Let’s meet at the Cabin

Not long ago, the red-roofed kiosk in front of Charlotte Harbor’s Publix was noted for featuring a different kind of cheesecake with its coffee: lingerie-clad baristas.

Its new tenant has a more fresh-faced theme —“Where friends become family.” And with Facebook posts suggesting, “Let’s meet at the Cabin,” the place sounds downright wholesome now.

The Florida — and Tennessee-based owner, who wishes to maintain a mysterious air of anonymity, plans several more locations across Florida.

At 16, during a trip to Atlanta, she was entranced by a rustic corner bistro serving cheesecake, coffees and light bites. A shop like that, with the rugged cabin décor of her beloved Tennessee mountains, became her dream—fireplaces and all.

She launched the first Stone Cabin Coffee and Cheesecake Company in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, about a year ago. Its first Florida location, a 1,480-square-foot café, opened in Winter Haven six months later. Port Charlotte will be the company’s first Express drive-thru, and four more shops are coming to Davenport, Haines City and Lakeland in coming months.

“Our Winter Haven store has been open only seven months and is already paying for itself,” said the entrepreneurial young owner, who’s run companies from event planning to travel agencies since she was 20.

“The best way to distinguish yourself from bigger competitors,” she said, “is to do something dramatically different.”

So, although the company doesn’t yet franchise stores, it does hope to franchise “coffee buses” this summer. They’ll come to your home to deliver fresh-brewed coffee and espressos.

There might not be room for a fireplace in the 400-square-foot Charlotte Harbor coffee hut, but it does have outdoor picnic seating. And there’s plenty of room there for Stone Cabin’s signature coffee blends with hints of chocolate, fruit and nuts. The range of options includes Americano, espresso, macchiato, cappuccino, latte and frappes.

Their gourmet cheesecakes, Danishes, cinnamon rolls, scones, cake pops, bagels and croissants, with ham and cheese and tuna or chicken salad, are made fresh in Winter Haven by a longtime baker.

Of course, the real stars of the Cabin’s show are 21 mouthwatering cheesecake flavors, with 7 to 8 of them featured daily, from carrot cake to lemon meringue and peanut butter cup. A daily-special cheesecake tour offers three different slices for $10.99.

Any qualms about opening next door to Dunkin’?

“No. I like competition,” the owner said.

Stone Cabin Coffee and Cheesecake Company Express ($), 941-625-9500, 4255 Tamiami Trail, Charlotte Harbor, is open daily from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Let’s get a little crazy

No sooner do reviewers claim a Mexican restaurant is “authentic” than naysayers start poo-pooing it as “Tex-Mex.” How does an American tell the difference?

For one thing, it ain’t Taco Bell.

Authentic Mexican cuisine proudly flies all the colors of its flag: fresh red and green vegetables with a swoosh of white crema.

Unlike ground beef heaped on hard tacos and smothered in yellow cheese and sour cream, authentic Mexican is fresh, not gloppy. Its beef is steak; its tortillas, soft; its cheese, white queso. Crema, a light crème fraîche, replaces heavy sour cream. Taco staples are chopped onions and cilantro, not shredded lettuce and tomato.

You’ll find all the right Mexican stuff at Hidalgo’s Crazy Tacos, a bright new 22-seat cantina with Frida Kahlo paintings and vintage black-and-white Mexican photos on its warm green and orange walls.

Young owner Anaiid Hidalgo designed the interior and its logo, a loco mustachioed taco in boots and sombrero.

“It’s crazy, like me!” she joked.

Her parents — whose idea it all was — will be in the back most days, stripping fresh stalks of cilantro, while her brother Yorvi stirs up a batch of menudo (spicy tripe soup) on the stove.

Everything’s made fresh daily, including guacamole and red and green salsas. The palette of meat choices for tacos, burritos, quesadillas and tortas includes seasoned steak, chicken, pastor, chorizo, fish, shrimp, tripa, lengua, buche and more. There are specials nearly every day, including menudo and carnitas (slow-cooked pulled pork).

You can wash it all down with horchata (sweet rice milk), cucumber juice, sodas or beer.

Hidalgo’s Crazy Tacos ($), 941-883-4371, 3769 Tamiami Trail, is open Monday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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