LAKE ALFRED – When I was a kid, my parents would take us on a two week vacation every April from our home in Massachusetts to Florida. And the first year we went there, in 1971, was when Walt Disney World opened.
So many years later, and now as a resident of Florida, my earliest memories from those trips in a motor home are not Disney or the other theme parks, which we always visited, but rather the tiny campground where we stayed at night, often right next to the ocean, or the only-in-Florida tourist spots we found along the highways. They always had a little gift shop with fresh-squeezed Florida orange juice readily available, and maybe a little diner as well, set amidst the most amazing background of picturesque citrus groves.
A lot of that is gone now, and so many of the roadside attractions I used to love as a kid passed into the history books ages ago. So many people fly to Orlando now, and rent a car that mainly stays within a short distance of the attractions … and never go exploring the older, less traveled highways that used to bring people here.
So living right in the middle of all these theme parks and other large attractions on International Drive and U.S. 192, I’m always pleased to find roadside attractions that make me happily remember those older roadside stops that once seemed headed for extinction.
In all the years I had worked in Haines City, I traveled down U.S. 17/92 into Lake Alfred too many times to recall, but I had never noticed it before – or, perhaps, had never recognized that it was a roadside café and gift shop, the kind I used to love to visit, and sometimes still do now when I get on a nostalgia binge.
A friend had recommended to me Lang’s Sun Country Groves, a citrus farm that’s been growing and selling fresh oranges and grapefruit since 1951. It fits the pattern as far as location; Lang’s position on U.S. 17/92 is close to the exit for U.S. 27, which will take you to Interstate 4, which can get you to the exits for Disney, U.S. 192, and International Drive.
But at the same time, this highway seems far off the beaten path of major tourist traffic.
And yet, when I stopped into Lang’s on a recent Saturday afternoon, I found that the gift shop and the café, known as Taste of Florida, were both pretty crowded. The owner, Debbie Brozio, was nice enough to stop by my table and chat for a spell, and she told me the café gets a healthy mix of locals, tourists and snowbirds, all there for an opportunity to, among other things, sample Lang’s legendary Grapefruit Pie.
Lang’s is in an area where development hasn’t made a mad rush forward just yet – it still looks like Old Florida, with miles and miles of citrus grove dotted by the occasional fruit and vegetable stand.
And Lang’s has plenty of the citrus grown on that farm that’s available to purchase, including boxes of naval oranges, ruby grapefruits, Sunburst tangerines and Scarlet navels. It’s a reminder of just how important the citrus industry has traditionally been to the local economy, even before the theme parks arrived and took over.
Lang’s also has a quirky gift shop, with a mix of the kind of kitschy souvenirs I used to stock up on when we were driving across the Sunshine State to places like this – along with some more upscale and fancy, and esquisite gift items, the perfect combination for all tastes.
And then there’s that cozy café. It offers sandwiches, wraps, soups, salads and desserts – but in addition to getting a Tuna Salad Plate, Cuban sandwich, bowl of the soup of the day, or Turkey Bacon Wrap, you can also venture into Lang’s own unique twist on the meals.
There’s the Grapefruit Slaw Dog, a Florida-style hot dog with grapefruit slaw on top.
The Florida Club offers sliced honey turkey, bacon, and Swiss cheese on a toasted Kaiser roll, while the Farm Salad provides chopped lettuce and romaine with bacon, avocados, grilled chicken, diced tomato, and basil.
But you also want to check out their long list of desserts, from Waffle Cones and bananas splits to sundaes, Strawberry Shortcake – and pies. Killer Key lime Pie, Fuzzy Naval Pie, and Strawberry Cake are on the menu, but the legend of their Grapefruit Pie is so strong that I couldn’t resist trying it. And while the combination sounded odd, I was surprised at just how delicious it was.
The staff here is friendly and enjoys a chat, and I cherish any place where I order lemonade, and the woman taking the orders asks, “Do you want the green lemonade — or the regular?’
Whether you grew up here, or visited the place as a kid before moving down here, or just arrived, this is the kind of place we should all try to protect, and warmly appreciate. Lang’s harkins back to an Older Time in Florida – and we’re plenty richer to still have a place like this here in our back yard.
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