Culinary Adventures Off The Beaten Path in Orlando, FL
September is Magical Dining Month in Orlando, FL. I have to say as a former resident of the city of Orlando, I think it fabulous every time great food, and the chefs behind them, is celebrated here.
This is because so very few people ever venture into the different areas of the city where great food can be found. Of course many of the theme parks that attract thousands and thousands of visitors each year have some theme park restaurants worthy of merit, but Orlando’s food scene is so much more than that and Magical Dining Month is the perfect time to get out there and check it all out.
70 of Orlando’s top restaurants are participating and each are serving three-course prix-fixe dinners for $30 during Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining Month. In addition, this month-long event is benefiting the Edgewood Children’s Ranch, with $1 from every meal donated to the organization.
Now in its 7th year, Magical Dining Month continues to grow with the addition of new restaurants to Orlando’s ever-expanding dining scene, including Fogo de Chão, Prickly Pear and Nick’s Italian Kitchen. This year’s restaurant list boasts a wide variety of unique atmospheres and cuisines spread across six unique dining districts:
• Convention District – This area, encompassing International Drive, hosts the largest concentration of Magical Dining restaurants, including popular steakhouses like The Capital Grille, Charley’s Steak House and Vito’s Chop House.
• Disney/Lake Buena Vista District – Known for its world-class theme parks and resorts, this upbeat district offers up upscale, fine dining restaurants including The Venetian Room, Todd English’s bluezoo and La Luce by Donna Scala.
• Downtown District – In the midst of trendy neighborhoods and endless nighttime entertainment options, downtown Orlando hosts local favorites including Citrus Restaurant, Funky Monkey Wine Company, Le Coq Au Vin and The Boheme.
• Universal/CityWalk District – Fully-themed, Universal area restaurants include Emeril’s Tchoup Chop at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort, Bice Ristorante at the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel and The Palm at Hard Rock Hotel.
• Restaurant Row District – This one-mile stretch of Sand Lake Road is a mecca for upscale and casual restaurants, including Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion, Timpano Italian Chophouse and Bosphorous Turkish Cuisine. Featured seafood restaurants in the area include Ocean Prime, Moonfish, Big Fin Seafood Kitchen and Fishbones.
• Winter Park District – Signature restaurants – unique to the Orlando area – including Luma on Park and Chez Vincent make up this quaint, picturesque district just north of downtown Orlando.
I had a chance to check out to restaurants participating this year.
Luma on Park is located in Winter Park, a trendy neighborhood a bit further down from Downtown Orlando. The area is known for its high-end shops, museums and cultural attractions, as well as for its historic beauty and homes. I’ve always enjoyed Winter Park for all it has to offer, and great food options is certainly some of that.
Luma on Park give foodies a chance to taste true Orlando but serving locally sourced items and committing themselves to adjusting the menu according to what they have at their disposal. It has received many accolades for its ability to present the same in a way that is sophisticated, creative, and favored by the very any diners it constantly attracts to its upscale destination. Dining here with my family was wonderful, but I also see it as a great date night spot, recommending as well any of the selections from their vast wine menu. If you can, request a table near the open kitchen. My little one delighted in watching the chefs and sous chefs work their magic. It’s a fun way to further compliment your dining experience.
K Restaurant was a favorite of mine, and quite frankly a highlight for our family. There was nothing former New York resident Chef Kevin Fonzo prepared and served that didn’t absolutely astound us. K Restaurant in located in the College Park area of Orlando. K Restaurant was actually this first chef-owned and operated restaurant in the neighborhood. That was in 2001. Today, this warm, welcoming eatery is still a neighborhood favorite and on the night of our visit it was bustling with laughter and conversation, its low-key ambiance a welcoming to families as well as those without kids.
Start off your meal with one of Chef Fonzo’s home made fresh fruit sodas (pineapple and strawberry shown here).
Fried Green Tomato with Zellwood corn-crab salad and grain mustard sauce
Sweet Corn Bisque: roast corn and bacon beignet
You must have Chef Fonzo’s amazing Mac n’ Cheese w/Italian sausages, green olives, roast tomato, parmesan, and herbs!
Chef changes his menu almost daily in order to make use of as many locally sourced ingredients as possible. His passion for providing the best food, with the freshest most natural ingredients is something he shares not only with those who visit his restaurant, but also in the cafeteria, garden, and most recently classrooms of the Orlando Junior Academy, where his volunteerism and contributions honored him with the recognition from First Lady Michelle Obama as a part of her “Chef’s Move to School” initiative, earning him an invitation to the White House to tour the White House garden. I have marked K Restaurant, also at the request of my children, as a must-eat destination every time we visit Orlando.
Melissa Kelly’s Primo at JW Marriott Orlando is also participating in Magical Dining Month, and though I didn’t actually sit to have a meal in the restaurant itself, I did participate in Executive Chef Chris Brown’s Grilling Class, one of the many different culinary classes offered through the JW Marriott Orlando’s JW Griffin Cooking School. I got to witness and learn first-hand different grilling techniques and recipes perfect for my very own, backyard grill-fest (more on this to come).
Executive Chef Chris Brown showcases a beauty about to get grilled as part of Griffin School’s grilling class.
My favorite part of the class, besides the grilling and eating, was being able to pick my own herbs from the restaurant’s garden and use them in our meal prep, just as the chefs do in the meals they prep for those visiting the restaurant itself. Primo, is the hotel’s AAA Four Diamond Award-winning restaurant and Chef Brown himself is a renowned, award-winning barbeque pitmaster, something he not only proved, but shared with us during the class.
There is no denying that Orlando has a continuously growing and successful food scene, one that I encourage you to seek out during your visits there. Many of the restaurants catered well to my large family and children, and I found the service and food very good.
More information about Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining Month, including a complete list of participating restaurants, menus, message boards and reservations are now available at OrlandoMagicalDining.com.
Other Orlando favorites (not necessarily in the Magical Dining program) of mine are: Pho 88 in the ViMi District, Bull and Bear in the Waldorf Astoria Orlando, and Luce at Hilton Bonnet Creek.