If chefs draw inspiration from the places they live, then Kathleen Blake of the Rusty Spoon in Orlando, Florida, has a lot of material to work with. Before she moved to “the theme park capital of the world” fifteen years ago, the Iowa native had cooked in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Austin, San Antonio, and Pittsburgh. And although each new locale came with its own advantages and obstacles, Central Florida has presented the chef with a unique challenge: Seasonal shift. “While it’s spring everywhere else, we’re in full-on summer,” says the four-time James Beard semifinalist. “The vegetables will be slim pickings come July.”
The evolution of the city’s farm-to-table culture over recent years, though, has helped better prepare chefs to counter this quirk. “When I first moved here, we had to dig to find local farmers,” Blake says. “That’s changed dramatically. Now, Orlando has a ton of urban growers—we can easily find vegetables, pork, lamb, duck, grass-fed beef.” And the city’s restaurants have responded accordingly. At her own establishment, Blake focuses on rustic dishes that place a premium on local ingredients, such as an heirloom tomato salad with thinly sliced radishes, shishito peppers, and tender sprouts, or pork chops topped with thyme-roasted peaches. “You will not find a tomato here unless I got it fresh,” she says.
Like the Rusty Spoon, Blake’s hometown favorites use fresh, local products in inventive ways. “Come visit,” she laughs. “But come soon, before we just have eggplant, okra, and peppers to work with.” Below, see some of Blake’s go-to Orlando restaurants.
Black Rooster Taqueria
1323 N Mills Ave., Orlando
“John Calloway and his wife, Juliana, started Black Rooster. It’s all non-GMO and they make their own tortillas. Their menu doesn’t change: they make five or six tacos really, really well. And I love their guacamole. It’s perfect for a last-minute pickup for a Saturday dinner.” blackroostertaqueria.com
1198 Orange Ave., Winter Park
“Buttermilk Bakery is this wonderful little place run by a young woman, Taissa Rebroff, and her mom and brother. I used to go to her when they were set up at farmer’s markets around town. Now they have their own place.” buttermilk-bakery.com
Market on South
2603 E. South St., Orlando
“Market on South is a vegetarian stop I love. It has absolutely great sandwiches. I’ve never had jackfruit the way they prepare it.” [They serve it like pulled pork, on Texas toast with tangy Carolina barbecue sauce and a Coca-Cola reduction.] marketonsouth.com
3990 Curry Ford Rd., Orlando
“They make great pizzas. It’s all very old school—the way it should be made. They also have fantastic apps and salads. Their menu just keeps expanding.” pizzabrunofl.com
310 West Mitchell Hammock Rd., Oviedo
“This is an inventive, interesting restaurant that has ramen, sushi, and a tasting menu. And great fish. It’s a little bit of a hike [from downtown], but one well worth taking.” sushipoprestaurant.com