Letter from the Editor: Best Reflections

Best of ORL, then and now.

Welcome to our annual Best of ORL issue. Prepare to enjoy reader picks in dozens of categories, plus 11 mini-profiles of favorite people, places and things. This issue, along with our May Dining Awards feature, always gets me thinking about the best of years past. So I couldn’t resist digging through the archives to see what O mag focused on 25 years ago this month.

First of all, the magazine’s catch phrase in 1993 wasn’t “The City’s Magazine’’ but rather “Central Florida at Its Best.” The cover story was titled “The Information Highway Starts Here’’ and dealt with how Orlando would be “the test lab for technology of the 21st century.’’ (A 500-channel, interactive cable system was on the horizon.) Best of Orlando was in this issue too—or should I say “Best and Worst of Central Florida” (emphasis mine), with editors and writers weighing in with picks.

A sampling:

  • Best Boat to Nowhere: The Sea Escape day cruises out of Port Canaveral.
  • Best Helping Hand: Second Harvest Food Bank, which shipped 5.7 million pounds of food to the victims of Hurricane Andrew.
  • Best Remnant of Old Florida: Roadside alligator attractions, like the venerable Gatorland.
  • Worst Cultural Wake: The Florida Symphony, whose death left an enormous void in the Orlando cultural scene.
  • Best Chocolate Cake: The homemade foot-high wonder at Briarpatch Restaurant in Winter Park.

So where are they now?  The Cruise to Nowhere is no more, but Port Canaveral is bustling with the likes of the Disney and Carnival lines. Second Harvest is still helping multitudes of people. Gatorland remains a throwback treasure. The Florida Symphony was reborn bigger and better as the Orlando Philharmonic. And Briarpatch, on Park Avenue, still has that great homemade chocolate cake.

Other interesting tidbits of yesteryear: Readers selected Allied Discount Tires for best commercial (RIP, Sam Behr, Mr. “Tires Ain’t Pretty’’). Blockbuster won best video store for foreign films. Fuddruckers had the best burger. Then-Orlando Mayor Glenda Hood captured best politician. The best place to take out-of-town guests was Church Street Station.

But talk about endurance: Several places that finished first in their categories in 1993 also finished at the top in 2018. They are Leu Gardens for wedding venue, Orange Cycle for bike shop and Dubsdread for public golf course. Kudos to these veterans.

One other category from a quarter-century ago is worth mentioning: the readers’ pick for amateur sports team. It was none other than UCF football. And we said this: “The move to NCAA Division I will obviously give Knights fans still another boost.’’ Well, there have been some starts and stops over the years, but the play on the gridiron is fabulous these days, as evidenced by last season’s 13-0 record and a claim to the national championship. And that gives me a perfect segue into this month’s profile of UCF’S new head coach, Josh Heupel. Writer Peter Kerasotis crafts a compelling account on how Heupel was wired for football from childhood and carried that competitive drive into college, where as quarterback he led the Oklahoma Sooners to a national title. Now at UCF, he seeks to build on perfection.

Elsewhere in this issue, dining critic Joseph Hayes explores the newly opened Terralina Crafted Italian at Disney Springs; columnist Laura Anders Lee finds treasure amid the madness of kids’ birthday parties; and Cheri Henderson delves into the life of a lifeguard (including a day that saw 25 saves).

So now you have a guide. Go forth and explore.


Categories: Column