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Eating and drinking in central Florida


On every trip to Florida I always bring a hearty appetite – and thirst. Join me first in the Lake Ivanhoe district of Orlando.

Washburn Imports is a fascinating store. John Washburn goes off on great expeditions to India and comes back with all kinds of treasures. But it’s actually more than that – as host to the Imperial Bar.

This is where the Antiques Roadshow meets Cheers. A bar where you can literally take away anything that isn’t nailed down. The stock is sourced from across Asia, with a weird and wonderful selection of beautifully and ingeniously crafted furniture and art.

After an aperitif with panache you should dine in style. Fortunately, Russells on Lake Ivanhoe is a few steps away at 1414 North Orange Avenue. Your host is Philippe Villain, a global restaurateur who boldly took over the property at the height of the Covid pandemic. Since then, Russell’s has won a string of awards including Best Burger at the Orlando Sentinel Foodie Awards.

At the other end of town and the dining spectrum, Boxi Park is a collection of repurposed shipping containers. It opened in the Lake Nona area on Valentine’s Day, 2019. The containers have become takeaways offering which range from lobster to crispy honey chicken (just $9).

(While you’re here: driverless urban transport has arrived in Lake Nona, where the local bus service uses a fleet of autonomous electric shuttles that will take you on free rides around town and into the future.)

My favourite weekend morning stop is at Maxine’s On Shine, close to Orlando’s Downtown at 337 North Shine Avenue, where superb brunch dishes are served in characterful surroundings at appealing prices; 10am to 3pm, Friday to Sunday.

Outside the city, the gastronomic journey continues – at the lovely town of Winter Garden and, in particular, Plant Street Market. At the Axum Roastery they roast their own coffee beans, with a slice of the profits going to charity. And at the other end of the market, there’s beer brewing.

In its heyday, Winter Garden was the largest citrus shipping point in the United States along the Tavares and Gulf Railroad. And you can still visit a working grove at a family-run farm, Ridge Island Groves.

Pick your own fresh fruit direct from the trees, as well as see the work that goes on behind the scenes at the packing house.

The sea is never far away, and one of central Florida’s most exciting new seafood ventures is Q’s Crackin Crab & Seafood Kitchen in Cocoa Beach – where the creator, Quinisia Bredwood, promises soulful seafood, made with love.

Discover more at visitflorida.com @VisitFlorida #LoveFL

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