Winter Garden, Florida

A Cute Town With A Juicy Past

Orlando is a massive metroplex with dozens of suburban towns that include Walt Disney World in the west and Winter Park in the Northeast. Within the Orlando orbit and located twenty miles due north of Disney World is the town of Winter Garden.

It was a thriving town in the early twentieth century with it’s principle focus on growing oranges (juicy past). It was located in Orange County and at one time shipped more fruit than any other spot in the nation. Centrally located. two railroad lines passed through the town bringing in tourists and hauling out oranges. Many of the tourists came to fish Lake Apopka, once an international capital for bass fishing.

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By mid-century the lake was terribly polluted (mostly from agricultural runoff on its north shore), the orange industry had consolidated around mostly larger corporate groves that had moved farther south and the town was drying up.

The town has enjoyed a rebirth recently. In 1994 the West Orange Trail opened on the former Atlantic Coast Line rail bed and become one of the states most popular biking and walking trails stretching out to twenty some miles. Created by Orange County the trail included way stations and rest stops doted along its length. On weekends Winter Garden plays host to throngs of bikers from all over riding the West Orange Trail. The middle of the trail runs right through the center of Plant Street, Winter Garden’s main downtown strip.

For several decades Lake Apopka has seen extensive efforts to reverse its pollution and the results are showing signs of making a difference. Anglers are catching bass again and boaters are using the lake for recreation. The town is making use of a lakeside park for concerts and Forth of July celebrations and there are plans to improve the waterfront.

Located on Plant Street along with two bicycle shops are a number of noteworthy attractions including the Edgewater Hotel. Developed in the 1920s as a state-of-the art accommodation for the anglers who visited Winter Garden to fish largemouth bass, it now operates as an upscale boutique bed and breakfast.

Also there’s the Plant Street Market, a new facility that looks a lot like Winter Park’s original Farmer’s Market. On the outside, the brick building looks like a survivor from the earlier century, but inside it’s 21st-century modern, with a craft brewery along with a number of food venue choices.

The town includes the Garden Theatre, which originally opened in 1935 as a modern motion-picture theatre and was restored in 2008 to become a performing-arts center that now offers plays, concerts and movie festivals.

The downtown district covers an area about eight blocks long and two to three blocks wide and within this area are two museums, several gift shops, four women’sdress shops, more than ten restaurants and three café/coffee shops.

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Weekends are full of events with Friday night music on the square in the town center, along with additional music usually available in three or four other venues around town. Live music is usually featured all weekend at The Attic Door wine café, Pilars Martini Bar (Pilars also features a great open-mic jazz Sunday) along with the Crooked Can Brewery in Plant Street Market. Saturday mornings start with one of the best Farmers Markets in Florida and continues with more live music around town going right thru Sunday. Recently on one Saturday evening there was live music going on at seven different locations in town.

Winter Garden is also noteworthy for a number of special weekend events throughout the year. There is the Spring Fling Garden Show, Blues and Barbeque, Classic Car nights, Halloween Treats in Town, Holiday Light Up Winter Garden., Orlando Symphony on the Lake, along with a couple of music concert weekends taking over the length of Plant Street.

If you are visiting Orlando or live within driving distance and are looking for a fun day consider a visit to Winter Garden. Unfortunately other than the Edgewater Hotel there are not a lot of hotels nearby.

 

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Champers Barbados – Great Food, Great Scenery

On a trip this December we passed through Barbados and met up with some old friends. We joined them for lunch at Champers, one of our preferred restaurants on the island. Barbados is a favorite destination of ours and is particularly well known for the quality of its’ restaurants.

Champers is located on Skeetes Hill near Rockley Beach on the south coast, and rests on a point with commanding views of the sea and beach. Sitting on the main floor deck looking out at white

Champers main floor deck

sand, palm trees and ten shades of turquoise water you just know you are in paradise. The restaurant features great food, spectacular views and a very attentive staff, and you just can’t do much better for an elegant dinner or lunch while on the island.

We’ve never had a bad experience at Champers and this time was no exception. When in Barbados it’s a tradition to have flying fish, which I had

(fried with caper dressing) along with an appetizer of coconut shrimp with chili sauce, and both were excellent. Lunch was finished with an excellent warm bread pudding. My wife had West Indian shrimp curry with jasmine rice and grilled vegetables, also outstanding.

We were lucky enough to finish that day sitting on the porch of our friend’s house out at The Crane sipping famous Bajan Rum Punch.

Barbados Rum Punch Recipe:
  1. One part Sour (fresh squeezed lime juice*)
  2. Two parts Sweet (Demerara sugar**)
  3. Three parts Strong (Barbados Rum (Our preference is Mt. Gay Extra Old))
  4. Four parts Weak (Water)

Mix well and add a few drops of Angostura bitters. Pour over ice and add a bit of fresh grated nutmeg to each glass when serving

* Mexican or Key limes are preferred.

**Demerara is a type of raw cane sugar that has a large grain, hard texture, with a pale brown color. A substitute If you don’t have Dmerara sugar on hand, is to use an equal amount of granulated sugar and light brown sugar in its’ place.

Out-Of-The-Way Find at Disney World

Mexican Food at Picabu Taqueria

We have a secret when eating at Walt Disney World. Hidden in the lower level of the Dolphin Hotel in the Boardwalk resort area is the Picabu Taqueria. Looking like a snack bar – fast food venue the Taqueria custom builds some of the best tacos you’ll find anywhere. Featuring grilled skirt steak, fresh fish, pork carnitas and Adobo chicken with a large selection of add-ins in either hard or soft taco shells. Three large tacos for around $10.00 and well worth every penny. They also offer Burritos and Bowls. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

Open for both lunch and dinner you do have to seek this place out. The Dolphin is easily reached from the Boardwalk area and is only a short walk from the second entrance at Epcot or a walk down a canal from Disney Studios. Come in the main doors at the lower level of the hotel and take the hall to the left.

If you are a guest at a Disney resort you will have to bring cash or a credit card as the Swan and Dolphin are not part of the Magic Band system.

 

 

In Charleston Pearlz for Happy Hour

Pearlz got our attention with their happy hour offerings. While they have locations in several cities the one in Charleston is located on East Bay south of Market Street in a cluster of restaurants, galleries and shops. It is a small but popular restaurant featuring a happy hour menu that includes bar snacks that you can make a meal and good drink prices. $4 house wines and a mixed drink called a Precious Pearlz Draft made with Cathead Honeysuckle Vodka, Elderflower Syrup, Lemon Juice, Lime Juice, Seasonal Fruit, Cannonborough Honey-Basil Soda. They also feature PBR all the time for only $1.50. We had Southern fried oysters with bleu cheese dressing which were some of the best we’ve ever had and came with a hot sauce that was near perfection. We also had Fish Tacos which were very good and a plate of some of the biggest Peel n Eat Shrimp we’ve ever seen. Needless to say, that was our dinner.

Two Restaurants in Bangkok

ESS – Eat Sight Story (Asian Fusion Restaurant in Bangkok) 

The central attraction in Bangkok is the Grand Palace and Grounds featuring many temples, palaces and a museum. To do it right, the area is worth most of a day and that means at least finding a place to sit down and have lunch. If you are in the area near Wat Pho (Giant Buddha) a good choice for lunch is Eat Sight Story. The restaurant is on the Chao Praya River across from Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) with a deck featuring tables, umbrellas and great views. To find it, go down Tha Tian Alley towards the river from Maha Rat Road, south of the Naval Welfare Department.

In addition to the deck overlooking the river, ESS has tables inside along with a small air conditioned dining room. The staff is friendly and efficient and, while not inexpensive, the food is very good. The afternoon we visited, we had curried beef, Pad Thai, grilled chicken skewers with rice and cold Thai beer and were very pleased with our selections. Based on other meals we ate in Thailand we believe that their offerings are toned down some to appeal to western tastes.

The Beer Bridge (A Gastro Pub in Bangkok)

The Beer Bridge was located just down the street from our hotel in the The Portico Building, 31 Langsuan, Ploenchit Rd., Lumpini, Pathumwan, Bangkok. The Beer Bridge is a modern eatery in an upscale neighborhood just a block away from Central Chidlom, Bangkok’s largest department store and near a number of major hotels.

They offered a wide selection of beers (local and imported) along with a nice wine list, cocktails and typical pub food. We ordered an appetizer which turned out to be the tiniest Buffalo chicken wings we’ve every eaten. But, after a long and warm day walking around Bangkok, The Beer Bridge provided exactly what we needed – really cold beer and some western familiarity.

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