Winter Garden

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

 

 

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We were recently invited to check out the new renovation at Bonefish in Winter Garden as well as sample the delicious Florida Stone crabs that are in season.

Florida stone crabs, sold cold, are very meaty and juicy with a rich, sweet flavor and what’s more – they can be quite a sustainable seafood dish.

Fishermen remove one of their claws and return the crab to the ocean where it can re-grow its lost limb. Though stone crab claws are tender inside, on the outside, they’re strong enough to break an oyster’s shell.

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Orlando Bonefish Grill restaurants are now offering stone crab claws in all Florida locations, where they are locally sourced.

Sold by the pound, Bonefish Grill’s stone crabs come fresh off the Florida docks and served the way they were meant to be served, chilled, cracked, and ready for dipping.

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In Winter Garden, the interior recently underwent a new renovation with an industrial, sleek look that harkens back to an estuary or mangrove idea – a place where fish love to hang out at. There’s even a large decorative art piece of a shiny metallic fish on one of the walls.

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The bang bang shrimp is a favorite here and for good reason – crunchy, sweet, crispy and spicy tangy, creamy – it’s quite good and a highlight of the menu.

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I really enjoyed my fish and chips as well, three cod fillets, tempura-battered in a special blend of seasoning, served with French fries and tartar sauce.

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The corn and crab chowder was disappointing as it was served at a tepid lukewarm temperature and was rather bland in flavor. The corn and crab were fresh, but the chowder soup itself was lacking.

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The teriyaki chicken rice bowl also disappointed – the chicken was bland and the rice was undercooked. The teriyaki sauce was too salty and the presentation overall was unappetizing.

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Definitely needs some work in the kitchen to bring the standard up to make up for the misses.

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The Big Easy

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Winter Garden is coming up in the Central Florida foodie scene. Despite being far west of Orlando in western Orange County, many new restaurants have been popping up in this once sleepy area of town. Most recently, Four Rivers Smokehouse BBQ restaurant established a western outpost of their highly popular barbecue restaurant replete with indoor dining out here in Winter Garden.

The Big Easy is a new authentic New Orleans-style cajun “home-cookin'” restaurant located in Winter Garden, serving up some real mighty fine dishes from the heart of Louisiana country. Inside The Big Easy, memorabilia such as gold and purple beads, newspaper clippings, dolls, and umbrellas hang along the walls, all symbolizing the good times found in New Orleans. Vibrant purple and yellow walls frame the interior. Brass band and jazz music is the soundtrack to The Big Easy, and I even caught myself tapping my foot to the beat once or twice.

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Authentic New Orleans cajun cooking is hard to find here in Central Florida. There are plenty of imitators but very few originators. Many times in the places I have visited, the spices and flavors are missing or the ingredients are too processed. Not the case here at The Big Easy, the food is the real deal and made from scratch on the premises.

We start with the Cajun Crab Dip ($8.99) a creamy dip made with cheese and crab and served with a toasted baguette. The crab dip is full of wonderful spices and flavors that delight the taste buds, and is definitely a great start to this culinary journey into the Louisiana low country. If the crab dip isn’t your flavor for appetizer, you can try the alligator bites, shrimp poppers, praline kahlua brie, or the nawlins seafood sampler filled fried oysters, shrimp and crawfish with a side of homemade remoulade sauce.

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Cajun Crab Dip ($8.99)


We also ordered a cup of the chicken and sausage gumbo ($4.99 for 8 oz cup) , a flavorful dish made with fresh chicken, sausage, rice and a lovely, hearty broth.

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chicken and sausage gumbo ($4.99 for 8 oz cup) 

For my entree, I choose Estrelle’s Crawfish Etoufee ($12.99). Étouffée or etouffee (pronounced: [e.tu.fe]) is a dish found in both Cajun and creole cuisine typically served with shellfish over rice. The base of an étouffée is a dark roux which should be dark brown. Onions, green peppers and celery are added to the roux. The étouffée is usually seasoned with cayenne pepper, paprika, white pepper, fresh garlic, fresh parsley, salt, and perhaps even a host of other seasonings. The dish is usually mounted with butter for richness and then served with white rice cooked in seafood stock. At The Big Easy, Estrelle’s Crawfish Etoufee has a certain kick to it, reminded me of the fond memories from my trips to New Orleans and the fine cajun food I experienced there. Its all about the spices and The Big Easy does it right! One thing that I noticed however, was that the rice was a bit dry on my visit and could have been a bit more fresh. The etoufee was still amazing despite this, and the crawfish and roux mingled in a wonderful dance in my mouth. Awesome.

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Estrelle’s Crawfish Etoufee ($12.99)



A friend ordered the Louisiana Low Country Shrimp and Grits ($12.99), a heaping of lovely grits topped with shrimp and a thick sun dried tomato alfredo sauce on top. A truly decadent dish that was thoroughly enjoyed at the table. We also ordered the popular Grandma’s Jambalaya ($9.99), made with andouille sausage, chicken, caramelized vegetables, spices, and all mixed with rice.

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Louisiana Low Country Shrimp and Grits ($12.99)

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Grandma’s Jambalaya ($9.99) with cornbread



The Big Easy also serves a large variety of various po boy sandwiches (oyster, shrimp, etc), muffuletta, and burgers, including a famous Turkey burger.

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Wife’s Famous Turkey Burger

The staff here is wonderful; our waitress is attentive and genuine, coming back often to check up on us during our meal. Featuring all the authentic New Orleans down-home country cajun cooking that you can hope to find in Central Florida, The Big Easy should be on every’s list to try this fall!

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The Big Easy Restaurant
Website: http://facebook.com/whodatbigeasy
Address:
15502 Stoneybrook West Pkwy Ste 120, Winter Garden, FL 34787
Phone: 407-654-3279

The Big Easy on Urbanspoon

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