Orlando, Fla., may conjure up thoughts of citrus, buffets, and theme parks, but the dining scene is thriving blend of old-school "we're not afraid of lard" Southern fare, dishes to delight locavores (with seasonal plates to die for, even in the winter), and haute — but friendly — cuisine. You want bourbon, biscuits, and beer (microbrewed, of course)? You've come to the right place.
Brunch: If you happen to be in Orlando on the second Sunday of the month, start your day right at K Restaurant. Local, local, local is the name of the game, with everything from ham to eggs coming from nearby farms, as well as a profusion of ingredients from the garden in the restaurant's own patio. Speaking of which, do try to snag a table out back. You'll want brunch to stretch well up into the afternoon as you relax under the Florida-blue sky.
Go with as many hungry friends as possible because it's impossible to choose just one item. Though there's a "For the Table" section featuring Cheddar-chive biscuits with bacon butter (!), you're going to want to get everything for the table. Don't miss the elegantly plated fried green tomatoes topped with a light crab-corn salad, the soul-satisfying fried chicken with biscuits and gravy (especially pleasurable if you had one cocktail too many last night), and the enormous "Graceland," a happy pile of French toast slathered in Nutella and homemade peanut butter with banana, and yes, bacon.
Snack: You won't possibly be hungry after that brunch, but you'll make room for the inspired Latin-Asian fusion tacos in ViMi at Tako Cheena. Imagine if a guy with Costa Rican roots and a woman from Thailand (who's worked at Nobu) teamed up to create food truck-style fare and you've got the idea.
Butchering their meat on-site just because they love this stuff, the duo serves up insanely flavorful dishes like a Chinese BBQ char siu pork belly 'tako' topped with cilantro, ginger scallion oil, and crispy pork rinds; and Indian butter chicken curry burritos with Mexican crema. If you can limit yourself to just one thing (I dare you), you have a perfect afternoon snack. (Good to know: they stay open till 4 a.m. on weekends — nobody says your snack has to be at 2 p.m.)
Dinner: In Southern fashion, they're not afraid of lard at Cask & Larder. James and Julie Petrakis, James Beard Award semifinalists for Best Chefs in the South, serve up artisanal versions of classic Southern favorites here at their sister restaurant to wildly popular The Ravenous Pig. Sourcing from south of the Mason-Dixon Line and east of Texas (well, except for the oysters), they will fill your belly with goodness like shortrib tamales, pickled beef tongue crostini, and suckling pig boudin. Then there's the country ham plate with made-with-lard-and-love biscuits that are better than your grandmother's.
To wash it all down, try one of the beers brewed on-site with water specially engineered to match the profile of the water where the style originated (like one of the Belgians). Or, because they're not afraid of hard booze here either, try their rye whiskey cocktail (that's way too easy to drink) called the Fully Realized.
Drinks: Find the unlabeled elevator door in the Dellagio Town Center along Restaurant Row (Sand Lake Road, near the Orlando Convention Center) and you're at Pharmacy. Push the button and step into a speakeasy-style bistro/bar sure to convince you that you've stepped through a time portal. Fedora-sporting bartenders staff a jewel box of a bar and will pour you a proper handcrafted cocktail featuring house-made seltzers, bitters, tinctures, sodas, fresh herbs, and/or fruit — be sure to try one of the fizzes. A favorite is the Pharmacy Manhattan with Charbay hop whiskey, Michter's sour mash, sweet vermouth, lactart (ask for the quick cocktail history lesson on this ingredient!), orange bitters, and gas.
From the chefs/owners of private dinner club next door, The Table, this Prohibition-era styled bar also features local, organic, sustainable plates if you need to nosh while you sip.
Dessert: If you're in the mood for a late-night repast of decadent desserts that you can dress up for, head to Winter Park for the elegant Luma on Park. Choose from one of their 70-plus wines or maybe try a flight of ports, and sip as you mull over the indulgent options. Should you go for the chocolate crémeux pistachio streusel with orange marmalade and Maldon salt, or maybe the crème fraîche cake with brown sugar crumble and ridiculously good strawberry ice cream? Oh, why not, order both, and share. Linger over your drink as you eavesdrop and people-watch — you never know who you might see here.
Where to Stay: You might be tempted to forego exploring the rest of Orlando's culinary scene if you stay at the Waldorf Astoria, but you'd surely be just as happy ensconced in the lap of luxury here in the Bonnet Creek nature reserve inside the Walt Disney World resort. Sophisticated fare and creative cocktails will entice the most demanding palate, and what's not to love about a hotel that serves up bubbly in the lobby come cocktail hour?