Quick Bites: Summer At The Veranda

The Veranda Gallery & Tea Room on Fort King Street is one of Ocala’s hidden culinary gems. The two-story historic home that houses the restaurant was purchased and restored in 1999 by Paulette Millhorn. Recently, General Manager Devan Ryder revealed the eatery’s new and improved summer menu, which includes customer favorites and new, lighter fare as well.

“We removed some of the heavier winter items and added more salads,” she says.

On my visit, my guest had the bruschetta, prepared by Chef Dale. While not traditional, it was unbelievably delicious. My guest, a diner with a picky palate, loved the fresh sautéed vegetables, including asparagus, over toasted bread spread with herbed cheese. The whole concoction was then drizzled with a balsamic reduction. I enjoyed the blackened tuna steak with remoulade sauce on moist, delicious ciabatta bread. Other wraps and sandwiches on the menu include a roasted chicken salad, roast beef, portabella mushroom, and hot ham and cheese. New salads have also been added and fresh soup is always available.

For dessert I enjoyed a generous slice of orange cake with icing that reminded me of a Creamsicle. The coffee was dark and rich and served alongside cream in a ceramic dispenser shaped like a rabbit. It made for a memorable cup of coffee!

If you’re looking for a place to impress for lunch, complete with cloth tablecloths and napkins, The Veranda Gallery & Tea Room is the place. After eating, peruse the rest of the building for some of the most unique gifts in town. Looking for one-of-a-kind greeting cards? Vera Bradley items? Jewelry from local artists and abroad? Look no further. Store hours differ from the café, so call (352) 622-0007 for more information.

Even though Felix’s on Silver Springs Boulevard has closed, fear not. You can still enjoy delicious Italian and other comfort favorites nearby. Of course Moreno’s Uptown Grill serves breakfast and lunch, but in the evenings the cloth tablecloths and napkins come out, the lights are dimmed, the music is turned up, and voila! Instant fine dining in a romantic atmosphere. Visit Jose Moreno’s website at uptowngrillocala.com to view their newest menu.

Giordano’s Café on Pine Avenue seemed to have a good run, albeit a short one. The owners did their best by offering healthy choices and even ventured into Italian dishes. But alas, the restaurant could not survive on subs and salads alone. Luis Luna, owner of Fiore’s Café next door, is moving into Giordano’s former space around the middle of the month. Known mostly as a pizzeria, Fiore’s offers much more since Luna took over. Born in Spain, he uses his Sicilian grandmother’s recipes.

Luna, a former flamenco dancer, was talked into starting his own restaurant in Miami after relocating to Florida from Spain. It was so successful that he’s since opened several more, including one in Coral Gables and other areas of South Florida.

Making his way north and finally settling in Ocala, Luna offers the most traditional, homestyle sauces and pastas in the area. The bread is baked on the premises, the sauces are made fresh, and as Luna says in his heavy Spanish accent, “We make nothing from a can!”

Visit Fiore’s Café’s current location and enjoy the lasagna or seafood linguini served with a fresh lobster sauce. Call (352) 789-6980 for more information about the menu and new location. Beer and wine is also served.

Next issue, we’ll feature two very unique locales that offer both dining and unique shopping opportunities: Stella’s Modern Pantry, located in downtown Ocala, and DISH Fine Grocers & Eats, situated on Hwy. 27 in west Ocala. Also, look for more information about Amrit Palace moving to the old Shell’s Seafood restaurant.

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