First thing to hit my heart is the discovery of Orlando's dining trends.
1. Acclaimed and Famed: 2015 has been a landmark year for Orlando dining. Wine Enthusiast named the city one of the year’s 10 Best Wine Travel Destinations, and The New York Times named Orlando one of the 52 places to go in the world in 2015, citing a dynamic food scene and exciting restaurants. In addition to these accolades, Orlando is a hotbed for celebrity chef restaurants in recent years, with Masaharu Morimoto joining Norman Van Aken, Emeril Lagasse, Todd English, Wolfgang Puck, Roy Yamaguchi and Melissa Kelly. Even homegrown chefs are making a splash. For the third consecutive year, Orlando captured the most nominations of any Florida city for the prestigious James Beard Foundation’s 2015 Restaurant and Chef Award Semifinalists. CVB6102
2. Farm-Fresh: Orlando chefs are literally looking in their own backyards for fresh ingredients and locally sourced goods. With four growing seasons, local farms provide an abundance of fresh, seasonal products. Grande Lakes Orlando, home to the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott, sources ingredients straight from its very own 7,000-square-foot Whisper Creek Farm and raised-bed PRIMO Organic Garden. The new Whisper Creek Kitchen showcases these elements in its comfort food and craft beers. Closer to downtown, Chef Kevin Fonzo not only sources ingredients from an organic garden in the backyard of K Restaurant in his recipes, but also uses the garden to teach local students about healthy eating. Fonzo has been recognized by Michelle Obama and invited to tour The White House garden as part of her “Chefs Move to School” initiative. East End Market, boasts an outdoor community garden in addition to its urban public market concept, featuring Central Florida’s top food entrepreneurs, tradespeople, artists and chefs. Sharing the East End garden is James Beard-nominated Henry Salgado, the creator and chef at Txokos Basque Kitchen.
3. Southern Hospitality Soars: From award-winning BBQ joints to farm-to-table eateries, Southern cooking is having its finest moment in Orlando. With chefs melding tastes from traditional regions like Memphis and Kansas City with local flavors, an Orlando BBQ culture is evolving. Soco, which stands for Southern Contemporary, is a new stand-out in Orlando’s trendy Thornton Park neighborhood from Chef Greg Ritchie, who honed his skills at top establishments, including Magnolia’s in Charleston and The Abbey in Atlanta. The new Highball & Harvest at the RitzCarlton Orlando, Grande Lakes features a Southern-inspired and locally-sourced menu and craft cocktails.
4. Surprising Diversity: Cuisines from around the world are well represented in Orlando. The downtown Orlando area of Mills 50 is a hub for diverse flavors with classic Vietnamese pho at Little Saigon, authentic Korean at Shin Jung and wild cards like the Asian-Latin-American fusion of Tako Cheena. The variety stretches throughout Orlando, as diners can circumnavigate the globe without ever leaving Central Florida, tasting Malaysian at Mamak, Polish from Polonia and Scandanavian from the SwedeDish Food Truck. From Africa, guests can experience Nile Ethiopian Cuisine on International Drive or Flavors Nigerian near downtown Orlando. Plenty of Latin American options add spice to the selection, including 14 different types of churrasco grilled meat at Black Fire Brazilian Steakhouse, and the perfect Cuban sandwich at Black Bean Deli. Txokos provides a taste of history and culture with its Spanish Basque dishes, while Naru Sushi will offer Orlando’s first Japanese-Brazilian fusion cuisine.
After food, I'm into arts and culture and it seems there's there are new venues and attractions in this category too!
The Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts: Located in Downtown Orlando, 20 minutes from the Orange County Convention Center. Housed on a nine-acre site, the completed project includes: two performance theaters, a community theater, outdoor plaza and performance space, rehearsal rooms, administrative offices, educational programming space and a community facility.
I-Drive 360: A new retail, dining and entertainment complex located on International Drive includes the 400-foot-tall (123-meter-tall) The Orlando Eye observation wheel, plus Madame Tussauds wax attraction and SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium. The project is surrounded by a variety of shopping and dining such as Sugar Factory Orlando, Yard House, Cowgirls Rockbar Orlando and Tin Roof.
Mango's Tropical Cafe, opened in Fall 2015: Bringing the heat from Miami’s South Beach, the 55,000-square-foot Mango’s restaurant and nightlife entertainment destination is located in the heart of International Drive and one mile from the Orange County Convention Center. It will offer nonstop entertainment to groups of all sizes.
I'm excited by the prospect of seeing and doing other things than visiting the theme parks when I head to Orlando in May for Mom 2.0 Summit.