7 Great Eats in Winter Park, Florida

By Michellina Jones

Published on August 31, 2013

Born and raised in Elmont, Long Island, right on the edge of Queens, I grew up with ethnically diverse foods at every corner. When we weren't eating Italian at home as family, we were minutes from our favorite Jewish deli, and it was just a few blocks to the authentic Neapolitan pizzeria that had been family-owned for generations. It was a gift to be raised in a community where you never had to eat at a chain restaurant—in fact, there really weren't many around. I became painfully aware of just how lucky I had been when I moved to Central Florida in 1996. At the time, the Orlando area was a sea of strip malls and franchised eateries, and I found myself starved for authentic food. Desperate for independently-owned, original restaurants, it wasn't uncommon for me to travel 30 miles out of the way to feed my need. But in recent years, a lot has changed around here. There's a whole new crop of food savvy locals who are shunning corporate chains and supporting the nascent culinary scene here in Central Florida, and talented chefs and restaurateurs to give the people what they want. The Winter Park area, just 25 miles Northeast of Disney, Universal, and the other attractions along the I-4 corridor, has particularly blossomed into a neighborhood brimming with delicious food options. Here are eight of my favorite things to eat in the area:

Shrimp and Grits from the Ravenous Pig
Shrimp and Grits from the Ravenous Pig

1. Shrimp & Grits from The Ravenous Pig

This cozy gastro-pub arrived in 2007 with a vision to serve up local, seasonal fare that could rival any big city restaurant. Six years later, husband and wife team James and Julie Petrakis are still gaining much-deserved attention. Menu items change daily but you can always count on a handful of old standby's to make the cut. The velvety smooth shrimp & grits, made with local Royal Red Canaveral shrimp and Anson Mills grits, are a staple and a must-try for any newcomer. The richness of the dish is cut by a sweet and savory green tomato chutney and finished with a drizzle of meaty chorizo oil. Wash it all down with their signature Ravenous Pig Bacon Old-Fashioned and you'll see why there's rarely an empty seat in the place. Oh and once you've had these shrimp & grits, get ready to make an impression at your next dinner party: You can find this recipe and many others in their gorgeous cookbook, The Ravenous Pig: Seasons of Florida.

The Ravenous Pig
1234 N. Orange Avenue
Winter Park, FL 32789

2. Lobster Roll at Winter Park Fish Company

You're probably more likely to imagine the Maine Coast than central Florida when indulging in lobster roll fantasies, but one trip to the Winter Park Fish Company will change your mind forever. A casual atmosphere with the culinary chops of a five star restaurant, they're passionate about supporting sustainable fishing and the proof is in the freshness and flavor. Their menu is full of great choices—from a hearty tuna chili that could win over any beef-lover to tropical conch fritters, a colossal crab cake sandwich, and more—but the lobster roll is the clear standout: generous chunks of lobster tossed ever so lightly with mayo and mixed with crunchy little bites of bright celery, stuffed into a brioche roll and served with a side of slaw. The shoreline of Maine is suddenly lined with palm trees.

Winter Park Fish Company
761 Orange Avenue
Winter Park, FL 32789

Winter Park Fish Co
Winter Park Fish Co

3. Pan con Lechon at Black Bean Deli

When you're craving Latin flavor, look no further than the matchbox-sized Black Bean Deli, a modest little place that has been turning out amazing Cuban food for over 15 years now. Owner Andy Corton has worked hard to establish his joint as a quick, reasonably-priced, and welcoming place to enjoy a home cooked meal the way grandma used to make—at least, his grandma! You might be tempted to order a Cuban sandwich, but once you've tasted the Pan con Lechon, a hot, forearm-length pressed sandwich heaping with slow-roasted shredded pork and soaked in a garlic mojo sauce, you'll never look back. Add a side of maduros (sweet fried plantains) and you likely won't be hungry for another 24 hours. Note: At BBD, expect to wait. Its tiny interior barely houses the lunch rush and allows just enough room to place your to-go order

Black Bean Deli
325 South Orlando Avenue, Suite 1-1
Winter Park, FL 32789

The Black Bean Deli
The Black Bean Deli

4. Butcher's Blend Burger from Luma on Park

Luma was one of the first restaurants to bring a local, sustainable approach to food sourcing to Orlando. Executive Chef Brandon McGlamery has led his talented culinary team to greatness. While their menu of new American cuisine is prominent, you'll also find clever items like delicate shrimp croquetas, sea urchin spaghettini, and a rabbit terrine with foie gras and cherries. The menu cycles through local items weekly, but you can always count on their Butcher's Blend Beef Burger. Made with short rib, angus and brisket, this platonic ideal of a burger is perfectly tender inside and charred on the outside. Add Luma's house-made pimento cheddar, sweet onion jam, and smoked bacon to really have your mind blown.

Luma on Park
290 South Park Avenue
Winter Park, Florida

5. Burnt Ends at 4 Rivers Smokehouse

You'll know you're at the right place when you see the line of patrons snaking around the corner of 4 Rivers, but you'll probably smell the smoke billowing from the building well before anyone comes in sight. Once inside, you'll be face with a very difficult decision—should you go with Texas-style barbecue classics such as pulled pork and beef brisket, or try one of owner John Rivers' specialty signature sandwiches? My go-to is the Burnt Ends sandwich: Equally stacked with pork and brisket, you get the best of both worlds. Smokey, charred and tender, the salty smoked meat is well balanced by their sweet house barbecue sauce and served on a no fuss, simple hamburger roll. Sides are important too, and I'm partial to their Texas cornbread with spicy jalapenos and crispy fried pickles. Be sure to save room for dessert; their Sweet Shop is a dreamy heaven of fresh homemade baked goods. Just looking at the massive selection of cupcakes, pies, and layer cakes will awaken the childhood sweet tooth you thought you outgrew.

4 Rivers Smokehouse
1600 West Fairbanks Avenue
Winter Park, FL 32789

Four Rivers Barbecue
Four Rivers Barbecue

6. Pork at the Cask & Larder

After enjoying the huge success of The Ravenous Pig, James and Julie Petrakis opened a second venture in 2012. This time around, they looked to the deep south for inspiration. Although not to be compared to its sister restaurant, The Cask & Larder has an individual soul of its own. It's special because it's not only a restaurant but also a brewery. Brewmaster Ron Raike is creating several beers on sight, each with its own style and flair to carefully pair with the modern southern menu. There's a strong emphasis on using ingredients only available week to week so few things are constant. Over time, I've had everything from braised oxtail to grilled lamb heart but pork anything always seems to win. Nothing brings a bigger smile to my face than seeing the ham sampler board, comprised of three Kentucky hams ranging in intensity, served with butter baked biscuits, punchy ale mustard and sweet pepper jelly being brought to my table. But you'd be making a big mistake not to order any of the juicy, handmade sausages featured for that day, boudin or andouille. Pork rules the roost here and if you see it the form of ribs, shoulder or anything else, order it. Meat lovers rejoice and vegetarians beware, traces of pork often sneak into other items on the menu, from fish to vegetables.

The Cask & Larder
565 West Fairbanks Avenue
Winter Park, FL 32789

Pumpkin Pie Empanada
Pumpkin Pie Empanada

7. Pumpkin Pie Empanada from La Empanada Food Truck

Since the food truck revolution in cities like Portland and San Francisco, a strong food truck presence is a pretty good indicator of a food centric city. In Central Florida, we have trucks that show up on certain street corners during set time frames, as well as major gatherings for the convoy of trucks to be found in one location several times a week. The Food Truck Bazaar founded by The Daily City is a reliable method for locating your favorite truck's whereabouts. La Empanada, a truck run by two inspiring ladies, Gabrielle Arnold of the blog Honest Fare and business partner Janelle Luce, usually pops up on Saturdays just a few blocks away from the Winter Park Farmers' Market. After buying a few plants and bag of kettle corn, you'll see folks flock towards La Empanada for a quick hand-held lunch to take away on their busy weekend afternoon. The ladies have a number of creative savory and sweet concoctions year-round, but the deep fried pumpkin pie empanada, although seasonal, is the best thing about fall snacking in Winter Park—flaky layers of crispy dough, enclosing warm, creamy, ginger-spiced pumpkin filling, served with cinnamon whipped cream.

La Empanada
Lot between W. New England Avenue and S. Virginia Avenue
Winter Park, FL 32789

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