Disclaimer: This list is not for the banting brigade, the carb-conscious or the anti-chocolate mafia.
Look, I had all the best intentions of eating healthily in the States, but after 1 week, it kind of went out the window. In saying that, it’s frankly impossible to avoid sugar there, even the air is laced with high fructose corn syrup. However, if you’re in Orlando, your saving grace is that you’re walking a lot (that Proclaimers song will become your mantra). On average, a visitor walks 10-15 miles each day at Disney and in just 3 days I clocked up 36 kilometres. Thank God, because I ate everything on this list (plus other stuff that didn’t even make this final list).
If you’ve got a sweet tooth, here are some of the best desserts to try in Orlando and where to find them.
-Salted Caramel Cheesecake*-
I accidentally ended up at the Cheesecake Factory on National Cheesecake day. This meant that 1. you could get two slices for the price of one and 2. you had to wait 2 hours and 45 minutes for the privilege to do so. If you’re a cheesecake fan, this is where you meet your maker and with over 33 options, you’re going to struggle to choose. For me, the Salted Caramel Cheesecake was a bit of a no-brainer, because the combination is to die for. The taste is sensational with caramel cheesecake and caramel mousse on a blonde brownie all topped with salted caramel.
The state dessert of Florida is simply a cheesecake with a little splash of key lime but tastes ten times better. I had my first taste at 27 and it was 27 years too late! If you’re a fan of lemon cheesecake, you’ll most likely adore Key Lime Pies. The Boathouse is right on the shores of the Disney Springs lake and serves their Key Lime Pie in a glass jar with a bit of vanilla. If you don’t make it to Disney Springs, don’t worry you’ll find one, they’re as ubiquitous as crème brûléesin Paris.
This is a chocolate raspberry layer (6 if you please) cake and on seeing it, it’s easy to see how they came up with the name. The waiter warned us that it wouldn’t last long and it didn’t. It was inhaled off the table, I missed the chance to snap a picture and had to borrow one from FoodSpotting. It’s divine, but if do order it, make sure you take an army with you, as the slice is huge, even by American standards. You won’t be disappointed, the cake is melt-in-your-mouth, died-and-gone-to-heaven, oh-yay-heaven-is-made-of-chocolate delicious!
Anyone who has been to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios will tell you to have a butterbeer! I wasn’t a fan of the original and found the frozen butterbeer much tastier. But drinks aside, the real, undiscovered gem here is the butterbeer ice cream. This delicious dessert is an extremely dense and perfectly sweet soft serve. You’ll find it in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade at the very busy Florean Fortescue Ice Cream Parlours, and at the much quieter Hopping Pot in Diagon Alley.
Where: The Hopping Pot, Diagon Alley, Universal Studios Orlando
Half the fun of eating here is watching Cold Stone prepare your little cup of wonder. I kindly searched Youtube and you can click here to see the magic. There are a lot of mixes to try, but you can’t truly say you’ve visited America until you’ve tried their much-loved, Cake Batter ice cream. The mix comes with brownies, chocolate fudge and rainbow sprinkles. Honestly, the small (read gigantic) cup is more than big enough, so don’t be tempted to go another size up.
You’ll know you’re near a Ghiradelli because you’ll smell it. Trust me, it’s as if they stand by the door with fans trained on giant vats of dark chocolate fudge sauce. On my first visit, I naively ordered their speciality sundae, complete with a waffle boat (big enough to row to China in). Unless there are 10 people with you, and perhaps a dog, do not order this. In my defence I was still in the dark about American portion sizes. Their Mint Obsession is much smaller and far more manageable. It’s a scoop of mint chip ice cream, a scoop of chocolate ice cream, topped with dark chocolate hot fudge, whipped cream and a square of Mint Bliss Intense chocolate.
“You need to see Manhattan from the air. It’s a once in a life time experience. You’ve got to do it!”
This is a line you’re guaranteed to hear from pretty much every single person who has taken a helicopter trip over Manhattan. Locals, tourists and expats will all tell you that it’s the one thing you have to do whilst visiting the pretty city. In the final week, I decided to book a flip. It’s pricey, but because it’s winter there are some great deals online. Friendly tip: The prices advertised online don’t include the heliport fees which are an extra $30 or so.
There are a few tour companies operating out of the downtown heliport and after a lot (and I mean a lot) of research and Yelp review reading, I picked Liberty. I don’t mess around with helicopters, this is not a burger joint, I want 5/5 stars all the way. An’t nobody got time for 1 star ratings when you’re several thousand feet up in the air. Also, having a Dad who is a helicopter pilot, means you take this stuff seriously.
Liberty has several tour options, with The Big Apple being the most popular (and cheapest). The trip is 12-15 minutes long and takes you past the Statue of Liberty, up the Hudson River, past Madison Square Garden and up to the start of Central Park, you then circle back and head for home.
Seeing Manhattan from the sky is a once in a lifetime experience that you can’t quite put into words. I certainly can’t, but I liked the pictures and that’s really the reason this post made it onto the Internet. After spending 3 weeks walking around New York, it was incredible to see it spread out beneath me. The intimidating steel giants that had risen up from the street, now seemed like tiny lego towers. It’s definitely something to tick off your bucket list.
Flying with Liberty was a great choice, they’re friendly and have a great safety record. Plus our pilot was a fantastic tour guide. For more information on their helicopter tours, you can check out their website here.
After living New York for 3 weeks, I’ve drunk enough coffee to float a fleet of small, yet very practical boats to China. New York is home to the finest coffee in the world, yet surprisingly it also plays host to some of the worst coffee in the known universe. Thanks to Yelp, help from a few locals and our own trial and error, we found some great spots that you should try.
1. Ninth Street Espresso Bar
There are 4 Ninth Street Espresso Bars in New York city, and we chose to visit the one tucked away in the Chelsea Market (another experience for another post). Ninth Street is the first speciality coffee spot to open up in New York. It’s the only standalone coffee shop in Chelsea Market and they’re as busy as a generator seller in Joburg right about now. The coffee alone is worth the trip and when combined with a wander through Chelsea Market, a cupcake and a stroll through the Meatpacking district, it’s a definite New York bucket list item. To get to the Ninth street espresso bar, take the metro to 14th Street and head up to 9th Avenue. It’s on 9th, between 15th and 16th streets.
This spot is max hipster, min mainstream, so make sure to bring your boyfriend avec beard, your thick, dark rimmed glasses and your notebook and feather quill.
Chelsea Market75 9th Ave.Between 9th and 10th Ave.
One of the Mille-Feuille bakeries is on the upper west side and after 3 weeks, is still my favourite place in the city. It’s quaint french romance with a touch of New York humour. I have absolutely no idea where the coffee comes from or who produces it, but it doesn’t matter because it’s frankly fabulous. I’ve waxed lyrical on this spot in a previous post, so if you need more motivation go and have a squiz. The staff all speak french, so don’t forget your beret and your merci beaucoups.
Upper West Side
New York, NY 10024
(between 76th and 77th)
3. Ramini Espresso Bar
Ramini Espresso Bar is in the Garment District, quite close to Penn Station and prides themselves on their drip based coffees. According to the great Google machine, the drip method is arguably the simplest and cleanest way to draw out a coffee’s best qualities. These coffees are strong and full of flavour. Ramini don’t have a website and aren’t open on Saturdays or Sundays (just saved you a trip, you’re welcome), but the snug, quirky interior and coffee is worth the trip. Seating is pretty limited, so expect to get an order to go. I was busy being distracted by a case of historical spoons (kid you not) and forgot to take a picture, so found one on the Internet. Thank you MidtownLunch.
265 West 37th Street, New York, NY 10018
4. Roomr Cafe
Roomr is down in Dumbo, underneath the Brooklyn Bridge and a stones throw from Grimaldis. The coffee is good, it’s full of Brooklyn charm and they have a signature hot dog waffle – unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to try it. Roomr is the perfect end to what I’ve dubbed the Brooklyn trifecta – a pizza pie at Grimaldi’s, an ice cream at the Brooklyn ice cream factory and finally a coffee-to-go at Roomr and a stroll down the promenade.
If you’re in Dumbo, these places are within metres of each other and all worth a visit.
Dumbo (Brooklyn)17 Old Fulton Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201
Lastly, Gregory’s, Starbucks and Pret:
These last three are more commercial coffee spots, each with branches dotted across the city. In other words, you can lose the berets, fountain pens and just settle in for a decent cup of coffee.
No matter what anyone ever says, I’ll always love Starbucks, unless they’re putting dead cats in their coffee or something. As we can’t get it in South Africa, to me, the white cup and green logo have always symbolized the excitement of travel and exploring new cities. It’s an emotional thing. Plus an instagram with only a plane ticket, just wouldn’t be the same. You really can’t go wrong and their staff are friendly and on the ball.
Gregory’s is an example of where hipster has successfully become mainstream. They are a coffee spot born out of New York and are in quite a few areas around the city. The coffee is good, the brand is super quirky and the staff are awesome.
Pret a manger:
Pret a manger is another travelling favourite and their healthy soups and organic salads have been a much appreciated break in the haze of burgers, cupcakes and the Americans love for extra salt on everything. For the first time I tried out their coffee and it’s great. The salted caramel macchiato quickly became a treat of choice on cold snowy days walking up and down 5th Avenue.
We’re cat-sitting for friends in the financial district (résumé updated to include international cat-sitter) and are based near the Brooklyn Bridge. Last week, New York gave us a snow-free, sunny day and we walked over to Brooklyn. It took us 35 minutes, accidentally walking up a thankfully quiet off-ramp and navigating some strange back alleys to find the actual entrance to the bridge. This is quite depressing as the bridge is large and could be seen the entire time. In our defence we weren’t alive during the era that navigated using sun and stars … and all the buildings throw your phone’s compass out.
Brooklyn bridge is beautiful, awe-inspiring and like every other iconic, global landmark, now home to its own community of love locks. These things are officially everywhere. Stopping in the middle of the bridge and turning back to look at the shiny giants towering over Manhattan, you can’t help but feel moved by the city. It’s alive with energy, and full to the brim with eccentric, charismatic and friendly New Yorkers. Crossing into Brooklyn, we headed to Dumbo and went in search of Grimaldi’s – home to the best pizza in New York.
Grimaldi’s only sells entire pies (not pizza by the slice) and due to an earlier visit to Chipotle, it was left for another day. Chipotle is the equivalent of Nandos for Mexican food. It’s everything. When you arrive in New York, forget your apartment and just take up residence in their kitchen. It will save you a lot of commuting back and forth between your hotel and breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Instead we wandered into the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory and had a butter pecan cone. If you can’t eat ice cream at -4 degrees, when can you? These guys know what they’re doing, so get yourself there and good luck choosing just one flavour.
If you stand facing the Ice Cream Factory, you’ll see a long promenade stretching out to your right (although as witnessed above, I’m not great with navigation, so it could also be your left at this point). This is the Brooklyn Heights promenade and one day after making my millions thanks to reviewing cupcakes on this blog, I’ll be retiring here. It’s right on the water and faces the downtown Manhattan skyline. It’s home to outdoor gyms, parks and views of Lady Liberty. The promenade is clean and lovingly cared for; everything is looked after.
Brooklyn is not what I expected, we’ve been back since and each time it gets better. Sadly I’m going to miss the Cherry Blossoms flowering in Prospect Park, the barbecues on the promenade and their pop-up pool. We’ve only seen a small part of it and it’s been freezing, but even in the dead of Winter, Brooklyn is a special place.
If you’re visiting New York and have the time, take a wander over to Dumbo and Brooklyn Heights. There are great places to eat and it’s a short walk over the bridge, a stop for something yummy, a stroll down the promenade and then up to a subway station for a quick ride home to Manhattan.
After a visit to the New York Historical Society to see Annie Liebovitz’s latest exhibition, Pilgrimage, we found ourselves on the upper west side. Before this post gets to Magnolia, do visit the museum if you are ever in New York. The museum is very underrated and with a range of exhibits on New York’s history, is incredibly interesting. The city has a fascinating story and the museum explores it beautifully.
I’ve booked a cupcake class at Magnolia and wanted to find out where their bakery was on the Upper West Side. They’re a gorgeous brand and after flipping through all of their cookbooks, I was dying to see it in the flesh. At 6pm, as night had comfortably set in and the snow flurried around New Yorkers, the warmly lit bakery felt like a much appreciate cuddle. This is the first Magnolia bakery, which opened its doors in 1996 – almost 20 years ago. The bakery has a cupcake of the month and January’s is caramel cake with caramel meringue buttercream and caramel drizzle.
Fan-damn-tastic. You see, I’ve fallen in love with caramel (also read salted caramel) and suggest you do the same when here, as whether it’s a macaroon, ice cream, cupcake or tart – this city utterly nails the flavour.
If you’re not into cucpakes (shame), Magonolia has coffees, hot cocoa, pies and cakes a plenty, so you’re sure to find something you like. Unless you don’t like bakeries, in which case, why are you even still reading this? Aside from baked goodness, Magnolia also has adorable 50’s style aprons. Typically I didn’t get a picture as was busy trying to not look like an idiot in front of the cashier and payment console.
In America there is a DIY policy when it comes to cards and even after 2 weeks I still attempt to hand my card over to the cashier and stare blankly at them whilst they stare blankly back waiting for me to swipe the card myself. The styluses are hard to manoeuvre, requiring finesse I haven’t mustered and each store has had a different variation of signature that looks like a spider got intoxicated, dipped itself in ink and then tap danced over the screen.
If you’re not here, don’t worry, they have an online store (of course they do) where you can order cupcakes, aprons and even onesies. Here are the aprons by the way. They probably don’t ship to South Africa, but still, it’s nice to see what bakeries look like in the first world.
In almost 20 years, Magnolia has styled themselves a beautiful brand that lives up to all the hype. The venue, the packaging, the typography and of course the humble cupcake. The cupcake was light and moist, just the right amount of sweet and the icing didn’t spill over on to the cupcake wrapper – irrational pet peeve. I think in my next life I’ll come back as a cupcake connoisseur please.
They’re a little piece of heaven and highly recommended.
I can’t wait for the icing class. You can find Magnolia bakeries across New York city, so find your closest store and add it to your New York bucket list. Why not book a class? I’ll let you know how it goes.
2015 has blessed me with some uncanny timing when it comes to travel. I was in Paris for the #JesuisCharlie vigils and hostage crisis, and now New York for #Juno – a blizzard that was set to be the largest snowstorm that the city had ever seen.
The media went crazy, analysts predicted 30 inches of snow for Manhattan alone, the subway was shut down and cars were cleared off the streets in preparation for this historic event. I witnessed queues outside supermarkets that went the length of the block and then turned the corner. I watched as New Yorkers panic bought MnM’s, Coca Cola, bread, milk, eggs and ice cream. (Not to be outdone, we bought wine, pop tarts, a can of soup, some fruit and an economy pack of Chips Ahoy) I heard Uber capped their rates. I saw homeless people huddled in the subway, snow ploughs patrolling the city, citizens salting the sidewalks and taxi drivers offering free rides to the elderly. I saw dogs in the park in their booties and New Yorkers with their sleds and snowman selfies.
However, the one thing I didn’t see was the historic snowstorm … we even stayed up. In the end New York got about 12 inches of snow and thankfully nothing even remotely close to what Massachusetts had to deal with.
On Monday and Tuesday I headed out into the city to capture some of Juno.