Best Of 2021

Best of Orlando® 2021: Goods and Services

Best of Orlando® 2021: Goods and Services
Best of Orlando® 2021: Katie Johnston's Picks

Katie Johnston is the director of Pulptown, a hyperlocal newsletter and podcast covering everything sweet and juicy in Orlando. She moved to Orlando after graduating from the University of Alabama in 2006 for a change of scenery and hasn't been able to leave since. She enjoys long walks with her pup, the casual over-consumption of wine, and the fact that dining al fresco is a year-round possibility here.

Editor's note: Befitting a woman who lives life in a higher gear than most of us, Katie's picks are crisp, concise and social media-centric for speed of connection. Handles are Instagram unless otherwise noted.

• Best IG reels to not take seriously: @qreatecoffee

• Best local TikToker: John Morgan, Esq., aka @forthepeople

• Best chicken sandwich: @winterparkbiscuitco (and it's vegan!)

• Best big ticket: @theforeignerexperience or @sosekifl

• Best outdoor event: Frontyard Festival at @drphillipsctr

• Best community collaboration: health care workers + vaccinated Orlandoans

• Best 911 response: sending mental health professionals instead of police for some calls

• Best remix: Sloane, daughter of @orlpride's Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger (work/life partner goals!)

• Best home to quarantine in: @orlandoplantlady's gorgeous pad

• Best girl gang: Dorsa Vaziri's @wowrolling

• Best inspiration to get out more: @thegreatoutdorks

• Best small piece of good news you've heard all year: the return of the Lime bikes 

• Best shitshow: Poozeum exhibit at @orlandosciencecenter (it's a literal shitshow!)

• Best friend to lean on this year: your mental health counselor/therapist friends 

• Best sorta-outdoor activity for cooped-up kids: @wildfloridairboats' drive-through safari

• Best breadwinners: @nomadbakehousefl

Best pop-up to satiate your hunger while impressing the 'gram: @smokemademeats

• Best tease: @perlaspizza (RIP ... for now?)

• Best meme: Bernie and his mittens all over Orlando (especially in @pulptown's Jan. 21 Instagram post, if I may say so myself) 

• Best art exhibit: @jefre_artist's Points of Connection at @orlandomuseumofart

• Best disguise: masking at @publix ... no one will ever know it's you 

• Best surprise: @orlandomagic making a splash in the draft

• Best use of an empty storefront: The Milk District Spot, @themilkdistrict's small business incubator program

• Best community mixer: @cffound's Table Talk (returning October 2021)

• Best Instagram series: @yelporlando's #meettheowner  

• Best dynamic duo: Alex Marin and Joey Conicella of @eathungrypants 

• Best way to feel rich while reminding yourself you're really not: resort passes 

• Best couple: coming soon, @grilledcheezusorlando and @phatashbakes on Mills

• Best exhibit of caring about community: Jason Lambert and staff's commitment to COVID protocols at @thehammeredlamb

• Best content when you can't take much more sad news: @liberationcathouse's steady stream of adoptable cuties 

• Best glow-up: @thecitybeautiful (someone got a social media person and it shows)

• Best way to support local farmers: CSA boxes. My favorites: @everoakfarms and @infinitezionfarms

• Best highbrow way to relax: Re:Charge by @timucuaarts and @creativecityproject

Plenty of ladders, but no stairway to Heaven

Because home is the only place throughout this pandemic that feels safe to take off our hazmat suits, we’ve spent an inordinate amount of time this past year in stores to improve it, dropping the cash we’d normally be spending on bar tabs and merch. And one thing that’s repeatedly made us do double takes is the music playing at the Home Depot on Lee Road. Instead of the innocuous fare usually piped in at such common big-box places, this location has frequently been tuned to some classic alternative station. Oh, we’re not talking your basic crossover stuff like “Just Like Heaven” or “Tainted Love” here. No, it’s been a dreamy playlist of songs from bands like the Church, Gene Loves Jezebel, Camouflage and the like that would’ve lit up the dance floor at Visage (which, eerily, was located in this vicinity). It’s made for some deliciously subversive shopping experiences. So far, no creepers or Docs have been spotted peeking out from under those orange aprons. But to whomever is responsible, we may not see you but we sure hear you. (homedepot.com)

Dorsa Vaziri of WOW Rolling

As the days turned into weeks turned into months of working from home, some went quietly stir-crazy. Others, denied the gym time they counted on in the before times, were aching to stretch and sweat. Whatever the reasons, somehow skating — roller-, not -board, and on four (not inline) wheels — blew up from a cute trend to a national obsession. We watched Orlando seized by a roll-bounce passion this past year, evidenced by endless Reels and TikToks of our friends progressing from wobbly gaits to full-on dancing on wheels. And a lot of them were doing it in custom skates from WOW (Wonder on Wheels) Rolling, the brainchild of Dorsa Vaziri. WOW Rolling offers an incredibly diverse and well-rounded assortment of products, services and mutual aid. (The "Guide to Orlando Roller Skating" doc in the @wowrolling Linktree is required reading.) Vaziri, an accomplished skater herself — understatement — can make you a pair of custom skates out of your favorite Vans, or fit your old pair out with fancy laces, toe stops, ankle straps and new wheels. She offers advice (wear kneepads!), she offers lessons, she organizes skate-togethers all over town. But really, like all the best entrepreneurs, she's simply an evangelist. There's no way you can look at her Instagram stories and not feel even a little itch to get out there yourself. Best news of all, after many, many pop-ups, WOW Rolling is about to have a little brick-and-mortar home of its own where you can get Vaziri's products, guidance, and high-octane enthusiasm all in one place. (wowrolling.com)

click to enlarge Custom skates by WOW Rolling - PHOTO BY MAURICIO MURILLO
Photo by Mauricio Murillo
Custom skates by WOW Rolling
Staff Pick — Best Quarantine Companions: Houseplants

Those who spent the long months of 2020/2021 locked down alone will forever be marked by it. Never before (or god willing, again) have we spent so much time in sheer, total solitude. It's no wonder pet adoptions went through the roof. And if you couldn't get a pet — forbidden by the landlord, allergies, whatever — the next best thing was a houseplant. Everybody knows that talking to them makes them grow, so you absolutely aren't a cabin-fever-riddled, demented old 49er spinning conspiracy theories to your leafy, green pack mule ... you're a caring steward of your little green friends! (No, not that kind.) And luckily, there are plenty of outdoors spaces in Orlando at which to acquire a new quarantine crew: Both Leu Gardens and Mead Botanical Garden hold periodic plant sales; Apenberry's (College Park) and Palmer's (Audubon Park) place stock largely out in the open air; and East End Market's Porch Therapy and Winter Park's the Heavy have kinda indoors/kinda outdoors plant bays, making it feel almost totally safe to dart in for a Pilea peperomioides and a few cute, tiny succulents. (Almost pettable!)

Readers Poll Winner Highlight — Best Vintage or Used Clothing Store: Out of the Closet

Although it's new to Orlando, Out of the Closet is a well-established thrift store chain, founded 30 years ago in Los Angeles. But you all showed big love to the store, even though the Orlando outpost has only been open since February — barely enough time to make it into the first round of write-in voting. Maybe that's because Out of the Closet offers much, much more than simply used clothing and housewares. Part of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Out of the Closet stores offer free rapid HIV testing as well as an AHF pharmacy, providing a convenient place for clients to pick up their medications. Even better, 96 cents of every dollar taken in at OTC goes toward providing HIV/AIDS care to those in need. Orlando has one of the highest infection rates in the country, and although the LGBT+ Center and the Hope & Help Center both also offer free testing, more options can only mean more opportunities to save lives. But in addition to the mission, it's clear shoppers have taken to OTC's assortment of men's and women's clothes, furniture, dishes, decor, books and albums. It would be easy to attribute the above-average selection to some stereotype of gay tastefulness, but the truth is that the store has been overwhelmed with donations, what with Goodwill and the Salvation Army both taking PR knocks in recent years. Whatever the reason, they've arrived with a bang. Welcome! (outofthecloset.com)

First: Adjectives, adjstyle.com

Second: Renninger's, renningers.net

Third: Washburn Imports, washburnimports.com

First: Kyle's Bike Shop, kylesbikeshop.net

Second: Orange Cycle, orangecycleorlando.com

Third: David's World Cycle, davidsworld.com

First: Gods & Monsters, godmonsters.com

Second: Coliseum of Comics, coliseumofcomics.com

Third: The Collective: A Comic & Game Community, thecollectivecomics.com

First: Winter Park Farmers Market, cityofwinterpark.org

Second: Orlando Farmers Market, orlandofarmersmarket.com

Third: Winter Garden Farmers Market, wintergardenfarmersmarket.com