Those getting off I-4 and heading south down the Florida Ridge on US 27 have a wonderful opportunity for a number of delicious dining options though the south central portion of the state.
It all begins just below the exit off I-4 on US Highway 27 in Davenport where there is a little restaurant called The Ovation Bar & Bistro.
Located at the south end of the Deer Creek Plaza, the self-described “number one smokehouse in Central Florida” is unashamedly passionate about the food and drinks they create and serve.
From their steaks and ribs, to entree salads, pasta, fish, sandwiches and items off the woodfire grill, patrons flock to this little place for great food, tasty drinks and good times.
There are options for dining inside or out, and there’s a bar and a comfortable waiting are on busy evenings.
Skipping south, then turning onto Highway 17-92, the next stop is in the town of Lake Alfred, where there’s a hidden gem called The Cornerstone Grill. It’s a small family restaurant created with an eye toward local farmers and growers.
The vision of Executive Chef Matthew Arbuthnot and his wife, Lisa, all of the dishes are made to order, from scratch. They say the idea is to be “100-percemt sustainable through a close relationship with local farmers and agriculturalists.”
Specials might include such tasty fare as the “Seafood Trio”- Seared Ahi Tuna, Scallop and Shrimp Ceviche served with Avocado, Herb Crackers and House Slaw. Perhaps a simple Angus Burger with pickle chips or sweet potato fries will do.
Nestled amongst a pair of quaint antique stores, Cornerstone Grill is a treat one would not expect to find in such a tiny central Florida town.
Down the road in Winter Haven. hungry travelers may land at one of the great Italian restaurant locations in the area. Bistro Pizza on Central Avenue has brick oven pizza, great ambience and a full menu of Italian favorites.
The best part is everything is made with fresh ingredients. The salads are as fresh as they come with crisp greens, firm tomatoes and cucumbers and other ingredients.
Seriously, it was as if they had a garden in the kitchen.
All the cheeses – from the mozzarella to feta – also taste fresh-made. Besides pizza there are taste tempting delights such as garlic knots, calzone and even stromboli.
We recommend a window seat by the natural brick wall to people watch and enjoy a great meal.
Now comes the crazy – or krazy – part of the journey.
Those who like Greek fare would do well to make a stop in Cypress Gardens at the delicious but unassuming Krazy Greek. Although it is located in a strip mall along Cypress Gardens boulevard, don’t let its fast food appearance fool you – the Krazy Greek is both krazy authentic and krazy good.
The Greek Salad is large and packed with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and onion, there’s also Kalamata olives, feta cheese, pepperocini and of course – potato salad. And for the purists, yes, Spanakopita, Moussaka or perhaps a Domades Platter- the hand-rolled grapevine leaves stuffed with rice and fresh herbs drizzled with lemon sauce are something special.
About the only thing to complain about is that it’s served in plastic – but there’s no complaint about prices or quickness of service.
A few miles south, just at the intersection of Highways 27 and 60 is another crazy place – The Crazy Fish. Featured on “Emeril’s Florida” the Food Network program starring Chef Emeril Lagasse, this funky little place in Lake Wales has already made a name for itself.
It’s a seafood lover’s delight with fare straight from the ocean. There’s Blue Crab and Lobster, there’s Pompano, Fresh Gulf Grouper, Mahi Mahi and Yellow Fin Tuna. What’s that you say? Not a fish fan?
The menu offers other selections from Fillet Mignon to Pork Chops
Rolling south down Highway 27, travelers will find one of the most unique locations in all of central Florida, the Wild Turkey Tavern in Avon Park. Easily spotted by the camouflage paint job and the dinosaur holding up their sign, it’s a great place for cold beer, great food and friendly service.
Self-proclaimed for the “Best Gatortail, Wings and Burgers in town!” there’s a wide selection of Cracker Cookin’ including frog legs, fish or chicken fingers, fried oysters and barbecue shrimp.
Something a bit more tame? Maybe a burger, sub or club sandwich is in order.
You can make an evening of it as well, taking advantage of the pool tables, dart lanes and no fewer than eight television sets all populated with sporting events. There’s also live music on the patio Wednesday evenings from 5-8 pm and Sunday afternoons from 3-6 pm.
A bit further down the road, travelers will come up on the Faded Bistro and Beer
Garden in downtown Sebring. This little open air restaurant is built on “seasonal ingredients and warm hospitality.”
The dining area is dominated by a pre-civil war mahogany bar, ringed by a set of varied stools. Have your favorite brew or mixed drink while nibbling on a cheese board withartisan cheese, marinated olives, local Honey, dark chocolate trail mix and seasonal fruit.
You like salads? There’s turkey cranberry, spinach and fruit – or how about the Smoked Norwegian Trout Salad?
Their signature dishes include Black Angus Tenderloin & Lobster Mac ’N Cheese, Pesto Chicken Fettucciniand the Vegan Buddha Bowl. The Faded Bistro may be a bit pricey – but it is a unique dining experience.
Heading down Highway 27 then out Lake June Road, you’ll end up at Jaxon’s Bar & Grill in Lake Placid. It too is both a great dining and entertainment experience. Customers come by car and sometimes by boat to enjoy the laid back atmosphere and periodic live music.
There is a large screened in dining area in the back which also features a tiki-bar. Inside is a cozy, friendly atmosphere with a small stage at one end where the restaurant holds live entertainment on the weekends.
As for the menu it’s a sure bet you’ll want to try the Hookiemelt, the signature appetizer and a most ‘wickedly-delicious’ combination of chicken tenders (grilled or fried), hot sauce (mild, medium or hot) and smothered with cheeses, chopped onion and sour cream – all melted in the oven.
There’s enough for two.
You can build your own burger, get a sandwich, wrap or hoagie, or indulge yourself in a great entree with selections ranging from slow roasted prime rib, blackened and seared yellow fin tuna, brown sugar and Dijon baked salmon or perhaps the Havana grilled chicken breast.
But in any event – save some room for Jaxon’s fried cheescake.
Those are just a few of the options one has between northern Polk and Southern Highlands county – but it’s clear, when coming to the area – bring your appetite!