Carbs get such a bad name these days. Count them, the diets will tell you. Remember there are good ones and bad ones. Or, worst of all, they instruct you to avoid them altogether. If the gourmet cupcake trend is indicative of anything, it's a hard backlash against a philosophy that tells us all the sweet, doughy things we love most are nutritionally sinful. Let's face it: no one likes to be preached at. Orlando residents enjoy warm weather much of the year and as such, may be a little more diet conscious than most, but that doesn't mean they don't appreciate a nice piece of cake. Where do they go to get it? All over! For traditional German breads, it's Yalaha Bakery. For classic, butter-laden French, it's Croissant Gourmet in Winter Park. What about Brazilian? Try Pao Gostoso. Colombian? Fortuna Bakery & Cafe keeps locals and tourists covered. And for those aforementioned trendy cupcakes? Take your pick from Sweet! in Waterford Lakes to Blue Bird Bake Shop in the Audubon Park Garden District to Delightful Treats in the climate-controlled shopper's Mecca of Altamonte Mall. An unlikely place to find flaky baklava and real Turkish coffee (brewed by actual Turks), but there you go. Orlando is full of surprises.
10 Yaya's Cuban Cafe & Bakery
Yaya's original Hewett Drive location is still open for business, fear not. This Curry Ford location (newly opened, Summer 2012) is a sister operation, sleek and modern, but the quesitos and other traditional Cuban goodies are still just like your abuelita's. Guava and guava-cheese pastelitos, as good as you'll get in Miami, pair majestically with dark, sweet coffee or cafe con leche and even the pan de mantequlla (served on the side of your breakfast) is baked on site. In fact, you can take home a loaf for $1.50. This isn't merely a bakery, of course. You'll also find Cuban favorites, from ropa vieja and vaca frita to the succulent medianoche (the traditional Cuban sandwich's sweeter cousin), but even so you might want to grab some flaky quesitos to go. (407-228-0060)
9 Raphsodic Bakery
While options are certainly growing in Orlando for vegans and those with gluten-based dietary restrictions, pickings are still slim. At Raphsodic Bakery, however, you can go crazy, because it's all vegan, all the time. Here, they bake fresh plant-based and an array of allergy-conscious delights -- cupcakes, cookies, scones, you name it -- every day. Ingredients are organic whenever possible and entirely devoid of trans-fats, high-fructose corn syrup, preservatives and food coloring (or, as its proprietors like to say, "anything they can't pronounce"). Enjoy your treat on-site with a cup of fair trade coffee as you absorb a selection of local art or get it boxed to go. ((407) 704-8615)
8 Pao Gostoso Bakery
Ola, bom dia and bem vindo! Pao Gostoso specializes in Brazilian baked goods, sweet and savory pastries and more, and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Food here is made from scratch and staffers are happy to walk newcomers through the Portuguese menu. Fruit tarts, pastries, chocolate coconut cake and myriad cookies and fruit tarts tempt the sweet tooth (not to mention creamy flan) while cheese bread, empanadas, pizza rolls and other savories tempt on the menu's flip side. Rich and exceptional is the traditional coxinha, or chicken drop, a golden-brown "mock chicken leg" filled with juicy chicken and creamy, gooey cheese. Delicioso. (407-447-8946)
7 Croissant Gourmet
Brothers Francois and Phillipe Cahagne opened Croissant Gourmet in 2008 and in the time since it has become a local favorite in the walkable window shopper's paradise of Winter Park. While lunch time brings in all manner of diners clamoring for specialties like quiche Lorraine and croque monsieur, Croissant Gourmet's bakery is a universal draw, whether you're sitting down to enjoy one of their massive buttery namesakes with a cup of coffee or stopping in for a box of baked goodies to go. Favorites here include rich vanilla- or chocolate-filled eclairs, all manner of tarts (from apple Normandy to apricot), coconut and vanilla flans, classic Napoleons, an array of delicious and photogenic macarons and of course, the stars of the show: croissants. Stay away if you're on a diet. ((407) 622-7753)
6 Charlie's Gourmet Pastries
Gourmet cupcake trends notwithstanding, you can't argue with old school. And Charlie's -- a staple in Orlando for some four decades -- kicks it old school in a big way. Black and white cookies, lattice-topped fruit pies, chocolate eclairs, rich, creamy cheesecake piled high with luscious, ripe berries.... This is a bakery the way your great grandparents remember it, a place where variety (and good, old-fashioned butter) reign supreme. Proprietor Charlie Hawks, a former baker at Miami's famed Wolfie's, opened the place in 1971 and never looked back. In the time since, the place has doubled in size and his son has become a fourth-generation baker, carrying on family tradition one delicious cake at a time. (407-898-9561)
5 Yalaha Bakery
At Yalaha Bakery, hearty, healthy breads are the focus, but they've got the sweets more than covered -- from traditional German apfelstrudel and other fruity confections to cheese pastries, bear claws, lemon squares.... You name it. Yalaha's original location, open since 1995, is out in Lake County (in the town of Yalaha) but this newer outpost, right across the street from picturesque Lake Ivanhoe, means in-towners need not make the trek on weekdays. The lunch menu here is a bit smaller than its sister shop -- which hosts live music and other events -- but no less appealing. Sandwiches (are served on your choice of four incredible breads baked on premises. Doughy delights include the Swiss rye, cranberry walnut and rosemary potato breads. When in doubt, the pretzel cheese bread is always a winner. ((321) 800 5212)
4 Fortuna Bakery & Cafe
Behold the bridge-building power of food. Whether you're well schooled in the delights of the South American bakery or a total novice, the helpful staffers at Fortuna will serve you cheerfully and efficiently, regardless of whether you speak the same language. Clean glass cases filled to exploding with all manner of Colombian and Venezuelan delights keep this place busy all week long via a devoted local following and a steady stream of tourists who find it via recommendation or by happy accident. The sweets, from the bunuelos to the pastels de manzana to the tres leches, are divine, but there are plenty of savories to enjoy, as well. Flaky empanadas stuffed with meats and cheeses, traditional Colombian pandebono and creamy, crumbly arepas are among the favorites. ((407) 855-7070)
3 Delightful Treats
With flavors from vanilla to red velvet, key lime to vodka-kahlua, this shop is aptly named. Cupcakes, cake pops, authentic Turkish baklava, all of it a tantalizing peep-show for your sweet tooth, a confectioner's cabal conspiring to derail your diet plans. But Delightful Treats isn't merely a place to stop for sweets on the fly, it's a full-service, custom cake shop, creating gorgeous confections for any event: showers, birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, you name it. The basic yellow cake here is a simple, rich and buttery delight to the palate. Traditionalists might balk, in fact, at the idea of slathering it with buttercream and wrapping it in custom-tinted fondant. Everyone else, however, will fight over their slice. ((321) 207-0004)
2 Sweet! By Good Golly Miss Holly
Hollis Wilder, creator of Sweet By Holly is a three-time winner of Food Network's Cupcake Wars, and Orlando is delighted to have her on speed dial. Sweet! by Holly is a cupcakery. On any given day you'll find a vast array of flavors -- banana to Boston cream, coffee to carrot, plain Jane to PBJ -- with some of Holly's specialty flavors peppered in (watch Facebook and Twitter for a head's up on your favorite). Sweet! takes custom cupcake orders for events, as well, and cakes come in several sizes. The Giant, for example, starts at $55 and serves 8-12 people. Alongside the shop's colorful cupcakes, Sweet! offers frozen yogurt and a vast candy-bar buffet of toppings. Its small, bright Waterford Lakes location (the other lies north, in Jacksonville) has outdoor seating, so feel free to enjoy your treats inside or al fresco if you're not taking a box to go. (407-277-7746)
1 Blue Bird Bake Shop
Nestled in the burgeoning foodie haven of Audubon Park, Blue Bird Bake Shop offers up delightful cupcakes -- scratch-baked from small batches. Does this mean your favorite might run out by afternoon? Yes. Yes, it does. All the more reason to try another of the popular varieties offered up every day (there are roughly 25) including chocolate Guinness, apricot ginger, red velvet and vanilla black pepper. There are plenty of more traditional flavors, as well, along with seasonal and holiday goodies like maple walnut, lime in'd coconut, strawberry lemonade and candy cane. Let's be honest: you'll find something you like. If cupcakes aren't quite your thing, brownies, scones, muffins and cookies round out the menu, and any will pair delightfully with a cup of organic coffee from Seven Sisters -- another Orlando-based outfit. Blue Bird will even grind you a bag to go. Cupcakes are $2.75 apiece; $30 per dozen. ((407) 228-3822)
About A.D. Thompson
A.D. Thompson has spent more than 20 years as a professional writer and roughly 15 as a Floridian. The words, she has found, come easier with bare feet and rum.
A roller coaster enthusiast (SeaWorld’s Manta is her current favorite), A.D. readily admits there is fun to be had amid the madness of the theme parks, but has found there is magic, as well, in the outer-lying reaches of Mickey’s long shadow. She is delighted to share with you the spoils of her adopted city.
Visit her colorful compendium at www.amydrewthompson.com.
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