How to break up the drive between Orlando and Tampa? Stop half way for a meal! I’ve discovered and yearned to go back to the charming, quaint Lavender and Lace in Lake Alfred about 45 minutes outside of Orlando. Recently on one such trips, I braved the rains and pulled off I-4 towards Lavender and Lace. Apparently, so did the entire Lake Alfred or beyond. The dirt parking lot was completely full and cars were starting to line up along the road. I was delighted for their business but sad for not being able to indulge in this experience. Due to time constraints there was no way I could stick around. So off I went, with a sinking bellying.
Back on the road, the next major exit is Lakeland. I’ve never really been anywhere in Lakeland. Was there a decent restaurant there? Enter Urbanspoon to the rescue. After my companions went back and forth with texting between two cars, it was settled that we would drive to Downtown Lakeland and have a look around. Time was ticking away.
To our surprise the very historic downtown had a Famers Market in full swing with music, performers, street vendors and a whirl of bouncy activities. In the middle of it all was Harry’s Seafood Restaurant, Bar and Grill. There was a covered patio, they had food and would allow my dog. Need I say more.
We saddled up to a full New Orleans inspired menu. But, we were attracted to the introduction of Mardi Gras Parade of Flavors menu items. There was enough of us to order one of each item. The portions are ample enough to share or devour by yourself.
As the Mardi Gras parade started, we were treated to a Taste of New Orleans, which was just a palate tickler for more to come. Blacked Crab Dip which was lumps of crab meat in a savory dip. When piled on a toast was simple lusciousness. Louisiana Shrimp and Crawfish Potpie was a creamy mixture topped with bread crumbs that screamed scoop me. Mardi Gras Pasta was a huge helping of creamy pasta with jumbo shrimps. I couldn’t decide if to sop this sauce up with bread and look sloppy or nicely fork my pasta. I went with the slopping. Pasta Jambalaya were these neat little pasta with Andouille sausage. It could do with more sausage, at least that is my wish. The crowning as every dessert should be was Oreo Beignets. The chef dips an Oreo cookie in beignet batter and then places it on a bed of sweet chocolate and creamy sauce. I am still a little annoyed at my friends for swiping this before I could get a second sweet treat. Really, this does not need to be shared. I’ll handle all six! Although the bold flavors of New Orleans seemed a little scaled back from full throttle, all of the elements are there. I certainly welcomed this lighter flair.
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The restaurant has a large patio that faces the street and park where a band was stringing away and entertaining. There were even street dancers performing. Inside the restaurant boast a solid bar with heavy leather and wooden fixtures. The feel is historic and old, like this place has been around for a long time. Very timeless space, but well maintained.
This was a very surprising discovery. I really did not expect this level of food, service and atmosphere between Orlando and Tampa. Something says, I did not even scratch the surface of Downtown Lakeland. This is definitely going to be a destination and not just a stop by. It goes to show, don’t be afraid to swing off the main road and try something, you might enjoy it.