I’m a planner. From the moment the decision to travel is made, I plan routes, activities and, most importantly, food. As soon as I got the confirmation email for Food Blog Forum, I started determining when we should leave Nashville to get to Orlando in order to figure out where to eat along the way. I decided the optimal time to leave (factoring in one “rest” stop) was 6:30 for an 11:30 arrival in Atlanta (local time). Destination? Café Sunflower.
It’d been ten years since my last visit, but the memory of their delicious food was still fresh in my mind. And we actually arrived in Atlanta around 11am, so we had to toodle around a bit waiting for the restaurant to open (note for next time: leave at 7am). But it was worth it. Very worth it.
Because we couldn’t decide on entrees, we decided to share some small plates.
I remembered the nuggets from my last trip and insisted on having them again. They are better than any other nugget I’ve had (meatless or not), hands down. I’m so glad they still have these on the menu.
Mini Eats enjoyed at cheese quesadilla (Daiya is available for dairy-free cheese) from the kids’ menu…and so did we. It was more than she was in the mood for, so we happily shared her chips and salsa. Their salsa is wonderful. Bright and fresh.
And though we were pretty full, we couldn’t resist dessert.
The chocolate cake was perfect. Not too rich and very moist. And though you wouldn’t think so, the gluten-free cobbler was fantastic. I’m not sure what flour they use, but it was delicious. Mini Eats enjoyed the side of ice cream that came with it (choice of dairy or non-dairy available!).
After a leisurely hour-and-a-half lunch, we hit the road headed south. By my prior calculations, that would put us around Gainesville for an early dinner. After poking around a few yelp-ish sites, I decided Bento Café was the way to go.
It was right off the interstate on Archer Road in a little center that also had a Chipotle, Hiro Asian Sandwiches, The Pita Pit and a couple of other fast-casual restaurant chains. Perfect for a road trip because you’re in and out quickly and the food is predictable (as in, usually good). Bento Café is a chain that’s local to Florida, so that’s what we opted for. We liked it so much, that we stopped there again for lunch on the trip back home! The food is excellent and the service is, too. Are all the University of Florida students this nice? Even the other college-age customers were polite and friendly. I'm taking a risk by asking this question in the heart of SEC country, aren't I?
The other great things about Bento Café is that their dishes are all helpfully labeled as vegetarian, gluten-free and spicy, when applicable. There are a ton of options for any special diet. The menu is large. And for kids, it’s easy to get a bowl of stir fried noodles and beans. If you’re traveling in Florida around mealtime, this is the perfect place.
As I mentioned, we stopped at Bento Café on the way back to Nashville, so that put us in Atlanta just before dinner time. As in, during rush hour. That was gruelling. Luckily, IKEA was just beyond the traffic jam.
It wasn’t until we’d already waited in line at the quick-service place that we found out about the café on the second floor. So instead of pizza, we had quite a dinner. I was a bit bummed about missing the crepe place in Epcot, but whaddyaknow, crepes in IKEA! Authentic, French savory crepes with cheese and mushrooms. I got two orders!
The crepes were actually pretty good. Not mind-blowing, but good, particularly for the price. Mini Eats had some French fries and a fruit cup instead of a kid’s meal because she’s not fond of mac and cheese (which breaks my heart, really). Everything, including two soft drinks was less than $20 (wow).
Because Mr. Eats was doing all the driving, he also treated himself to a Mountain Dew. Despite being the home to Coca-Cola, the Atlanta IKEA serves Pepsi products. Which I prefer, actually. Though I had a caffeine-free lingonberry soda, which was fantastic. That’s when Mr. Eats had the revelation to mix the lingonberry soda with his Mountain Dew. Y’all, that was delicious.
So we decided to visit the market and get some of the lingonberry soda syrup. Annnnd get some of the blueberry and elderflower drink syrups, too. This stuff is delicious. The blueberry concentrate mixed with lemon-lime seltzer water? You gotta try it.
So, that’s how you do a road trip to Orlando from Nashville. Leave Nashville around 7am, lunch in Atlanta, dinner in Gainesville. And to stretch our budget, we stayed at the Courtyard in Lake Buena Vista Marriott Village the first night, so that we could maximize our Disney time. It was very short drive from the Courtyard to the Grand Floridian resort, where we checked in quickly and headed toward Mickey.
We checked out around 10:30am the day we left, which put us in Gainesville right at lunch time and for early dinner in Atlanta. We spent way too much time shopping in IKEA, which meant getting home just before midnight, but it was certainly worth it. Not only did we eat and get soda concentrates, I got some cute towels and props for the blog.
Next up: the epic Disney food report.