Saturday, August 23, 2014

DeLand: A Gastronomic Destination

Several years ago the Belle of Ballast Point and I were in the bar car of an Amtrak train headed to our nation’s capital when the conductor hollered out, “D-land, next stop D-land!” Looking out the window it appeared that we were in the middle of woop woop, so we washed D-land from our minds with another sip of wine. We did ponder the possible existence of A-land, B-land, C-land, and so forth until the bar car closed for the night.

We later discovered that the name of the town places the emphasis on the second syllable, not the first, and DeLand really is not in the middle of woop woop. “Nestled to the west of Interstate 4 and surrounded by lakes, the St. Johns River, and beautiful and lush state and local parks, DeLand has grown into an impressive destination in the heart of Central Florida.”

This past week we took a two-day road trip up to DeLand to explore the dining options in this quaint, friendly, and eclectic small town. A small town, by the way, listed in a national survey as having one of the best “Main Streets” in America. Never again, after this trip, will we think of DeLand as simply an Amtrak whistle-stop.

From Tampa, my bride and I drove north on I-75, leaving the Interstate a little south of Ocala, and then into some lush central Florida countryside, getting lost only a few times. Warning: Do Not Trust Google Maps! Somehow, we found ourselves in Okahumpka. Yes, there is a place called Okahumpka. As the fates would have it, right at the junction of Florida 48 and 33 we spied Grandpa’s. We stopped for lunch.

For a mere $7 we got a huge pile of dirty rice, pulled pork, half a cobb of corn, grilled peppers, and a smoked sausage. One serving of all that delicious goodness was more than enough for the both of us. If you see Grandpa's food truck, you have to stop.

We finally pulled in to DeLand around 1:30, checked into our hotel, and took a nap in preparation for our 6 o’clock reservations at Cress Restaurant located in Historic Downtown DeLand.

Cress Chef and Co-Owner Hari Pulapaka, in addition to running the kitchen, is also an active, tenured, full-time Associate Professor (Ph.D.) of Mathematics and Computer Science at Stetson University. Hari‘s wife and Cress co-owner Jenneffer is an established podiatrist with a successful DeLand practice. By combining menu variety, atmosphere, ambiance, and a friendly and knowledgeable staff, Hari and Jenneffer have created a superior dining experience.

For the Belle and I, our dining experience began with prompt seating and an almost instantaneous presentation of an amuse bouche; a crunchy, flavorful squid ink croquette nestled atop pureed sweet potato. This was a delightful start to a fantastic dining adventure.

To accompany our victuals, we chose the Woop Woop Shiraz that was bursting with essences of blackberry, blueberry jam, and liquorice. Just so you know, Woop Woop is a much uttered knockabout colloquialism, referring to somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Woop Woop is quintessentially Australian for “out there.”

There were so many mouth-watering choices on the ever-changing menu that a decision was hard to come by. The Belle finally chose the, if you don’t get it then I will, Braised Black Angus Short Ribs with smoked onion crisps on a bed of probably the world’s best butternut squash and brown butter risotto. On the side was a serving of seasonal veggies including creamy eggplant that was buttery and melt in the mouth good. Said she, “That was the best eggplant I have ever had.”

I was torn between the short ribs and the Kurobuta Pork Chop. Since my bride went with the beef, I went with the most tender, juicy, succulent pork chop I have ever consumed. This grilled chop had the texture and mouth feel of a perfectly prepared medium rare filet mignon, and was served with a cherry gastrique, fennel, and mustard salad over a savory bean ragout.

Kurobuta (as it is known in Japan) or Berkshire pork is prized for juiciness, flavor, tenderness, and is pink-hued and heavily marbled. In other words, this chop was orgasmically good.

Between the ribs and the chop, it was not so much that we needed a dessert as it was; the Belle had to have the Chocolate Brulee Torte with a berry and walnut compote. Remember Sally at Katz’s Deli in the movie? Well, that is what I heard coming from my bride’s side of the table.

As if the ambiance, the service, and the food were not enough, all that we consumed came to a surprising $92.66. Of course, we added an additional 20% for Bartt our gregarious server who enhanced an already delightful evening.

Dining at Cress was certainly worth a two and a half hour drive from Tampa. Between dinner at Cress and our over-night hotel stay, we spent about $200, about what we would have paid for that dinner alone in Tampa.

I think it must be mentioned that while Cress is at the top of our list, it isn't the only dining option in DeLand that is worth exploring. We regret only planning an over-night stay. DeLand is a Florida treasure.

Cress Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Cress Restaurant on Foodio54

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