It’s easy to think of Central Florida as theme parks and fast-food restaurants, but just beyond Interstate 4, small towns celebrate our true identity with distinctive main streets, many getting a second chance with family-owned businesses. For the first installment of a three-part series, we asked Orange County locals to share their favorite main-street spots.
Audubon Garden District, Orlando
Jimmy Sherfey lives in Audubon Park and is a food and beverage journalist focused on supply chain dynamics and the triple bottom line. He writes for Eater.com and Roast Magazine.
Favorite places to dine or for a quick bite: As a journalist who writes almost exclusively about coffee, I drink a lot of it, probably too much. After a couple of years of sipping coffee from every region and in every style imaginable from the world’s most celebrated roasters, I recently came to the epiphany that Lineage, the coffee bar in East End right across the street from where I live, roasts world-class coffee. Each day I see this same steadfast commitment to quality in other food disciplines in a quarter-mile stretch of Corrine Drive. While this thoroughfare appears to be an overnight gastronomic gem, it took years of uncompromising innovation from a talented group of forward-thinking individuals who now call the quirky main street home.
Favorite watering holes: Redlight Redlight catalyzed Audubon’s gustatory renaissance upon moving into the neighborhood in 2012, and it continues to show guests the next big beer style in unassuming fashion. Full disclosure: My brother is part owner. That said, well before he bought in and years before the Corrine buildout, founder/brewer Brent Hernandez was sharing the magic of spontaneous fermentation at a time when only a handful of people stateside would touch a sour brew.
Favorite places to shop, especially food-related items: Central Florida’s thought leaders in the farm-to-table movement have tilled the Audubon Garden District’s soils. East End Market is a brilliant example of simple, straightforward quality outshining the convoluted status quo. While there, do not miss out on the fresh pork cuts like Irish bangers, fancy bacon, chorizo and headcheese from pigsmith Matt Hinckley.
Favorite markets: Just a stone’s throw from East End Market, locavores can visit the Audubon Community Market that takes place every Monday night. Expect a laid-back shopping experience, picking up fairly priced, fresh, local produce while tucking into fresh and tasty street-fare like tacos, tamales, empanadas and pupusas. In addition to seasonal veggies, grab fresh milk, cheese, free-range eggs and local meats.
Anything else that makes you love the place: With their fresh produce at both the East End Market and Audubon Community Market, innovative Fleet Farming is sewing a crucial seed for an urban agricultural model. This group of environmentally conscious salad peddlers (they farm, harvest and transport all produce on bikes), sells hyper-local salad mix that lasts three times as long as store-bought blends, tasting three times as delicious.
Their simple motto of “Grow Food, Not Lawns” further reinforces the neighborhood’s reputation as Orlando’s Garden District. Every Sunday they tend to rows of arugula, Bibb and red romaine lined up in front of ranch-style houses. It’s all so Audubon it hurts.
If you want to be inspired by and learn from the innovators of the living food lab that is Audubon Park, get thee to the community around Corrine.
Thornton Park, College Park, Mills/50 District
Brendan O’Connor is editor-in-chief of Bungalower.com, covering downtown Orlando and surrounding neighborhoods, including Thornton Park, College Park and the Mills/50 District.
Favorite places to dine or for a quick bite: One of the best ways to start your walkabout in Thornton Park is with a fancy frozen-booze-on-a-stick from the Pop Parlour, a craft ice pop shop on East Central. If you’re not interested in having a refreshing mimosa-sicle, you can always go for something like avocado coconut, blackberry kiwi lemonade or jai alai peach. They’re not afraid to mix flavor profiles here, so you shouldn’t be either.
World of Beer has the best patio space downtown, making it one of the top people-watching spots in the city with great views of the Linton E. Allen memorial fountain, cute joggers and a Skittles rainbow of fruit flavors of Orlando residents making their way around the lake. Their beer selection is, of course, extensive, but they also have some great simple dishes like their artisan sausage board, Colorado chili or Guinness bratwurst. Watch where you put your purse—the swans are drawn to shiny things.
Favorite watering holes: I can never stumble through Thornton Park without having a pitcher of beer at Burton’s Bar. This dive staple has undergone some extensive renovations in the past year, and I find it hard to resolve the “dive” label with its more polished interior. That being said, you will undoubtedly still be treated to the common sights of a random bulldog on a bar stool next to its owner (you will always find at least three dogs inside), hungry bar hoppers inhaling popcorn, friends playing billiards and somebody hogging the digital juke box while they wait for their laundry to finish next door.
Although it is more of a performance venue, the bar at the Abbey is one of the most entertaining spots in Thornton Park to grab a drink and chat with pals. If you’re lucky you may even catch some cabaret. I even caught Meghan Trainor there once during Come Out With Pride. The eccentric decor borders on vampire bordello meets Ann Taylor.
The Falcon Bar and Gallery is probably the hippest cat on Washington Street. While we miss their T-shirt printing days (when they were known as Mother Falcon), their craft beers and friendly service have eased the loss. The monthly art shows feature some of the best artists in town and are usually accompanied with some sort of provocative theme. They also happen to have a whole wall devoted to their Analog Dating Service. People take selfies in the photo booth, fill out a questionnaire and then tape their photo to an envelope on the wall. They then place their other photos in the envelopes of the people they are interested in meeting.
Favorite places to shop, especially for food-related items: Woof Gang Bakery on the corner of Washington and Summerlin has got some strong cookie game. Their treats may be for your pooch, but they’re often so pretty that they make even my mouth water. My puppy, Bernie Taupin, is obsessed with their “puppy crack.”
Favorite markets: Obviously when talking about markets we have to espouse the charms of the Orlando Farmers Market at Lake Eola. This market has grown in leaps and bounds since its conception. The new fencing allows for open drink containers on the park lawn, the live music is always stellar and the food vendors aren’t too shabby either. We’re looking forward to when they have more produce vendors, but at the moment its fair-feel is a welcome addition to our Sunday adventures.
Anything else that makes you love the place: The brick-lined streets and mature oaks tend to seduce people into staying a little bit longer than they often expect, despite the siren call of Thornton Park’s wilder sibling, Wall Street, at the other side of Lake Eola.
COLLEGE PARK (EDGEWATER DRIVE)
Favorite watering holes: The pay-what-you-wanna model at Downtown Credo shouldn’t work, but obviously it does. The friendly faces, the open laptops at all of the funky makeshift tables and the thrifty artwork on the walls can lure you into spending a whole day here. When you eventually do leave, you’re happy in the knowledge that your $5 iced coffee money is supporting a local business and funding growing local businesses through their Rally Maker program.
If my khakis are freshly pressed, and my ’do finely slapped, I like to pretend I have money and saddle up at the Taproom at Dubsdread at their 7 p.m. happy hour and watch all the blue hairs complain about their 401 JKs or whatever. Make sure you park your dirty car down the street or you’ll get looks as you walk in. I’m obsessed with their apple bacon grilled cheese.
If you want an unpretentious spot to grab a Bud without anyone making fun of you, head over to Ollie’s Public House. It’s a classic little pub/restaurant with cold beers and chill, divey service in the heart of a gentrifying College Park.
Favorite places to shop, especially for food-related items: The newly opened Shoppes of College Park is a little cornucopia of kitsch. It’s full of local vendors selling their wares all under one roof. It’s one of the only places in town where you can find Edison bulbs right next to a punny T-shirt or a vintage candy shop.
Dechoes Resale is probably one of the most eccentric vintage shops still in town. Mike Colangelo, one half of the owners, is really into loud golf pants and suits, so I always know that there will be something unapologetically flamboyant just waiting for me to take home and hide from my boyfriend.
Favorite markets: Infusion Tea, besides having a variety of yummy tea drinks, also has a really fun retail section. Also … I can’t stop taking photos of myself in front of their weird retro patio structure thing.
Anything else that makes you love the place: College Park real estate is super-hot right now and since a lot of the young couples that are moving into the western perimeters of the district, nearer to OBT, are coming from our next-door neighbor, I’ve taken to calling it Winter Park-lite. I’m really interested in seeing how that affects the retail and restaurant climate along Edgewater Drive. I hope it doesn’t affect that vintage Florida vibe that really resonates there.
Favorite places to dine or for a quick bite: The Strand has given me a fever, the only cure for which is an avocado sandwich with the grain of the day. I love saddling up at the bar and watching the staff at work in the kitchen while I shove a tasty ’wich in my face. They’re a welcome addition to the Mills 50 dining scene.
To be honest, I was like a lot of people in the sense that I was in love with Black Rooster Taqueria before they even opened. The owners are adorable and very social-media-savvy, so I’ve been following their journey ever since I broke the story that they were taking over the former Tony’s Deli space. Now that they’re open, I’m happy to say that my love of them is totally validated. The portions are sane and healthy, and I always leave with that “happy full” sensation that comes from not overeating and actually tasting my food.
It’s not only fun to say Mamak, but it’s fun to eat there, too. The Asian Fusion cuisine is a bit of an adult step up from its Mills 50 Asian street food cousin at Hawker’s. Even the interior is a bit more “swanky-modern.” It’s serving as a friendly introduction for the less-adventurous Orlando foodies to the Colonial/Mills section of town, too.
Favorite watering holes: Sitting right on the Orlando Urban Trail, Ten 10 Brewing is fast becoming one of the best side trips to make in the Mills 50 neighborhood. They’ve got a great selection of local brews and friendly service, and when you’re done you can make your way home via the bike trail and skip the crazy traffic on Virginia.
Lil Indies is a comfy, unpretentious spot to grab a cocktail, and the prices are totally agreeable. They sometimes have a daily punch bowl deal where you can fill a cup for only a few dollars and then feel fancy with your pinky up on one of the thread-worn sofas in the corner. Plus, if you’re into live music, you can just hop next door to Will’s Pub to catch a show.
It’s not a coincidence that one of my favorite new bars is located next to one of my favorite new restaurants, Black Rooster Taqueria. The Guesthouse owners completely gutted the former Peacock Room location and have transformed the dank interior into a light and airy hall full of luscious ferns and dreamy lighting, reminiscent of Instagram darling Propagation up the street, but with Moscow Mules.
Favorite places to shop, especially for food-related items: Phuoc Loc Tho Super Oriental Market is one of the largest Oriental supermarkets in town. They’ve got a massive selection of cookware, utensils and foodstuffs. If you’re looking for dried squid or some weirdly preserved mushroom, this is your spot. They’ve even got some fun statuary.
There’s a fun little British Shoppe on the corner of Park Lake a nd Mills Avenue that is full of little goodies like Vegemite, butterbeer and even a Tardis. It’s a fun type of little mom-and-pop that I hope gets to stick around as the district changes and grows.
Anything else that makes you love the place: Mills 50 is a neighborhood in the middle of some really big transitions. In the eight years I’ve been living there I’ve seen a brewery, winery and a whole slew of award-winning restaurants open up. Where I once saw only homeless people with shopping carts I now see BMWs from Winter Park. You can really smell the money moving in.
Bob Morris is the author of five novels and eight non-fiction books and is president of Story Farm, a Winter Park–based custom publishing and PR/marketing firm.
Favorite places to dine or for a quick bite: At last count there were no fewer than 64 places where you can eat or drink within a 10-minute walk of our Story Farm office. Yes, it’s an embarrassment of riches, and one that I am proud to show out-of-town clients who have never heard of Winter Park, let alone imagined there existed such a critical mass of culinary goodness in Central Florida.
Breakfast: For a sit-down, I like getting around a shakshuka in the courtyard at Barnie’s Coffee Kitchen or a Fried Green BLT and Egg sandwich at The Coop. For grab-and-go, it’s the Monamartre crêpe (bacon and Swiss cheese) at Croissant Gourmet.
Lunch: Any of the tiffin lunches at Mynt (like lamb vindaloo with an appetizer, soup, naan and dessert for or the raw or cooked bento boxes at Umi are among the best deals going. If I’m planning to nap in the afternoon, I’ll precede it with a Widowmaker pizza or La Bestia sandwich with house-cured meats and caciacavallo at Prato. And I might balance all that meaty wonderfulness with a plant-based lunch at Daya, like the killer-good Buffalo cauliflower wrap.
Favorite watering holes: If the weather outside is tolerable, then wine or craft beer at Parkview. If it’s crummy, then the bar at Prato. Late-night I enjoy the retro grooviness of Park Social where the couches are comfy and even old rhythmless guys like me sometimes get up and dance.
Favorite markets: The Winter Park Farmer’s Market can be more of a social event than a place to find truly local produce. Too many vendors buy stuff wholesale and truck it in, the notable exceptions being Frog Song Organics, Waterkist Farms, Winter Park Honey and Lake Meadow Naturals. We go there mostly to buy plants from the Wilson family at Tropic Décor or bromeliads from Annie Roo Collections. If there’s one thing missing from downtown Winter Park, other than a decent live-music venue, it’s a grocery store. Ah, for the days when the Marketessen (later Federucci’s Marketessen, which closed in 1991) was on the avenue.
Favorite places to shop: My lovely wife is the world’s greatest note-writer, so I hit the Paper Shop and Morse Museum gift shop on a regular basis to keep her stocked up on stationery and notecards. And barely a week goes by that I don’t pay a visit to Miller’s Hardware when something needs fixing or just to drop by on Saturdays for a free bag of popcorn.
Rona Gindin is a restaurant and travel writer; ronarecommends.com.
Favorite places to dine or for a quick bite: I find myself grabbing quick lunches lately at Michael’s Ali Coal Fired Pizza, with hand-tossed pizzas right inside the Plant Street Market, and at Melts on Main Street where the whole town seems to congregate for homey lunches. I’m also keen on the freshly pressed juices at Press’d. On historic Plant Street, I often split small plates with friends at The Tasting Room, a cozy spot with creative food and craft cocktails. Al Fresco is good for Mediterranean-influenced lunches and dinners.
Favorite watering holes: I like to settle into The Attic Door for an evening with friends for the trivia contest on Tuesdays or as a date-night destination on weekends. We sip wine and nibble on pretzels with beer-cheese dip while settled into a sofa watching mellow musicians play. Pilar’s is a fun, snazzy spot for martinis and live music. Can I throw in a mention of Axum Coffee, a relaxing, friendly community gathering spot with excellent java?
Favorite places to shop, especially for food-related items: I’m a regular at The Farmacy, which is so committed to locally produced foods that sometimes a neighbor will drop off a few eggplants for the owners to sell in the morning. I buy the natural eggs, the house-made granola and organic produce there, including multi-colored carrots.
The crusty breads, chocolate bouchons and almond croissants at the bakery Pane d’Or are a welcome new addition to town. The soft pretzels, traditional or covered with cheese, at Euro Bake World are a family favorite. The fruit and custard tarts are great desserts for dinner parties. When I want fun spreads for either bakery’s breads, I buy compound butters at Market to Table Cuisine, such as maple-bacon. I often have chef-owner Ryan Freelove’s pancetta and cannellini bean soup for dinner.
Favorite markets: I’m at the Winter Garden Farmer’s Market nearly every weekend, with stops while I’m there at both Plant Street Market and The Farmacy. In addition to fruits, vegetables and prepared foods like chocolate-covered pretzels, I’m fond of the cute knit kiddie hats at Gina Rosa’s Hem of His Garment and the serving dishes at FABU Pottery.
Anything else that makes you love the place: Downtown Winter Garden’s energy is just terrific. Plant Street is charming and filled with locally owned business selling unusual attire, quirky home furnishings, and interesting foods. A group of elderly gentlemen performs outside on Friday evenings while kids sit on swings. And, of course, the West Orange Trail runs right through Plant Street, which is why the bicycle shops have plenty of rentals.