Dining beyond Disney: a guide to Orlando's locavore food scene

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Everyone knows that Walt Disney World is the happiest place on earth, but until recently it was hardly the healthiest. Dining out in the theme parks of Florida will usually mean fast food and chain restaurants that leave as much of a processed taste in your mouth as an unfair dent in your wallet. Look outside Cinders' back yard in Orlando, however, and there is a burgeoning locavore food movement going on, with farm-to-table dining, gourmet farmers markets and supper clubs putting the 'art' into artisan.  Here are 10 places leading the charge.

shoppers-at-east-end-market-orlando Shopping at East End Market. Image courtesy of East End Market

East End Market

The epicenter of the locavore movement in Orlando is this two-storey food hall where small-scale producers and inspiring food entrepreneurs come face-to-face with locals and tourists. Behind the mounds of arugula, escarole and turnips you'll find farmers, fishermen and chefs selling direct to the public.  There’s a full working market garden in the grounds, and inside, the first floor hosts 10 independently owned businesses. You can get roasted craft coffee from Lineage, artisan cheese from La Femme du Fromage, and vegetables, meat and raw honey straight from the farm at Local Roots. You can even dine on-site at Txokos, a restaurant based on the Spanish Basque tradition of the txoko, a gastronomical society. This isn't just a market, it is the beating heart of a passionate food community. 3201 Corine Drive, www.eastendmkt.com

The Rusty Spoon

This restaurant is so attuned to sourcing locally that even the pictures on the wall are local. The ‘rusty’ in the name applies to the wholesome, rustic cooking that comes out of the kitchen and is made with produce from nearby Florida farms. Try the butcher’s choice platter with its house-cured meats or the braised Jamison Farm lamb sandwich with sweet-and-sour chutney. Be warned, desserts of banana pudding, blueberry crisp and vanilla cream with mulberries will cause fork fights. 55 West Church Street,  www.therustyspoon.com

The Table Orlando

When two teachers from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts (Orlando’s premier cooking school) came together, they wanted to create something more than ‘just another restaurant’. The result is this gourmet supper club in the Dellagio complex, open only on Friday and Saturday nights and seating a maximum of 22 people. Dinner is a five-course organic extravaganza ($125 per person) focused on sustainable foods and accompanied by wine pairings. It feels like dining at a friend’s (very) posh dinner party. 8060 Via Dellagio Way, #106, www.thetableorlando.com

Cocktails at The Pharmacy. Image courtesy of The Pharmacy Culinary cocktails are served at The Pharmacy. Image courtesy of The Pharmacy

The Pharmacy

If you can find the unmarked elevator doors in the Dellagio complex, you deserve a good slug of Fish House Punch: a blended cocktail of barrel-aged Cognac, dark rum and apple brandy. This moody speakeasy is all about the details. Tables are made of upcycled lumber, light fixtures are vintage and the bartender sports a bowler hat behind the recycled zinc bar. There are usually 18 ‘pharmaceuticals’ on offer  cocktails handcrafted from small-batch liquors and mixed with house-made sodas, tonics, bitters, tinctures, fresh herbs, garnishes and fruit. Fresh ingredients are paramount not only in the cocktails but also in the changing menu of small plates, which include garlicky Cape Canaveral rock shrimp, roasted-beef bone marrow and raw oysters. 8060 Via Dellagio Way, www.thepharmacyorlando.com

Primo

This pioneering independent restaurant at the JW Marriott Grande Lakes resort fostered many of the leading lights in Orlando’s farm-to-table community. At its helm is chef Melissa Kelly whose philosophy of using sustainable, locally sourced ingredients in dynamic new ways  won her a James Beard Award in 2013. Her passion is evidenced in the food and in the fact that everyone in the kitchen has to serve their time working in the vegetable beds of the 1.5-acre kitchen garden. 4040 Central Florida Parkway, www.primograndelakes.com

Redlight Redlight Beer Parlour

A favorite of Orlando’s craft brew aficionados is this outstanding beer parlor, voted one of America’s top 100 brew bars by Draft Magazine in 2013. Aside from a dazzling array of over 300 beers, there’s a rare collection of sour beers, meads and farmhouse ciders. So belly up and order one of their ‘passports’ and sample, sample, sample. It’s not just a bar; it’s a full education. Beer tastings, classes and dinner events are regularly posted on their Facebook page.  They recently announced they would start brewing their own beers using locally sourced ingredients. First out of the tap is Wit Riot, a Belgian-style wheat beer brewed with – what else – Florida lemons straight from the produce market just down the road. 2810 Corrine Drive,  www.redlightredlightbeerparlour.com

The Ravenous Pig

Styling itself as an American gastro-pub, the Pig is arguably Orlando’s most popular locavore address. Run by husband-and-wife chefs James and Julie Petrakis, it is famous for its locally sourced, house-cured charcuterie including soppressata (dry-cured beef or pork salami), coppa (dry-cured pork shoulder), spiced orange salami and a rich game terrine. If you can make it through such a protein-fest, the mains are also impressive, including delicacies like smoked sturgeon, spiced veal cheeks and five-spiced Florida cobia fish. It’s all very unfussy and fabulous. 1234 N Orange Avenue, www.theravenouspig.com

Buying fresh at the Audubon Park Community Market. Image by Mike Lothrop / Audubon Park Community Market Buying fresh at the Audubon Park Community Market. Image by Mike Lothrop / Audubon Park Community Market

Audubon Park Community Market

A weekly gathering of ranchers, fishermen, chefs, growers, handicrafters and musicians makes this Monday night market unique. All the produce sold here is local and it shows in the vibrant, soil-dusted greens and heavenly aroma of freshly prepared meals. Come rain or shine, live music plays under a tarp in the parking lot while neighborhood families greedily guzzle duck nachos or bison burgers at outdoor tables. Aside from the delicious things to eat, you may find yourself going away with newfound essentials such as soya candles, an organically grown luffa and all-natural dog treats. 1842 East Winter Park Road, www.audubonmarket.com

Flying Fish Café

Contrary to belief, you don’t have to leave the Magic Kingdom Park to find inspiration for your taste buds. Tim Keating’s cafe may just be one of Florida’s best-kept secrets. A four-time James Beard Award finalist, Tim is passionate about the local food scene and the menu here changes frequently to showcase Florida’s best native seafood, from vibrantly colored red snapper to Cape Canaveral mullet, Penn Cove mussels and Pine Island shrimp. For kids there are gourmet fish sticks; for grown-ups there’s a chef’s tasting dinner at the counter overlooking the cook stations. 2101 Epcot Resorts Boulevard

Shooting Star Farm_WI_2013_01 Laying the table for an Outstanding in the Field event. Image by Ilana Freddye / Outstanding in the Field

Outstanding in the Field

To really get your boots dirty, splash out on one of these extraordinary dinners where you’ll literally dine midfield on vegetables pulled from the soil beneath your feet. This is a roving table that sets up in farms all across America, and in January it comes to Florida, setting up in fields such as those at Lake Meadow Naturals. An inspired idea from artist Jim Denevan, these farm feasts have fed over 600,000 people and inspired an evolving discussion about food and its place in the community. You won’t eat better, healthier or more locally than this, and there’s no better way to tip your hat to the hardworking farmers who put food on Florida plates. www.outstandinginthefield.com

Paula Hardy writes about culture, travel and food and lives in London. Follow her tweets @paulahardy