Just about a month ago, rainy season in Orlando began with a vengeance. It poured for days, the sun was nowhere to be seen, and I felt a twinge of seasonal depression as I looked out my window and saw nothing but doom and gloom.
Coincidentally, this was the same week I’d booked my ticket for the Sanford Food Tour, an experience I’d been looking forward to for a few weeks.
Miraculously, the day of the food tour arrived, the skies parted, and it was absolutely beautiful. I barely broke a sweat traipsing around Sanford for the three-hour duration of the tour (a miracle, considering it was June in Florida). It would seem the food gods were smiling on me that day, and for that, I’m eternally thankful.
Like Orlando’s popular Main Street Districts, Sanford has a distinct vibe and culinary scene of its own. Local businesses have set up shop on every corner, fun events occur monthly, and there’s an impressive culinary scene just begging to be explored. Yet even from Orlando, it’s a bit of a drive to get there. Instead of making the journey for just one restaurant, get much more bang for your buck on the Sanford Food Tour.
The tour visits several of Sanford’s top restaurants, including The Tennessee Truffle, The Smiling Bison, and Wondermade. The other restaurants on the tour were ones I hadn’t heard of before and both turned out to be very pleasant surprises.
In addition to the food, our tour guide Steve (who is also the owner), shared his extensive knowledge of Sanford — both historically and culturally.
When the three-hour tour was up, a few things really stuck with me about the experience:
1. The owners and chefs came to our table to talk to us at almost every single restaurant.
This doesn’t always happen on food tours, but it makes such a difference when it does. I loved meeting the faces behind each restaurant, hearing the bite-sized version of their “how we got here” story, and getting that extra experience you may not get during a regular restaurant visit. To all the owners and chefs who took the time to come chat with us, thank you!
2. The food was all phenomenal.
Yes, this should be expected since it’s a food tour, but the food wasn’t just good. It was above and beyond. We savored house-made biscuits and gravy and chatted with Chef Nat Russell at The Tennessee Truffle, then visited Fuel for burnt ends (which the owners have affectionately nicknamed “meat candy” for good reason), cornbread and baked beans. That meal was good old fashioned BBQ at its finest. My friend Brooke told me the mac n’ cheese is incredible, so I’ll be back.
Other eats included a bite-sized tasting of Carolina-style pulled pork (the recipe tied for first place in a local BBQ competition) on a tartine with mayo and raw onion, accompanied by a refreshing Bison watermelon margarita (not on the tour, but worth ordering) at The Smiling Bison.
Then there was the visit to Magnolia Square Market, a traditional German marketplace. We got VIP access to the kitchen where Chef Patrick cooked up a German pasta dish. The kitchen is connected to Hollerbach’s Willowtree Cafe, a spot that’s on my bucket list to return to for a meal.
Lastly, as luck would have it (thank you again food gods), we wound up at Wondermade on the exact day they were celebrating their grand reopening/renovation. We roasted marshmallows and made s’mores, met Nathan who owns the shop with his wife, and I doubled up on dessert by ordering the s’mores popsicle, one of their newest treats.
3. The history and culture were fascinating.
I-4 ghost stories, a huge bank vault that’s on the National Register of Historic Places, art galleries that double as artist studios, quirky shops, and haunted buildings…it’s all touched upon during the tour. And don’t forget to look for some painted Sanford Rocks! Our guide was incredibly knowledgeable about the area.
Overall, the tour was a fantastic experience I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to anyone, especially fellow foodies. The $49 ticket price is an amazing value for the food, history, and crazy fun time you’ll have. Go eat!
A few tidbits…
I took the SunRail to get to Sanford and highly recommend it if you’re able to do the food tour on a Friday. It’s a fun, convenient, and cheap way to travel and the train was way nicer than I expected. There’s even a bathroom! To make things even more convenient, there’s a free shuttle that runs from the SunRail station to downtown Sanford, just steps from where the food tour starts.
Don’t eat before the tour. I had a moment of weakness halfway through where I got super full and thought I wouldn’t be able to go on, but thankfully I got my second wind. There’s a ton of food on the tour and you’re going to want to taste it all.
Speaking of eating, do eat AFTER the tour. Whatever you have to do to work up a bit of an appetite, do it. Then walk yourself over to Wops Hops, get a beer, and order a wopsicle. It’s a magical meatball on a stick. That’s all you need to know.
Stay for the day after your tour. There’s so much to see and do in Sanford, and if you’re going to make the journey there you might as well stay for the day. Do some shopping, visit craft breweries and bars, grab some coffee, go to the zoo, or just wander.
Also go: Limo Cycle Craft Beer Tour
Sanford has an incredible food scene worthy of exploring, but several passionate craft brewers have laid down roots here with more on the way. The Limo Cycle craft beer tour is the perfect way to sip your way through the brewery scene. Instead of walking to each brewery, you pedal the limo cycle, which is basically a giant human-powered bicycle. It’s a pretty goofy looking “vehicle” but a fun way to get around.
On the tour, you’ll visit three craft beer hot spots, each with their own vibe. A beer flight is served at each stop, and you get face time with head brewers, owners, and fellow beer enthusiasts. Several of the breweries are on the Central Florida Ale Trail too, so you can get your stamps! I checked out the craft beer tour for an article in Lake Mary Life Magazine, so check that out HERE if you’d like more info. The tour is run by the same people who own Sanford Food Tours.