread.  The meat, cheese, pickled vegetables, breadsticks were all delicious, but the mustard fruit spread really took me by surprise.  A spread I have never seen or tried before, but can’t wait to have again.  Sweet from the fruit, but spicy, almost like the taste of horseradish – a perfect pairing with each of the three cheeses.

Enzo’s Hideaway Luciano Spritz
Enzo’s Hideaway Sangria
Enzo’s Hideaway Salumi e Formaggi

As we fork-fenced over our antipasto, a truce was called just in time to peruse the lunch menu.  Another quandary – everything looks good!  My husband ordered the Polpettine – classic meatballs with polenta, and I chose the Porchetta and Provola Panini – pork roast, provolone, grainy mustard, pear aioli, spicy cherry peppers, and arugula.  If you like the combination of salty and sweet, this panini is for you.  The pork and provolone was tender, the aioli tangy, with peppery arugula, and a zesty kick from the mustard and cherry peppers.  As the loving wife I am (sharing is caring), my husband and I exchanged plates halfway through the course, as he finished my panini, I enjoyed the meatballs and polenta. The polenta was so soft it practically melted in my mouth, and the meatballs were delicate, yet hearty, gently swimming in a luscious tomato sauce.

Enzo’s Hideaway Porchetta and Provola Panini
Enzo’s Hideaway Polpettine

Our secret lunch almost complete, our waiter asks us if we will be having dessert.  As they say, when in Rome – yes! He recommends his favorite dessert on the menu – Maritozzi con Panna.  Imagine a sweet roll stuffed with cream and Nutella, sprinkled with powdered sugar – forget imagining it, have it now!  I don’t think my explanation can clearly justify how fantastic this dessert is, but, I’ll give it a try.  The bread reminds me of a dense dinner roll that has been dusted with powdered sugar, while the cream is velvety, but not overly-sweet, which makes sense when paired with the Nutella, whose job is to make everything sweet.

Enzo’s Hideaway Maritozzi con Panna

We left our secret rendezvous with huge smiles on our faces, and full stomachs to match.  I am absolutely in love with Enzo’s Hideaway and plan to return very soon.  The dinner menu has even more delectable entrees to pick from, including a pasta dish with a thick meat sauce made with beef short ribs (I’m having that).  Enzo’s Hideaway also offers a late-night dining experience on Thursdays through Saturdays through 2am, featuring prohibition-style cocktails and a special late-night menu (I’ll need an afternoon power nap to enjoy this).  In conclusion, whether you’re playing hooky or not, Enzo’s Hideaway is the perfect spot to get “lost”, leave the stresses of life behind, and unwind, speakeasy style.

 

https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/disney-springs/enzos-hideaway/

https://www.patinagroup.com/enzos-hideaway

 

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Typically, I’m not a VIP kind of girl.  Just ask my husband about our very first date at Wendy’s when I couldn’t have been happier with my chocolate frosty (yes, I was only fifteen years old, but my love of Frosty’s remains the same).  However, on a beautiful night in Orlando, date night with one of our best couple friends, attending Beard In Baldwin Food & Wine Festival in Baldwin Park, you have to go VIP all the way!  After all, purchased tickets benefit The James Beard Foundation National Scholars Program, and grant you admission to a private cocktail event inside The Osprey Tavern (one of my favorite restaurants).  VIP or not, this festival on Saturday night, April 14th, was worth every penny, considering the insanely delicious food and drinks we tried from some of the best restaurants in the Orlando area.  My bucket list (restaurants I plan to visit – I’m not into bungee jumping) has grown tremendously!

I could go on and on about every dish, every drink, from every restaurant we tried (seriously, there wasn’t one thing I didn’t like).  But, in consideration of your time and my rambling, here is a glimpse of a few fantastic eats:

Tamale Co.
Mole Tamale – Mexican Sauce Cooked with Chocolate Abuelita Banana, Mexican Spices and Seeds
Bites & Bubbles
Salmon Cake with Lump Crab, Champagne Citrus Sauce and Micro Greens
Orlando Meats
Reuben Tartine with Pastrami, Sauerkraut, Thousand Island Dressing, Rye Bread
Dixie Dharma (Vegan)
Beet Tartare – Beet with Macadamia, Spring Onion, Nettle Oil
Black Rooster Taqueria
Fish Taco – Beer Battered Fish, Organic Corn Tortilla, Red Cabbage, Mayo, Avocado, Cilantro, Radish, Lime
Highball & Harvest
Duck Pot Pie & Stuffed Squid – Wild Onion Bisque, Duck Rillette, Corn Smut Cracker
Terralina Crafted Italian (Opening Soon at Disney Springs)
Nonna’s Pork Ragu – Over Polenta Topped with Pecorino Romano Cheese
SOCO (Southern Contemporary Cuisine)
Duck Confit on Foie Gras Buttermilk Biscuit
Partner/Executive Chef Greg Richie of SOCO

The VIP event inside The Osprey Tavern not only included specialty hors d’oevres and cocktails, but a close-up view of several prominent chefs preparing the dishes: Jeremiah Langhorne (The Dabney in Washington, D.C.), Frank Anderson (The Rez Grill, Seminole Hard Rock Tampa), Soraya Caraccioli-Kilgore (MadLab Creamery in Miami), and Jeremy Ford (Stubborn Seed in Miami).  These terrific chefs worked alongside Chef de Cuisine, Elek Kovacs and Pastry Chef, Kristy Carlucci of The Osprey Tavern.  I can’t forget to mention Master of Ceremonies, Chef Norman Van Aken of NORMAN’S at the Ritz Carlton Orlando, 1921 in Mount Dora, and Three Restaurant and No. 3 Social Rooftop Bar & Lounge in Miami. I was among culinary celebrities!  Thanks to the open kitchen inside the beautiful Osprey Tavern, I had an up-close view of the chefs hard at work on their signature plates, before they were magically whisked out to attendees by the professional and polite waitstaff (shout out to Frankie of The Osprey Tavern).  As we dined on these freshly-made hors d’oevres, we also enjoyed an array of cocktails, wines, and champagnes, while mingling around the beautiful bar that takes center stage in the restaurant.  The Osprey Tavern is cozy and inviting, but also elegant.  Imagine a visit to grandma’s house, after grandma won the lottery, and completely renovated her home to look like a classy cottage in The Hamptons. Here’s a “taste” of the VIP event:

The Osprey Tavern Bar
The Osprey Tavern Open Kitchen
Chefs In The Osprey Kitchen
Dessert Table by Chef Kristy Carlucci
Banana Nutella Tartlets by Chef Kristy Carlucci (My Favorite Dessert)
Orange Cardamom Shortbread Cookies with Chocolate Topping by Chef Kristy Carlucci
Woodford Manhattan – Woodford Reserve Bourbon, Vermouth Mata, Angostura
‘In A Garten” – Basil Infused St. Augustine Gin, Raspberry Chamomile Syrup, Lemon Oleo, Lime
Bearded Redhead – Pineapple Infused St. Augustine Vodka, Cappelletti, Lemon
Autumn Olive Farms Pork Belly by Chef Jeremiah Langhorne – Grilled Ramps, Pickled Spring Onions, Black Garlic, Mustard and Dill
Warm Celery Root by Chef Jeremy Ford – Crackling Maitake, Mustard, Herbs and Blossoms
Smoked Trout Dip by Chef Frank Anderson – Poblano-corn Vinaigrette, Tortilla
Roasted Pheasant Roulade by Chef Elek Kovacs – Charred Corn Relish, Spring Ramps, Foie Gras

I will never forget my night attending Beard in Baldwin; especially, the fabulous food and drinks.  The VIP experience gifted my husband and me with a personal look at several outstanding chefs bustling in the kitchen, and the chance to mingle with other foodies like ourselves (one couple shared a memorable story of their wedding reception inside The Osprey Tavern – “I think it’s time for a vow renewal” – I said to my husband).  Being a VIP has grown on me, and to my family’s dismay, I may not be such a low-maintenance date after all.

 

Source:

Beard In Baldwin

Restaurants Mentioned:

Tamale Co.

Bites & Bubbles

Orlando Meats

Dixie Dharma

Black Rooster Taqueria

Highball & Harvest

Terralina Crafted Italian

SOCO-Southern Contemporary Cuisine

The Osprey Tavern

 

 

 

 

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Olivia’s Cafe at Disney’s Old Key West Resort is no spring chicken.  Opening more than two decades ago, Olivia’s may not be the new kid on the block, but this somewhat hidden Disney gem with mouthwatering food will never go out of style.  Words like glamorous or trendy may not be the first to come to mind, be that as it may, the restaurant is a class-act with a comfortable, family-friendly atmosphere, a laid-back Florida Keys feel, and filled with staff that make everyone feel at home.  After my recent dinner here, I can’t help but wonder – Why don’t I come here more often?

A Friday night outing with close friends on vacation from New Jersey, during the typical chaos of spring break in Orlando, at the most sought after vacation destination in Florida, can be stressful to say the least.  Layer in five energetic children that have spent a very long, hot day in the park, finding a place that is family-friendly but also appealing to a grown-up’s palate (not that I don’t enjoy Disney’s chicken fingers and mac-n-cheese) was a must for all of our sanity.

In a uniquely Disney way, Olivia’s Café came to the rescue!  After the typical musical chairs that comes with a large group trying to navigate a restaurant table, we take our seats.  The kids are all happily plugged-in to electronic devices (desperate times call for desperate measures), and the first question our cheerful waitress asks – Would anyone care for a drink?  All four adults answer in unison – Yes!!!  I ask the waitress, as a foodie usually does, to please bring me one of their most-popular, signature cocktails, and a few minutes later, she gifts me with a Turtle Krawl.  This sweet, but not too sweet cocktail tricks your senses into believing you’re lying on a white-sand beach, and not watching your son spill his entire glass of soda all over the table.  Pineapple and orange juices blend nicely with the tang of lime juice, while three different rums (because one is never enough) marry together in beautiful coconut rum, spice rum, and white rum harmony.

As the Turtle Krawl works its magic granting peace among us four, the waitress suggests many appealing appetizers, but when she says onion rings from the “secret menu”, that’s it! Onion rings are most often a good pick to begin with, onion rings from a “secret menu”, they have to be even better…and yes, they were amazing!  Crunchy, salty, fried, golden rings with a pop of sweet from the cooked onions.  We ate our “secret menu” onion rings feeling like VIPs.  Well, that was us, until we slowed down enough to look up from our munching to see that several other tables also had them.  The jealously subsided faster than it was felt, most likely because of how delicious these secret menu onion rings are.

When it was time to order our entrees, I perused the menu of several dishes that I imagined were all incredible: Plantation Key Pork Chop, Tortuga Seafood Stew, Seven Mile Sea Scallops.  Finally, after several minutes of waffling, I asked the waitress, yet again, for Olivia’s most popular entree, and she recommended one dish that gets a lot of attention: Southernmost Buttermilk Chicken.  After eating this dish, I can clearly see why this southern jewel is the most popular girl in the class, and not in a mean girl kind of way.  Boneless chicken breast so tender, I envision it marinated in the buttermilk for days, and so delicate I barely used my knife to cut it.  The chicken’s crispy exterior is perfectly complimented by the southern gravy that has a perfect amount of spice and is smooth as silk.  Tender and crunchy chicken, creamy southern gravy, nestled on top of crisp green beans and buttery, smooth mashed potatoes.  Comfort food to the max.

I managed not to eat my entire dinner plate, considering the fact that I wanted to unbutton my jeans, a clear warning sign of when to stop, but…there’s always room for dessert!  Our waitress made the kids’ day with DIY sundaes, and she made my day with Banana Bread Pudding Sundae.  It was so sweet of her to bring my husband an extra spoon to share, and he really did put up a good fight, but that dessert had my name written all over it.  A warm bread pudding with a Bananas Foster topping and a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream that slowly melted on top…heavenly!  The bread pudding was moist (sorry, I hate that word too), the bananas foster was syrupy and luscious, and the ice cream was velvety, sweet.  A perfect ending to our dinner.

A successful dinner in the books, I will not let too much time pass without returning to Olivia’s Cafe.  Kids, or no kids, it is a perfect spot for a delicious meal and a serene atmosphere.  A classic Disney resort restaurant, I hope you venture to soon, and if you’ve already been, go again…and order the Turtle Krawl.

Olivia’s Cafe

Disney’s Old Key West Resort

1510 N Cove Rd. Orlando, FL 32830

https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/old-key-west-resort/olivia-cafe/

 

 

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