Orlando Restaurants Kick Off Dining Season in Style
Amazing Orlando Restaurants Show Off Their Best Work
Thank you for listening to The Orlando Local Show, episode 009. It’s all about food this week as we start with Taste of the Nation and keep going with the Orlando Magical Dining Month, the Food & Wine Classic at Swan and Dolphin, and the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival.
It seems like Autumn is the time to start eating around here. There are plenty of events to sample different meals, flavors, tastes, and beverages.
However, it’s more than just shoving food in your mouth. Participating in these events can help charities provide for needy people. You can learn how to create your own dishes, pair wine, select cheese, and really have some incredible desserts!
Join us, and we’ll tell you how to get the most out of these events.
William: Welcome to the Orlando Local show, episode number nine.
Thank you for joining us on the Orlando Local Show. Today we are talking about Orlando restaurant and dining festivals going on in the Fall season.
Hi, my name is William Beem.
Lee: Hi, my name is Lee Beem.
William: If there is anything that we know that you like, it’s something that we like too, and that is dining out and having fun; having some good food. We’ve got a few different kinds of things going on. The Fall season seems to be restaurant and dining season in Orlando.
Lee: Yes, everybody’s got to eat. You’ve got to get fueled up for winter.
William: Once the kids are back in school, then things start coming back on. So we’ve got four different events that we want to tell you about.
One of them was called Taste of the Nation. It was a charity event that we went to and covered. Another one is the Food and Wine Classic and the Swan and Dolphin out at Walt Disney World. There is the Orlando Magical Dining Month and, of course, there is the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival.
Lee: Lots of food coming up. And booze to go with it!
William: Oh, absolutely! And especially at the Taste of the Nation!
Lee: Oh yeah. We found that out!
William: Let me give you a little background. Taste of the Nation is a charity and it’s an event that actually helps out four different charities. The first charity is No Kid Hungry, making sure children have food. The second one is the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida, providing food and shelter for homeless people in the area. Central Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida is another one and again, they are providing food for the needy and finally, there was Florida Impact.
This event had a lot of people. I don’t even know what the guest count was, but we were looking at $150 per guest. It was a ballroom filled with guests out at the Orlando World Marriott and in addition to that there were other fundraisers inside. Some of them ... were they raffling off a whole pallet full of wine?
Lee: Oh, yeah it was with a key. It was like a raffle at $25 or $30? They had quite a low cap on the number of tickets they sold and whoever had the key that fitted to unlock the vault walked away with all the wine. It was about 150 bottles, I believe.
William: A hundred and fifty bottles of wine and they just had it on a pallet there and I thought oh, you would have loved that!
Lee: Oh yes.
William: I don’t know how we would have gotten them home.
Lee: I would have just sat on the curb and finished it.
William: They had another one where they did a take on a ring toss, tossing rings around bottles of wine to see if you could win prizes. They had a charity auction and there was a number of items out there; everything from bicycles to other things.
Lee: Guitars ...
William: Guitars. I mean, all sorts of stuff. Then there was the Giving Tree. Do you remember what that was?
Lee: Gift cards. You could buy gift cards.
William: So there were plenty of options, but just buying the ticket and showing up was helping people out.
But once you got there you could make donations, you could raffle for things, you could make other contributions to really help out the charities, but the whole point was you also go out there and have a good time while you are helping other people.
Lee: It was a very polished and well organized event. I mean it was just ... it ran flawlessly. I would think that the people who had organized and participated in this event to put everything together so seamlessly must have stepped back at the end of the evening and thought, that went well! It really did.
William: Yes. It really did go very well. We were able to go out there as media so we got in ahead of most of the guests while the lights were still on full and we could go out and take some photographs of the food and the people who were out there. Then after the lights went down, we could take photos of people who were enjoying themselves and some of the events that were going on and still take some more photos of the food, depending upon how the lighting was.
Lee: Yes, and we also learned that you had to pace yourself because everybody wanted us to start sampling their drinks.
William: Oh yeah, we started off. I’ve got this thing: I’m left handed so whenever I enter a room I go left, because most people go to the right. And all the people on the left were serving alcohol and man, they were trying to get me buzzed before I could get around the room.
Lee: It kind of worked, didn’t it?
William: There are wineries in Florida and I didn’t know that there are people who also make Whisky in Florida. After we had a few drinks of that I said, OK no more of this or else I’m not going to be able to take any photos for the rest of the night.
Lee: Yeah, he picked up the hint a lot earlier than I did. I carried on walking around and wasn’t it the beer? They had the beers and ciders and I walked out with a bottle of cider and somebody ...
William: They were jealous of you.
Lee: Somebody pulled me over and asked, “How did you get a bottle? They are giving the samples in the cup.”
I said, “She started pouring a cup and I asked if I could have a bottle because I’m going to come back?” and she said sure.
It’s just that easy. The people were fantastic.
William: Everyone was nice. We had a really good time. But we also had a few favorites while we were out there.
Lee: Yes we did.
William: One of the ones I started off with first was Highball & Harvest.
Lee: Oh we really like them. They were just so fun, chatting to the chefs and the staff there.
William: Absolutely. Those were some of the people that tried to get me drunk!
Lee: The drinks were good.
William: Oh, they were so good! Was that the place where they threw ice cream in one of them?
Lee: No, that was a different one where they did the float. The Highball & Harvest had the braised pork belly with corn and fennel and mustard. They also did the watermelon foam. Do you remember that?
William: I remember the watermelon foam. I have heard the word fennel, but I don’t really know what it is. But the braised pork was delicious.
Lee: It really was. I don’t eat pork. I tasted things that I ordinarily don’t eat.
William: I did too, because remember, I had that tartar at another restaurant.
Lee: But there is a limit. You really just get a bite, taste the flavors and that is about as much as you can eat. We kind of passed stuff along between us.
William: Yeah, this is the kind of event where you are not getting a full plate of food. You are getting samples of what they offer. I think it’s a good idea, because you want to experience a number of different flavors and tastes and if you tried to sit down and eat a whole meal, you’re just not going to be able to make it to the next station.
Lee: For those who have experienced the Food and Wine Festival at Epcot, I would say it’s even a little bit less than that, but they just really were fantastic.
William: There is no additional charge once you get inside like there would be at Epcot if you wanted to buy something. At Epcot you’ve got to go buy something around the World. Here your entry gets you access to all the food.
Lee: Yes, you pay for that and you get the experience.
William: Alright, so what was one of your favorites there?
Lee: I remember you really liked the Capital Grille. You are a meat and potatoes guy.
William: I very much am a meat and potatoes guy and they had a braised?
Lee: It was sliced fillet, wasn’t it?
William: Oh, that was the fillet, yes. With some mashed potatoes.
Lee: And you really enjoyed that. The fillet just looked so good.
William: Oh it was good. I was there taking a photo of it before everybody came in and they offered me some and I said don’t worry, I’ll come back later. I had to shoot first and then I came back later and there was this long line of people. I thought, man I learned my lesson. When someone offers you food, take it!
Lee: Yes. The other one that we really liked was the Gaylord Palms. I don’t know if you tasted anything. They had pork there as well. I didn’t taste the meat – it was beautifully presented – but what I did have was these grilled peaches.
William: Oh I remember the grilled peaches.
Lee: Grilled peaches with lemon zest and olive oil. There was crushed herbs and things in there. It was such an unusual combination, but it worked together. When they started describing it I thought, well that’s a bit interesting. But I gave it a try and it was really good.
William: You see, that’s something I remember. I used to work at Orlando Culinary Academy, years ago. They have since closed down, but when you go in there and you work with chefs, they have to be creative and say, OK these are the ingredients I’ve got. What can I do with it?
Sometimes it’s based upon what is fresh and what’s available. Sometimes they just want to do something with corn ... and they make ice cream out of corn.
Lee: That was also the place that had the Beehive. The bourbon; they made those bourbon drinks. I went back again for another one and then later on I backtracked when I was looking for you – later in the evening ...
William: No wonder I couldn’t find you!
Lee: One of the ladies recognized me and offered me another one. I said, oh yes please! I was so thirsty, but everything had alcohol in it, I think.
William: There was also a dessert place. I absolutely loved the desserts at this place. You put like three of them in front of me and asked, “Which one is your favorite?” I said, “Yes.”
Lee: You did. And you ate stuff that I thought you wouldn’t like, as well; like pecan pie. That was really good.
William: You put a good pecan pie in front of me; I love that. And you’re right. It is the kind of thing that I normally don’t eat pecans. But somehow you put it in a pie and it’s delicious.
Lee: And also the peanut butter brownie. You liked that.
William: That was the first thing we tried and yes, I love brownies. So peanut butter brownie was really good and who was that?
Lee: That was Empress Sissi Cake. Oh!
William: We have to go see them again! That stuff was just fantastic. I loved it.
Lee: Yeah, I grabbed their business card immediately on the second trip.
William: Yeah, I will tell you right off the bat, we can highly recommend them. We will go back and have more dessert from them.
Lee: They had cheesecakes as well. I know you are not a cheesecake person, but I do like them.
William: No, I’m not.
Lee: I do like a good cheesecake and apparently the cheesecake was fantastic. There was a limit to what we could eat because we were just trying to get pictures of stuff.
William: Yeah, but that pecan pie was wonderful; the brownie was wonderful and didn’t they have a red velvet also?
Lee: Oh, yes. Now I didn’t taste the red velvet. You said it was really good, though. We are big red velvet fans.
William: Yeah, I’m sorry. She put a red velvet in front of me and these are little things; we’ve only got two or three bites and I bit all of them.
Lee: That’s OK. I was full up on liquids, apparently.
William: Yes, you did more of the beverage tasting than I did.
Lee: I did. Now Marlow’s Tavern: the display looked so nice. Their presentation was great. I was chatting to the people there and I knew that you would probably like this and I remember taking their food over to you and you really enjoyed it. That was braised short rib with sweet corn grits. You didn’t even know it was grits. We don’t eat grits.
William: Apparently I didn’t, because I don’t eat grits. But if I ate that, then I must have enjoyed it. And the braised short rib ... is that what it was?
Lee: Yes, braised short rib and they had smoked applewood bacon with it and the balsamic reduction. That’s another thing you don’t like; balsamic.
William: I don’t, but you know what? Sometimes when you reduce these things down and you just get the flavors without the strong acidic taste to it, then it really works out.
Lee: It worked.
And for presentation, didn’t you think that the Universal Resort did an amazing job?
William: Universal did a wonderful thing. At first I asked what they were doing with the dinosaur on the display. Then they pointed out it was the whole King Kong thing that’s coming out; the new movie is coming out, they’ve got a new ride that is coming out and then you kind of notice that all of the columns around there are made of pineapples with faces carved into them.
William: And the dinosaur was like the Skull Island where there was a dinosaur on the island.
Lee: They had seafood ceviche, which was just .... oh!
William: See, I didn’t touch the ceviche. That’s not my thing.
Lee: It’s my thing and I really enjoyed that. Also, did you taste the dessert? I think you had a bite of some of my dessert. They had the warm caramel banana crème cake with bourbon vanilla sauce.
William: I did taste that. You said bourbon and you had me right there.
Lee: It was just really good. There was a bit of coconut in there. You’re not normally a coconut person, but it worked.
William: I’m not much of a coconut fan, but it is not like I’m not going to taste it just because it has coconut. I’ll try it and like I said, in this case it worked nicely. Sometimes the flavors really blend in. Or ... you had me at bourbon.
Lee: I like my ceviche. You know who else had a really good one was Cuba Libre.
William: Cuba Libre. I love that restaurant.
Lee: It was really nice. And they came in these cute little jars and I didn’t want to throw it in the trash. I felt so bad, because they were little glass jars and the guy said, “I’ll get you a lid and you can take it home.”
So I did. It’s sitting on our kitchen counter.
William: I’ve seen it in there.
I love Cuba Libre. If you haven’t been there, it’s out at Pointe Orlando and they are only open for dinner, I think, from 4 pm or later, but it is so worth it. The building is beautiful inside; the food is delicious. I really like Cuba Libre. We need to plan another visit there.
Lee: We’ve mentioned some of our favorites because a lot of these restaurants are going to come up in one of the other events that we are going to discuss. A lot of them are participating in the ....
William: Well, let’s move on. There were a lot of restaurants that were out there and we took photos of everything but we can’t really take the time to discuss each and every one of them here on the show.
The next thing we wanted to talk about was the Food and Wine Classic at the Swan and Dolphin. This is going to happen on October 28th and 29th and the pricing structure is not just one thing. There are different prices for different events.
Lee: It works differently to the Food and Wine Festival that Disney has at Epcot. This one, first of all, is only two days. It is not an all day thing. It starts at 5:30 pm and runs through until 9:00 pm. I guess you would call it your base ticket to give you access to the causeway, which is where they have all the samples and things, starts at $98.85, according to their website. It says it includes fees. I do not know what fees those are.
William: Maybe taxes or something like that. But basically that is your total price.
Lee: Yes, it seems to be the total price for that. Now there is wine and beer available for sampling included in that price, but if you want to go, they are going to have a beer garden, which has a more extensive range of beers and wines if you want to sample those and you can upgrade your ticket to an add-on for the beer garden. And that is going to set you back $122.39 per person.
William: Now is that in addition to, or your total price?
Lee: No, that is your total price. That is the causeway access with the add-on of the beer garden.
William: Alright. That I see. I just wanted to make sure it wasn’t like $120 for beer. That would have been too much.
Lee: With this, apparently you cannot buy the beer garden access without the food access. And they do have food in the beer garden, just like they do have drinks on the causeway.
William: But it’s an extra ticket item.
Lee: It’s an extra ticket. Now that is not the only way that you can do it. They have got various packages, if you go onto their website. You can actually get one which combines your stay with tickets, if you want to stay there. Also for those who are not really wanting to do the whole shebang, you’ve got a la carte tickets, which you buy. It’s $50 for a book of tickets and it takes about two to six tickets apparently, per item. So it’s like having little vouchers or tokens and you use them up as you go if you want to try keep a cap on your budget.
William: OK, that sounds interesting. And in case you are wondering about this, we will go ahead and put links to these events in our show notes. So you are going to find that at orlandolocal.com/9.
Lee: The other thing they are doing here is they have seminars. They are like little workshops or courses, I think they call them. You can go in and there is a cheese workshop and wine pairing and all kinds of things. You have your range of options on the website. Those are separate tickets. Now those start a little bit earlier. They start at 4:30 pm and they say that they last roughly an hour, give or take, for each one. This is kind of nice because you are not actually losing time out of your evening if you have paid for causeway tickets.
William: I think that is good planning.
Lee: Yeah. They are shooting to get you out on time. So the first night is a Friday, the second night is a Saturday and then the Sunday is – I think it’s at Il Mulino? – they are doing a Sunday Bubbles and Brunch. That is from 10 am to 2 pm and it is $75 per person. You get a glass of champagne to kick you off. You can upgrade. They don’t give a price for it, but you can have bottomless champagne.
Lee: I don’t know how much. I like champagne, but I think two glasses and I’m gone.
William: I’m kind of the same with it. A couple of glasses of champagne is about as much as I ever want. So I’m not in for the bottomless champagne, but other people may be, so this means they have an option for it.
Lee: Well if you’ve got a palate for it, it is ....
William: Well, it also depends on how long the brunch goes on. If you are going to stay there and mingle and talk with people, you might run out of your second drink and maybe you want a third or fourth. I don’t know.
Lee: Imagine spending four hours just getting topped up on champagne! You’d need wheels to take me out.
William: I’d find a really comfortable chair.
The next thing that we wanted to bring up was the Orlando Magical Dining Month. That is Orlando’s restaurant week, which in our case, runs much longer than a week. It’s running from August 29th to October 2nd. There are over ninety restaurants that are participating. Typically what you are going to pay is about $33.00 per person for three courses.
I’ve done this in the past and usually you will have an appetizer, a main and a small dessert. It varies at some restaurants. They may offer more. They may even offer a smaller version, but plan on $33 per person. This one is also a charity, benefitting the Russell Home for Atypical Children in Orlando.
I know the Russell Home has been around for a long time. Back when I was a kid in the Boy Scouts, we used to go over and do some of our service projects for the Russell Home. So it is a long lasting, reputable and useful facility in Orlando.
Lee: They are doing a good job there.
William: They have been caring for kids for a long time, so it is a good charity.
And you don’t even have to worry about the charity. You can just go to the restaurants and have a wonderful time sampling food.
Lee: The nice thing is that you can just go onto their website – we’ll put a link in the show notes, right? And you can pick the restaurants that you like and some of them actually give quite a range of choices for your appetizer, main and dessert. Others give fewer choices and it really depends what you like and where you go.
William: It depends on the restaurant. Some of them may be doing this appetizer, this main and this dessert and that’s it. Others may give you a choice of three or four items for the appetizer, three or four items for the main and three or four for the dessert. The numbers may vary, but it depends on where you go.
There are a number of restaurants. You are bound to find something you like out of that list.
Lee: And find something in the right area as well. If you are here on vacation, somewhere that is close to where you are staying or easy to get to; that’s also a factor.
William: Typically, these are nice restaurants. They are higher end restaurants. So $33 per person is actually a pretty good price for some of the months.
Lee: For a three course meal, it is.
William: I’ll go to a restaurant like that and I might spend that much just having soup and a main and then have nothing left over for dessert. But this one ... I really enjoy the Magical Dining Month and we will have to go through and find some more of our favorites and go back and visit them.
Lee: Yeah, because a number of them who we mentioned as favorites from Taste of the Nation are participating in this. Obviously they are all in the Orlando area and they are nicer ...
William: I know for example, Seasons 52 has participated in this in the past and they were also at Taste of the Nation. So I’m hoping they are on the list to go back and see them again.
Lee: And we like Seasons 52.
William: Oh, it’s really nice.
Lee: I think we have actually got some vouchers that they gave us, as well.
William: Oh, good!
Lee: I have them in my purse, so just remind me when we visit again.
William: So watch out, Seasons 52. We are coming for you.
Alright, the last one on our list is probably the biggest one. This is the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. I would tell you that it’s free, but of course the caveat is it’s free with your entry to the park.
So if you are going to go by yourself for one day, you are probably going to spend $100 or so for this, to get into a one day ticket for a Disney park. And it’s going to vary depending – Disney has got that variable pricing now, don’t they?
Lee: I think they were saying it was starting at $97? My memory might be out a little bit here.
William: But if you are visiting Disney World and you’ve got your park passes or like us, you are annual passholders, then you’ve already got your ticket; you know you are going to spend a day at Epcot, go out there and spend a day walking around the World Showcase. It’s not just the existing pavilions. They set up other little pop up spots.
Lee: They do, and they call them Marketplaces or Outdoor Kitchens (I noticed this year at the Flower and Garden Festival). I think they might have done that last year. My memory is hazy on that now. But they are also appetizer sized portions and they tend to range between $3.95 and around $8.00, depending on what you are getting and where.
William: They are not terribly expensive and they are larger than what we were talking about at Taste of the Nation, so I know there was like a Kalhua Pork Slider that’s very popular.
Lee: I saw that.
William: Some of them are going to be new; some of them are going to be returning favorites, but it is just really nice to go around and try the different flavors of the places you want to visit. But it’s not just that. They are also going to have demonstrations from celebrity chefs who come in and do demonstrations.
Lee: They do and they also have the seminars where you can pay to attend these. You do want to book them in advance. Some of them sometimes sell out. You want to check your dates and times and make sure you get into the course that you want and there is an additional cost. But you are not compelled to take one of these courses or sign up for anything just to go and enjoy the Food and Wine Festival and the offerings around the park if you want to taste things.
William: I’ll give you a caveat, based on experience from past years. The weekends are going to be crazy busy.
Lee: Yes! We’ve done this a number of times and ....
William: They have very broad, wide sidewalks going through there, and they will be packed with people walking and drinking their way through the World.
Lee: But last year did they not – I think they reduced the amount or quantities of beer that they were serving and the portions? I don’t know if there was a reason for that.
William: I think the reason is the guy who tried to climb the pyramid at Mexico.
Lee: They had already done that so it didn’t help. Maybe they should have just got him too drunk to get up there.
William: So now they have signs and more video cameras over by Mexico. Do not climb the pyramid.
Lee: They’ve also got the Eat To The Beat.
William: Yes, the concert series.
Lee: Now you just want to check the schedule to see who’s performing on the dates that you go, but that runs in the evenings at 5:30, 6:45 and 8:00 pm, so you are getting it three times during the evening.
William: And again, arrive early for those. I mean, you can stand on the outskirts and listen to it, but if you want to go in there and have a seat and listen to the concert, arrive a bit early because people line up for those; particularly the first one.
Lee: OK, but now they also do dining packages where you can get reserved/preferred seating for that and you can actually go and book at one of the participating restaurants in Epcot to have lunch there and then you get your seating as a dining package. This is going to vary, depending on whether you have a lunch or a dinner reservation. The price is going to vary. With Disney restaurants you are probably looking upwards of $30 to start, but you’ll just need to see which one is going to suit you time wise and where you can get a reservation. But that is an option if you don’t want to stand in line.
William: That’s actually a nice thing. Not everybody is going to want to go for that, but if your really want to sit down and have a nice meal and then go see the concert at a relaxed pace, it costs you a little bit more, but it’s a pleasant way to do it.
Lee: Well, if you want to have lunch that way. The down side is if you are wanting to sample things from various food booths, it means you are having a lunch and maybe not ....
Now when it comes to paying for this, you’ve got a range of payment methods. Disney offers maybe even more, because you’ve got the dining plan and you can use snack credits from the dining plan, which you can redeem for most food items. Obviously not for alcohol, but for a range of your non alcoholic drinks as well.
I’m going to make a recommendation with Disney, and this is not a slam on them, but sometimes stuff goes wrong, especially in the early days when they are setting things up. When I went to the Flower and Garden Festival recently, I figured I’d just pay with cash. I didn’t want to take a wallet, so I took cash with me as an easier means to pay and there were a number of times when the system went down and they couldn’t take cash. They could only take dining plans and gift cards.
That is another thing you can do is you can pre-load a gift card if you want to keep a cap on your spending.
There was another lady and her daughter who I went through with them that day and they had a different issue where for a couple of hours they were only able to pay cash and some of the booths were not able to take credit cards and there was something else they had as an option.
William: Well exactly, and especially when they are renting it out to these little market places and outdoor kitchens; I guess it takes them a while to work out the bugs. But the nice part about Walt Disney World is they take many types of payment. You can do Apple Pay, credit card, room charge, cash, but you may not be able to do all of them at the same time.
Lee: No, and you know, usually they are pretty good at fixing things really quickly and don’t expect something to go wrong – I think on the whole it’s unlikely – but it can happen and sometimes it does. It’s happened to us and it was just something I thought I need to mention this, because I wouldn’t want somebody to come unstuck. I was really thirsty. So I had to go elsewhere to go and get something. It wasn’t like I couldn’t get anything to drink, but it was a bit inconvenient.
William: Do you have a favorite part of the Food and Wine Festival?
Lee: Actually, the atmosphere, and I do prefer it during the week, but I love the atmosphere in the Food and Wine Festival; just walking around the World Showcase. It takes on a different vibe.
William: It kind of is, because I don’t know if it’s a bit more mellow ... Epcot is not a high key park anyways. It’s not like you’ve got a bunch of action rides going on there, winding people up.
Lee: There is a new energy. And something else that is kind of cool is that they put little tables around the World Showcase Lagoon and this is designed so you can set your things down if you want to eat. Just having those tables there is sometimes so convenient and you set your things down and you can check your phone, put something in your bag. It’s just nice to have a surface where you can work.
William: It kind of makes me with they would leave those out there year round.
Lee: And you get to meet people like that. I like to chatter away to people. You can hear I am the talkative one. It’s nice place to meet people.
Sometimes, if I am standing by myself and someone else is walking around looking for somewhere, I’ll tell them to come over. There’s space at the table here.
William: And we just want to make sure that you know that the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival is kicking off on Wednesday, September 14th, and of course, we are going to be there, taking some photos, gathering some information. So when we come back for our podcast the following week, we’ll tell you the things we found, the things we like, things that maybe we wish they had done better. But overall, we hope that we have a wonderful experience and we want to share that with you.
Lee: Yes, we will.
William: Thank you very much for joining us on the Orlando Local Show. You can get a free transcript of this show by going to orlandolocal.com/9
And of course, show notes are going to be available there. We will have links to some of the sites that we mentioned and the events that are going on.
We hope you really enjoy food; we hope you enjoy eating and we hope you enjoyed this show that it was useful for you.
If you’ve got any comments or feedback, please let us know.
Thank you very much. We appreciate you and we’ll talk to you again next week.
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