After Hurricane Irma last fall, an unusually cold winter (for central Florida), and above-normal temperatures in early February, my wife and I enjoyed a stroll through Hollis Garden on a recent Saturday with clear skies and comfortable temperatures. Hollis Garden is a real treat, located along Lake Mirror in downtown Lakeland and free to the public.
This seemed like the perfect opportunity to have lunch at the Garden Bistro, located next to Hollis Garden. The bistro is located in a lovely restored building, part of the city’s Lake Mirror Complex that can be rented for special events. There is some indoor seating but it was such a lovely day we took advantage of the numerous outdoor tables.
The menu is simple, with sandwiches and salads, a soup of the day, and a few sides. We were some of the first customers to arrive and were seated promptly. Our server was delightful and she checked on us regularly throughout the meal. Because the tables were in a shady area, we ended up feeling pretty chilly from a breeze blowing across the lake, so you might want to bring a jacket or sweater during the cooler months.
My wife ordered a special that wasn’t on the menu, a blue cheese burger on a brioche bun with a side of potato salad. (If, like me, you thought blue cheese was spelled “bleu,” you’re in for a disappointment.) She was very happy with the burger, it was cooked medium-well with blue cheese melted over it. The bun was fresh, as were the greens and tomato slices that came on the burger.
I ordered a smoked salmon BLT sandwich with a side of potato salad. (I asked them to hold the lettuce.) I love smoked salmon, but I don’t notice it being featured on a lot of menus. It was an excellent addition to the bacon and tomato flavors. The bacon was quite good and a little thicker than typical bacon; I wonder if it was baked instead of fried because it was perfectly cooked without any greasiness. The potato salad was some of the best potato salad I’ve ever had. A very small amount of mayonnaise along with some vinegar, which gave it a lighter consistency than most potato salads. A few pieces of lettuce, which I prefer over the celery that most restaurants use.
The lunch was delicious but we were both hungry that day and decided to order desert. My wife ordered a slice of cheesecake with optional caramel drizzle. I ordered a slice of apple pie, also with the optional caramel drizzle. My wife loved the cheesecake, it wasn’t too dense. The apple pie had big, fresh chunks of apple and the crust was tender and tasted homemade.
The only downside for us was that the restaurant was fairly noisy. The interior, which looked lovely, did not have the greatest acoustics and was nearly full, so conversation was difficult for us. Outside, where we ate, a large family of loud talkers (parents, please teach your children to be courteous of others) were so disruptive it also made conversation difficult. Of course, the restaurant doesn’t have much control over that, but it’s rare for us to encounter people that loud in a restaurant.
Overall, however, it was a very good lunch. We appreciated the service and the location is hard to beat. The food was all fresh and tasty. With tip our total came to about $45. That seemed a little steep to us, even though everything was very good, we felt it was bit too much for lunch for two. Still, if you’re okay with the price and you want some delicious food in a great location, the Garden Bistro is a good bet. The Garden Bistro is on East Orange Street, next to Hollis Garden in downtown Lakeland.