Divas Kale SaladPhoto: The Walt Disney Company

Spring is one of Florida's beautifully subtle seasons, when we get a jump on our neighbors to the North with blueberries, sweet corn, tomatoes and watermelon. It's also time for one of the divas' favorite outings, the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival (through May 17), showcasing our state's fabulous farms and flora.

This year they've ramped up the food to include all sort of wonderful tastes at little Outdoor Kitchens around World Showcase Lagoon – what a perfect place to nosh and burn off calories.
One of this year's new dishes is this vegetarian, gluten-free kale salad, a bowl packed with protein and good-for-you crunch. You'll find it at the Urban Farm Eats kiosk, but it's also super-easy to make at home.


TJs Gumbo

Here's what you need to know about TJ's Seafood Shack: gumbo.

TJ's is a fast-casual restaurant (order at the counter, take a seat) on the east side of town, with locations in Oviedo and on East Colonial Drive, which is the one I visited. It's in a Publix-anchored strip mall and occupies a corner space, with shacked-out decor.


brass tap taps

I'm trying really hard to come up with a reason that people would choose to go to the Brass Tap, the beer-centric chain that recently opened at Mills Park with others planned to open soon.

It has 60 taps of craft beers, but other places in town have beer lists just as impressive. So what else would make someone want to come here more than once?


Dustin Hilinski Headshot copyDustin Hilinski has a big job on his hands. He is the director of culinary for a new seafood restaurant company, albeit a company started out as the largest chain of seafood restaurants in the world, with more than 700 locations. That's a lot of people to feed, but that isn't his biggest challenge. It's getting the dining public to reconsider its opinion of Red Lobster and to give it a second chance.

For Hilinski, that means putting more fish and lobster on the menu. You'd think that would be obvious, what with the name of the restaurant and all. But Hilinski thinks that Red Lobster sort of lost its way in its final years under the Darden Restaurant banner. It tried, he says, to be too many things to too many people, and in so doing lost its focus.

Darden, of course, sold the seafood restaurant chain in May for $2.1 billion to private equity firm Golden Gate Capital. It was all kind of a messy situation and ultimately contributed to the reasons that led Clarence Otis to resign as Darden's CEO and chairman. As it shed the brand like a crustacean during molting season, Darden said the company would be better off without it, citing that Red Lobster had not been profitable since 2011.

What happened to it? After all, this was the brand that launched what would become the largest restaurant company in the country when Bill Darden opened his first Red Lobster in Lakeland in 1968. He chose Lakeland because it was not on a coast, and he wanted to see if a seafood restaurant could succeed without a saltwater view. The middle of Florida, however, is hardly the middle of America. And getting average Americans to eat fish has always been one of the chain's biggest challenges. That's why, in its later years under Darden, Red Lobster was adding more non-seafood items to its menu.


Editor's note: The article is by guest columnist Erin Allport. Wine prices are from Wine on the Way.

daumas logo boutiqueI had the opportunity recently to have lunch with Samuel Guibert, winemaker and owner, of the French winery Mas de Daumas Gassac. I have been drinking the wines from Gassac for years and always enjoy them. The wines are affordable and the quality is very high so they are on my "go to" list for everyday drinking as well as bringing something fun and new to a friend's or dinner with family. Some of my most fun wine memories have involved the wines from Gassac. They just make you happy. The history of this winery is exciting and interesting. I also really love their website, it's very engaging and they actually re-wrote it in English instead of just "google translating" the page.