A Taste of Spring Training: Dining Near Champion Stadium in Kissimmee
By A.D. Thompson
Orlando Local Expert
So you're either an Orlando-local MLB junkie, a hardcore Atlanta Braves fan, or a visitor looking to take in some pre-season baseball. Either way, you've gotta eat. Exhibition games at Kissimmee's Champion Stadium are either early afternoon or evening events, but whether you're interested in grabbing lunch or dinner (or perhaps even breakfast at an off hour!) 10Best is here with the hookup. Over in nearby Celebration, a town initially created by the minds at Disney, a treasure trove of eats await. Relax with some unique fusion fare and a glass -- or bottle -- at Imperium Food & Wine or grab a decidedly more wholesome milkshake at the Market Street Cafe, where breakfast is served all day. Headed out for a romantic or special-occasion meal after the game? Visit Columbia Restaurant, also in Celebration, or go-to carnivore's favorite Charley's Steak House. Interested in something ethnic? Despite what some folks would have you believe, Kissimmee has plenty of locally owned, non-chain offerings. Case in point: King O Falafel, an absolute local favorite for Greek, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern delights or Taste of Punjab for those interested in flavorful Indian cuisine. Of course, if you want to follow through on the sports theme (and do a little resort reconnaissance while you're at it), pop over to Wrecker's Sports Bar at the Gaylord Palms and get your game on amid its 50 blazing TV screens.
Wrecker's Sports Bar
So you want to watch a game? Wrecker's Sports Bar covers all the bases and the outfield with more than 50 high-definition televisions blazing in its soaring two-story digs inside the Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center. In fact, Orlando Sentinel readers voted it "Best Place to Watch a Game." Less than enthused about sports? It's still a great venue for lunch or dinner for those looking to check out the verdant atrium of this unique and beautiful resort property. Reconnaissance + pub grub = a successful scouting mission. Dine on the terrace overlooking the pool and you'll feel like you're on vacation even if you just stopped in for a burger. ((407) 586-1330)
Ole, ole! Columbia has quite a history in Florida -- the first opened as a small café in Tampa's Ybor City neighborhood in 1905. Since then, this Spanish venue (its founder was Cuban, it should be noted) has opened outposts in several other locations, one of them in Celebration. Small café no more, Columbia leans fine-dining and features an array of elaborate paellas on its menu (the 1905 salad is semi-legendary). While a proper visit requires a bit of a time investment -- paella takes a while to prepare -- you can easily pop in for lunch and grab a Cuban sandwich and head out. It does make a nice date night, though. Live music Friday and Saturday nights from 8:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. in the Tapas Bar add to the ambiance. ((407) 566-1505)
With locations in an abundance of states -- the most telling being its success in Texas -- Chuy's is a solid chain option for Tex-Mex if you're in the mood for chimis, nachos, fajitas and the like. And don't forget the margaritas. Elvis aficionados who've never been should stop by just for the theming; there's an Elvis shrine in every location. Generous portions and a casual, colorful atmosphere make Chuy's fun for groups. Orlando visitors have two options to get their queso dip fix: I-Drive or Kissimmee. Specials include Chicka-Chicka-Boom-Boom Enchiladas and Big As Yo' Face Burritos. You won't go hungry, that's for sure. ((407) 787-3545)
Taste of Punjab
Many Kissimmee residents are regulars at Taste of Punjab, whether they're enjoying a casual dine-in or picking up nan, butter chicken, chana masala and the like for some quality Indian take-out. For a few years now, this un-fancy family-owned eatery has been winning them over. If you're in the Kissimmee/Disney area and looking for something more local than what you'll find at the parks, give them a shot. A Taste of Punjab is family friendly, offering up creamy, quality curries and kormas and crisp samosas with a smile. Lunch specials are value driven, as well. Pop in for a taste from the tandoor. ((407) 507-3900)
Market Street Cafe
Breakfast, lunch and dinner served up in the friendly little town of Celebration and just the sort of venue you'd imagine finding here. Burgers and salads, sandwiches and blue-plate specials and heat-beating milkshakes are among the spoils, but if you're in the mood for pancakes or a Benedict come dinnertime -- fear not. Breakfast is served all day. Not "all the way" hungry? No worries. Pop in for coffee and dessert. The latter -- from fruit cobblers to coconut and banana cream pies -- are made fresh in-house. Dog lovers, note: Rover is welcome to join you for your meal if you sit on the Market Street's patio. ((407) 566-1144)
Charley's Steak House
Big, gorgeous cuts of beef and a wonderful selection of seafood, chicken and other entrees are the order at Charley's Steak House, a venerable old favorite for Central Floridians looking for a special night out or special-occasion splurge. What to expect? Fine wines, generous portions and beautifully cooked, perfectly aged cuts. Don't forget dessert (if you manage to save room). It's what keeps regulars coming back. Charley's is not an inexpensive night out. Best to stay and savor. Steaks, chicken, chops and the like are fire-cooked at Charley's. The smell of that crackling wood alone is sure to set your stomach grumbling at the prospect. (407.396.6055)
Sports fans -- and burger aficionados -- delight! This newish offshoot of the famed Don Shula's restaurant empire (you've heard of Shula's Steaks, have you not?) features gourmet burgers, tasty tots and more football memorabilia than you can wag a fry at for a far lower price-point than previous Shula entities. Gourmet offerings like the Wine Country Burger (roasted peppers and tomatoes, goat cheese, balsamic greens) or House of Blue (slathered in blue cheese and red onion jam) hold up well next to venerable classic toppings like swiss, mushrooms and onions. If you don't find a combo that appeals, just build your own! ((407) 238-1999)
This is the apex predator of Downtown Disney dining with kids in tow, though grown-ups should be aware that a visit to T-Rex will awaken your long-dormant inner paleontologist. Stellar theming to the Nth Degree is perhaps this restaurant's biggest cache -- animatronic dinosaurs tower, loom, roar! The littlest ones in your party may not love them right away, to be sure, but the rest? It's dino-heaven. Food runs the gamut from burgers to ribs, salads to sandwiches, a full bar will slake your post-theme park thirst. Regular meteor showers make dining even more theatrical. T-Rex is undeniably fun and an absolute spectacle. ((407) 828-8739)
Imperium Food & Wine
Downtown Celebration is a charming, walkable little burg made more so by unique, local joints like Imperium Food & Wine. Fusion is the word for Imperium's menu, which features a nice array of appetizers -- Asian to Cajun to French, salads, wraps, sliders and some very unique flatbreads. As the name implies, vino is Imperium's signature beverage. An extensive selection and knowledgeable staff will be happy to help you make a choice. Live music, weekend specials and al fresco seating up the romance factor for sure, but Imperium Food & Wine makes just as nice a venue for unwinding with friends. (4075669054)
King O Falafel
The regulars here honestly wouldn't mind placing crowns on the heads of the falafel artisans here. Whether your passion is a well-seasoned gyro, a creamy platter of hummus or those crispy-delicious pita ensconced fried balls of chick-pea goodness, you've stepped into the right place. King O Falafel is reasonably priced, clean, casual, friendly -- and everything is fresh-made. Is it fancy? No. Will you leave sated? Yes. And if you're only in town to visit, you'll be sorry this locally owned venue is so far from where you live. From the spinach pie to the lentil soup to the baklava, this is indeed a monarchy of flavor, whether meat laden or all-veggie, all the time. ((407) 979-4940)
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, 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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