I love to eat, but with my job I rarely get a truly, fine dining experience. Between my time teaching in Japan and now as a flight attendant, I’ve conditioned myself to inhale food faster than I should. A constant battle with the clock, last minute changes, and fast food take away often makes me feel like a university student and not an adult. I live in a world where “flexibility” is ‘the other F-Bomb,’ so when I make plans it’s not only a big deal, but something I desperate want to keep. I found a solid group of foodie gal pals I’ve met through Yelp* Elite events. Though I do not have many opportunities to meet up with them in person, I do love how normal I feel around them. When it was suggested we check out Magical Dining Month with a dinner at Hemingway’s that overlapped my vacation, I could not pass it up.
Ready for some Magic with Meghan!
I love that Magical Dining benefits the Greater Orlando Foundation for Foster Children, focusing on those in the 17-23 age bracket. This demographic needs guidance and support, as they are transitioning out of the system and into adulthood. Without stability and direction, youth are set up for failure in the real world. With the increase in cyber bullying and youth crimes, young adults really need inspiration and mentors to help develop a sense of worth and clarity when dealing with the issues facing them today. I truly wish I could become a mentor for this program, but I neither live close enough to Orlando nor do I have a regular schedule that would enable me to properly participate. One dollar from each meal goes toward FFC, but donations are also accepted on the website.
I learned that the best way to get to the Hyatt Grand Cypress from 535 is driving up to Palm Parkway which is a time saver for those not wanting to get mired in the traffic heading to Downtown Disney on any night of the week. It’s just a left, another left, and a check-in with the guard at the gate. Currently, the parking infrastructure is under renovation, so self parking is actually faster and closer to the restaurant than having the valet park you car for you. While Hemingway’s does validate parking, just ask to self park in lot 5 and they’ll give you a placard for your dash. It’s just a slight slope up toward the hotel, but simply follow the signs. Listen for the waterfall, and you’re there.
If you are making plans for a large group, call in advance and make reservations. At 6:45PM on a Wednesday, the restaurant was not busy save for several groups of hotel guests, but on a busy night, I am sure wait times could be excessive. There is something exciting about being ushered to a reserved table. It’s a luxury I do not indulge in often. The MD set menu is $33 for one appetizer, one entree, and choice of desert. After a terrible dining experience during Bite30, I sought redemption and damned good eating, and Hemingway’s redeemed my faith in the prix fixe dining format!
A fantastically Floridian prix fixe menu
With my seafood allergies, selecting my Magical Dining experience was limited, but undeniably easy. Like an English teacher with a red pen, I quickly nixed everything that would inhibit the Karen Preservation Society from doing its primary function: keeping Karen alive. While I still harbor a grudge toward Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea (and the eighth grade as a whole), Heminway’s (the restaurant) totally won me over with their robust portions, complex flavors, and adherence to restaurant concept as presented in their menu.
I selected the KEY WESTER SALAD as my appetizer. It boasted “Crispy Applewood-smoked bacon, Capicola, olives, and avocado with Maytag bleu cheese dressing”; all items I am a complete sucker for. I should have taken a photo of the size of the bowl which one could bathe a kitten or puppy in. Put your hands side by side, palms up and fingers splayed. No, a little wider. Yes, Seriously. Yep, that’s about the right size, and it was full of salad. My eyes bulged a bit when the bowl was set down, but like a dog with a beefy bone, I didn’t let go until that bowl was picked clean.
My excitement pitched after joining the massive salad clean plate club. My entrèe of CRISPY BLACK FIN SNAPPER did not disappoint. “Crispy skin local snapper, coconut yucca cake, asparagus, finished with fire-roasted tomato-fennel jam & yellow pepper espuma” were carefully stacked in the center of the plate. Again, the photo makes the food look smaller! The fish alone was the size of my palm, and the coconut yucca cake underneath was the size of a hockey puck! Both were perfectly cooked as were the asparagus stalks. I did pick out the capers, but that’s purely a personal preference. Like the salad, I refused to go down fighting, so over laughter and drinks, I plugged away, cleaning my second plate.
Tastes like home in south Florida
Hemingway’s is known for it’s crab cakes and shrimp scampi which my friends enjoyed and raved about. All you seafoodies out there, go to Hemingway’s and try them out. For those not a fan of fish, there is a chicken option, too.
As my food belly rapidly expanded, I realized that dessert awaited. Holding fast to my love for all things Fabulously Florida, there was no contest! The KEY LIME TART with “baked meringue and graham cracker crust” trumped my critical weakness anything involving peanut butter! The meringue is glorious. Even with dining light most of the day, the tart wound up riding home with me as I simply could not finish it.
Outside of the Magical Dining menu, I elected to enjoy one of Hemingway’s signature cocktails. Growing up blocks away from Everglades National Park in south Florida, I was fated to imbibe the Everglades Cooler with it’s fantastic mix of Malibu and Captain Morgan’s Spiced rum, Midori Melon liqueur Blue Curacao and pineapple juice. The prices weren’t listed in the drinks menu, but the cocktails range from $12-$14. The price per pours were very fair, and it was fancy with its fruit garnishing! It was a great drink, and I only needed one! Plus, it was Florida green, so it kept to my theme. It’s the best Everglades “water” I’ve ever drank.
Heminway’s set the bar spectacularly high for the Magical Dining Month program. The service was outstanding (Thank you, Victor), the food was fantastic, and the price/portion ratio was out of this world! The chef took particular care as two members of “Ms. Rodriguez’s Dining Entourage” had seafood allergies (myself included), but it did not prevent the kitchen from quickly turning out plates. Those wanting a grand slam in the MD program, make sure that Hemingway’s is sitting at the top of that list. I would love to visit again, and hopefully snag a table near the windows overlooking the golf course and property.
Magically Dined: September 3, 2014