Folks have long touted food-centric walking tours as a nice way to burn off the sampling calories, but we’ll tell it to you straight: unless you’re planning to finish the Iron Man within 24 hours of your visit, you won’t be burning off even a fraction of what you’ll want to consume on a stroll through Orlando’s Artisan Bakery District.
Each cookie at Gideon's weighs close to a half-pound – regular flavors are $4 apiece — Photo courtesy of Gideon's Bakehouse
But seriously, who cares?
This theme-park capital is becoming increasingly known for its phenomenal dining scene and the Audubon Park Garden District is a wonderful example of its grass-roots growth.
"It’s kind of by chance, but also not by chance," says Jennifer Marvel, executive director of the Audubon Park Garden District. Marvel cites a weekly local food market as contributing to the area’s genesis a few years back, along with a few burgeoning businesses that are still around today.
East End Market was about to break ground, and Marvel and her colleagues began crafting food-centric events with an emphasis on local. Businesses opened, flourished and attracted new ones.
"One thing led to another and we ended up with a disproportionate share of bakeries relative to our footprint. The cultivation of food business was deliberate, but not the nature of their offerings. So a dessert or artisan bakery district was sort of by chance – but also not by chance!"
So if you find yourself in the APGD, here’s a sampling of where to get your carb on in a very big, very delicious way.
Olde Hearth Bread Co.
Boules, baguettes, biscotti and beyond – Olde Hearth Bread Co. does it all — Photo courtesy of Olde Hearth Bread Company
"[Brown once said] you should never make a sandwich with bread you wouldn’t eat by itself, that bread is food, not just a holder for sandwich fillings."
Marvel slices the Olde Hearth baguettes different ways for different sandwiches and serves them with oils and spices as an appetizer. You can opt for the baguettes or choose from seemingly infinite offerings. The pretzels are also particularly outstanding.
Olde Hearth sells their products at local farmers' markets and you’ll find many of their breads at the city’s finest restaurants and hotels, as well.
Limited edition or seasonal cookies at Gideon's Bakehouse, like the Rocky Road, are only available sometimes and run $5 each — Photo courtesy of Gideon's Bakehouse
If you thought, "I just paid $25 for six cookies," was a phrase you’d never say, you’ve clearly never been to Gideon’s Bakehouse, where just one roughly half-pound cookie – the smart money’s on the pistachio toffee dark chocolate – could conceivably bring about world peace.
Gideon’s is also located inside East End Market and while they keep long hours, they close up when they sell out for the day, and that happens a lot, so come early or pre-order. Gideon’s sells cake slices, too. Each mile-high slice is rich and delicious and shareable.
Important to note: $25 for six cookies is the most you will pay. Because of high demand, Gideon’s limits customers to a max of six so no one riots and trashes the joint when someone inevitably buys everything in the case. Just kidding; they simply want everyone to get a fair shake at tasting their wonderful wares on the daily.
Cassandra Plas makes stroopwafels at East End Market three days a week — Photo courtesy of Gezellig Cookies
Cassandra Plas came to Orlando by way of Canada, but her grandparents came to Canada by way of the Netherlands. And the City Beautiful benefited when she decided to turn her grandmother’s recipes for Dutch cookies – like the classic, caramel-filled stroopwafel – into a business that’s tearing it up online and making a name for itself around town via markets, events and other storefronts.
Three days a week, and now four as the holiday season is about to start, she bakes them at East End Market’s upstairs community kitchen to the delight of onlookers (and tasters).
"If the elevator door opens and you smell cookies," she laughs, "you know we’re up there!"
Plas doesn’t have a storefront, but knew she wanted a presence in the APGD from the beginning.
"When we were starting this business and looking at commissary kitchens, I really wanted to be at East End Market’s because it was more than a kitchen, it was a community – everyone’s really supportive –and it’s a neat little place where people care a lot about what they’re doing."
Plas says she meets visitors to Orlando all the time while she’s baking – most recently a family from China that enjoyed themselves and took lots of video and a Disney guest who read about the market and took Uber from the parks area just to visit.
If you don’t find Plas there on your visit, though, fear not. You can buy her stroopwafels (and also get one of the best grilled cheeses of your life) at La Femme du Fromage’s market stall.
P is for Pie Bake Shop
Hand Pies: Because forks only get in the way — Photo courtesy of P is for Pie Bake Shop
"It’s a wonderful day for pie…!” sang a very Disney-fied Griffin family in the classic multiverse episode of Family Guy. In the AGPD, it’s a song you could sing every day.
This pie-centric shop’s menu is positively Gumpian – classic pies, hand pies, mason jar pies, savory pies, whoopie pies, pie pops, mini pies… all from scratch with seasonal and local ingredients. The result? A perpetually wonderful day for pie.
They’ve got the flavors you’d expect and a host of creative amalgams like blackberry lemon cream & walnut thyme streusel or ginger cranberry pear or fig with honey goat cheese and rosemary Marcona almonds. One of Marvel’s recommendations: the pecan hand pie.
"The pastry is light, flaky and buttery, while the filling is packed with just the right amount of pecans and brown sugar. It's large enough to share, for people willing to share a great dessert," she chuckles. "I'm not. I eat the whole thing myself. But you could, if you were so inclined."
If you've had your fill of sweets, P is for Pie Bake Shop does quiche and other savory delights on the daily.
10 theme park foods that will get your taste buds in on the thrills
10 theme park foods that will get your taste buds in on the thrills
Blue Bird Bake Shop
Fun fact: this bakery is best known for its incredible cupcakes, but in 2013, it made Nat Geo’s Intelligent Travel’s List of Chocolate Chip Cookies to Travel For. They do brownies, scones and other delights, as well, but oh, those cupcakes.
Decidedly Instagrammable, they taste just as good as they look – and it all started with a simple vanilla cupcake. Now there are eight everyday flavors and a mile-long roster of others (coffee toffee, Kahlua & cream, strawberry balsamic) – some specific to season (key lime, sweet potato, candy cane).
Marvel wishes the Blue Bird blueberry muffin got as much attention as their cupcakes. "It’s the lightest, fluffiest yellow cake, loaded with the maximum number of fresh blueberries you could get into a muffin without the muffin losing its structure."
The Gourmet Muffin
Cruffin: the delicious love child of a muffin and a croissant — Photo courtesy of The Gourmet Muffin
There’s this thing you need that you never knew existed, but it will change your life, and it’s called the cannoli cruffin. A cruffin, in case you were wondering, is the love child of a muffin and a croissant, and from there you can sense the freakiness that yields the cannoli variety.
Yeah, you have to try it. Already visited some of the other entries herein? Go with the perfect-as-is cinnamon sugar variety of these deliciously airy, flaky things.
Oh, and then there are the muffins (OMG) and the frosted muffins (#betterthancupcakes, they often hashtag) and the chocolate-covered muffin pops, and the bread puddings, and…well, you get the idea. What’s more, this place caters not merely to generic scarfers of carb-laden deliciousness, but those with gluten-free and vegan leanings, as well.
Also within steps of all these outposts:
Domu: Silky ramen, sweet, crunchy Korean fried chicken, phenomenal craft cocktails (try the Toki Old Fashioned!), an anchor restaurant at East End Market.
Kelly’s Homemade Ice Cream, where you can get some traditional vanilla to pair with any number of these outstanding aforementioned items or scratch your head deciding which of their many from-scratch flavors will scratch your ice cream itch.
Stardust Coffee & Video: This place has been an APGD staple since before almost anyone had heard of the neighborhood. Wonderful coffees and teas abound and – as many people are unaware – a great place for craft cocktails, as well!
Redlight, Redlight: This city’s craft beer scene is exploding and this beer parlour has been serving up some of the world’s best since 2005. Now they even make their own.