Where to Dine Local in Orlando

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As a local addendum to Tampa Bay Times writer Laura Reiley’s “Farm to Fable” story, Edible Orlando went directly to the source: local farmers, fishmongers and distributors to ask who is sourcing directly from the farmer. As Reiley revealed in her expose,  several restaurateurs in her locale had a somewhat flexible definition of local, and others were downright deceitful. We asked representatives of three independent producers/distributors in the Orlando area if the same problems are prevalent in our community, and for shoutouts to some of the Central Florida chefs who are doing local right.

For Dale Volkert (pictured above) of Lake Meadow Naturals in Ocoee, labels were an initial challenge—when he found that some dishonest retailers were peeling the stickers from cartons of his cage-free eggs and selling inferior products under his name, he switched to a costlier inkjet-printed carton. Like many producers, Volkert sells to chefs via one or more distributors and does not always know who’s buying his eggs and poultry, but says he does sell direct in the Orlando area to Luma on Park, Prato, The Rusty Spoon and The COOP, as well as the Ritz-Carlton, Waldorf Astoria and several Walt Disney World hotels.

The Rusty Spoon also turns up on Cinthia Sandoval’s list of restaurants that regularly purchase wild-caught Florida seafood from her employer, Wild Ocean Seafood Market. Sandoval also cites Sushi Pop as a frequent customer along with a host of others who buy more sporadically, but offers the caveat that “this list can change in a heartbeat.” As of April 27, that list included The Table, Pharmacy, Thirsty Gator, Kim Wu Chinese and Houndstooth. 

Cinthia Sandoval displays a golden crab.

Cinthia Sandoval displays a golden crab from Florida waters.

“We have had our names put on menus when our tomatoes and vegetables are not even in season,” says Melanie Corun of Waterkist Farm in Sanford. Every single week during their season, Corun said they sell to Luma on Park, Prato, Ravenous Pig, Cask & Larder, K Restaurant, Vines Grille & Wine Bar, Slate and Rusty Spoon.

While large distributors like FreshPoint Central Florida often work with local farms and promote their products to chefs in a transparent manner along with offerings from further afield, independent Emily Rankin of Local Roots sells only produce and proteins grown and raised in Florida. Her website lists a number of “ingredient driven” restaurants she services in Orlando, Tampa, St. Petersburg, the Space Coast and Miami, and Orlando restaurants that she claims use “a lot of local” include K Restaurant, The Strand, Smiling Bison and The Rusty Spoon.

While Rankin has a growing list of wholesale clients, she says that Orlando remains her “least supportive” market despite the fact that she’s been serving it the longest. Though we can attest to the many positive changes in Central Florida’s local food seen since we launched the first issue of Edible Orlando in 2010, we’d love to see Florida produce and proteins on many more local menus and know for sure that we’re buying the real deal. In the meantime, we’ll continue to support the businesses above.

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