Very few things can compel me towards outdoor activities in this Central Florida heat. (Just ask my children.) But the Foodie Walking Tour of Winter Park caused me to reevaluate my position. I lathered the sunblock, checked in, and readied myself for local cuisine. But what I experienced that day nourished me in more ways than simply through food.
I was greeted by Rich Bradley, the owner of Original Orlando Tours, and his son Michael, who served as our day’s guide. First stop was the Winter Park Farmers Market for a seasoned, savory, handheld pie that I would have sworn was chicken had it not been courtesy of The Bearded Vegan. We said bonjour to Choulala, the French patisserie and sampled a Key Lime Cream Puff that was both perfectly Parisian and yet very “Florida.” Next, we were off to The Ancient Olive for a tasting of decadent olive oil, surprisingly delicious blueberry balsamic vinegar, as well as several dips made with their various accouterments. In between all our stops, we were also served up delightful morsels of Winter Park history that would amuse even a long time local.
We were welcomed, seated and served a cocktail at Blu on the Avenue, as we tried the grouper taco. (Go there. Eat that. Thank me later!) The General Manager of JM Hospitality group, Lucky Cortes generously shared his time and details about the food and the company’s numerous properties. I sipped a zero proof Ranch Water and learned they have a handful of nonalcoholic wines and spirits in addition to their extensive bar. As we lingered, I noted the rapport Rich and his team had with the local businesses. It reminded me of the way small-town shop owners talk to each other in movies, like a bygone era of neighbors who really know each other and really like each other.
We enjoyed a hearty portion of the most popular sandwich and salad from the new, healthy Fresh & Co. And to the children’s delight, we were then led to Park Avenue’s long-standing soda and candy shop, Rocket Fizz. We sampled sodas from nostalgic glass bottles, then snacked and strolled the brightly colored taffy aisle. Next, it was the adults' turn to imbibe as we journeyed to The Vintage Vault Wine Bar for the conclusion of our tour. As our group of almost 20 gathered around the table for their red and white tastings, I felt full. And it was more than the food.
As I talked with Rich about his work in several local chambers, it became obvious that his drive and passion are for community. It’s easy to get lost in Orlando, to feel small in a city that boasts world-class attractions and larger-than-life entertainment. But what I found that day on the streets of Winter Park was a business community committed to making this vast city a little more connected, a little bit more like home. Helping both Orlando residents and visitors experience a richer, more personal side of our city is at the heart of every tour.
This is an Orlando experience you’ll want to have, friends. The food is yummy, the staff is warm and knowledgeable, and you may discover a new love for The City Beautiful. Plus, you can shop and dine for the rest of the day with special discounts from all the tour stops. And while some stops are tour staples, the other destinations vary to ensure the menu and experience stay fresh for repeat customers.
So whether you are just visiting Central Florida or are a long time resident, I encourage you to walk (and talk) a mile with Original Orlando Tours. You’ll uncover the gems in your backyard, brush up on your Orlando history, and enjoy the cuisine and company of people who care.
Into the spooky scene?
Catch a Ghost Tour of Winter Park, which runs year ‘round including every night in October. Professional guides adjust and cater the “scare factor” to accommodate the age of the audience, so younger thrill seekers can join in, too.
You never know who you might meet on an Original Orlando Tour! Rumor has it, that a group literally ran into comedian Carrot Top on Park Avenue’s sidewalk during one of its custom Winter Park tours. And the day I visited, we were accompanied by former Food Network TV host, Charles Stiles. Visit OriginalOrlandoTours.com for a full list of all the exciting ways you can experience the Orlando beyond the parks.
“We’re not a major theme park, but once we’re entrusted with a guest’s time, it’s imperative that we deliver that same level of satisfaction and thrill in what we do.”
Rich Bradley, owner
Marissa is a fashion + lifestyle writer, speaker and host. In her work as a stylist and image consultant, she teaches professional women how to leverage the power of personal branding to grow their business. Marissa is passionate about the small business community in Central Florida and facilitating collaboration among its residents.