Market in Winter Park Area

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    It's the season for giving, and edible gifts are always welcome. Where to go for the goods? One new place is Hot Olives Market, a classy depot attached to the eponymous restaurant in Winter Park. In August the owners of Hot Olives brought in colleagues from their catering past to run the attached market (which offers catering). Steven Poyner and Chris Kenyon purchase all the merchandise and are on hand to answer questions and take requests. The market features a private label of sauces, preserves and condiments, and they stock artisanal and gourmet specialties. Plus, they throw together tasty takeout meals – the barbecue brisket and Hot Olive salad are delicious.

    The room is bright and stylish with Tuscan pottery, olive wood beams and stainless steel shelves. I sampled a few choice items after wandering around the small space. My favorite was the handmade sopressata ($28 per pound) that I snatched out of the refrigerator case. When I cut into the cured meat at home, the aroma of tenderly aged pork and a bouquet of spices, particularly paprika, extended across the room.

    From the prepared sauces, I tried walnut artichoke pomodoro sauce ($7). For a pre-made sauce, it was of exceptional quality. Mellow undertones of the nuts married with a pleasing bitter thistle-y flavor, which complemented the acidic tang of plum tomatoes. The signature sauces come packaged in clever gift bundles: Italian pastas are piled into a stainless-steel colander with the sauces and tied with ribbon. Holidays or not, this is a spot to indulge in something out of the ordinary – for others and for yourself.

    With the addition of the International Market and Deli near the British Shoppe and the Brit-populated Chuck's Diner, you can make a culinary trip across Europe on one single block. But what the International Market's got over the others is the feeling that, when stepping into their large, warm space, you've wound up in the Old World.

    Most European countries are represented somewhere on the store's many shelves, but when you get to the deli case, it's all pretty much Eastern Bloc. Chicken and cheese-stuffed pierogis, sweet and savory blintzes, stuffed cabbage (served with fresh sour cream, of course) ' it's all made in-house and can be enjoyed at the cafeteria tables while Russian soap operas play on the television. 

    A good start is the chicken cutlet, stuffed with a variety of light, creamy cheeses then breaded and fried to crispy, cheese-melting perfection. Not even the mightiest hangover stands a chance. 

    Exploring one of the area's small but growing number of ethnic markets is like an adventure into uncharted culinary territory. Even if you don't get double-coupons or a florist center as part of the deal, you'll find everything you need to inspire a home-cooked Spanish feast, or the option for cheap takeout, at La Nacional Hispano American Grocery.

    The sound system is tuned to Spanish pop, and the produce aisles are filled with exotic green plantains, shiny brown yuccas and bright, pumpkin-orange calabaza squash. Head back to the deli for specials like roast chicken, rice, stewed beans, flan and a soda for $4.99.

    The sound system is tuned to Spanish pop, and the produce aisles are filled with exotic green plantains, shiny brown yuccas and bright, pumpkin-orange calabaza squash. Head back to the deli for specials like roast chicken, rice, stewed beans, flan and a soda for $4.99.

    Long rows of Cuban bread dough are laid out, waiting to be baked -- and you get a free loaf with every purchase of $20 or more.

    Between the options to eat in or take out, there's the Olive Branch (314 Hannibal Square, 407-629-1029), directly across the street from Hot Olives (463 W. New England Ave., 407-629-1030), a settled-in spot known for the casual nosh or two. And now we have the cutely named offshoot, where those noshes are available to take home. They do things differently in Winter Park.

    "They make everything across the street and bring it over," I was told at the counter, a glass case brimming with dense meat loaf, salmon with cous cous and chocolate-chip cheesecakes.

    "They make everything across the street and bring it over," I was told at the counter, a glass case brimming with dense meat loaf, salmon with cous cous and chocolate-chip cheesecakes.

    Prices might seem high -- $12 for a whole chicken lasagna -- but the paper-thin sheets of pasta covering layers of shredded chicken, mushrooms and mild tomato sauce weighs in at almost three pounds, and you can always tell folks it's your recipe. I promise I won't say a word.

    Leave it to the Schakolad Chocolate Factory to improve on the Easter tradition of chocolate bunnies. This year, they're trotting out biker bunnies on milk-chocolate motorcycles ($3) at the flagship store, relocated in the Winter Park Village.

    You'll still find the same glass-case displays of melt-in-your-mouth designs. Watch for chocolate birds' nests and bunny-shaped jewel boxes. But artisans behind the counter can create almost any shape you want, from martini glasses to sugar lips. Splurge on a jar of chocolate body paint -- in milk, white and dark chocolate -- that doubles nicely as fondue ($9 for 10 ounces). Visit the website for virtual browsing.

    The new Whole Foods Market is a great stop for a quick bite, and not just because of the free samples -- from chocolates to cheeses, fresh-baked sunflower loaves to black-bean hummus. It's a different food-gathering experience altogether.

    With background swing music, Utne Readers at the check-out and booth-seating at the front, it's the kind of market that we didn't know we were missing. The deli has an impressive display of takeout delicacies: saffron-yellow paella primavera ($4.59/lb.); grilled portobello mushrooms ($10.99/lb.); oriental sea bass with ginger, honey and pineapple ($14.99/lb.), and more. Plus, the smoothie counter offers an array of liquid energizers, including espresso shots (95 cents). Try "OrangeMango Madness ($3.50)," filled with chunky, organic mangoes.

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