Winter Park locals hungering for a grease-free nosh now have two additional eateries in which to satisfy their pangs for edible botanicals. Virgin Olive Market and Eden’s Fresh Co. may not be in the most conspicuous of locations, but they’re well worth seeking out.

Virgin Olive Market is situated in the heart of an industrial and auto-park wasteland. It can get a bit warm inside, and the quarters, cluttered with pantry shelves, practically necessitate sharing tables (not altogether a bad thing), but what do you expect from a space that was previously a convenience store? Besides, the staff is so welcoming and chatty, you can’t help but have a seat and strike up a conversation about their stock of handcrafted artisanal pastas and unique wines, or indie music and world travel.

VOM is only open until 4 p.m., so it’s a draw for the breakfast and lunch crowd, many of whom come solely for the soups. Succumbing to the buzz, I ordered the stuffed bell pepper soup ($3.25), a richly flavored broth of rice, ground beef, carrots, and red and green peppers. I found myself throwing etiquette to wind and slurping it all down like a famished lumberjack, working up a bit of a sweat in the process. Even on this hot 90-degree day, it was a fulfilling bowl of goodness.

The kaleidoscopic arrangement of spinach leaves meticulously decorated with banana, raisins, coconut, and dried pineapple and papaya added an artistic element to the tropical chicken curry salad’s ($6.25) sweet and spicy core. I appreciated the visuals of the dish; the honey-dijon dressing, not so much. On previous visits, I’ve had the pleasure of sampling specials including a refreshing watermelon gazpacho, delicious white-bean ravioli with mushroom sauce and a Southwest orzo with sundried tomatoes and feta that’ll foster gluttony. If Robert’s “hot sweet meat” sandwich, a kaiser roll ladled with tender hoisin- and garlic-marinated beef, is available, sink your teeth in. Assorted baked goods like vegan cookies, carrot-raisin cake and scrumptious triple-chocolate brownies ($1.95) guarantee a sweet ending for all tastes.

A garden of leafy delights awaits at Eden’s, a clean, spacious green house on North Orange sandwiched between Winnie’s Oriental Garden and the Ravenous Pig. The focus here is on the body (healthy food), spirit (a place for quiet reflection and artistic expression) and mind (free Wi-Fi), though their wraps and salads really take center stage. The blues and greens of the interior reflect the colors of the sky, plants and water, but are also reminiscent of an Aegean café, which may have induced me to order the Athena ($4.80). The mélange of greens, kalamata olives, tomatoes, cukes, peppers, snow peas and feta can be stuffed in a wrap or enjoyed as a traditional bowl of salad. I opted for the former (in a tomato-basil wrap) and had some lemon-pepper chicken thrown in for an additional $2. The flavors were rightfully tangy, if a tad salty. I really liked the Daisy ($4.80), a refreshingly sweet and delightfully nutty salad that I enjoyed sans wrap. Mandarin oranges and strawberries provided the pop, almonds and sunflower seeds the crunch and raspberry vinaigrette the invigorating splash.

There are 11 different salads from which to choose, and if none tickles your fancy, create your own from Eden’s 37 available “tossings” and 12 dressings. Counter service can slow considerably during the lunch rush, but that’ll give you a chance to peruse the original artwork and sayings on the walls. Oh, and if you’re looking for a little quiet reflection, the consistent chatter and piped-in music could foil any meditative urges. It should be noted that the items above, though ordered “small,” were enormous portions, but really – eating too much salad is like taking too many naps; how bad for you could it possibly be?

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June 23, 2021


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