It's rapidly becoming a favorite season of the year. Although typically only lasting 6 weeks, Lake County's blueberry season is bountiful.
The state's history of growing blueberries began in the late 1800's. The sweet, tasty crop was one of Florida's tastiest secrets. It wasn't until the 1970's that the current hybrid cultivar blueberry was introduced, and by the mid 1980's mass plantings took root in north central and northwestern Florida. The industry has grown tenfold and over the last 30 years, hundreds of small blueberry farms have sprouted throughout the state.
One local farm, Far Reach Ranch, was established in the 1940's for cattle and citrus. Its first blueberries were planted in 1994 and the initial harvest was laboriously packaged by hand on the farmer's dining room table.
Kent and Cathy Hamill now operate the farm with 43 acres of blueberries and a u-pick season that runs from April through the end of May.
The farm also sells blueberry jam, salsa, syrup, spritzers and other products all made from their farm's berries.
Another local farm, King Grove, was originally established in 1874. It is now a USDA certified organic farm with 20 acres of blueberry fields and 20 acres of orange groves.
The good news for farmers this year is in spite of a season that may yield fewer berries, it promises to be more profitable due to current market conditions, according to Cathy Hamill.
Although Florida plants produce approximately a quarter of what Michigan's prolific blueberry plants yield, the season differs from the northern states, so local blueberry farming remains a viable business.
The U-Pick season typically runs April through the end of May with current prices ranging from $4 to $8 depending on the farm. Here's a list of local U-Pick blueberry farms and their price per pound and current U-Pick hours:
Far Reach Ranch Heavenly Blueberries 1255 South Dora Blvd., Tavares, (352) 343-7389 $4 per pound, U-pick hours: Thurs.-Sat, 9-5pm Green Acres Fernery, Blueberry & Peach Farm 8635 High St., Yalaha, (352) 360-5445 $4 per pound, (call for hours) Lake Catherine Blueberries 5849 Lake Catherine Rd., Groveland (352) 551-4110 U-pick hours, Everyday 9-5 (opening April 29) Sand Hill Blueberries 31614 Bottany Woods Dr., Eustis (352) 636-8204 $4 per pound, Call for U-pick hours. Blue Bayou Farms (organic), Highway 48 (at Bloomfield), Yalaha, (352) 324-4069 $5 per pound (organic), Tues-Sat. 9-5, Sun. 9-3 King Grove Farm (organic), 19741 CR 44A, Eustis, 352-589-2450 $8 per pound (organic), weekends only, 9-2pm
Due to weather, field and berry conditions, U-pick hours can change so it's recommended pickers call the farm prior to visiting.
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Above & below: Fields and blueberries at Far Reach Ranch in Tavares
Remodeling any building takes patience. Transforming a historic building into a premier dining destination requires a different level of patience.
Luckily, celebrity Chef Norman Van Aken and his experienced management team arrived well-equipped with tons of passion and patience to pursue their culinary vision in Mount Dora.
"1921 by Norman Van Aken" is the James Beard Award-winning chef's new downtown restaurant under construction. The historic converted home built in 1921 is the area's much anticipated, fine dining venue featuring a modern Florida cuisine. Although the restaurant was expected to open earlier, a June opening is now targeted due to the extensive renovation process, according to Scott Geisler, 1921's general manager.
The impressive setting will include seating for approximately 150 diners, a state-of-the-art open kitchen, full bar, chef's table for up to ten guests and decor reflecting the restaurant's partnership with the Modernism Museum Mount Dora.
1921 will have strong influences from the diverse cuisines of Southern Florida, as well as Southern traditions from Northern Florida and will access local farms for much of its produce.
A cookbook author and culinary trailblazer known for introducing "fusion" into the culinary arts, Van Aken is widely credited for developing New World Cuisine. He is currently the chef-owner of “Norman's" at the Ritz-Carlton in Orlando.
Van Aken has entrusted Camilo Velasco, as chef de cuisine of 1921. The talented, Columbian-born chef and Geisler enjoyed collaborating together previously at Norman's award-winning, Orlando location. Before re-joining Van Aken, Geisler managed the celebrated The Ravenous Pig in Orlando.
1921 will also feature craft cocktails and an extensive wine list to rival any in the state. It will offer a selection of old world and new wines available by the glass or the bottle to accommodate differing tastes, according to Geisler who is also a passionate sommelier.
Van Aken is the only Floridian inducted into the prestigious James Beard list of “Who’s Who in American Food and Beverage" and was honored as a semi-finalist for a James Beard Award “Best Chef in America, the culinary world's equivalent of an Oscar.
1921 is currently looking for people passionate about food to join their staff. Anyone interested can stop by the 142 E. 4th Avenue location to fill out an application.
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Above: Chef Norman Van Aken. Below: Entrance to 1921
Seize the day. That's what the City of Eustis is hoping entrepreneurs do upon viewing a 1,500 square-foot building in a prime downtown location.
The city wants to generate positive activity in the area and is seeking proposals for suitable businesses including a restaurant, retail, concession or other suitable commercial uses. The one-story building, localed a stone's throw of the lakefront and public pool, has ample parking and easy access.
The proposed lease terms require the tenant to be responsible for property taxes, insurance, and maintenance of the building in addition to the minimum monthly lease amount of $1,100.
Business-minded people intrigued by the opportunity can attend a public open house on Tuesday, April 26 from 1-5pm at the available building at 200 North Bay Street in Eustis.
Proposal forms are free and available at the open house or by e-mailing email@example.com Submittals will be publicly opened after 3:00 pm, June 14, 2016.
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One of the most visible downtown buildings is getting a few upgrades. The New Orleans-style landmark on the corner of 5th Avenue & Donnelly Street recently had new windows replace the boards on the second floor, plus a new roof and exterior painting are in progress.
The prominent structure was built in 1922, and had the ornate iron work added six decades later. Formerly known as the The Ramsey Building, it boasts 13,592 square feet on one of the city's most prime locations.
Main Street Leasing, the leasing arm of the building's owner, occupies the front portion of the first floor and the second floor is vacant. Although the company currently doesn't have specific plans for the building, it is looking at possibilities for its interior build-out, according to Michell Middleton, Main Street Leasing's leasing agent.
"We're just trying to figure out the best use for it," said Middleton.
In 1970, The Lamp Post restaurant opened in the building and operated until both the building and business sold in 1991 and became Lampu, Mount Dora's first Japanese steakhouse.
In 1993, the business sold to become Kobe Japanese Steakhouse and in 1994 it sold again to a new owner, John McKinney, who returned it to the name Lampu.
That was hardly the last transition for the iconic building. It sold in again in 1996 for $1 million while it housed three restaurants: Lampu, Juliana Restaurant, and The Sandcastle upstairs. Reportedly, the restaurants weren't part of the new buyers' vision for the large structure.
That vision ended relatively quickly when the building transitioned again in 1997 to its current owner, Mardi Gras of Mount Dora, Inc and fetched another $1 million purchase price, according to the Lake County Property Appraiser.
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Above: The building today. Below: The building (in the foreground) in what is estimated to be the 1940's,
Mount Dora is abuzz about the new Indian restaurant, Shiva,opening today downtown. Experienced restaurateurs, Davinder (D.K.) and Vhonda Kumar, along with their partner Devendra Patel, opened the eatery today. For their soft opening they will be serving lunch only until Monday, April 11.
Shiva will diversify Mount Dora's dining options with the bold flavors of India and feature an extensive menu of traditional Indian dishes like Butter Chicken, Paneer Makhani, Tandoori, Chicken Korma and plenty of vegetarian options. An Indian meal would not be complete without the popular naan breadand Shiva will not disappoint.
Indian Cuisine varies by region, but the distinctive spices include cardamom, chilli pepper, tumeric, garlic, ginger, black mustard seed, coriander, cinnamon, cloves and the spice blend garam masala. The result is a bold and deeply flavorful ethnic fare that delights adventurous foodies. Due to the varying preferences of diners, dishes can be ordered mild, medium or hot.
Cooking since he was young in New Dehli, D.K. uses his own family's recipes for a variety of chicken, lamb, shrimp and vegetarian dishes. While he is stirring things up in the kitchen, Vonda, a Eustis High School alumni, will be tending to guests. The enterprising couple met while living in France, where they lived for 20 years and had three children before returning to Vonda's Lake County roots.
After closing their Lake Square Mall restaurant in 2011, the Kumars searched for the perfect downtown location for nearlytwo years, before selecting the cozy Fifth Avenue storefront which is expected to seat between 30-35 diners.
Shiva, named for one of the three major deities of Hinduism, will be open seven days a week at 11:30 am to serve lunch and dinner. The lunch buffet will feature 8 items for $9.99. Dinner will feature their expansive menu instead of the buffet.
The restaurant, located at 140 W. 5th Avenue in downtown Mount Dora, will be open until 10:30 pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and 9:30 pm on all other days. To stay up-to-date on the restaurant's opening, click here.
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