The first time I visited Orlando, it was for college Spring Break. In comparison to the small town where I was living, it seemed quite bustling and busy. What stood out most of all was how touristy it was. There were discount gift stores on every corner with garish tchotchkes selling shells, beach towels, and alligators’ heads. As tacky as they seemed even back then, those gift shops were even less of a draw now, if such a thing is possible. Before leaving home, I wondered how our Orlando vacation might compare with the one where I was stuffed sharing a room with five other people, all of us having driven down from Iowa with pillows on our laps, not knowing what kind of accommodations we might be visiting.
This time around, Orlando seemed smaller, more manageable in size. And while the tchotchke shops were still present along with rickety amusement parks and every chain restaurant you could fathom – with a small push, there was so much more. What we found is that outside of the land of billboards advertising Harry Potter and Mickey Mouse, there were cool pockets of neighborhoods with pristine parks, farmer’s markets, and even a vegan grocery store. (More on that in a future post!) We did visit the Magic Kingdom one day, but we also loved exploring the sandy beaches and funky neighborhoods with quaint shops.
One restaurant in such an area was Dandelion Communitea Café. This restaurant in a colorful, bright green house has several rooms for gathering for tea or a meal, along with an outside patio area with tables for those who are desperate to soak up every ounce of Florida sun. In front of the café, they have a signpost with arrows to other local businesses and points of interest with vegetarian options. (True to its name, it really did give a feeling of community!) Dandelion is a vegetarian café, and everything can be made vegan, with the exception of their grilled cheese sandwich. There are also loads of gluten-free options.
The first time we visited Dandelion, we parked by the beautiful Lake Eola park, where they were having their Sunday farmer’s market. There were swans and other birds taking a swim in the small lake with an outdoor amphitheater and swan boats. After a stroll around the park, we walked about a mile and a half to the restaurant.
With temperatures in the eighties, David was eager to have a glass of their vanilla black iced tea, while I sided on a glass of water. The café was bustling with loads of people in every room, but we were still able to grab a table without a problem.
After perusing the menu for a bit, we went back up to the counter to order our meals. Their classic dishes can be served in a bowl or a wrap (your choice), along with spring mix lettuce, quinoa, or a combination of both.
I opted for the Buffalo 66 with cashew encrusted tempeh tenders, celery, carrots, and red onion with a combination of quinoa and spring mix lettuce ($9.75). It was drizzled with buffalo sauce and vegan blue cheese dressing. There are several options for sides, and I went with the whirled peas guacamole and chips. The first bite of tempeh seemed on the mild side, but by the second and third bite, the buffalo sauce flavor was really coming to the forefront. With the wonderfully creamy vegan blue cheese dressing, it made for the perfect hot weather meal that was substantive and felt decadent while still being light and healthy.
David ordered the sweet potato burrito in a whole wheat tortilla and stuffed with quinoa, corn, onions, and ginger cilantro sauce ($9.50). The ginger in the sauce made the burrito almost feel like a fusion of Mexican and Indian fare. The softness of the sweet potato played beautifully against the chewy quinoa and toasted tortilla. He went with a side of vegan queso and chips.
Before we flew out of town, we wanted to grab something hearty before hitting the airport, and we ventured back to Dandelion to get an early lunch. David had spied the vegan nachos on his first trip, and he was eager to sample them for himself.
Their nachos are called Machos Libre ($9.00), and they’re in the starters area. This is absolutely one that would be good for sharing, because David hardly put a dent in it! With a huge pile of organic corn chips, tempeh chili, and homemade vegan queso made of peanuts and nutritional yeast, it was more than a meal! It’s then topped with fresh tomatoes and scallions. I sampled several bites of the nachos to help David out as I could, and enjoyed every bold and spicy bite.
I’d overheard people talking up the Giddyup ($9.00), and so I opted for a whole wheat tortilla wrap filled with tempeh chili, quinoa, spring lettuce, tomatoes, scallions, and vegan queso. For a side, I got lemony hummus dotted with hemp seeds.
The cashier asked if I’d like to add their Green Goddess dressing to go with it for a dollar more. I asked if it was worth it, and she said, “If you’ve never had the Green Goddess dressing, you definitely should.” I was sold. I wish that they would have brought out a small tub of the stuff, because I could happily have bathed in it. I found myself having “just one more bite” of the burrito, so that I could have another taste of the dressing made with tahini, sesame oil, scallions, liquid aminos, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, and magic.* (I’m not 100% certain about that last ingredient, but one must assume…)
Dandelion Communitea Café is a cool, laidback addition to the Orlando-area scene, and it’s easily a place that could fit in a small college town. Far from the mass produced spectacle popular elsewhere in the area, Communitea offers a real slice of life.