Orlando’s independent restaurants break the chains


By Sarah Sekula; Published on usatoday.com

If you’re a foodie, the best way get to know a city is by nibbling your way through its restaurants. When it comes to Orlando, make your way out of the tourist district and discover what the locals adore. Over the past decade, the City Beautiful has emerged as a haven for the farm-to-table movement. Plus, there’s a blossoming independent restaurant scene where scrumptious eats come with a side of spunk.

Yellow Dog Eats Bistro and Wine Store

The two-story abode that houses Yellow Dog Eats (circa 1879 according to the sign) has as much character as the chef who owns it. Outside, there are chickens roaming. Inside, there’s a vintage cash register (cha-ching). Chef Fish Morgan is everything you think he’d be – a slightly cooky, creative culinary mind. Popular menu items include The Rufus, pulled pork topped with Brie and cherry pepper rings, then drizzled with raspberry melba. Add a “Scooby Snack” of avocado hummus on the side, and you’re set. Plus, happy hour is every afternoon where pineapple mimosas are the star. yellowdogeats.com

K Restaurant & Wine Bar

This casual-upscale American and Italian restaurant is owned by Kevin Fonzo, a past James Beard award nominee. In the walkable College Park area, it has a menu that changes daily and features tasty apps like fried green tomatoes and deviled eggs. For entrées, try the filling mac and cheese with homemade sausage or the Golden Tile Fish, a succotash of sweet corn, Maine lobster and fava beans. Hint: If the weather’s nice, eat outside; the backyard of this old house was converted into a fresh herb and veggie garden. krestaurant.net

Dandelion Communitea Café

Dandelion Communitea Café stands out in more ways than one. Outside: it’s neon green with an herb garden, patio and nearby yoga studio. Inside: it’s hand-painted chairs, a piano and eclectic people galore. Best of all: This popular spot is part of Co-Op America, so everything’s organic and much of it is local. The café is famous for delicious eats, like the Fluffer Nutter Sandwich, Henry’s Hearty Chili and the Giddy Up wrap. On drum circle nights, sit under the Bodhi tree and jam the evening away. dandelioncommunitea.com

Maxine’s on Shine

This eatery is tucked away in a quiet neighborhood, surrounded by 100-year-old oak trees and Craftsman-style houses. People flock here not only for the brunch, but also for the live music. You’ll find everything from cellists to karaoke singers while you nosh on skillet lasagna, contemporary marsala and brisket burgers. Husband-and-wife team Maxine and Kirt Earhart are the clever and consummate hosts in this popular spot. maxinesonshine.com

Rusty Spoon

This farm-to-table gastropub in downtown Orlando focuses on fresh foods from local farmers and food purveyors. In fact, owner/chef Kathleen Blake, is always on the up and up when it comes to the local slow food movement. The grilled culotte steak, a cocoa-rubbed top sirloin with fingerling potatoes, is a crowd pleaser. Choose from a selection of craft beers, signature drinks and wines to wash it down and save room for the Grown-Up S’More or the Rusty Doughnuts. therustyspoon.com

Pom Pom’s Teahouse & Sandwicheria

This local favorite in the Milk District (so called because it’s near the TG Lee factory) offers a handful of inventive salads and sandwiches like Mama Ling Ling’s Thanksgiving, which comes with turkey, Gouda, stuffing, ginger cranberry chutney, mashed potato and cream cheese; or the Fu Man Chu, a crazy combo of Asian-spiced pulled pork, goat cheese and ginger-cranberry chutney. pompomsteahouse.com


Scratch, a newcomer to the scene, serves American-style tapas in a bohemian-bistro setting. The pork belly adobo, shrimp and grits, pan-roasted duck breast and thick-cut Scratch fries are all drool worthy, but the star is the loup de mer, a citrus-thyme marinated sea bass with a potato-fennel hash. scratchtapas.com

Ravenous Pig

This Winter Park gastropub, owned by husband-and-wife duo James and Julie Petrakis, finalists in the 2014 James Beard awards, is a local favorite. Choose from pub-style eats like the lobster tacos, house-made soft pretzels and gruyere biscuits with Prohibition-era cocktails like the bacon-infused bourbon. Entrees include pork porterhouse, Canaveral Cobia and striped bass. Chances are, you’ll want to snap a photo before digging into the Pig Tails, curlicue doughnuts with chocolate-espresso dipping sauce. theravenouspig.com

Cask & Larder

Nearby, and also owned by James and Julie Petrakis, is Cask & Larder, which serves up comfort foods galore. The building got its start in 1927 as a speakeasy, but now functions as a “Southern public house” where fried chicken and funnel cake, crispy brussels and ribeye hot dogs top the menu. The pumpkin-spiced beignets with rum-caramel sauce are insanely good. Plus, the restaurant has its own brewmaster and hand-crafted cocktails, too. caskandlarder.com

The Coop

This charming restaurant focuses on down-home Southern cooking with influences from the Carolina Low Country to where Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana meet the Gulf of Mexico. Think fried chicken, shrimp and grits and Mississippi mud pies. Add to that something from the “Nibbles” portion of the menu — pimento cheese with a buttery baguette or deviled eggs — and you’ve got yourself a meal. Don’t forget to grab a bottle of Cheerwine from the ice chest. asouthernaffair.com