The Floridian’s Florida Sunshine Salad (Photo: Rafael Tongol)
Orlando is blooming as a must-visit foodie destination. The city’s year-round access to bountiful produce and free-range meats has led to a fresh crop of amazing farm-to-table restaurants. But Central Florida isn’t the only place where you can savor the pleasures locally sourced food: just two short hours away, the state’s Northeast corner is also reclaiming its agrarian past to delicious effect. For a change of pace, point your rental car northeast on I-4 and then due north up I-95 for a taste of old St. Augustine, the oldest continuously occupied city in the country and a tasty destination, in its own right.
First Stop: Sanford
In the heart of the old downtown Sanford 30 minutes from Orlando, you’ll stroll brick-lined streets and watch boaters glide by on nearby sparkling Lake Monroe. Head to Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Café for lunch — this utterly authentic biergarten and restaurant specializes in a staggering array of wurst, schnitzel and homemade cabbage and potato salads. German beers such as Franziskaner Hefe Dunkle wheat beer or a Bitburger Pils, a light pilsner, go well with the hearty meaty meal, but get the .03 liter: you’ll be on the road soon enough. Walk off your lunch with a stroll around the lakefront.
Optional Pit Stop: Daytona
I-4 dead ends at Daytona Beach. So if you are a frothing NASCAR fan and want to see the famous Daytona International Speedway, by all means, stop to take in the skid marks and checkered flags of races past. If not, keep heading north, now on I-95 and into St. Augustine.
Your Delicious Destination: St. Augustine
Time for dinner at The Floridian, the St. Augustine restaurant with the finest locally-sourced and grown-up fare. You can find it in the Old City, home to the country’s oldest wooden school house and countless history museums. The Floridian’s atmosphere is quirky-casual, with formica table tops occupied by vintage salt and pepper shakers and an old rowboat fastened to the ceiling. The food is more serious, seasonal and excellent.
For something light, try the Florida Sunshine Salad: it comes with a choice of blackened fresh catch, local shrimp or tempeh over local lettuce, Florida strawberries (when in season), roasted sweet potatoes, candied pecans and house-pickled beets. Heartier dishes include Shrimp ‘n’ Grits and Brisket Posole with beef from Jacksonville’s Cartwheel Ranch.
In the evening, head over to the Ice Plant Bar (the place really was an old ice plant back in the 1920s) for handcrafted vodka and gin craft cocktails, plus other carefully curated spirits. The ice cubes are handmade and tailored to melt at the right pace so your drink is never diluted. Take a trolley and plan to take your time exploring the nooks and crannies of the Old City in the morning.