Archive for the ‘Restaurants’ Category

Tea Time–An Infusion of Good Vibes

January 19, 2010

This is a Tearoom Experience You Won't Soon Forget

Tearooms come in all shapes and sizes.   

When we think of a tearoom, we often picture an elegant Victorian setting with silver, three-tiered trays loaded with cucumber sandwiches, scones & petite fours and lovely ladies wearing red hats and dressed in their Sunday finest. Up till now, those are the tea shoppes we have visited and blogged about for this segment of LanceAroundOrlando.com.   

To conclude this series on tearooms near Disney World, Mrs. LanceAround, Number One Daughter and I travelled to downtown Orlando, just 15 minutes north of Disney, and paid a visit to Infusion Tea.   

Grandma Never Had Tea Here

Teamap.com lists Infusion as an “Urban” tearoom, “A modern tea house and organic/vegetarian cafe.” It ranks 19th out of 117 tearooms in Florida.  That ranking is completely wrong–Infusion is in a class all by itself!   

Upon entering Infusion, the modern, lime green plastic chairs and the co-op artisan gift shop instantly communicate that you aren’t in Grandma’s Tea Room anymore!   

Great Tea and Fresh Baked Goods

We decided to make a meal of it and ordered the tempeh chili, three-dip flat bread platter, today’s special potato crepes, a piece of red velvet cake and the more traditional cucumber sandwich and scones with clotted cream to round out our tea tasting.   

Unlike fancy tearooms, at Infusion you place your order at the counter before finding an empty table. The waitress was knowledgable and thorough, but she never smiled and didn’t seem particularly glad to have a customer. [1/23/10 Editor’s Note:  This morning, another server at Infusion informed us that 0ur waitress is from Haiti and has loved ones there.  They are okay, but this could explain why she was not smiling during our visit.  Our thoughts go out to her and her loved ones!]  Soon after ordering, we were served our scones and it was obvious that the clotted cream had been placed in its little plastic container at the start of the business day and left to coagulate in the refrigerator ever since.  I was prepared to be very disappointed.   

It didn’t last long.   

First up was the three-dip flat bread.  A dollop of freshly made hummus beside a scoop of chutney and then a smattering of tabouleh served with slices of crisp, flat bread.  All of it was delicious.  Then came the cucumber sandwich.  Traditional cucumber sandwiches are made with paper thin, near transparent slices of cucumber.  Infusion appeared to take pride in cucumber slices that were almost too thick to bite.  My disappointment gave way to wonder as I noticed the three-bean edamame, chick pea and black bean salad beside the sandwich.  Both were quite tasty.   

Then came the tempeh chili topped with sour cream and cheese and the potato crepe also topped with sour cream.  The crepe needed some salt, which was easily provided.  The chili was a perfect refuge from an unusually chilly Florida evening.   

All This and We Had Some Tea as Well

Oh…yeah…and we had some tea.   

Number one daughter selected Monk’s Tea.  Turns out it was referring more to a Monastic Order than her favorite TV show that stars Tony Shaloub, but we all agreed the tea was supreme-o!   

While Mrs. LanceAround and I thought the tearoom fare was way above average, Number One Daughter was less enthusiastic.  As she put it, the tearoom was passable, but the artisan gift shop made the trip worthwhile.   

Creative, Artistic Offerings Inside Infusion

Local artists share in the rent, display and staffing of the gift shop which occupies half of the space within Infusion Tea. Number One Daughter would squeal with delight as she encountered one creative piece after another.   

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I put a lot of photos into this post.  Unfortunately, upon review, I notice that they lack the scent and the taste that made up the best part of Infusion tea.  

Pity.  

We can go grab that taste whenever we want.  The fine readers of my blog, however, will have to wait until they travel to Orlando.  Fortunately for them, they will have read this post and will know where to go for a delicious and memorable tea time.  

In the meantime, pass the clotted cream, would you honey?   

Infusion Tea
1600 Edgewater Drive
Orlando, FL 32804
407.999.5255
www.InfusionOrlando.com   

We'll Be Back!

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The Tea Cup

January 15, 2010

A Tea Room Experience Like No Other!

Mrs. LanceAround was feeling bad.

It was the coldest week in Florida’s history and Number Two Son had just left to go back to college in Sarasota.  Mrs. LanceAround did not notice that the new winter coat we bought him for Christmas had been left behind.  There goes the “mother of the year” award!

Since we have been enjoying tea rooms in the Disney Area, we decided to drive the two hours to Sarasota, take Number Two Son his coat and enjoy a tea room along the way.

According to TeaMap.com, the # 1 tea room in Florida is the Victorian Grace in Brandon, FL about 55 minutes from Disney World.  We called them, only to discover that their last seating for afternoon tea is at 1pm.  This puzzled us since typically afternoon tea is seved around 3pm?  In addition, the link to their website on TeaMap.com was not working.

Lucky for us!

It turns out that just a mile away from Victorian Grace is The Tea Cup, ranked # 3 in Florida.  They close at 4pm and we were able to get there just in time.

Lynn is Proud of Her New Business

The beautiful decking at the back of The Tea Cup told us we had arrived at someplace special.  In addition to an elegantly decorated tea room, a section of The Tea Cup was a gift shop.  Owner Lynn Davis spoke with pride as she described her efforts to remodel prior to opening just two years ago.

Since we had the misfortune of visiting The Tea Cup during the coldest week in Florida’s history, we could not fully enjoy the outside garden that was shaded by an enormous oak tree beautifully infused with a plant that appeared to be from the Araceae family.  The wrought iron benches, tiled pathways and ornate archway in the outdoor garden indicated that this would be a very special place to enjoy a springtime tea!

Inside, the tea room (pictured above) was peaceful, relaxing and romantic.  Swept up in the grandeur, I leaned over to Mrs. LanceAround, stroked her lovely face, and was about to say…  But just then my phone rang and I spent the next few minutes before getting afternoon tea dealing with a business issue.  Oh well.

Phone call over, the food arrived and it was magnificent.  Lynn insisted that we try the portabello mushroom sandwich.  She was right–It was to die for!  The scones were about the best I had ever tasted.  Everything was obviously made fresh.  You could taste the loving pride that went into every bite.

Their website states they are “A Garden Style Tea Room With Eveything to Delight The Feminine Heart.”  But even those of us with masculine hearts find enjoyment at The Tea Cup!

Next time you’re in Florida, skip the mouse and pay a visit to The Tea Cup.  It’s a vacation experience you won’t forget.

The Tea Cup
1107 Lithia Pinecrest Road
Brandon, FL 33511
813.654.6543
http://www.TheTeaCupTeaRoom.com

Tea Time Disconnect at Wishes Brew

January 12, 2010

(Editor’s note:  Office Manager Anne read the following post and commented is was a “scathing review” of Wishes Brew Tea House.  Ouch.  I did not mean to be “scathing.”  There were some, easily correctable, negatives about Wishes Brew, but our overall experience was more positive than negative.  However, re-reading the review I found some cleverly worded phrases that I am loathe to revise.  *sigh*.  These are the challenges of the journalistic artist…Your comments…as always…are very much appreciated–LanceAround.)

After the lovely experience we had at the Hart Sisters Tea Room in Sanford, we decided to use TeaMap.com to try some other nearby tea shops.

Tea rooms near Disney are becoming hard to find as both Sherlock’s in Celebration and Churchill’s on West Hwy. 192 have closed their doors.

The next closest tea room is the Wishes Brew Tea House of Hunter’s Creek.  Our experience there proved to be as schizophrenic as the name of the tea shoppe.  Is “Wishes Brew” meant to be a play on the expression “witch’s brew?”  If not, the unfortunate allusion proved to be prophetic.

The first thing you notice upon entering Wishes Brew is the dichotomy of the furnishings.  Interspersed throughout the elegant, Victortorian style tables, chairs and place settings are seatings obviously designed for the masculine set; dark wood, upholstered chairs with masculine table settings and chess sets are a stark contrast to the whimsical “Alice in Wonderland” tea set or our dainty, white table.

In the center of the room was a platform containing extra large, king and queen throne-like chairs.  According to our waiter they are used by “reservation only.”  These different table settings further added to our dual feelings about this place.  We loved the creativity and whimsy; the yin and yang.  But what lay ahead?  Were in for “Wishes” or “Witches” a-brewing?  Turns out, it was a little of both.

The menu was a typical tea room menu and Mrs. LanceAround and I eagerly ordered the afternoon tea while Number One Daughter selected the hummus platter.  Our second disconnect occurred with the waiter, who was a handsome, eager to please young man.  He was personable and engaging, but lacked some of the social graces one might expect from a person charged with the serving of an afternoon tea.

The tea, scones, sandwiches, pastries and hummus were served.  Thus came the final disconnect.  The hummus tasted like it was a store bought.  The pita was sliced, buttered and toasted.  This did not disguise the fact that it was quite old.  The egg salad and cucumber filling for the sandwiches were wonderful–but, again, this did not make up for the bread which was so old the exterior was hard and stale.  The small scones were okay, but the miniscule amount of cream provided was not enough to make for a satisfying scone topping.  Lastly, the pastries were all store bought, not fresh made.  Albeit, we did enjoy the familiar taste of Walker’s famous shortbread cookie.

You might be surprised to hear that, despite our experience, we actually think that Wishes Brew is worth a visit–especially if you have never had a tea room experience.  Anyone can have a bad day.  It won’t take much for them to ensure that they use fresh bread next time.  Who knows, maybe even someone from Wishes Brew will read this review and offer Mrs. LanceAround and me a chance to try them again.  Maybe even give us a free tea?  We are not above such petty bribery.  Be forewarned, however,  just because you give us free food does not guarantee that we will amend this posting with a more positive rebuttal!  Our fine readers deserve our honest opinion!

In the meantime, we are heading towards Tampa to try out another tea room that is currently ranked #3 in Florida by TeaMap.com.

Stay tuned, we’ll post about it soon!

Hart Sisters Tea Room

January 5, 2010

# 1 Daughter Outside the Entrance to Hart Sisters Tea Room

Feeling stressed?  Overwhelmed?  Need a break?  I have the perfect solution for you.   

Find a nearby place to enjoy a British Afternoon Tea.   

That’s what my family did this weekend.  We discovered a gem–the Hart Sisters Tea Room in Sanford, FL.   

A traditional British Afternoon Tea is typically served between 3pm and 5pm and consists of your choice of tea served with scones and a side of Devonshire Cream plus jam, cucumber sandwiches (I know, it sounds ycchh.  But if you’ve never had one, you won’t believe how good they taste) and assorted other pastries all presented on a silver, three-tiered serving platter.   

Susan Serves # 1 Daughter

We met Susan nee Hart who co-owns the Hart Sisters Tea Room along with her sister, Anna.  Although neither are British, they enjoy cooking and entrepreneurship. They opened their own catering business in 2004 and supplemented that in 2006 by opening the Tea Room.   

Their Tea Room is cozy and quaint–the perfect decor for an afternoon tea.  The service was exceptional; the food, scrumptious.  When visiting the Orlando area, it is worth the trip to Sanford to enjoy an afternoon tea with the Hart sisters.   

If you are not coming to Orlando anytime soon, I recommend you find the closest tea shop and take a moment to enjoy some tea and scones.  It provides a perfect respite for you and a friend

Here is a website that provides an excellent resource for locating authentic tea rooms throughout the world:  www.TeaMap.com.  

Hart Sisters Tea Room & Catering
1305 S. Park Avenue
Sanford, FL  32771
407.323.9448
www.HartSisters.com
HartSisters@Yahoo.com

Venezia Bakery & Cafe

November 10, 2009
DSCF3466

European & Latino Cuisine in an Italian Atmosphere

Warm, Fresh & Unique…Every Day!

That’s what the sign says outside the Venezia Bakery & Cafe.  And it’s true!

Mrs. LanceAround and I had the pleasure of speaking with Ignacio Plaza, the Managing Partner of the Venezia Bakery & Cafe

DSCF3482

Did We Wander Into Venice?

Ignacio’s grandparents immigrated from Spain to Venezuela where Ignacio was born and raised.  He created the Venezia using the same concept as the bakeries found in his native Venezuela.  His cuisine is a mix of European and Latino influences and the decor of his restaurant makes you feel like you have wandered into Venice, Italy.

He explained that when Europeans first came to Venezuela, they discovered an area where the natives had built their dwellings right on a lake.  This reminded them of Venice, Italy, so they named this new land “little Venice” or Venezuela.

DSCF3476

Ignacio Bakes Everything Fresh From Scratch

Ignacio is very proud of his shop. 

 He insisted on taking me back to the kitchen to demonstrate how he and his cooks create everything from scratch.  The refrigerated walk-in was filled with freshly made products ready to be placed in the oven.

The Venezia specializes in ham and cheese rolls made the same way they’re made in Portugal, breads, empanadas and rows and rows of freshly prepared pastries and other desserts.

Mrs. LanceAround had a huge egg and cheese sandwich (which only cost $4.50 and she couldn’t even finish it) while I enjoyed a spinach empanada.  The food was wonderful.  Mrs. LanceAround also ordered an expresso which, she claims, was the best coffee she ever tasted; not a hint of bitterness.

DSCF3470

Live Music Every Sunday

Enhancing the experience, every Sunday the Venezia features live music.  This week, a group with a mandolin player, a guitar player and a harpist skillfully entertained the patrons.

A big Thumbs Up for the Venezia Bakery & Cafe
13586 Village Park Drive
Suite 302
Orlando, FL 32837

Phone: 407.851.1148
Email: veneziabakery@gmail.com
Web: Coming Soon!

DSCF3467

Rows and Rows of Fresh Baked Food, Breads & Desserts

Located in Hunter’s Creek Village, just south of Hwy. 417 on John Young Parkway about 10 minutes east of Disney World.

Philly Cheese Steak . . . In Orlando?!?

October 29, 2009
1021092050

Karen Proudly Displays Her First Cheesesteak, Birch Beer and Tastykake Alongside Mrs. LanceAround in Front of the Mural of Philly's Citizen's Bank Park at Brianto's Restaurant in Orlando

I grew up in a predominately Mennonite community on the northern outskirts of Philadelphia.  Currently, it is one large metropolis from the center of Philly to my hometown of Souderton, PA.  When I was growing up, however, Souderton/Telford were two small communities surrounded by lush farmland with Philadelphia being the large city an hour’s train ride away.

Point is:  I know what a Philly Cheesesteak is.  Yes, I am now a vegetarian.  But I was a carnivore when I grew up and I know a good Philly Cheesesteak.  I have eaten at Geno’s and Pat’s.  I have dined (ha!) at the Melrose Diner.  I even know good Shoo Fly Pie, Funny Cake and what Pon Haus is (more commonly referred to as Scrapple!)  Alas, I digress.  Today we are focused on cheesesteak.

To begin, those of you unfamiliar with Philly lingo will need to know a few definitions.  (If you are from Philly, you can skip this part):

Hoagie–An un-initiated person will see a hoagie and refer to it as a sub, submarine, wedge, zep, torpedo, hero or grinder.  If you are from Philly, you will instantly recognize a hoagie as something beyond these inferior copycats.

Amoroso Roll–The first thing that makes a hoagie a hoagie is that it is made on an authentic, hearth baked Amoroso roll.  These soft, moist, Italian hoagie rolls with a brushing of grainy cornmeal are what set any hoagie or cheesesteak apart from an ordinary “sandwich.”  They are made in Philadelphia.  Don’t bother to look for them anywhere else.

menucheesesteak

Authentic Philly Cheesesteak

Cheesesteak–A specific kind of hoagie made with chopped steak and whiz.  Okay, you can add onions, mushrooms, even tomatoes and lettuce if you like, but you can’t have an authentic cheesesteak with something as coarse as cheddar cheese.  Remember, we’re talking authentic Philly here, “Yo!”

Whiz–Yes, this refers to a variation of cheese whiz and is (believe it or not) the only acceptable alternative for adding cheese to your cheesesteak.  Okay, okay, you can get provolone (only if it is particularly sharp) or some other provincial variation, but you should get whiz.  I’m telling mom if you don’t.  Don’t make the mistake John Kerry made during his presidential campaign in 2003.  He asked for swiss cheese on his cheesesteak order.  Said one local Philadelphia food critic, “In Philadelphia, that’s an alternative lifestyle!”

Birch Beer–This unique soda can only be found in or near Southeastern Pennsylvania or perhaps imported into the finest (ha!) dinning establishments or corner stores around the world.  It is similar to root beer, but with a slightly sweeter and more eloquent taste.  In Mennonite communities, alcohol was forboden so the local beverage distributor had kegs of birch beer for sale.  When Mrs. LanceAround and I got married near her hometown of Roanoke, VA, my mother and father brought a keg of birch beer to serve guests at the wedding.  I thought we were providing our guests with a delicious and serendipitously unique libation experience that they would fondly recall for years to come.  I later discovered that when the keg would spout out a soda pop, most of our guests (from Virginia, that is) felt cheated.  My family members and friends from SE Pennsylvania understood!

soft pretzel

REAL Soft Pretzels Look Like This

Soft Pretzels–Sorry, if you have ever eaten a “soft pretzel” from Aunt So-and-So’s booth at your local mall, you have never had a REAL soft pretzel.  An authentic Philly soft pretzel can only be purchased on a street corner in Philly, served by an un-bathed Filth-a-delphian who doesn’t use a glove (or any other kind of sanitary activity) and who grabs a stack of at least four pretzels squished together from a brown paper bag on the side of the road where they have had ample time to accumulate the peculiar dust and grime of back Philly roads that enhances their unique flavor. Feel free to smother them with yellow mustard.  Forget the dijon and if anyone asks for Grey Poupon I believe the correct response is to hit them.

homepagefoodtray

TastyKake, Birch Beer and Herr's Potato Chips

Tastykake–Another Philly tradition that will look surprisingly similar to a “Hostess” or “Little Debbie” to the un-initiated.  Yet, as their ad says, “Nobody bakes a cake as tasty as a Tastykake!”

Shoo Fly Pie, Funny Cake, Pon Haus, Scrapple, Fausnaught–Well, these have more to do with my Anabaptist (i.e. Mennonite)/Pennsylvania Dutch heritage and less to do with Philly.  We’ll talk about this in a different blog…

Anyway, when I read an article in the Orlando Weekly suggesting that there is a restaurant in Orlando that provides an authentic Philly Cheesesteak experience, I was (to say the least) skeptical.  I have been disappointed many times before by places claiming to have authentic Philly Cheesesteaks.  So Number One Son and I made the hour long trip from my home near Disney World to the Avalon Park community on the eastern end of Orlando to Brianto’s Original Hoagies Restaurant.

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Even Brianto's Signs Look Like Philly

Upon entering the establishment, we noticed a sign proclaiming that they served genuine Amoroso rolls.  Wow!  Good start.  As mentioned above, there is no such thing as a hoagie or cheesesteak that is served on something other than an Amoroso roll.  I asked the owner if he would mind cleaning his grill and then frying me some mushrooms and onions and putting them in a roll for me.  He did so (after giving me a quizzical look) and I was pleasantly surprised by how good it tasted.  I also ordered a soft pretzel and was dismayed to discover that these were not authentic Philly pretzels.  Don’t buy them.  (They didn’t have any grime on them.)

The following week, I took my carnivorous friend, Karen, (who also happens to be our Number One Daughter’s Montessori Teacher) and Mrs. LanceAround back to Brianto’s to get their opinion of the cheesesteak.  This was Karen’s first cheesesteak.  This time I brought along some vegetarian meat alternative.  The owner was nice enough to clean the grill again and make a vegetarian cheesesteak for Mrs. LanceAround and I.  I became slightly inattentive when Karen ordered the “provolone” option for her cheesesteak, but I quickly caught her error and insisted that she switch to “whiz.”  The result:  Karen proclaims that the cheesesteak was delicious!  In addition, Karen experienced her first Butterscotch Krimpet Tastykake and her first Hank’s Birch Beer.  What a treat!  All this at low Philly Hoagie prices.

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Fresh Steak Chopped and Grilled to Order

The bottom line–A huge thumbs up for Brianto’s Original Hoagies Restaurant.  In addition to the cheesesteaks, Hank’s soda and Tastykake, they also serve salads, hoagies, grilled cheese, hot dogs, hot hoagies, tortellini salads, fruit cup, garlic bread and Herr’s potato chips (another Philly tradition.)  Hoagies can be 6, 12 or a man-sized 18 inches.  Prices range from $4.49 for some of the 6″ (which will fill you up) to $12.99 for some of the 18″ (which will fill you up till Tuesday.)

Get an 18″ and take the extra home for a next day treat.

Brianto’s Original Hoagies
12001 Avalon Lake Drive
Orlando, FL 32828
407.382.2667
Open 11:00am to 10:00pm

African Ethiopian Restaurant in Orlando

August 17, 2009
Service--Ethiopian Style!
Service–Ethiopian Style!

Unexpected adventures provide some of the most serendipitous memories of our lives, don’t they?

When our daughter took us on vacation to San Francisco, we had one of those moments when we discovered the Massawa Ethiopian Restaurant in the heart of the Haight-Ashbury district. Delicious food–unlike any other food I had ever experienced–was served on a large round plate in the center of our table. The different dishes were clumped beside each other on a flat, spongy piece of injera–Ethiopian bread at least two feet in diameter and completely covering the plate.

We ate the food with our fingers, occasionally spinning the plate so we could each try the various fare. The bread had a vinegar-y taste, like sourdough, and the dishes ranged from lentils to cabbage to green beans to split peas. Each one having a unique flavor, difficult to describe but enjoyable to experience.

This memory came to mind as Mrs. LanceAround and I, along with our three offspring, were driving down International Drive last week. This road is reminiscent of the Las Vegas strip–lots of flashing signs, tourist attractions, restaurants, hotels–everything but the casinos. Mrs. LanceAround’s sharp eyes caught a sign proclaiming “Ethiopian Cuisine.”

Tucked away in the midst of all the tourist trappings is a small, hidden plaza which houses the Nile Ethiopian Restaurant. We arrived around 10pm on Saturday and met Ermias & Ababa Gebremedhin, the owners. They came to Washington D.C. from Ethiopia about 12 years ago. In 2007, they moved to Orlando and opened up the Nile Restaurant. Ermias was a soccer player in Ethiopia and neither he nor his wife, Ababa, had any restaurant experience.

Ermias Gebremedhin Serves Us Ethiopian Coffee

Ermias Proudly Serves Ethiopian Coffee

When I asked Ermias why he left Ethiopia, he replied, “Ethiopia doesn’t give you a chance.” He enjoys the freedom and opportunity that are present in this country. He says his wife “pushed me” to open the restaurant. He quickly credits her with their success, stating that she is the one who can cook.

We enjoyed the decor of the Nile; a mixture of standard tables and chairs along with round African stools–shaped like large drums–With an even larger and taller drum-shaped table. The food is served on a single, large plate placed in a woven basket with a woven lid that has a large, slightly curved handle similar to the shape of the stem on top of a pumpkin.

One taste of the food and we were immediately transported back to our memory of that first Ethiopian meal we experienced in San Francisco. It was unique and bursting with flavor.

Mrs. LanceAround does not like sourdough bread, so she was not crazy about the injera or the collard greens. But she heartily enjoyed the lentils, yellow split peas and green beans. # 1 Daughter is a bit finicky and did not eat much. No worries, the three LanceAround males scarfed up everything else. A unique treat that made for a great adventure.

Give the Nile Ethiopian Restaurant a try. Expand your horizons! You might just discover something…serendipitous!

Nile Ethiopian Restaurant, 7040 International Drive, Orlando, FL  32819  407.354.0026. Entrees from $9 to $15.

Best Ice Cream in Orlando

August 8, 2009
 
Best Ice Cream in Orlando
Tropical Delight Homemade Ice Cream

Driving down highway 192 about 5 miles east of Disney World, Mrs. LanceAround and I are suddenly blinded by a small, hot pink building with yellow trim. But what really catches my eye is the sign saying, “Homemade Ice Cream.”

Inside we meet Noelia Scharon, owner of Tropical Delight Homemade Ice Cream.  Noelia just moved here from Kennett Square, PA where a magazine proclaimed her ice cream as the “Best of Philadelphia 2009.” She explains that she had to get out of the cold weather, so she moved to the Disney area.

Some of you may recognize Kennett Square, PA as the “mushroom capital of the world.” And, yes, in addition to the common flavors of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry, Noelia makes a mushroom flavored ice cream! She also makes avocado, tamarind, rice pudding and a sweet corn enhanced with chili powder.

I buy a scoop of toasted coconut and a scoop of peanut butter. Mrs. LanceAround gets one scoop of her favorite–pistachio. The charge is only $5 for both. The ice cream is primo–sweet, creamy and delicious.

Noelia displays a fresh tamarind

Noelia shows Mrs. LanceAround a fresh tamarind

We are about to leave when Noelia talks about how she makes everything from scratch. She holds up a tamarind and some limes and proudly shows her ice cream machine from Mexico.  I can’t resist anymore, so I get a quart of rice pudding and a mango sorbet pop for vegan # 2 son. Noelia throws in another quart of pistachio for Mrs. LanceAround at no charge.

I pay another $9.25 and prepare to leave.

“Do you have a plastic spoon?” Noelia asks.

“I have a spoon.” I reply.

“Is it plastic?” she asks again. I give her a quizzical look. “Metal spoons affect the taste of the ice cream.” she offers.

“Even stainless steel spoons? asks Mrs. LanceAround?

Noelia nods her head and I say, “You are a true ice cream aficionado!” with a smile on my face.

Tropical Delight, Homemade Ice Cream, 3516 W. Vine Street, Kissimmee, FL  34741,  407.348.0004 , Hours: Mon-Sun 12pm to 9pm.

Best Salad Bar in Orlando is at Sweet Tomatoes

May 7, 2009
55 Feet of Farm Fresh Fare

55 Feet of Farm Fresh Fare

Normally, I don’t blog about chain restaurants.

Orlando has so many unique places, I don’t need to advertise something that you can get anywhere.

But Sweet Tomatoes only has around 70 restaurants–And it’s the kind of place I think needs to be discovered.

Mrs. LanceAround and I took Number One Son and Daughter to the new Sweet Tomatoes that opened in the Crossroads Shopping Center right next to Disney World.  It was as good as we expected.

Sweet Tomatoes provides fresh, all you can eat salad, complimented by soups, regular and sweet potatoes, pastas and a dessert bar.  Unlike many all-you-care-to-eat buffets, this one emphasizes the salad and healthier fare.  And it’s a real delight.

You begin by going down the 55 foot long salad bar and choosing from both prepared salads and fresh salad fixins’.  You then pay at the cash register.  At around $10 per person and almost $3 for unlimited soda, it is a bit pricey.  However, they work hard to keep their buffet lines clean and well stocked with plenty of fresh food.

After sitting, you can fill your cup with unlimited soda or different flavored iced teas.  You can also visit the soup bar, potato bar, pasta bar or cheesy focaccia bread bar.  At the end of your meal, there’s a dessert bar with a soft serve, fresh fruit, cobbler and various toppings.

For those with special diets, kudos to Sweet Tomatoes for identifying the main ingredients in most foods and for labeling foods such as “vegetarian” and even “vegan.”  No worries for the non-vegetarian–There is plenty of food for every type of appetite.

After filling ourselves with multiple trips to the different food bars, we had the unexpected pleasure of being warmly greeted by our friend Dave.  We know that Dave, like all his friends who attend the Orlando Science of Spirituality group, is a vegetarian.  We had not seen him for several years and seeing him again was the perfect dessert to a perfect meal!

Sweet Tomatoes, 12561 S. Apopka-Vineland Road, Orlando, FL  32836   407.938.9461

Authentic French Bakery & Restaurant Near Orlando

April 17, 2009
Sweet Traditions

Sweet Traditions

By now, regular readers of my blog have come to understand that Number One Daughter attends the most unique, fantastic and fabulous Montessori School in Celebration, FL.

Indeed, many of my favorite posts come from unexpected experiences related to the school.  Today is no exception.  Her middle school is doing an internship with an animation and special effects company called Nth Degree Design and Visual FX in Winter Gardens, FL.  On Wednesday, Mrs. LanceAround, Number One Son and I drove her class on the half hour trip to Winter Garden for the internship.  Since the students were going to be there for four hours, we had every intention of driving to a wonderful British Tea Room in Mt. Dora.

But we never expected to be enticed by the city of Winter Garden.

Feeling as though we had somehow been transported into a downtown scene from the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  We drove around the town, enthralled by a town clock, gazebo and fountain in the wide median strip down the main street in town.  We saw an old fire truck, two caboose trains turned into an attraction, a welcome center, a museum and a bicycle shop just opening for business by putting out an antique bike where the front wheel is about five feet in diameter and the rear wheel only about one foot–A common prop you have undoubtedly seen in some old time movie.

And we discovered Sweet Traditions Bakery and Cafe, a French bakery and restaurant.

Located right in the middle of this quaint town, we found out that the wide sidewalk that meanders around the gazebo and fountain, then underneath the town clock archway is the West Orange Trail–A “rails to trails” bike path that currently connects the towns of Apopka and Clermont through Winter Garden.  It will be subject of a separate blog post.  Over 50,000 people per month ride this trail.

This helped to explain the enormous bakery display case containing hundreds of freshly baked french pastries and other desserts inside Sweet Traditions.

Mrs. LanceAround ordered a mushroom and cheese omelet, I ordered a spinach, egg and cheese croissant and Number One Son ordered the Chevre Chaude–A toasted baguette with goat cheese served on a bed of fresh greens and tomatoes.  For an appetizer, we shared a baked brie salad.  Everything was scrumptious.

We enjoyed it so much, that after the student’s internship was finished, we brought them back to the restaurant for dessert.  We all had tastes of ice cream, sherbet, a Napoleon, strawberry cheesecake, dark chocolate and pistachio truffle and, best of all, an authentic french strawberry crepe.  Delicious!

We chatted with Stephane and Christine Crocher, who founded the restaurant in April of 2008.  He was raised in Paris and she grew up near Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts.  They ran a bakery in Wellesley, MA for four years before moving to France and opening a bakery near the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

Christine, who says her staff refers to her as “Anal Annie,” found life in Paris difficult.  She loved the country, but found the lack of personal space and the gruffness of the French people very intimidating.  After five years, she convinced her husband to move back to the USA.

At first, they were going to open a shop in Cary, NC.  But the demographics that looked perfect on paper did not feel right in person.  So they came to Orlando and within a few hours of experiencing Winter Garden knew they had the perfect location for their French Bakery and Cafe.

It’s a wonderful restaurant, definitely off the beaten path and just waiting to be discovered by the well informed traveler looking for “more than a mouse!”™