The cookies at Gideon’s Bakehouse sell out virtually every day. They’ve been doing so since their tattered Victorian-influenced stall opened in the hip Orlando foodie hub of East End Market. In fact, it’s best to pre-order online. The half-pound cookies, which sell for $5 apiece, have a cult-like following owner Steve Lewis has been growing for more than a decade.
"I started off as delivery-only and was labeled a secret bakery," he explains.
There was no promotion, no website. Everything was word-of-mouth and customers had to be in-the-know to place orders. Lewis made just 100 cookies a month. Decidedly hyperlocal.
But now there’s one other place in the world you can get your hands on one: Disney Springs.
Local meets the masses
Locals can now find what many call the city's best cookie at Disney Springs (but they will pay $3 more for it!) — Photo courtesy of Gideon's Bakehouse
Since beginning its massive expansion from Downtown Disney into Disney Springs, the sprawling entertainment district has double the number of venues – from big-name shopping entities to celebrity chef eateries. But until more recently, it lacked something that Orlando (the city itself, not just the "tourist destination") has in spades: local flavor.
"Showcasing local culinary talent, local craft brews and locally sourced menu items adds to the overall experience at Disney Springs and gives us a chance to put the spotlight on Central Florida in a big way," says Keith Bradford, Vice President, Disney Springs.
For Lewis, though, having his cookies in a location where the entire world could get a taste (Orlando just broke its own 2016 tourism record, in fact; 72 million visited the city in 2017) wasn’t an easy choice to make.
"We enjoy feeling like a little secret," he says.
What helped him make the leap? Trust in fellow locals who were in on the ground floor as Orlando’s incredible local food scene caught fire.
Chefs James & Julie Petrakis opened the first of their Orlando restaurants, The Ravenous Pig, in 2007 and in the years since have become an Orlando first family of food, opening several acclaimed eateries (one of which has its own brewery inside).
The Southern Pig sammie at the Polite Pig — Photo courtesy of Disney/Joe Brooks
The Petrakis’ Southern-inspired fare is known city-wide and so, in 2017, along with James’ brother, Chef Brian Petrakis, they took it "worldwide," opening the Polite Pig at Disney Springs. It's a fast-casual modern barbecue joint boasting a smoker that can handle 600 pounds of protein at once.
"We’ve always believed in our barbecue, but having someone like Anthony Bourdain, who has one of the most diversified palates, try our barbecue at the Ravenous Pig back in 2013 really solidified that we didn’t just 'think' what we were doing was good," says James Petrakis, "it was good."
Good enough, in fact, to lure locals to Disney Springs to give the Polite Pig’s Q – not to mention its bourbon bar with 50+ small-batch selections – a try.
"James and Julie Petrakis are well-known in Central Florida," Bradford notes. "The Ravenous Pig is a culinary landmark in nearby Winter Park. When we had the chance to bring them to Disney Springs, it felt like a perfect fit: local talent, an incredible menu of casual barbecue offerings, a hip venue that is broadly appealing to tourists and locals."
At Swine & Sons, a Petrakis-owned gourmet dine-in/take-out joint, the sandwiches are piled just as high as those in Disney Springs. Case in point: the smoked brisket (the Polite Pig has a similar offering) — Photo courtesy of A.D. Thompson
Locals like Gideon’s Lewis, who admitted taking the Disney plunge wasn’t an easy decision.
"We want to make sure that everyone’s first Gideon’s cookie is perfect. It’s a leap for us to allow someone else to continue that attention to the experience, but we trust the great people at the Polite Pig and we feel we have a responsibility to help promote the explosion of local business in Central Florida.
Did you know Orlando has an amazing Artisan Bakery District?
Did you know Orlando has an amazing Artisan Bakery District?
"Having access to the world through Disney is an incredible opportunity and we’re working hard to improve our ability to output more quantity without losing even the slightest hint of quality."
The quality part hasn’t slipped if the lines outside the Polite Pig are any indication. Lewis says they’ve restricted sales to one hour a day as the supply can’t yet meet the demand.
"The food scene [in Orlando] has exploded with passion and inspiration and we’re so proud to be a part of that movement," says Lewis. "A defined culture is emerging in our city and we want to make sure our tourists get a taste of that culture."
Irish brogue, Florida brew
Raglan Road's overall beer list is extensive but its Signature Brews Flight features tastes of exclusives, each crafted within a quick drive of Disney Springs — Photo courtesy of Disney/Tom Burton
Craft beer, says Sean Griffin, exploded in Ireland about 10 years ago. But, says the director of operations for Raglan Road – Disney Springs' popular Irish pub – they were limited in what they could purchase due to import laws.
Lucky for Griffin and crew – and the discriminating palates of beer lovers both local and visiting – Central Florida’s burgeoning Ale Trail is rife with brewers keen on sharing the craft they lovingly practice with the world.
"[We’ve partnered] with the local breweries here in Orlando and create some Irish-style beers to our portfolio. With so many imports and mainstream beers, our craft brews hold their own and account for 17 percent of our craft pours. Locals and tourists alike love that we have local brews to try and savor the great taste of each."
Some, in fact, have created exclusives you can’t even get in their own tasting rooms, which means tourists can sample Orlando beer without leaving Disney, and locals will have to visit the Mouse to get a taste!
Orange Blossom Brewing – Bloomsday Pale Ale
A classic American-style pale ale, Griffin calls the 6.4 percent ABV "clean, balanced and refreshing with a grapefruit aroma" and suggests pairing it with any of Raglan Road’s soups or their shepherd’s pie.
Orlando Brewing – Blagger
"In Ireland," Griffin explains, "a 'blagger' is a term for a spoofer, someone not so trustworthy…! This beer has a finish reminiscent of sparkling wine." The blonde lager is also one of their best sellers.
Crooked Can Brewing Co. – King of Shoals New England IPA
With juicy and tropical characteristics and a hazy appearance due to the addition of rolled oats in the mash, Irish Ale malt was used to add complexity and a sweet malty flavor. This one debuted at this year’s Mighty St. Patrick’s Day Festival and is now a regular on the menu.
Keel & Curley Winery – Planted Strawberry & Lime Hard Cider
Made with local berries from Plant City and Florida limes (the apples, alas, come from Virginia), this cider has Irish influence because "strawberries are synonymous with summer in Ireland, but we wanted to add a local twist and so decided to balance the sweetness with fresh Florida limes. It’s a great option for our gluten-free clientele!"