By: Janet K. Keeler
The coolest block of Winter Garden is air-conditioned.
On the western edge of downtown, the new-but-vintage-looking indoor Plant Street Market in Winter Garden is 12,000 square feet of literal and figurative cool. Ice-cold air soothes sweaty brows while the consumable wares of the vendors satisfy millennial shoppers.
Need fresh air? Belly up to the O2 Breathe bar for a pure shot of oxygen from a line of dispensers. O2’s motto: “It’s OK to inhale.”
The Plant Street Market in Winter Garden is part of a nationwide trend of indoor markets with multiple vendors selling everything from locally sourced pork belly to organic beets to candles crafted from soy wax. Lattes concocted from fair-trade coffee and an array of cold-pressed juice drinks? Get in line and place your order.
Yeah, we get the concept in Portland, Oregon and Maine, but in “sleepy” Winter Garden, Fla., pop. 35,000? If you haven’t been to this historic town on Lake Apopka, just 15 miles west of downtown Orlando, recently (or ever), you’ll likely be surprised. The Plant Street Market is just one place that shows off Winter Garden’s transition from rural Florida train burg to a place that railroad tycoon Henry B. Plant wouldn’t recognize but would roundly applaud. Ingenuity was his thing. A magnificent city hall, built in 2008, was designed to reflect the spirit of the original 1937 Art Deco building, and keeping it in the newly bustling downtown was a genius move.
At the Plant Street Market in Winter Garden, hipsters with man buns and epic facial hair and women in yoga pants pushing Euro-prams are the usual customers. Joining them are locals of all ages, throwback hippies and curious visitors seeking a new thrill near Orlando. They come to Plant Street Market for a stroll and a look, but likely stay for a beer, maybe even a flight, from Crooked Can Brewing Company, the market’s flagship business. They can pair a Crooked Can Mr. Tractor Kolsch with a slice of mushroom from Michael’s Ali Coal Fired Pizza. First, they watch the dough-throwing show and witness the pizza getting shoved into the blazing-hot brick oven. Got a whole pie? Recycle the pizza box in special receptacles by the exits. Now, that’s cool.
Crooked Can’s McSwagger dude is the company’s mascot and his stylized hipness (crooked walking stick, bowler hat and monocle) graces the logo of all varieties. There is a certain swagger that accompanies a glass of High Stepper American IPA or McSwagger’s Own Amber Ale. Someone had a lot of fun coming up with the names and graphics. Yeah, it’s a taproom, but there are plenty of kids at the tables tossing around toys and drinking something more appropriate. The Plant Street Market is a family attractor.
There are about 20 vendors at Plant Street, ranging from sushi rollers to a European-style baker; a tropical ice pop peddler to a candle maker. On the day we visited, a family of Brazilian tourists was sampling from the honey hawker what the local bees were making. The vendors on the west side of the building are open seven days a week, and those on the east side set up their mobile shops Thursday through Sunday. (Some are veterans of Etsy, the online craft emporium.) If you want to buy grass-fed ribeye for a barbecue from The Local Butcher and Market or guava cheesecake bonbons from David Ramirez Chocolates, you’re in luck all week. One-of-a-kind greeting cards from WoodStone Wearable Art or a jar of Wild Florida Honey? Plan your visit Thursday through Sunday.
The spot where the market stands was an abandoned and unsightly apartment complex barely two years ago. The folks dreaming up Crooked Can envisioned a larger brewery and began demolition, but then wisely decided to bring in other vendors. It was a smart move and one that’s proven popular. As Saturday morning morphed into afternoon, the center lane was pumping with customers, and all the outdoor tables under moss-draped oaks were full.
From the outside, the market at 426 W. Plant St. looks like a refurbished brick facility that housed a factory in some distant day. You’d be right to assume that, but you’d be wrong since it’s spanking new. Mosey inside and that cozy brick façade opens into a modern industrial space with a corrugated metal ceiling, exposed beams and pendant lights that continue the manufacturing plant vibe. All this metal and hard surfaces make the market quite loud when it’s bustling, but that’s the charm of this post-mall bazaar. If you’re coming from out of town, bring a cooler. Plenty of folks use them to stock up and keep products safe in transit.
There’s a parking lot across the street and on Saturdays, oversized golf carts provide free rides to the outdoor farmers market a few blocks away. The tangle of tents is another place to check out local flavor.
Weekend warrior bicyclists and casual peddlers have discovered Winter Garden, thanks to the 22-mile West Orange Bike Trail that winds through the center of town. Bike shops operate on the man drag, too. This used to be a train town. Rather than ride the rails for major transport, visitors can visit the Central Florida Railroad Museum or take an eight-mile excursion between Winter Garden and Ocoee on the Orange Blossom Cannonball.
The Plant Street Market is open seven days a week, though not all vendors are there daily. Call (786) 671-1748 for more information.
Highlights of Plant Street Market
- Get a Jump Start on Your Home Cooking: Market to Table Cuisine sports two large coolers of brines, stocks, marinades, flavored butters and soups that will save you time in the kitchen, plus add tons of flavor to your meals. We especially like the Florida Citrus Brine for pork. Look for this vendor Thursday through Sunday.
- Get Your Swagger On: Crooked Can Brewing Company’s taproom and brewery is at the south end of the market and there are big tables and comfy seats on which to perch while you quaff the crafty brews. I like the light and tight Kolsch, a version of the beer made famously in Cologne, Germany. Want something stiffer? Try the 9.5 percent Domestic Bliss, Belgian Golden Strong Ale.
- Pop a PB&J: This isn’t a sandwich but a wee confectionary delight from David Ramirez Chocolates. There’s an eye-popping display of locally handcrafted bonbons, but this flavor will speak to your inner child.
- Get a Belly Full: Five Thymes Five isn’t just a cute name for a fabulous food stall; it’s THE place to grab a burger (or an overflowing plate of breakfast vittles). The chef has a good time (thyme?) and we reap the benefits with a blue-cheese stuffed burger garnished with slaw and red apple slices.
- Make Like a Harry Potter Character: It might be a stretch, but some of the candles from Collective Kindness, made with 100 percent soy wax, transported us to Hogwarts. We like the magical spell cast by “Dragon’s Blood” that bills itself as equal parts spicy and alluring. Something to burn when you’re waving your wand. Look for the kind and conscientious candle makers at the market Thursday through Sunday.