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Jan 23, 2012 08:28 AM

Durham NC Hound in Orlando Weekend Trip Report (long)

Thanks to Orlando Chowhounds for the advice prior to our trip to Orlando. As Durham NC foodies proud of our local scene we were pleasantly surprised at the food and drink options in Orlando, as well as the downtown neighborhoods; the local atmosphere; and all the lakes everywhere. After checking in to the Grand Bohemian downtown we headed out for an afternoon at the Harry P Leu Gardens. We stopped for lunch at Hawkers. Hawkers has an Asian street food concept which they execute very well. The server steered us to some great small plates the best of which was a Laksa curry. They also had an excellent beer list and we tried an Olde Pelican Ale from Orlando Brewing (more about that later) which went great with the food. The Leu Gardens were awesome, 40+ acres of tropical and regional plantings on a lake, and the weather was perfect.

On the way home we stopped at the Funky Monkey Wine Vault to get some wine for the room. Walking in it looked like an expensive wine place but the staff was friendly and knowledgeable and they had some great economical wine choices.

That night we took a short walk from the hotel to Rusty Spoon. The stylish urban vibe of Rusty Spoon was a bit of a surprise after the picture of cows on the website but the food and service were very good. We started with some of the best onion rings ever served with a dipping sauce made with Orlando Brewing Blackwater Porter. My wife had a Caesar salad made with local baby romaine and a lentil soup which she enjoyed. I had a plate of local Cornish game hen served with braised baby Brussels sprouts and mashed sweet potatoes with ginger. We shared a dessert of apple fritters with a caramel flavored whipped cream. Delicious.

My wife being a huge Harry Potter fan we went to Harry Potter World at Universal the next day. We got there early to beat the crowds and by lunchtime we were ready to hit Emeril’s Orlando at Citywalk. We had excellent Po Boys (shrimp for her, oyster for me) and well prepared Bloody Marys. Our theme park tickets got us a comp dessert of vanilla crème brulle. Not a cheap lunch, but delicious. The service and setting were first rate. I know Emeril is overexposed and it’s kind of a chain but they deliver on quality and service.

We were impressed with the beer we had from Orlando Brewing so after relaxing at the hotel we headed over there for the 6pm tour. The taproom was bustling and we had some of their great beer before the tour. Gene, the brewmaster and owner, gives a great tour. He is passionate and skillful about making beer and he has many awards to show for it. Also, he is one of the few certified organic brewers in the US. Orlando beer lovers, check out his beers and his taproom located south of downtown near the Medical Center.

We then headed over to Prickly Pear for a light dinner. I wish I could give a better review of them but the food was substandard and pricey for what it was. The Caesar salad had lettuce that was marginal and the duck quesadilla was very small. My wife’s chile relleno was adequate, but also small. The prickly pear margaritas were good, though, and the service was friendly and professional. An unexpected surprise was the entertainment: a campy musical revue with a Dolly Parton impersonator! Pretty hilarious.

Sunday was a lazy morning where we took a walk around Lake Eola Park .It was beautiful and the Sunday Farmers market was a pleasant surprise. We followed that by lunch of Dim Sum at Ming’s Bistro. The clientele at Ming’s was overwhelmingly Asian and the dim sum delicious and authentic. We then went to Albin Polasek the sculpture museum and gardens in Winter Park. Another beautiful setting on one of Orlando’s beautiful lakes featuring the master artist’s sculptures.

That evening we wanted to stay close to the hotel so we took the short walk to the Bento Café. Bento is one step above fast food but it was decent and inexpensive.

We really enjoyed our weekend in Orlando. The weather was awesome, the people were friendly, and there were a number of venues featuring locally sourced, well prepared food. Will definitely try Ravenous Pig if we get back there. We also appreciated all the non-theme park things to do. Thanks, Orlando!

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  1. Great feedback - thanks for taking the time to write such a detailed report.

    I'm not surprised by your reaction to Prickly Pear - I actually hesitated to put it on the list but good walkable options are so limited downtown and the drinks are pretty great. They just need to get their kitchen straightened out - no pun intended after the drag show you witnessed!

    Filing under you can always learn something new - I've never heard of the Orlando brewing location and tour - that's a must-try for me very soon

    Lastly, did you try the butterbeer at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter? Just curious what you thought.....

    1 Reply
    1. re: YosemiteSam

      No worries on Prickly Pear. It was the only real dud and we do have the show to talk about. Also, they treated us so well at the Wine Vault that we wanted to give that restaurant group some business. I skipped the Butter Beer but tried a few ales from Orlando.They are doing good work and are worth supporting.Thanks again for your local expertise. I'll be happy to reciprocate if you're up in NC.

    2. Super Great Review and Feed back and I loved how you did a whole trip report it makes it really fun. Also I've thought about doing a weekend downtown at the Grand Bohemian for my husband and I when we can't get away. Such a nice hotel.

      Orlando Brewing - My husband and I go there often and love it. I guess I've never thought about advising about it on Chowhound but beer is food too! :) Great place with a great tour.

      It's over in that warehousey like district and if you do get hungry there is a place around the corner called Jazzy Dogs - It's a hot dog place, the owners are Dachshund lovers and their sabret dogs on pretzel bun is pretty tasty.

      Rusty Spoon - I'm so glad you loved this place. It's relatively new and they had some bumps in the beginning but boy have they surprised me lately. Turning out some amazing food. I want a year supply of their carrot ginger soup. I just had the Seasonal Crudites Salad with grilled glazed pear, almond brittle, charles greens, and aged cheddar with a nice vinaigrette. Outstanding!

      Also Not surprised at Prickly Pear; It's also a pretty new restaurant that seems to have its issues. but the Drag shows are fun. Same owners as Funky Monkey and Bananas. I have enjoyed myself at the Funky Monkey on I-Drive and if you can forgive some of the issues it can be fun and I've heard good things about the drinks as well.

      Leu Gardens is beautiful glad you enjoyed it. And this reminds me that I need to get to Albin Polasek sculpture museum.

      Sorry to hear about Bento but again not surprised. I haven't been but part of me wants to check it out just so I know. Sometimes you have to experience the not so great, ya know? We do have a few good sushi places that don't end up seeming my Mcsushi Mcfish.

      Real quick about Ravenous Pig if you do come down again, secure reservations in advance and do not go there for a special occasion (Birthday, Anniversary, going away party, rehearsal dinner etc) . They seem to be to preoccupied with other things. Good food, more on my recent visit later.

      I am so glad you had a great time and it's reviews and post like yours that help us understand what helps and what doesn't, and what misses the mark and what doesn't.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Sandwich_Sister

        FWIW, I've had nothing but great sushi on several visits to Bento Cafe, but unfortunately, my wife and I were also let down by the Prickly Pear. We have to try the Rusty Spoon some time soon.

        Nice trip report, PeterB!