Once upon a time there was a charming house in the middle of nowhere that captured the essence of calm, relaxation, mystique, and wonder. Nestled under old trees, surrounded by gorgeous fabled plants, roses, and flowers; set in a distant land that is plucked out of a romance novel is this masterfully crafted restaurant.
A few days before my swing around South Florida, I got an email from someone to check this place out. Was it that I tweeted my intentions of a trip or happenstance timing? Either way, when I Googled this place I could not believe my eyes. I have driven back and forth on I-4 to Tampa and beyond, never did it cross my mind to exit at Lake Alfred. Why? It is in the middle of nowhere. Until now.
The drive from Fort Myers exited on a Florida back road that took me through the real agricultural belt of Central Florida. Gorgeous expansive land, with shrubs, brushes, farming crops, orange groves, and cattle spotted the roadway. Driving through several small farming towns, with one gas station, a restaurant, and tent houses was a nod to the still very fabric of Florida living. Sometimes living in a major hub like Orlando we forget what surrounds us.
Arriving at the GPS spot for Lavender and Lace was like stepping into a fairy tale book. The parking lot is unpaved and shaded with huge old trees. I saw a person watering roses adjacent to the main building. Entering the semi covered courtyard is a thrill for the senses. Normally, the smell of food is enough to get my attention, here it was the smell of roses. The sound of a small trickling water falls and birds chirping sooths the soul. Having brought the doggie, we sat outdoors.
Menus were brought out and tea offered. The menu leans towards English items, but there are subtle hints of Asian. When the “gardener” came around to our table and introduced himself as the owner, it all made sense. Hafeez Bajwa and his wife Sehar were born in Pakistan and migrated to England when they were very young. Hafeez, a retired English Merchant Marine Shipping Captain has travelled the world over. It only goes that his menu would reflect those influences. Hafeez starts most of the dishes and his staff completes and serves. Sehar, handles all the desserts. The tea compilation is from around the world. Tea is served in a pot and allowed to brew.
Soup of the Day (Mushroom and Wild Rice) with Biscuits – was an amazing burst of flavorful start.
Hot Darjeeling TGBOP – strong, aromatic, flavorful, sweet and spicy on the nose, with earthy finishes. Cold Unsweetened Tea – A regular southern delight.
Beef Burgundy – An enormous dish that is bursting with personality. The twist is on a subtle note of Pakistani spices on the beef. The hint is almost nonexistent, but yet it brings life to this classic dish. Vegetables and fruits were fresh. Potato was creamy and flavorful.
Quiche of the Day Spinach, mushroom, and cheese – a classic recipe, light airy and fluffy. Salad was fresh.
Assortment of Desserts – take a load of that! I would make a drive for anyone of these.
Orange Italian Crème Cake – decadent and luscious does not begin to describe this chunk of heaven. The icing is real sugar! Oh heavens where have you been!
After a heavy lunch we had to stretch. The main dining room is inside the 1920s bungalow. Opening the back door transcribes the captivating courtyard into a masterpiece of Victorian décor. There is a semi private room in the front next to an enclosed veranda with huge windows overlooking a spectacular courtyard. The neatly set tables are even more ornate with Victorian pieces as wall art. There is charm and solitude in that dining room. As I walked in I noticed a person sitting at a table with a telescopic lens camera. First thought, blogger! When the young lady came outside to the courtyard, I couldn’t help but introduce myself. What do you know, I was right. Tracy Guida, from My Other City By The Bay, was scoping out the place also. Go read her take, here.
As if the main house and courtyard wasn’t enough charm, there is a gift shop. To one side of the courtyard a small gift shop allows for purchasing token of memories. Upstairs of the gift shop is a working studio for floral arrangements. The pieces sold in here are certainly one of a kind.
Lavender and Lace has captivated and mesmerized me to look beyond popular dining destinations. There is a deeper appreciation of self and space lingering in this place. The true labor of love and passion from these owners envelopes from the meticulous garden, to the courtyard, to the ideally placed waterfalls, to the welcoming feel in the dining room, to the food, and the careful selection of teas. This is not a place to rush in and grab a bite then leave. This is a place to go sit and let nature and food take you away to fairy land. I will be grazing here any opportunity I get.