Friday, September 28, 2012

Can't Make it to Epcot Food & Wine Fest? Try Orlando Food & Wine Weekends

I love Epcot's Food & Wine Festival held every year from September 28 - November 12, but it is also great that two of Orlando's finest hotels are offering a delicious, alternative international event.

Orlando Food & Wine Weekends, held from September 28 through October 5 at Waldorf Astoria Orlando and Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek, include several fun tasting events. "A Taste of Waldorf Astoria" on Friday and Saturday evenings, features tasting menus and wine pairings presented by visiting chefs from Waldorf Astoria restaurants around the world. For example, chefs will prepare menus from the Trianon Palace Versailles and the Waldorf Astoria Berlin. 

Bar du Chocolat treats
Meanwhile, the hotels' Bar du Chocolat and Champagne tasting event will feature a signature selection of chocolate treats from Waldorf Astoria's pastry chefs along with fine champagnes from Perrier-Jouet. The event is held every Friday and Saturday night. "Noche Latina" at the Waldorf Astoria is another fun event, with a mojito bar, cigar roller, flamenco dancers, tapas, and new world Spanish wines, all held by the Waldorf Astoria's pool on Saturday evenings.

For more information on these fun food and wine events (and special room rates), visit or

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

What's New at Epcot Food & Wine Festival

Shrimp Ceviche at Florida Marketplace Booth
If you are like me and you look forward to the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival every year, then you will definitely want to check out the new pavilions and food this year. Plus, the festival is a few days longer this year, kicking off September 28 and running through November 12.

New food marketplaces include a TERRA Vegan Marketplace booth, which offers Chili Colorado with House Made Chips and Cashew Cheese and Trik'n Chick'n Curry with Basmati Rice. The Florida Marketplace will also make its debut, offering dishes such as Florida Shrimp Ceviche and White Corn Arepa with Mangalitsa Pork Rillette and Zellwood Sweet Corn Salad. The foods, beers, and wine offered at each country's marketplace can be found here:

The Festival has also added VIP Marketplace Chef Tours. Every Wednesday, Food and Wine Festival chefs will host walking tours of the World Showcase booths. So, those on the tour can taste five dishes and five beverages from various marketplaces and hear about culinary secrets from the chefs. 

Party For The Senses
Party For The Senses - a culinary extravaganza where renowned chefs such as Robert Irvine cook for guests - is back this year. While you are tasting amazing, gourmet food, Cirque de Soleil performs! Note that this is a separate event from the regular festival, and costs around $130 per person, depending on the date. There is much more going on at this wonderful event, and I will update you on other things to do and see throughout the Food and Wine Festival.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Chocolate, Fudge, & Gelato, Oh My!

Designer Chocolate Shoes
When I stopped by Peterbrooke Chocolatier in Winter Park, Fla., to collect my prize the other day (a bag of Milk Chocolate-covered Popcorn), I was anxious to try everything new the sweet shop has to offer. First off, Peterbrooke's chocolate-covered popcorn is delicious, and why wouldn't it be? Anything covered in the rich, velvety chocolate made in-house has to be good! 

Yes, I said anything. Chocolate-covered bacon is one of the shop's best sellers, so I had to try that. I have never tried such a thing, so why not? The dark chocolate version is pretty good: I like the combination of salty and sweet. The bacon leaves a weird after-taste, though. Even though I am a bacon lover, I was not as into it, as I thought I would be. You definitely have to try it, though. Plus, Peterbrooke covers lots of other yummy things in chocolate, including strawberries, potato chips, and pretzels, and you can request other chocolate-covered stuff for them to make especially for you.

Co-owner Kevin Wray
scooping gelato
Even though Peterbrooke specializes in chocolates and delicious fudge (you must try the Peanut Butter Chocolate Fudge!), gelato is a big hit with its customers. Peterbrooke carries 16 to 20 different flavors on a daily basis, and I had to try all the new fall flavors. My favorite is Pumpkin Cheesecake, but you should definitely try Spiced Caramel Apple, Autumn Crunch, and Bourbon Caramel Gingersnap. The flavors are all so good and authentic, and I doubt you will find these unique flavors anywhere else.

Peterbrooke has such a wide selection of chocolates - including turtles, bark, and 72% dark chocolate bars - that is it really hard to choose which ones to buy. I would recommend the popcorn, first and foremost, but also the chocolate-covered oreos and all the sugar-free chocolate items. The sugar-free lines taste exactly like the regular ones!

I am also excited about the custom chocolates that Peterbrooke can make for Halloween, birthdays, weddings, and other special events. They even have shoes made out of chocolate. What is your favorite thing to eat at Peterbrooke? 

Where: 300 S. Park Ave., Winter Park. Fla.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Mickey's Halloween Party - Not so Scary!

Mickey's Not so Scary Halloween Party is the second best event at Magic Kingdom, only slightly edged out by Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. This year, on select dates from September 11 through November 2, Mickey's Not so Scary Halloween Party is out in full force with special trick-or-treat stations, Mickey's "Boo-to-You" Halloween parade, and Halloween-themed fireworks.

At the Halloween Party's Media Preview event the other night, I got to experience the party first-hand. I love how whole families wear costumes for this nighttime event every year. And of course, the trick-or-treating is fun for both adults and kids. The parade does not disappoint with floats featuring villains, candy for the kids, and watch for the neat "Undertaker" dancers. Because it is a special after-hours event, it is also quick to get on your favorite rides, including Pirates of the Caribbean and Space Mountain. 

When you go to the Magic Kingdom for this fun Halloween celebration, one good place to eat is Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe. It has an extensive toppings bar for your hamburger or vegan burger. I ordered the Chicken Wrap, which was both flavorful and humongous - enough for two people!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Jekyll Island Food Disappointing - Some Gems

Shrimp Creole - Driftwood Bistro
When I am on vacation, one of the main things I get excited about is trying new food that is authentic to the region. While I enjoyed some of the dishes I tried during my recent trip to Jekyll Island, Ga., there was nothing special or unique about the cuisine. And, some of the restaurants did not live up to their hype. 

For example, Driftwood Bistro is the third highest rated Jekyll Island restaurant on TripAdvisor. I am not sure why that is. Most of the food was not up to par. We tried the Shrimp Creole and the Wild Georgia Shrimp Platter with fried okra (at $10.99 each for petite platters this is a pretty good deal). On the Shrimp Platter, we received only a few small, overcooked shrimp. The fried okra, however, was cooked perfectly with its light and airy cornmeal breading. The Shrimp Creole was also disappointing: it tasted like it was made from canned tomatoes and didn't have strong flavors or spicing. Perhaps I am spoiled by authentic creole dishes from New Orleans.

We had another less-than-stellar experience at Latitude 31 restaurant in Jekyll Island. While our seafood was cooked correctly, the white-tablecloth atmosphere and prices ($21-$30 for dinner entrees) do not match the offerings and service. We truly enjoyed the Snapper special with the most amazing garlic mashed potatoes. I didn't think the snapper needed the coating of breading and oil. Just honor the fish, and grill and season it correctly. The "Surf and Surf" with oysters and Georgia shrimp was flavored well and cooked right, it was just priced high at $25, for the amount served. 

Cornmeal Grouper - Courtyard Cafe
Fortunately, we were saved by the food served at the Courtyard at Crane, at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel. For lunch, we ordered the Grouper with Tomato and Basil Topping, accompanied by Sweet Potato Fries for $12.95. The fish portion was very small, but it was cooked perfectly and I really enjoyed the bruschetta-style topping. The Crab and Shrimp Croissant Sandwich for $13.95 was okay, but did not have great or unique flavoring. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Jekyll Hotel Features Old South Charms

Jekyll Island Club Hotel
It is like you are transported to a different era when you stay at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel in Jekyll Island, Ga. The grounds of the historic, 125-year-old hotel have a southern plantation-type of feel. It was so enjoyable to walk around the massive property, which features a chapel, a sea turtle museum, and several historic houses. I especially enjoyed walking beneath the massive oak trees, which must carry a lot of history themselves. They have withstood multiple tropical storms and the test of time. 

When staying at the hotel, it is nice being near the water and within walking distance to two seafood restaurants. Plus, Jekyll Island Club's rooms King rooms are beautiful: bathrooms include marble counter-top sinks and over-sized tub with jets.The hotel's queen rooms are smaller and remind me of a standard hotel room at a mid-scale hotel. There is a drawback to staying at the hotel, though. Because the hotel is historic and must be preserved in a certain way, room doors do not close well. That means you can hear other guests slamming their doors. You can also hear every other noise happening on that floor. It is definitely tough for people who are looking for a quiet vacation!
Driftwood Beach

Jekyll Island itself is smaller than I imagined, and it seems like there is only enough to keep a couple or family busy for a weekend. Driftwood Beach is a must-see, however, and many people rent bikes and kayaks, in order to see the natural beauty of the island close-up. It was too hot to do either activity when we visited over Labor Day weekend. Don't go there to relax on the beaches: the island does not feature the soft sand that we are used to on Florida beaches.

Stay tuned for the next blog post: I will review the best - and worst - dining options on Jekyll Island.                            

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Where Will You Eat During Dining Month?

Bosphrous Turkish
Cuisine - Winter Park
Many of the restaurants featured during Orlando Magical Dining Month through September 30 are locations that I have not tried but want to, such as K Restaurant, Todd English's Bluezoo, Big Fin Seafood Kitchen, and Bosphorous Turkish Cuisine. Then there are some of my old favorites that are participating too: Emeril's Tchoup Choup, Seasons 52, and Hue Restaurant in College Park.

Whichever of the 70 locations you choose to eat at, Magical Dining Month affords a great opportunity to try tastes from some very innovative and upscale restaurants and Central Florida for a great value. The participating restaurants offer prix fixe menus of appetizer, dinner, and dessert for $30

A neat feature of this year's event is the charity component: $1 from each dinner is donated to the Edgewood Children's Ranch, which provides homes, education, and counseling for troubled children. Please share your experiences with Orlando Magical Dining Month in the comments section below.