LAKE ALFRED – Around 1:30 in the afternoon on a Saturday, Eve Jacque was keeping quite busy, going from one table to the next, constantly on her feet as she checked on her guests – many of them, like Jacque herself, seniors.
For Jacque, a waitress at the Taste of Florida Café at Lang’s Sun Country Groves, this is the best part of the job.
“It’s being nice and friendly to the people,” she said. “I’ve been here for nine years, and I love it here.”
Located off U.S. 17/92, in a stretch of the highway between Haines City to the north and the town of Lake Alfred to the south, Lang’s is about 25 minutes south of the huge theme parks. Lang’s, in fact, harkins back to a much older and more traditional reflection of Central Florida’s tourism industry — as well as a different part of the economy that’s still going strong here. The store is right off 100 acres of citrus groves, but motorists can also stop by and enjoy the gift shop and the café that seats 82 people. On a recent Saturday afternoon, virtually every table was taken.
Although Lang’s is not directly off a major highway like Interstate 4, the motorists find them, noted Debbie Brozio, the owner.
”It’s kind of a nice combination,” she said. “We just have so many drawing cards. Many people come for our fresh-squeezed orange juice – we have that every day. And we have good food for lunch, and if you have that, people will come.”
Besides, she added, with the natural beauty of the citrus groves right behind them, “We’re not a tourist trap,” Brozio said. “We’re an old Florida grove store.”
Lang’s has gotten the formula down pat after decades of experience.
“This is our 60th year,” Lang said. “Isn’t that awesome? I’ve worked here my whole life.”
Lang’s has been a Brozio family tradition for three generations now.
“My grandmother Mary Lang started Lang’s, and she had one daughter, Carolyn, and she ran Lang’s, and I grew up beside my mother and grandmother,” Brozio said.
Lang’s started with those citrus groves, and then the gift shop where people could buy fresh fruit, get a world-famous glass of Florida orange juice, or buy souvenirs. The Taste of Florida café was a much more recent addition.
“The gift shop, we’ve always had that,” Brozio said. “The Taste of Florida Café was added, oh gosh, maybe eight years ago.”
Serving meals Monday through Saturday from 10:30 a.m. until 4 p.m., the menu includes sandwiches, wraps, salads, soup and desserts, many with the Taste of Florida Café special touch, like the Grapefruit Slaw Dog – a Florida-style hot dog with fresh homemade grapefruit slaw on top.
“This is the ridge, and we have groves,” Brozio said. “Our citrus season in Florida is basically October to May. Everything we do here is made with Florida citrus fruits. The tomatoes on our Tuna Croissant were picked in West Palm. They have wonderful tomatoes in the West Palm Beach area. The onions were grown in Plant City. They call them Strawberry Onions, because they grow them between their strawberries. Our strawberries, of course, come from Haines City, and I buy from the local farmers. It’s all fresh foods.”
This is part of Lang’s efforts to support the local agricultural industry, she said.
“We’re farmers first,” she said. “We’re taking the bounty and bringing it here.”
Of course, Lang’s is also well known locally for something else: their Grapefruit Pie.
It’s something Brozio often gets asked about by her customers, including two seniors on Saturday who wanted to know exactly how it gets made.
“We make them fresh every day,” Brozio told them. “You’ll notice the crusts are a little strong, but we do that on purpose so it stays fresh.”
The recipe, she added, came directly from Mary Lang’s unique way of cooking for the entire family.
“I took my grandmother’s recipe with the grapefruit pie,” Brozio said. “My grandmother would cook Sunday dinner for the entire family, every Sunday. One day she brought out a pie. It was a fusion of grapefruit and strawberry, and she said ‘I have made a grapefruit pie,’ and everyone loved it.”
The same is true with her customers, Brozio said, since the grapefruit pie has been the winner of two taste competitions.
In fact, Brozio said her grandmother had so much great recipes – “She was always writing things down, anything having to do with citrus,” Brozio said – that Brozio is now compiling a book that she plans to publish later this year on Mary Lang’s Citrus Recipes.
With a proven formula, Brozio said she has no immediate plans to do anything different at Lang’s or to change it in any way – and she hopes their loyal customers appreciate that.
“My biggest thing is my customers want me to continue to do what I’m doing without any changes,” she said. “I want to just continue the old Florida grove atmosphere. That’s what my customers want.”
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