The Local Touch

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Those of us that live here in Central Florida realize that we’ve got a lot going on.  We enjoy our home town and the things that it has to offer us that are not the typical tourist spots.  Not that there’s anything wrong with tourist spots, it’s just that so often the media paints the entire grand sum of the area as being Disney World and Universal, with little in between.  So I wanted to show you a little local flavor, and I promise you there’s a small bit of Disney along the way.

As my wife, Cheryl, and I will be heading to Philadelphia to meet up with some friends for the July 4th weekend, we decided to take a break from Disney World this past weekend and just hang out with our dog Jasper as he won’t be travelling with us.  “Gasp!”, I know, but sometimes, even with WDW just down the road, you don’t make it over there.  Saturday was our day in, but Sunday we went to do some activities where we could take Jasper.  There was a bit of a theme behind the activities… Tikkun Olam.

Literally translated this means “repairing the world” or “perfect the world”.  In Judaism, there are things that we must do, not because they are dictated by the Bible, but because it is the right thing to do.  Cheryl devotes much of her time to voluteer work, and the primary charitable organization that she devotes her time to is Hadassah where she has served on the board in various roles over the past few years.  She was also recently installed to the board of our Temple Sisterhood.  As a result of her love of helping others, we often do activities that allow us to help out where we can.

Our first trip was to head over to Lake Eola Park, which like many of the local lakes in Central Florida is really just a large sinkhole.  However it’s also the Lake that marks the downtown area of Orlando.  You may not realize it, but if you’ve ever seen any travel materials about Orlando, then you’ve likely seen this lake.  It’s most famous feature is its fountain which is more than 50 years old.  The fountain, having recently gone back online after being struck by lightning late last summer, is complete with nighttime light effects.  The park that surrounds Lake Eola holds concerts at its amphitheater, has swan boat rentals, is the home to a weekly Farmers Market, and various special events throughout the year.

The stop at the park wasn’t long, but it was a yummy one.  Hebrew National and TheMotherhood’s Orlando chapter were holding an event called the “Better-Than-A-Picnic Picnic”.  This event was being held to benefit the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida.  It was just a nice simple picnic with frisbee tosses, water guns, arts & crafts, a gorgeous lake, and hot dogs.  And not just any hot dogs, but my favorite all beef hot dogs.  We dropped off our donations, walked around a bit, and had a complimentary hot dog and soda.  It was a great way to spend lunch.

Once we were done eating, it was back into the car and off to our second stop.  This time we were heading over to Thornton Park, which is just on the far side of the lake from where we already were.  This time we were heading to the Lambs Eat Ivy Salon and the fourth annual SHAMPOOCH! All proceeds for this event went to the Harbor House of Central Florida which is a shelter for victims of domestic violence.  The shelter is in the process of building a kennel so that victims don’t have to choose between their own safety and that of their pet – victims will be able to take their pets with them.  So after making our donation we waited with Jasper in line to get his claws clipped and then get a bath – he got to help out in his own way.

None of this has to do with Disney, but I did want to show you a little something that you can find along the way around here when you do activities like this that does.  A reward for sticking with me so far on this.  Farmers Markets are extremely popular in Central Florida running on fairly regular schedules.  Each week the town of Winter Park holds one.  This one is actually at one of the coolest locations of them all… an old train station platform that has been converted into a park.

In 1995, part of the park was redone as a pet park, and the Walt Disney Company donated two pig topiaries to the park.  The topiaries were actually Disney’s way of thumbing their nose at some old town ordinances in Winter Park that prevent the free roaming of horses, cattle, swines and other animals.  As the law is still on the books, and it’s a park where pets are always welcomed, it seems somehow appropriate.

But that’s not the only Disney I’ve got for you today.  Let me take you down that train track to one of my favorite sit down eateries in all of Orlando (the same track literally runs right behind it).  It’s found over on the opposite side of Lake Ivanhoe from I4, in small little row of shops called Ivanhoe Row.  If you follow me on Twitter you may have seen me post some pictures from here in the past, Ethos Vegan Kitchen.

As the name states, everything at Ethos is vegan, but that shouldn’t stop you from wanting to go here.  It’s one of the best restaurants in Orlando and has the awards to prove it.  Both the setting and food are very warm and inviting.  They have regular local art exhibits on the walls inside, and a wide array of local live music out on their patio.  In a lot of cases, you’d never know that the food was vegan.

Let me start with a favorite of ours which is a part of their Sunday Brunch menu: Biscuits & Gravy.  In the South, this is a staple dish – you can’t find a place serving breakfast that doesn’t have it.  I think not having it on a breakfast menu may, in fact, be illegal down here.  Typically this dish consists of biscuits smothered in a whitish gravy with bits of sausage mixed into the gravy.  Now this is a vegan restaurant so obviously there is no sausage in their gravy, but you’d swear there was.  When Cheryl and I eat brunch here, we always at least split a plate.

There are a number of other favorite dishes that we’ve had over the years, but my personal favorite is found on the regular menu, one of the house specialties, the “What’s the Dilly, Philly?”.  As I normally do not mix meat and cheese I won’t eat a steak and cheese.  But this sandwich helps with that craving as it’s got all the proper ingredients except that instead of steak it has seitan and for the special sauce it uses veganaise.  It’s quite yummy.

Some of the other dishes shown are: Cinnamon French Toast with a side of Hash Browns (to die for!!!), Spaghetti & No-Meatballs, Sheep’s Pie (probably the most popular item they sell), and, from their special St. Patrick’s Day menu, Bangers & Mash, and Boxty.  I really like many of the items on the menu, with one exception, their Tofu Scramble.  It’s very popular, I’ve tried it a few times, I do regularly eat tofu, but I’m simply not fond of it.  They also have a number of gluten free dishes, soy free dishes, or dish modifications should you need these.

But wait, there’s supposed to be a Disney connection here, right? Most of the shirts we own have something related to Disney on them.  As a result, we often get asked if we work at Disney.  The answer is usually, “No, but maybe some day.” or, “No we just like it a lot.”  Well one of the staff at Ethos one day asked us just this, and we got to talking about Disney – turns out she’s a big fan too.  We learned why when she told us her name.  Yup, that’s right, her parent’s are such big Disney fans that they named their daughter Disney.  Don’t believe me, check out the receipt – sorry it’s a bit blurry, like a yeti photo I suppose.

Without question, Disney gets my vote for the coolest person in all of Orlando.  But, then again, I’m probably biased.  Well okay except perhaps for this guy.

What about you?  What sort of non-park adventures have you had in Orlando?  Did you find Disney anywhere else around town?  What about in your home town?  Have you ever thought about breaking away from the parks to do something else in Central Florida?  Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to read my post today.

The post is part of the Sixth DisMarks.com Disney Blog Carnival; click on the link for more great Disney articles.

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Posted on July 1, 2010

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