Cocktails of Orlando: DoveCote, Bitters & Brass and The Guesthouse

While I love sipping a glass of crisp white wine while making dinner or casually drinking a cold beer to cool down on a warm summer day, cocktails reign supreme in my hierarchy of adult beverages.

I readily admit to a past filled with dancing late into the night will sipping vodka cranberries. But these days, the well liquor drinks of my college days have been replaced with an insatiable desire to learn about–and taste–as many classic and craft cocktails as possible.

Similar to my self-education process for beer and wine, I’ve found that the combination of ordering an unfamiliar cocktail with mysterious to me ingredients, Googling, and asking bartenders for guidance even if I feel embarrassed,  is the best way to learn.

So, today begins a new series in which I’ll share some of my favorite boozy encounters in Orlando and beyond, in hopes that you’ll find a new drink to expand your comfort zone. At the very least, you can laugh alongside my quest to learn about the art of the cocktail (as I furiously google ingredients while looking at menus to figure out what I’m drinking), and enjoy some pretty pictures in the process.

DoveCote: The Dove 75 and DC Corpse Reviver

Restaurants don’t always nail drinks AND food. Some excel in just one area or the other, but such is not the case at DoveCote in downtown Orlando. While I’ve been for brunch and dinner, I especially love the brunch cocktails, which are crisp and bright and pair perfectly with the savory offerings.

The Dove75 at DoveCote Brasserie in downtown Orlando

One of the more popular drinks, the Dove 75, is a spin on a French 75 jazzed up with a little color-changing tableside magic and orange oil sugar.

When the drink arrives, it’s a deep bluish purple hue, which slowly morphs into a pleasant magenta/pink as the remainder of the drink is poured into the glass tableside. The color comes from the cocktail’s mystery ingredient: butterfly pea flower. What the heck is butterfly pea flower? I asked myself the same question.

A Google search and a click later, I found an Eater article detailing the uses and properties of the butterfly pea flower. Two things I found really interesting about this ingredient: 1) it really is a flower, and 2) it’s a completely natural way to dye food and drinks. The flower is native to Asia and can also be used to make tea.

As much as I love a normal French 75, the interactive element of DoveCote’s cocktail turns a boozy Sunday brunch into an entertaining spectacle. And luckily, it tastes just as pretty as it looks.

Fine Herb Omelette from DoveCote, Orlando FL

I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself talking about this next drink, the Corpse Reviver, because I owe the discovery of it to the bartenders at The Guesthouse. (More on that later.)

Diving into some internet research, I found that there are actually two popular Corpse Reviver recipes. One made with brandy and vermouth, the second a mix of gin, absinthe, lemon, Cointreau, and Lillet. The one offered at DoveCote is the latter variety.

This punchy-flavored mix of spirits creates a day drinking-friendly cocktail, which functions equally as well as a “hair of the dog” libation.

Once available on the brunch menu (it has now sadly disappeared), DoveCote’s Corpse Reviver cocktail was a zippy companion to my favorite item on the menu: the fine herb omelet. This pillowy, cloud-like omelet stuffed with Boursin cheese and topped with chives is a reminder of how fantastic simple food can be when prepared with care. I’ve tried to replicate it at home, but am convinced there’s some kind of kitchen sorcery going on in the restaurant. While the cocktail has gone, I’m glad the omelet is there to stay.

Bitters & Brass: Queen’s Park Swizzle, Tiki drinks, and one very dirty martini

Dirty Martini at Bitters & Brass in Sanford

Many of the cocktail bars I’ve visited in Orlando have a hip, trendy vibe that can feel intimidating during a first visit. The antithesis to that? The dark, simplistic, and welcoming interior of Bitters & Brass in Sanford. The no-fuss interior sets the stage for the cocktails to be the stars.

The distinctions don’t stop there; the bar is owned and operated by bartenders, freeing up the team to experiment and focus on their craft. And the menu features 20+ classic cocktails plus flights of bitters and more.

If you’re new to the cocktail world, the gigantic menu may be cause for a mild panic attack accompanied by the realization of just how little knowledge you possess about booze. Classic cocktails are listed on the main menu, while a rotating selection of bartender originals can be found on the chalkboard in the middle of the bar.

I remember the feeling of looking over the menu for the first time, alongside my friend Brooke, and recognizing little else than the main spirit in each drink. Brooke kept it classic with an Old Fashioned and a Dirty Martini (both thoroughly enjoyed). I took a chance on a drink made with rum and then watched in amazement as the Queens Park Swizzle (pictured at the top of this post) was crafted by our bartender, Chris.

The drink, which dates back to the 1920s from a hotel in Trinidad, is made with Hamilton 86 Demerara Rum, lime, Demerara, mint, Angostura bitters, and Peychaud’s bitters. It’s garnished with mint on top, enhancing the sensory experience of the drink with each sip. While tall and colorful, it wasn’t overly sweet and perfect for sipping on a warm Florida day.

As we talked more with Chris, we discovered he’s the host of Bitters & Brass’ weekly “tiki night” on Thursdays featuring an exclusive tiki drink menu. He’s got a clear passion for tiki (check out his concoctions on Instagram @millstikidistrict) and I can’t wait to get back to this bar soon to try a few for myself.

PS: check out the monthly cocktail class.

The Guesthouse: The Corpse Reviver (when in doubt, ask your bartender)

Corpse Reviver at The Guesthouse

The first few times I visited The Guesthouse in Orlando’s Mills 50 district, I ordered off the small cocktail menu available at the bar without considering asking for a custom elixir.

That all changed one afternoon when John and I visited the bar again during a weekend staycation and decided to chat up our bartender to try some new drinks. And that’s how I first got acquainted with the Corpse Reviver (#2).

I vaguely remember the bartender telling me how the drink was named for its potent properties that could raise the “dead” aka severely hungover. But, of course, drink too many and your corpse may return to its previous unrevived state. Here’s a little more info on the drink and its resurgence.

The drink certainly packs a punch, thanks in part to the absinthe rinse. But it’s also pleasant for daytime drinking. I imagine it was given to me partly because I was drinking barely past noon. (In case you’re wondering, I wasn’t hungover when consuming the drink so I can’t speak to it’s reviving properties…more research needed on that front.)

Upon further research, I found this cocktail is most well known for its appearance in The Savoy Cocktail Book by Harry Craddock. Turns out, he was a pretty big deal in the cocktail world, working as the head barman at the Savoy’s American Bar (named the World’s Best Bar in 2017) beginning in 1925.

John, in the mood for whiskey, asked for a custom cocktail as well. The result was a beautiful, layered drink that knocked both of our socks off.  I’d venture to guess it was a whiskey swizzle (that’s a thing). Whatever it was, it didn’t last long.

The moral of this story: don’t be afraid to chat up your bartender. Ask questions. Admit you don’t know much, but want to learn. Try unfamiliar drinks to learn what you like, and then go home to research more on your own if you’re a bit too shy to ask questions. When in doubt, trust your bartender.

And…just keep sipping.

The Guesthouse cocktail bar in Orlando

Savory Bites on the Sanford Food Tour

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!

Hanging out with chef Nat Russell at The Tennessee Truffle

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.

The competition-winning Carolina style pulled pork from The Smiling Bison
While not included in the food tour, I opted to sip on a Bison watermelon margarita made with house-infused jalapeno and cilantro tequila, house sour, and watermelon

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.

Strawberry marshmallows from Wondermade change the s’mores game!

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!

Burnt ends aka “meat candy”, cornbread, and baked beans at Fuel BBQ

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.

The beautiful interior of The Smiling Bison

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.

Wopsicle at Wops Hops Brewing in Sanford
If you still have room after the food tour, head over to Wops Hops for a wopsicle — you won’t be sorry

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.

 

The Great Orlando Food Staycation

When my boyfriend, John, and I decided on a weekend staycation in downtown Orlando as our Christmas gift to one another, I didn’t really plan on spending the majority of our weekend together gorging on tacos, craft cocktails, steaks, brunch, and farmer’s market stand food. But who am I kidding? If there’s one thing I know about myself, it’s that food is one of the great joys of my life.

Some people are happy jumping out of airplanes (looking at you, mom) and some people prefer to see how many tacos they can eat in a day (more than I thought).

Food is the gateway to wonderful things: local culture, a love and appreciation for culinary talent, an exercise in expanding your comfort zone, a passion for cooking, art, and creativity. Visiting a new restaurant with no expectations, only to take the first bite and experience that magical moment of foodie euphoria, is incredibly satisfying to me.

It’s the melt in your mouth good food, or a combination of flavors that creates a lingering zing sensation on your tastebuds, or realizing something you assumed you’d hate is actually remarkable (hi, octopus) that makes eating great food so pleasurable for me.

I’m sorry…are you hungry?

One of the easiest ways to experience the local culture and literal flavor of any destination is through food, even if you can only explore what’s in your own city. So we chose to brave I-4 and dedicate a weekend to a city that’s close, but far enough away that we rarely get the chance to explore in depth.

We chose to stay at the EO Inn, a super cute boutique hotel that felt much more like a city studio apartment than a hotel. (The bed…so comfy and perfect for curing food baby pains.) It was also conveniently located, allowing us to explore exclusively on foot or on our bikes, which served as justification for all of the eating that followed. Here’s a recap of our unintentional food vacation.

Day 1: Late everything

Late (late late) dinner at Frank & Steins
John and I continuously try to convince ourselves we can be on time to things. So while we had the best intentions of making it to Orlando Friday night in time to have a sit down dinner before the Orlando Solar Bears hockey game we were attending, in reality we checked into our hotel 10 minutes after the game started. I scarfed down an overpriced hotdog at the arena, then fantasized about the much better hot dog I knew I’d be eating after the game.

Frank & Steins - Orlando, FL

I love Frank & Steins for its mastery of the simplest of American fare: the beloved hot dog. But these are no ordinary hot dogs. No, these ones come loaded with goodness like mac and cheese, sriracha, bacon, corn salsa, and the like. They even have pretzel buns! This is also the place to unleash your inner carb lover by ordering the giant pretzel, which comes with queso and 3 dreamy mustard dipping sauces. Don’t forget a pint or two of craft beer — the menu is so extensive its borderline overwhelming.

Day 2: The day of eating way too much and biking around to justify it

On Saturday morning, we set out on the Urban Trail with the best of intentions. While we did bike all the way to Mead Gardens in Winter Park and did a short hike, we mostly spent the day eating at the following establishments. The threat of a rainstorm led to day drinking, and at that point, eating more was a necessity. Or so I tell myself.

Dragon bowl from Juice’d Orlando

Juice’d
The Dragon Bowl from Juice’d was the only healthy thing I consumed all weekend. The granola was crunchy and sweet, the serving generous. The bowl was so loaded with fruit it was practically overflowing. But really, I just chose this for the vibrant purple color and dragonfruit. As much as I love indulgent food, every foodie needs a detox meal once in a while, and this one certainly fit the bill.

Pig Floyd’s Urban Barbakoa

Pig Floyd’s Urban Barbakoa
Tacos know no boundaries. You can eat them for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. They can be Mexican, American, Latin, Asian. Or they can be a little bit of everything, like they are at Pig Floyd’s. I took a mix and match approach to the tacos, ordering 3: pork belly, pork al pastor, and a crazy one named “la vaca tahkaw”. Each was delicious in its own right, but my favorite thing was the plantains with their crispy, charred, sugary coating and warm, gooey, ripe insides. Even after eating street corn, three tacos, and some nibbles of John’s BBQ, I still ate them all. This was also my first experience with Mexican Coca Cola and seriously, have I been living under a rock?

The Guesthouse craft cocktail bar Orlando, FL
The Guesthouse

The Guesthouse
Craft cocktail bars can be intimidating. And I do get a slight vibe of that at The Guesthouse sometimes. But once John and I began expressing interest in learning about the drinks, wanted to try new things, and just kind of let the bartenders do their thing…the whole feeling changed. Thus our world was opened to smooth whiskey concoctions and citrus cocktails made for day drinking. Thanks to The Guesthouse, I discovered a new favorite craft cocktail (acceptable for drinking before noon) called the Corpse Reviver. The glass is rinsed with Absinthe…so tread carefully.

The Guesthouse craft cocktail bar Orlando, FL
Corpse Reviver from The Guesthouse

King Bao
True to form, my hunger returned promptly after the consumption of two citrusy craft cocktails. I was hoping for a taco from Black Rooster Taqueria next door (a favorite spot for tacos in Orlando), but they were closed for their midday break. Cue tears. But I wasn’t too upset. A 5-minute bike ride down Mills landed us at King Bao for kind-of tacos. Bao are bite-sized delights served in featherlight steamed buns and stuffed with everything from coconut shrimp to pork belly. They’re also cheap. If you’re hungry, order 2-3 plus a side of the truffle tots.

King Bao - Mills50 District Orlando FL
Coco Loco bao from King Bao

Kres Chophouse
One thing I’ve learned from my grandpa in recent years is the art of savoring a meal. But why is it so hard? John and I are both on the move constantly, and as nice as slowing down sounds, its often hard to put into practice. But dinner at Kres is the exception. Each time we dine here, phones are put away for the evening (I don’t even take pictures of my food – this is serious) and we focus on the experience of not only being together, but also enjoying the exceptional food. This time, we went even slower than usual, savoring each sip and bite along the way. Our belated Valentine’s feast was complete with strawberry basil and whiskey cocktails, refreshing caprese salads, savory mac and cheese, and a filet mignon I look forward to each year. This is one of my favorite restaurants in Orlando for a classy night out, and we return over and over.

Day 3: Quintessential Sunday in the city

Our last day was reserved for pretending to be locals before we packed up the car to head home. And what do locals do on a Sunday in Thornton Park? Wandering around Lake Eola Park, followed by brunch is one of many possibilities. It also gave us an opportunity to squeeze in some much needed exercise.

Lake Eola Farmer’s Market
If you want quick insight into the local culture of Orlando, head to the weekly Orlando Farmer’s Market at Lake Eola Park. Orlando is the “City Beautiful” for a reason. From the rainbow painted bandstand and community yoga class, to the hustle and bustle of market-goers and plethora of brunch options lining the picturesque lake, the energy of this park reaches it peak each Sunday morning. While you can certainly pick up some weekly produce, there are also food vendors and artists, lending a more street festival feel. I love getting a fresh coconut, or a brunch appetizer, aka pierogi, while wandering through and taking in all the sights.

Fine Herb Omelette from DoveCote, Orlando FL
Fine Herb Omelette from DoveCote

DoveCote
Orlando knows how to do brunch, and unique options are at your disposal no matter which pocket of Orlando you visit. For offerings outside the standard chicken and waffles and eggs benedict, DoveCote is our new brunch go-to. I assumed the restaurant was super fancy and out of my depth, but after checking it out for a brunch piece on Orlando Date Night Guide it became a fast favorite. The croque madame, crab quiche, and fine herb omelet (so creamy and light, what I imagine a cloud would taste like) are all incredible. I was excited to see my new favorite cocktail on the menu too; Corpse Reviver two days in a row is allowed if it’s “vacation” right? I ended the weekend on a high note, taking brunch to new levels of indulgence by ordering creme brûlée. It’s the best I’ve had anywhere!

Steph’s Taco Blog: Tako Cheena in Mills50 (Orlando)

Admittedly, I kind of have some beef with fast casual taco joints. In my experience, they can be super hit or miss. It’s a disappointment to go running for a taco stand only to end up with a sad, floppy taco with too much sauce and not enough filling in a sloppy flour tortilla. But then there are true hits, where fast meets fresh, and counter ordering doesn’t translate to depressing tacos. Tako Cheena in the Mills50 district is firmly in the latter category; a true hit and one I’ll return to next time I’m in the area.

The Mills50 district is one of my favorite nooks of Orlando. It’s the perfect mix of hip and urban, with street art adorning the buildings and affordable, quality eats found at every turn. Locals describe this area, among others, as the real Orlando, and I tend to agree. Venture slightly away from the theme parks and tourist hot spots, and you’ll find a community-oriented culinary scene thriving in and around the heart of downtown Orlando.

Tako Cheena is located amidst all the action. While the current location can be easily missed the first time you drive by, it’s worth locating this hole-in-the-wall taco spot best described as Latin-Asian fusion. Continue reading “Steph’s Taco Blog: Tako Cheena in Mills50 (Orlando)”

Orlando Eats and Treats Worth the Hype: Part Two

Think Orlando has nothing but theme parks? So did I before moving here, but after almost five years (!) living in a tourist town, I’ve come to understand Orlando as so much more than a theme park mecca. Case in point: Orlando was recently voted as the top foodie city in the USA.

Food is something our city definitely does right.

While I can’t visit every eatery in the City Beautiful (#goals), there are some that create so much buzz I just have to go investigate. So here’s my latest recap of what I like to call “blog research” – give one of these Orlando eats a try and let me know your personal favorites. Continue reading “Orlando Eats and Treats Worth the Hype: Part Two”