Sweets in Orlando with Kid Friendly

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    There are people who stare at a showroom floor of cars, yearning for the latest model, or drool over displays of fine watches. Then there are the folks who can't walk past a dessert case without being mesmerized by the mile-high cakes under the spotlights. For you, we have Annie Pie's (anniepiesbakery.com).

    Annie's delights can be ordered from the Neiman-Marcus catalog or at Moonfish restaurants, and they've been featured on Food Network's "Best Of" show But now you can purchase those humongous, coma-inducing cakes for your own gluttonous glee by phone or web from Annie's.

    Annie's delights can be ordered from the Neiman-Marcus catalog or at Moonfish restaurants, and they've been featured on Food Network's "Best Of" show But now you can purchase those humongous, coma-inducing cakes for your own gluttonous glee by phone or web from Annie's.

    These are not only gourmet indulgences, but marvels of construction: The "peanut butter explosion" cake, layers of chewy fudge brownie, peanut butter mousse, chocolate cake, fudge and peanut-butter chips, weighs in at over three pounds!

    Three dozen flavors and only one of me. That was my dilemma when I stopped by Ben & Jerry's ice cream cafe at the new Oviedo Marketplace shopping mall.

    The choices were lined up in neat rows behind polished glass, including old friends Chunky Monkey banana ice cream – so fresh it smelled like a field of bananas – and Cherry Garcia (life should always be like a bowl of this stuff). But there were new arrivals too, such as Dilbert's Totally Nuts – butter-almond with roasted hazelnuts and praline pecans.

    The choices were lined up in neat rows behind polished glass, including old friends Chunky Monkey banana ice cream – so fresh it smelled like a field of bananas – and Cherry Garcia (life should always be like a bowl of this stuff). But there were new arrivals too, such as Dilbert's Totally Nuts – butter-almond with roasted hazelnuts and praline pecans.

    I finally committed to a dreamy scoop of low-fat Coconut Cream Pie, laced with chewy coconut flakes and sweet pie crust pieces. Stored at a precise 5 degrees Fahrenheit, it was the perfect, creamy texture, and the price was right: $2.06 for a scoop, $3.99 for a hand-packed pint.

    We didn't review this location but you can check out the review of the Ben & Jerry's in Oviedo.

    Given the seemingly unambiguous moniker of Boston Bakery & Café, one would expect to find display cases filled with mouthwatering cream pies, cupcakes, whoopee pies, molasses-sweetened brown bread and, perhaps, the odd patron or two downing frothy glass mugs of Irish coffee. Unfortunately, that isn't the case. Instead, this simple café on the fringes of Little Saigon is primarily a Vietnamese restaurant, and lies smack dab in the middle of what I like to call the CoFer District (Colonial Drive and Ferncreek Avenue).

    Further digging revealed that the name isn't so cryptic after all. Owners Tony and Yolanda Vu ran a restaurant in the Boston suburb of Quincy before swapping nor'easters for sweltering zephyrs a year ago. The couple shares kitchen and cooking responsibilities, but it's Yolanda who handles the baking duties.

    A large cake display case sits at the core of the square space, but upon entering, neither 'bakery� nor 'café� are descriptors that immediately leap to mind. In fact, the baby blue'colored walls and children milling about makes it feel more like a nursery or after-school daycare. Even so, I did glimpse a few baguettes resting on sheet pans behind the counter, undoubtedly prepared for one of their many banh mi, or Vietnamese sandwiches (ask for a side of their homemade butter if ordering one).

    But the purpose of this assignment was to spotlight confections, not comestibles, and with Halloween looming, focusing on a place where those of us over the age of 13 could go and satisfy our sweet tooths seemed imperative. So, off to the display case I went in search of treats but, I have to say, I felt slightly tricked after perusing the offerings. Most were cake rolls, birthday cakes and Napoleons that weren't offered by the slice; and there was nary a tart, pie, turnover or éclair in sight.

    Evidently, they were all sold out of personal-sized cakes, but a small, oval-shaped 'cheese cakeâ?� ($2) stared back at me, which I promptly ordered and devoured in four bites. Now this isn't your Cheesecake Factory brand of cheesecake; it's more like pound cake with a layer of soft cream cheese in the center, and rather delicious.

    Pre-packaged cakes made by a friend of the owner are also available, but the plastic wrapping is a total buzz kill.

    Still craving cake and cake-like products, I got myself a chocolate cake roll ($8), which resembled a log made of sponge. Light and airy with a hint of coffee flavoring, the roll embodied a minimalist ideal in both look and taste. I took it home and enjoyed it deeply with a dollop of double Devonshire cream. Simple, unaffected, not too sweet, but far from orgasmic.

    The menu board beckoned to 'experience the slush magicâ?� so, on this particular visit, my accompanying beverage of choice was a perfectly tangy and refreshing passionfruit slushie ($3.50). Other flavors, ranging from mint-chocolate to watermelon, are also offered, each with the option to add chewy 'pearls,â?� or tapioca balls, to the mix for an additional 40 cents. Those rubbery orbs are often found dotting the bottoms of plastic cups filled with milk tea, thus the terms 'bubble tea,â?� 'pearl teaâ?� and 'boba tea.â?� The drink, hugely popular in cities with large Asian populations, was as trendy as Starbucks' lattes among high school and college students when I was growing up in Toronto, and it seems to have a burgeoning following here in Orlando. I enjoyed the sugary Thai bubble tea ($3) until the tapioca balls got stuck in my straw. Neophytes, take heed: When you're offered a straw from the decanter, be sure to choose one wide enough to suck up the balls. Uhh, yeah.

    If sipping bubble tea through a broad, colorful straw seems too emasculating an act, might I suggest the red bean tea ($3.50), sans tapioca. The proteined potable (the sole nod to their Beantown roots) features red bean (or azuki) powder, producing a smoky slurp akin to liquid barbecue.

    Vietnamese coffee ($2), meticulously prepared in a press pot by blending a chicory-flavored French roast with Vietnamese arabica and robusta grounds, will definitely turn your crank. Served in a small glass, the coffee is at once ridiculously strong, syrupy-sweet and glacially creamy thanks to the addition of sweetened condensed milk. Amusing side note: The brand of the chicory-flavored coffee, Café Demonte, is a blatant rip-off of Café du Monde and even comes in a can that looks remarkably similar to the one the venerable Big Easy coffeehouse produces.

    Admittedly, I was a little disappointed in this bakery, especially when, on a return visit, the display case was, once again, devoid of individually portioned baked goods. Pissa! If sweet treats are what you crave this Halloween, avoid being tricked and take your chances at the Publix across the street.

    You've seen the little chocolate medallions adorning absolutely irresistible pastries, pies and cakes around town (at Ba Le, for example), the ones imprinted with the name "Bruno's Gourmet Kitchen." They've always been a sign to me that, if nothing else, dessert was going to be a something special.

    Fortunately for all of us sugar addicts -- ones with taste, of course – Bruno Ponsot has opened his doors in Sanford to the salivating public. Ponsot has trained with legendary chefs Paul Bocuse, Alain Ducasse and Gaston Lenotre, and has served as head chef locally at Le Coq au Vin and Le Provence.

    Fortunately for all of us sugar addicts -- ones with taste, of course – Bruno Ponsot has opened his doors in Sanford to the salivating public. Ponsot has trained with legendary chefs Paul Bocuse, Alain Ducasse and Gaston Lenotre, and has served as head chef locally at Le Coq au Vin and Le Provence.

    The man knows pastry. From his Bavarian Charlotte cake, filled with Bavarian cream, fresh berries and Chambord liqueur, to miniature éclairs and fruit tarts, this is a world-class patisserie that's worth the trip from anywhere.

    Stumbling out into the blinding Winter Park Village midday sun after a matinee movie, I was stunned to see an edifice that looked like a bank, where the old Dillard's used to be. The sign said The Cheesecake Factory, and I'd never heard of it. Why would a place that makes cheesecake need such an enormous building? Not one to turn down a good slice of dessert, I went to investigate.

    Turns out, there are 42 other CF restaurants, which started in the late '70s in Los Angeles, everywhere from Boston to California. I'm told the architecture is fairly similar in all of them. The decor is slightly Egyptian revival -- towering high ceilings, thick weathered columns painted in hieroglyphics, dark wood and upholstered booths. There are striking accents of glass all, like textured leaf shapes on columns and red swirled lamps, and open spaces alongside cozy partitioned areas.

    Turns out, there are 42 other CF restaurants, which started in the late '70s in Los Angeles, everywhere from Boston to California. I'm told the architecture is fairly similar in all of them. The decor is slightly Egyptian revival -- towering high ceilings, thick weathered columns painted in hieroglyphics, dark wood and upholstered booths. There are striking accents of glass all, like textured leaf shapes on columns and red swirled lamps, and open spaces alongside cozy partitioned areas.

    The menu is almost as large as the building -- a dozen pages of appetizers, pizza, burgers and steaks, not counting the full page of cheesecakes. So doing the addition (huge place, tons of menu items, slightly gimmicky name) I was somewhat skeptical. But from beginning to end, everything was wonderful.

    Our waiter advised us that "the appetizers are kinda large," which was like saying that I-4 gets a little crowded. I started with "Tex Mex eggrolls" ($7.95), crisp packages of corn, black beans, salsa, cheese and a rather spicy chicken with mellow avocado dipping cream. The massive serving was very tasty, with a nice melding of flavors.

    Our waiter advised us that "the appetizers are kinda large," which was like saying that I-4 gets a little crowded. I started with "Tex Mex eggrolls" ($7.95), crisp packages of corn, black beans, salsa, cheese and a rather spicy chicken with mellow avocado dipping cream. The massive serving was very tasty, with a nice melding of flavors.

    Onion rings come in a two-foot-high pile. The fillet of salmon ($15.95), a thick slice crusted with sesame and served with soy-ginger sauce, looks close to an entire fish. My "Navaho" sandwich had large strips of avocado and tender grilled chicken stuffed into real fry-bread (in Orlando?), a tasty bargain at $8.95. And the Thai lettuce wraps ($8.95) were a knockout, with curry noodles, satay chicken, sprouts and more to roll into hand-sized leaves.

    Ah, yes -- the cheesecake. More than 30 kinds, from regular to white-chocolate raspberry truffle to Kahlua-almond fudge. I had the "dulce de leche" caramel. There's a good reason for the takeout counter at the front; you'll want another piece by the time you hit the door.

    This must be a new strategy: Make portions so gigantic that two people can't even finish the appetizers and supply shopping bags emblazoned with "The Cheesecake Factory." Then send diners out into the world as stuffed and slightly sugar-rushed ambassadors. Signs above the restaurant offer loft apartments for lease. Think of it -- just call down from bed for all the cheesecake you can hold.

    Drawing crowds of the lactose-tolerant who snap it up when servers slap great heaps of ice cream directly onto a refrigerated marble counter. Then they'll fold in any number of additions, from fruit to candy bars to gummy bears.

    Remember all those rock songs you liked so much you just wanted to eat them up? Well, now's your chance. Emack & Bolio's is like eating rock & roll at its finest.

    The company story: Amid the blazing rock & roll scene of the late '70s, Bobby Rook, an entertainment attorney cum ice cream enthusiast in Boston, creates a place to entertain rock stars after hours. They're hanging out, get the munchies, Bobby Rook makes some far-out flavors, and next thing you know he's known as Boston's ice cream man. The demand for his ice cream reaches record proportions, so he decides to open a store, but doesn't know what to call it.

    "Name it after us," say Mr. Emack and Mr. Bolio, homeless men that he's done some pro bono work for. They live in the alleyway behind his store.

    And thus, the first premium ice cream shop named after homeless men is born: Emack & Bolio's.

    The Hard Rock Hotel location has very little grassroots flavor left in it. It is a big, flashy store with characteristic Hard Rock paraphernalia lining the walls and colorful, kitschy signs announcing the flavors. There are no homeless men anywhere to be seen. But the ice cream is still the same premium, homemade concoction, and it's really good. Not only that, but it's made from hormone-free milk.

    "I'll take the Twisted Dee-Light," I said, remembering the time I asked my mom to take me to the Glendale Galleria to buy the new Twisted Sister album. I was handed an enormous scoop of chocolate ice cream laced with fudge chunks and brownies ($3.25 for one scoop); the creation of which was the brainchild of Dee Snider of Twisted Sister, the same man who brought us "I Wanna Rock!"

    Deep Purple Cow is black raspberry ice cream with blueberries and black and white chocolate chips. Delicious. The signature Strawberry Fields Forever is like popping ripe berries and cream in your mouth. The lemon sorbet, We Call It Mellow Yellow, was perfectly balanced, sweet and tart.

    Pistachio Ga Ga, neither cloying nor green, had real nuts. Crunch Control to Major Tom (my winner for the best flavor name ever) was good though its description was convoluted: vanilla ice cream, caramel swirl, chocolate crumbs, chocolate chips, nuts and cookies.

    Emack & Bolio's also serves sundaes with homemade hot fudge, a banana split called Bolio's Banana Submarine ($6.25), ice cream floats and smoothies.

    Two pieces of advice: Don't be turned off by the parking situation; they validate. And do share. The portions are huge.

    The best part about the holiday season is that it's a perfectly justifiable excuse for stuffing yourself silly -- with the "New Year's resolution" ploy as a handy fallback.

    So add George's Gourmet Cookies to your personal shopping list. The shop at 947 Orange Ave. in Winter Park complements the online store, www.georgesgourmetcookies.com, but both are dangerously tempting. Each cookie is about the size of a saucer, too thick to jam whole in your mouth unless you're very gifted, and loaded with things like dark gourmet chocolate, fresh-roasted peanuts, sweet cranberries, whole cherries and real butter.

    So add George's Gourmet Cookies to your personal shopping list. The shop at 947 Orange Ave. in Winter Park complements the online store, www.georgesgourmetcookies.com, but both are dangerously tempting. Each cookie is about the size of a saucer, too thick to jam whole in your mouth unless you're very gifted, and loaded with things like dark gourmet chocolate, fresh-roasted peanuts, sweet cranberries, whole cherries and real butter.

    George's has been making more than a dozen kinds of decadent cookies as well as ultrathick brownies and dessert bars (mmm, chocolate butterscotch) since 1989. He also offers sandwiches and soups at the shop, and drool-inducing gift baskets. Yeah, like any of it will leave your house.

    The "World Famous Hot Fudge Sundae" really is worthy of the title at Ghirardelli (pronounced gear-ar-delly) Soda Fountain & Chocolate Shop at Downtown Disney Marketplace (934-8855).

    We polished one off with a friend after a brutally hot day at Disney's Animal Kingdom, and we can honestly say it was memorably outstanding. The hand-scooped chocolate-chip ice cream wasn't bad, but the homemade hot fudge sauce was the clincher: thick and smooth , topped off with sweet whipped cream, chopped almonds and a maraschino cherry – completely decadent. Be prepared to pay the price: $5.95.

    We polished one off with a friend after a brutally hot day at Disney's Animal Kingdom, and we can honestly say it was memorably outstanding. The hand-scooped chocolate-chip ice cream wasn't bad, but the homemade hot fudge sauce was the clincher: thick and smooth , topped off with sweet whipped cream, chopped almonds and a maraschino cherry – completely decadent. Be prepared to pay the price: $5.95.

    The only thing more awe-inspiring is the "ultimate colossal sundae ($19.95) – eight scoops, eight toppings, sliced bananas, almonds, whipped cream and cherries.

    For the people who know me, it is no secret that I love chocolate, but they don't realize the extent of my affliction. I was spawned by ravenous chocoholics. My father has been known to get up in the middle of the night and drive himself several miles to get his favorite Cadbury bar. When my mother says the word "chocolate," her voice gets kind of breathy like a young girl talking about her first love. And at my grandmother's house, no dinner is complete without three courses of dessert: First fruit, then whatever baked goods a guest was kind enough to bring, which we nibble while waiting for the real dessert, an imported bar of dark chocolate with hazelnuts that is passed around the table and voraciously dispatched.

    I'm also a chocolate snob. Hand me a Hershey's bar and you'll likely hear a polemic on the disgraces of poor chocolate manufacturing (wax!) versus handcrafting (bliss!) So when my good friend told me about frozen chocolate drinks at Godiva Boutique, my heart skipped a beat, but I was still skeptical, even as we headed to the store at the Mall at Millenia. Eventually I tried all three flavors of Godiva's Chocolixir ($4.50): milk chocolate latte, dark chocolate decadence and white chocolate raspberry. All are good, but the dark chocolate is what really excited me. My first sip was rapturous. As I pulled the cold, dark slush up through the straw, past the top layer of Grade-A heavy whipping cream, a particularly well-poised mixture of flavors hit my palate.

    Godiva cleverly utilizes two byproducts of the cocoa bean to make their Chocolixir: cocoa powder and real chocolate chips. Oh, and let me not forget about the rich chocolate syrup they delicately drizzle onto the whipped cream. But I've said too much. I need one – now.

    How to describe Jeremiah's Original Italian Ice? It's like a sorbet only more slushy. It's not a snow cone, although it does come in a cup. And it's more fun than an Ice-ee, with not-too-sweet and refreshing flavors such as mango, kiwi, tangerine, watermelon, red raspberry and passion fruit. Whatever you call it, it's different and delicious.

    Jeremiah's drive-through or walk-up stand usually has a dozen or so flavors on hand on any given day. Order them straight (85 cents to $1.65 per cup) or mix them into fruity combos. Better yet, boost the fat-gram quotient and the guilt-index by ordering a "gelati." That would be one of the above-mentioned non-fat Italian ices layered with vanilla soft-serve ice cream, parfait style.

    If you see "Hot doughnuts now" in red neon at the new Krispy Kreme, in Winter Park, there's only one thing to do: Get out of traffic and into the drive-through lane as soon as possible, because a fresh batch of doughnuts is rolling off the assembly line.

    It would be hard to estimate how many customers have pulled illegal U-turns and other funky driving maneuvers to get to the shop, which opened April 20. But a manager did say that they've had no problems with surplus inventory, even when production is cranked up full blast to 270 dozen doughnuts per hour. Choose from about 17 different kinds -- powdered blueberry, chocolate cream, glazed devil food, sour-cream cake -- but the original glazed remains by far the most popular, at 59 cents a pop. Adding to temptation, the drive-through is open until midnight.

    Tea for kids that adults like, too! Bubble tea at Lollicup. The very thought reminds me of simpler days when I worried about such things as having tea parties with my stuffed animals. What is bubble tea? A drink invented in Taiwan in the early 1980s by pushcart tea vendors who competed for sales outside of elementary schools. One clever vendor added fruit flavors to tea and vigorously shook, creating bubbles. How totally kid. Another vendor took the idea a step further, adding tapioca pearls, thus creating the illusion of big bubbles sitting on the bottom of each cup.

    Today, bubble tea is still shaken and the imbiber merrily sips "boba," those characteristic dark tapioca pearls 6mm in diameter, through an uncharacteristically large straw. Orlando has a delicious little bubble-tea hut of its own called Lollicup. Owners Quang Vu and Angela Vu have just opened their third location in Central Florida on the corner of Colonial Drive and Mills Avenue, which is many a tea party in kid talk. The space is small and colorful, just a place to stop in for a moment or two, but not to lounge.

    Tea makers busy themselves mixing and stirring and shrink-wrapping customer selections with a special Lollicup closed-seal-to-go system. No need for a lid, just pop a straw through the shrink-wrap and you're good to go. Neat-O. I couldn't decide on just one, so I tried three: almond coconut milk with boba ($3.50); avocado smoothie with boba (4.50); and a baffling concoction of "four-color pudding chocolate, eggnog, milk and taro" mixed together, poured in a cup, studded with boba and other candied fruit jewels, shrink-wrapped and handed to me by Quang, who promptly said, "Wow. You're really adventurous," which translates into, "Wow. You're really overdoing it."

    Four-color pudding ($4.50) was the mudpie of the tea party, for sure. The other two drinks were nothing short of delicious and fun. The almond coconut milk was subtly tannic, and mellowed into a fragrant, creamy blend. My favorite, and the one I was most skeptical about, turned out to be the avocado smoothie, a sweet shake made with real Haas avocados. I wish they had this around when I was a kid.

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