Steve (DOS) and I spent our 16th anniversary as a mini “staycation” in Winter Garden, FL. Although I have lived in Orlando for 22 years, I/we have never ventured over to nearby Winter Garden before Sunday night, and are only disappointed that we didn’t discover this “gem of a town” earlier. The City of Winter Garden is located just west of Orlando, and has a charming Hallmark-like downtown area, which was still decorated with Christmas and holiday decorations. Winter Garden, not to be confused with Winter Park or Winter Haven Florida, is a quaint “Old Florida” type of town that while very close to Orlando, feels a world away.
We stayed at the historic Edgewater Hotel, which is ideally located on the main street and is walking distance to all that Winter Garden downtown has to offer. I wanted to take DOS to dinner somewhere locally, but as we had just been to Ruth’s Chris for New Year’s, I wanted a different type venue for our anniversary. I searched on-line and found not only the Edgewater Hotel, but the restaurants it has such as the Chef’s Table, and knew this is what we should do.
The Edgewater Hotel was built in 1926, and is an iconic part of Winter Garden itself. The hotel is really more like a nice bed and breakfast inn, and each of the rooms are individually decorated and vary slightly in size as well depending on the street-facing location or back-facing. We had room 214 which was a spacious king-sized room facing the main street below, however was quiet as the town is itself, so noise was not a problem. The street-facing rooms are also larger in size too.
The Edgewater Hotel is a actually a complex of venues, and includes three restaurants, an ice cream parlor, and an old-time barbershop, all on street level. Upon arrival at 3pm checkin, we were warmly greeted by a nice lady at the front desk, who explained the layout and features of the hotel to us, and would momentarily take us up to our room via the manually operated Otis elevator. As we checked in, we looked around the lobby and were in awe of the ambiance and charm of the hotel, as well as the many antique furnishings. We would soon discover this gem of a hotel is not only on the National Register of Historic Places, but is more like a museum with its wide collection of antiques and appliances displayed and/or in use throughout the property. The lobby was retro-gorgeous, and reminiscent of the old Florida of days gone by.
I took a couple photos of the checkin desk area, including this telephone plug-board that was on display. Years ago I had worked for the phone company, and although this was obviously before my time, there were a couple installations early in my career where our new digital phone system actually replaced a working cardboard system. The plugs have mini weights on them, and the operator would manually plug them in to complete the call. Wow have times changed, and what a nice piece of history!
We were then escorted to our room by the lady checking us in, who took us up to the second floor via the original Otis elevator, which was quite a modern thing (along with hotel sprinklers) for a hotel when the Edgewater Hotel opened in 1927. Like the plug-board, the elevator was truly a blast from the past, and was operated via a wheel-like lever that raised and lowered the elevator to the different floors. Like something out of a movie with an elevator bellman, (the guests do not operate the elevator – like we would know how to anyway!) I do remember many years ago in New York City, a bellman operating an elevator such as this by hand; hence the old joke “the job has its ups and downs”! As the elevator was tiny, just barely holding the three of us and our luggage, I didn’t get a photo inside the elevator, but here is a photo on the second floor lobby showing the doors where you enter it (to the left of the stairs, and framed by classic photos of celebrities such as Charlie Chaplin, of an earlier era.)
On our way to our room, we passed the living room and breakfast room, which like the lobby contained wall-to-walk antiques in a museum like setting. The living area had a nice seating area, with a huge working grandfather clock that chimed on the quarter hour, an antique gramophone, and a large display case that housed fine antique china among other things.
The adjacent breakfast room contained a large common dining table and a couple smaller tables behind it. Included in the hotel rate was a full hot breakfast, as well as a nice setup throughout the day of complimentary snacks (assortment of chips, candies, granola bars, even soup!), as well as bottled water, various teas and coffees. It was the boutique inn equivalent of a nice concierge lounge at an upscale hotel, but themed with antique appliances and even antique wall phone.
Our room was conveniently located just down the hall from the breakfast area, and featured a four poster bed, walk in close with retro-themed mini refrigerator, and bathroom of tub/shower combo and appeared to be original sink fixtures. The was a small TV, complimentary internet, and a couple of chairs, although it wasn’t the type of place you would sit around the room for hours due to the size and many things to do right outside the hotel.
After getting settled in, DOS and I took a long walk down Plant Street, the “main street” of town. The Christmas and other holiday decorations (Hanukkah and Kwanza) were still on display, and as it was the last Sunday after the 12th days of Christmas, the lights were on for one last evening which made it extra special when we returned for the same walk after dinner. Here are some photos of our walk thru the town of Winter Garden by day, and later on by night. As it was a beautiful Sunday afternoon, the town was busy with people eating, drinking, window browsing or shopping, and as it was located along the west Orlando trail, biking or walking like us.
For dinner, we went to The Tasting Room, which is one of the three restaurants that are part of the Edgewater Hotel complex. The Tasting Room and The Chef’s Table, share a common main entrance, but are separate restaurants and experiences. The elegant (and adult’s only) Chef’s Table offers a three course meal with a choice of several fixed items on its menu, and an optional wine pairing menu as well. We considered going there, but at least this month’s (the menu rotates occasionally) appetizer course was a bit to haute for my simple taste, so we went to The Tasting Room instead, which is like a nice and upscale pub, with rich woods, high ceilings and table cloth service. Unlike The Chef’s Table, The Tasting Room offers both a tapas-like menu as well as ala carte options such as full size entrees, and an extensive wine list, but in a more casual atmosphere. It was a Sunday night, so it was not crowded inside, and the staff kept everyone at a comfortable social distance apart, seating us in the rear section of the restaurant away from the busier bar area.
Our waitress at Tastings Restaurant, J.J. provided us friendly and wonderful service during our two hour meal there. We started with the tapas type offerings of Beef Wellington and a fancy truffle fries and cheese bowl that was humongous in size. The Beef Wellington was presented on a rectangular platter and had 3 mini wellingtons artfully displayed that were even better than they looked; DOS and I had one and a half each, while supplementing these with the separate order of the truffle fries.
We had a nice bottle of Jason red wine, which I was not familiar with but was a Napa Valley (Calistoga) 2016 vintage, named after the owner of the winery, Jason Pahlemyer. Per their website fact sheet, it utilizes a blend of the fine Bordeaux grapes of primarily Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc with a touch of Malbec and Petit Verdot. Our waitress, J.J., gladly offered to decant the wine for us, which we readily accepted.
After the Beef Wellington and fries course, instead of having more tapas, we decided to split an entree size pork ribeye, as J.J. said they were known for their pork dishes. I was leaning towards the cowboy ribeye, but figured we would try something different, especially since it’s a house specialty – and boy were we glad we did! The pork ribeye was absolutely incredible; more like a tender prime rib; juicy, perfectly seasoned, and like none we have ever had. The pork ribeye entree came as two slices on a bed of vegetables, so it was easy to share as well.
We enjoyed the pork ribeye so much, we ordered a second entree portion of it! While we didn’t think we would be able to eat it all having had so much food, we easily finished it off and even saved room for dessert!
DOS and I had a wonderful night of dining at The Tasting Room, and as we chatted with J.J. and a couple other waiters, we found out the chef and several of the wait staff had worked at the Disney Boardwalk area of high end restaurants, and the chef himself had worked at the highly acclaimed Victoria and Albert’s Restaurant at The Grand Floridian Hotel at Walt Disney World. No wonder the food service, quality, and selection were so wonderful! We had not even finished our meal when we had decided we are coming back again soon for another stay, and next time try The Chef’s Table for comparison. Both restaurants utilize the same chef, but the Chef’s Table is more intimate from what we were told.
After dinner we took a long walk along the main Plant Street, which by 10pm was very quiet and peaceful. The Christmas and other holiday lights were turned on for probably the last night of the season, and it reminded us of Disney years ago when we walked around Hollywood Studios (then MGM Studios) at 1am (the park was open until 3am NYE), and there were no crowds as most people cleared out after the midnight fireworks. Walking around with the lights illuminated for the last night of the season was like our farewell to Christmas. Here are some photos of the Main Street in Winter Garden, but at night time with the lights.
The next day, (Monday) we had a full breakfast at the hotel around 9:30am. It was a menu service and you could order whatever you liked as it was inclusive of the hotel nightly rate. I had pancakes, bacon, sausage, juice, coffee, and yogurt, while DOS did the same with the addition of eggs.
After breakfast we checked out, and again were escorted on the Ovis elevator with our luggage down to the lobby. We walked around town a bit more, before heading out for the short 45 minute’s drive back home. While we were only here one night, we had such a wonderful time with this gem of a town, we can’t wait to go back for another “staycation” in Winter Garden. Happy Anniversary DOS! We had a wonderful stay here at the Edgewater Hotel, and look forward to going back again soon!