Ground transportation at Orlando International Airport is designed to persuade visitors to proceed directly to the concentration of hysteria on the southwest side of town. But if you make the effort to get yourself to the northeast side of the city, you'll find an entirely different theme in Winter Park and Maitland, with museums, parks, gardens, art festivals and plenty of shopping destinations where it's almost impossible to buy a T-shirt featuring mice. It also has some of the best dining options available in the Orlando, Florida, area.
Park Avenue, the main drag of Winter Park offers many local boutiques and a few national retailers. For almost 40 years, the place to fuel up for a day of shopping has been Briarpatch (thebriarpatchrestaurant.com; 407-628-8651; 252 Park Ave. N).
Before the humidity takes over, grab a prime people-watching seat at one of the sidewalk tables and try a Belgian waffle topped with two eggs and four chunky slices of bourbon-braised pork belly ($19). A short rib Benedict ($18) piles the braised beef and poached eggs on top of home fries and covers it all with chipotle hollandaise. On the weekends, there will probably be a line, but it moves fast, and there will be a cold-brew coffee cocktail spiked with coconut rum ($12) available as a reward for waiting.
Chefs James and Julie Petrakis, who helped make Winter Park a dining destination with the Ravenous Pig and Cask & Larder, have teamed with Rhys and Alexia Gawlak to open Swine & Sons (swineandsons.com; 407-636-7601; 595 W. Fairbanks Ave.) as a quick-serve and takeout option for their housemade charcuterie. Ask anyone behind the counter, and they'll probably say their favorite sandwich is the pastrami ($12) brined for seven days, smoked for four hours, then cooked in a sous-vide bath for 12 hours before being sliced and topped with Swiss, horseradish mayo, bread-and-butter pickles, and a sprinkle of dill. A shrimp roll ($12) celebrates two of the state's most famous ingredients - shrimp and citrus - on a sub roll so overstuffed that when all the extra filling falls out, you'll find what amounts to a salad on the plate. Nothing goes to waste: Pimento cheese ($9) is topped with jam made with remnants of the charcuterie, offering a salty-sweet hit of pork.
Chef Brandon McGlamery already had a corner on Park Avenue's fine dining market with Luma on Park and Prato when he opened Luke's Kitchen and Bar (eatatlukes.com; 407-674-2400; 640 S. Orlando Ave.) in nearby Maitland. The vibe here is more relaxed, with classic dishes prepared with a James Beard Award nominee's attention to detail. It's easy to make a meal of the small plates, such as a few deviled eggs ($10), or a plate of fried fingerling potatoes on a bed of pimento cheese ($9). But if you're game for a half a chicken ($23), the bird here comes off the rotisserie on top of a baked potato puree. The cocktail program takes a similarly classic approach with drinks such as a bracing Sazerac ($10). But if you need to drive back to a hotel on the other side of town, there's a list of housemade sodas to keep it interesting.