Catch spring fever at these amazing Orlando eateries



Sometimes Spring is something you taste: radish, asparagus, tomatoes, sweet corn. Other times, it's an essence, a tip in the weather scales that in places like Orlando, moves the thermostat from boots weather to beach weather in what feels like a blink. Similarly, spring menus feature fresh, local produce and the best patios in town come alive with those of us looking to warm up after an Arctic blast pushes our overnight temps dangerously close to freezing. (Sorry, Minnesota. It's not our fault!) The views, of course, are varied. Over at Urbain 40, you can peruse a new seasonal menu as you enjoy the ambient noise of the majestic Dellagio Fountain – modeled on the Place de la Concorde in Paris. In Thornton Park, Soco offers the chance to nibble locally procured deviled eggs in its see-and-be-seen outdoor space. Up in Mount Dora, the secret garden-like courtyard of the Goblin Market is as romantic as it gets, while the casual-wonderful party vibe of the Milk District's weekly Tasty Takeover, a food truck block party that's sized just right is ideal for friends, families, dogs, you name it!



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The Relax Grill is casual, comfortable and nothing fancy, but with nightly drink specials (Fridays, for example feature $10 AYCE beer and $15 AYCE wine) and a gorgeous location on the shores of Lake Eola, you can't beat it. Menu is a mixed bag of American and quasi-Mexican offerings with a surprising and quite fresh selection of traditional Greek and Middle Eastern dishes, as well. The location alone warrants its mention, as views like this generally come with a heftier price tag at the end of your meal. Bonus for dog lovers: Fido is most certainly welcome!


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Disney Springs ®


 

Disneyphiles will remember Paddlefish from its time as the Empress Lily and in 2017, its smokestacks and iconic paddlewheel returned as the floating Downtown Disney eatery most recently known as Fulton's Crab House was sumptuously reavmped into Disney Springs' new Paddlefish. Three levels of dining with beautiful water-view and al freso seating options await, along with a litany of seafood offerings, including a few of the most popular from Fulton's. Cocktails are impressive, as well. The downstairs bar is a beautiful place to sip and sample some lobster corn dogs or perhaps something from the raw bar if you're not staying for a complete meal.


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A romantic hideaway of the highest order, Mount Dora's Goblin Market is a favorite among critics both local and farther flung, not only for its eclectic menu. but its charming spaces, inside and out. Each of its three indoor dining rooms seems lifted from one of the books that line the walls and although it's a well known spot at this point (it's operated here for more than 20 years) each visit feels as though you've stumbled upon something new, special, secret. Its outdoor space, too, has a quaint and clandestine vibe with lush Florida greenery to complement a decadent menu of lovingly homemade fare.


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Vanbarry's expansive and mostly covered outdoor section is a haven with fire pits, live music and serene water views. Okay, there's a parking lot, too, but you won't mind. The vibe here is casual, friendly, local. You may already know its sister venues (Ollie's in College Park and Finnhenry's downtown) and Vanbarry's is a nice addition to the family, in particular for its breezy outdoor section. The menu, while loaded with traditional pub offerings, tilts toward the unexpectedly upmarket (fig-prosciutto flatbreads) with a bit of the unexpected mashup (bacon caramel fries). Prices are reasonable, atmosphere is lively, and the patio is a nightly reminder that Florida livin' is pretty good.


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Modern preparation, locally sourced ingredients and a lovely setting â€" indoor or out â€" make Hamilton's Kitchen, the resident eatery at Winter Park's chic Alfond Inn a wonderful choice for a business dinner (or breakfast, lunch or brunch, come to think of it). Bright but rustic with an open kitchen its prime location makes before- or after-dinner exploration of Park Avenue's shops and bars a nice way to work up an appetite or walk off a meal. Dinner fare runs the gamut from land to sea, often with an especially nice selection of seafood.


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For those of you unfamiliar with Earl's Kitchen + Bar, it's a chain. Let's get that out of the way up front. It is, however, a surprising one, with its soaring and elegantly appointed digs at the Mall at Millenia, its patio beckoning those with over-swiped credit cards to plunk it down one last time for a post-spree signature cocktail and a few plates to share. Yes. The patio. It's one of the features that makes Earl's extra special, in particular when Orlando's weather is at its best, but the menu's no slouch. Running the gamut from big slabs of ribs to carefully crafted sushi, Korean offerings from crispy wings to bibimbap, curries, jerks and perfectly American surf and turf options (among others), Earl's global offerings make it an easy option for a diverse bunch of diners.


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Love food trucks? This weekly celebration features some of Orlando's mobile culinary masters and allows diners to grab whatever speaks to them. One week that could be a phenomenally juicy burger from the Treehouse Truck, another a paper boat filled with some of Sushi & Seoul's best rolls. Swedish food. Portuguese food. Mexican food. Venezuelan food. Good 'ol American BBQ. You never really know what you'll get. Well, you can cheat and look at the website, of course, so you can plan your calorie intake the rest of the week. Be sure to leave room for fryer fresh doughnuts . Or churros. Or artisan ice cream sammies. Or fresh, local popsicles. Options are as endless as your appetite.


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Soco offers up loads of plated Southern comfort, though its name is actually a representation of Southern contemporary �" which means you'll find some down-home diner favorites that have undergone an evolution into something more upscale. Think boiled peanut hummus, mac-and-cheese croquettes and chicken and dumplings that infuse the latter with lobster. Its dining room is warm and inviting but its al fresco sidewalk seating infuses meals with a hip, urban vibe that ticks everything up a notch. As appealing for dinner as it is for Sunday brunch or happy hour cocktails, Soco's patio is lively and hip. But the food here is exemplary, and well worth the visit even if the Florida rain is teeming outside.


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With a rotating menu of New American cuisine and a romantic, lakeside setting, Canvas has made Lake Nona's rapidly expanding culinary scene tastier and prettier, injecting the Sunshine State's flavorful blend of Southern and Latin American into its Instagram-worthy plates. Restaurant may come first in Canvas' name, but let's not forget the "market" portion. It's one part high-end comestible-and-home-goods store, one part breezy cafe. Gifts and foodstuffs abound; they'll even take cooking dinner off your list of to-dos. Just buy it, bring it home and make whoever's eating it happy. (At the very least, you could bring a dessert treat!) The market is open daily from 7 am to 8 pm. Bar opens at 3 pm. The views to go with your wine, beer or cocktail are sublime.


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Doctor Phillips


 

This beautiful venue, which bills itself as an American brasserie, has been delighting guests with its 1940s panache and versatile continental menu since 2015. Groups here are well taken care of and larger parties are welcome to book separate spaces that allow for as much privacy or visibility as is desired. In fact you may want to leave the doors open to hear the live music, which plays nightly and pulls material from a host of beloved genres, from instrumental jazz to Sinatra favorites. Buyouts are available here, as well, and your guests will no doubt be wowed by the place, from the gorgeous fountain out front where they can set up for outside service to the inviting warm interiors.


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Meet A.D. Thompson

Amy Drew has spent nearly three decades as a professional writer and roughly half her life as a Floridian. The words, she has found, come easier with bare feet and rum.

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