Literary City Guide | Orlando, FL

Poems are not like organic beings, they are organic beings. They begin like little seedling popping out of the soil. The poet’s job is to grow that into a plant. But some poems are tomato plants, some are oak trees, and some are weeds. How do you know the difference? Practice.
— Campbell McGrath, author of Florida Poems (2002)

Tour Guide: Gina Chitko

Gina Chitko

Gina is an alumna of Le Cordon Bleu and the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications. She recently worked as an intern for Good Housekeeping Magazine’s test kitchen. 


Relationship to Orlando: I grew up about 40 minutes away from the city, and went to culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu in Orlando. 

Writer you'd like to invite to dinner: P.G. Wodehouse 

Chef you'd like to prepare the meal: Lynne Rossetto Kasper from The Splendid Table.

Writing soundtrack: George Winston 

Pen or Pencil: Pen

Coffee or Tea: Coffee in the morning and tea at night.

Paperback or Hardback: Paperback because I like to tote a book around at all times.

Good Reads


Dog-Eared Books.  Dog-Eared Books specializes in selling used paperback books of all genres. The store also has a trade credit policy: customers bring in their used books and receive store credit to apply toward future purchases.

The Book Rack.  Open since the 1960s, The Book Rack is the largest group of independently owned bookstores in the country. Each store is unique and has different trading policies and collections. 

A Novel Idea Bookshop. This quaint store has an affable owner and atmosphere. Any titles you can’t find on the shelves the owner is willing to order for you. 


Orlando Public Library. This 290,000 square-foot library is the largest library building in the state. The Genealogy Reference Department is also noteworthy; the collection is massive and a great place to begin researching family history. 

South Trail Branch. The South Trail Branch is a very accessible library, hosting a multitude of free classes, including computer and language lessons. 

Herndon Branch. This busy library is conveniently located approximately three and a half miles from the downtown area. 


UCF Book Festival. The UCF Book Festival is held annually at the University of Central Florida, usually in the spring.  

Writes of Spring. This unique writing contest supports literacy and creative expression. It's a collaboration between Orlando Repertory Theatre, graduate students in the UCF Theatre for Young Audiences MFA program, and the greater Orlando community. The contest culminates in a free performance of the winning entry.


Orlando Museum of Art. OMA showcases 10 to 12 different exhibitions throughout the year. The museum’s permanent collection includes paintings from Childe Hassam and William Merritt Chase. 

Orlando Shakespeare Theater. An evening at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater is always a treat; the theater is cozy, and the plays are always memorable. As Steve Millburg from Southern Living Magazine said, “…I’ve never seen Shakespeare done better.”  

Harry P. Leu Gardens. Visitors can stroll through Leu Gardens’ many plant collections, including the Butterfly Garden, Citrus Grove, and Azalea Collection. Leu Gardens azaleas are particularly striking and worth sauntering through. The azaleas begin flowering in late winter and peak toward the end of February and early March. 

Colonial Photo and Hobby. At this rare find, visitors can find digital cameras and gear as well as film and developing equipment. The knowledgeable staff is able to process film for C-41, E-6 slides, APS, black and white, and medium format. 

Good Eats


Dandelion Communitea Café.  This organic, eco-friendly café is located in a 1920s house with wood floors, outdoor patio, and a lively coat of green paint. Dandelion boasts an extensive tea menu and brews coffee to order in French presses. 

Drunken Money Coffee Bar.  All coffee is roasted in-house, and the Drunken Monkey offers traditional coffeehouse fare, such as quiches, scones, and iced teas, as well as many vegan and vegetarian options. On Friday nights the bar hosts standup comedy

Pom Pom’s Teahouse and Sandwicheria. Pom Pom’s is the place for tea enthusiasts, offering tea by the cup and teapot. The tea selection includes unorthodox flavors like Gingerbread Orange, Tiramisu, and Kiwi Pear. Furthermore, Pom Pom’s walls are covered with local art.  


Peperoncino. The executive chef Barbara Alfano grew up in Calabria, Italy, and the menu reflects her background. Peperoncino offers authentic Italian dishes in an intimate setting, as the space is a less than 15-table restaurant. 

Artisan’s Table. This distinctive find boasts a menu with innovative entrees such as Octopus Lettuce Wraps, Honey Fried Poussin, and Peanut Butter Bread Pudding with raspberry sorbet, peanut butter anglaise, and peanut brittle. The duck pierogies are a perfect dish to split. The dumplings are served with braised red cabbage, crème fraiche, and green apple chutney.

Café Tu Tu Tango. Café Tu Tu Tango’s atmosphere is reminiscent of a Spanish artist’s loft where meals are communal and shared on appetizer-sized plates.  This bohemian style restaurant is perfect for grazers. Items such as the Duck and Chicken Confit Quesadilla, Oaxaca Queso Fresco with Ranchero Sauce, and Malta-Guava BBQ Sauce with Cucumber Sonomono Salad are ideal plates to spilt. 


The Dessert Lady. The Dessert Lady offers wickedly rich desserts, such as Chocolate Zuccotto, Tiramisu Torte, and Fudge Ripple Bread Pudding. The presentation is just as decadent as the dessert itself. 

Raphsodic Bakery Urban Pastry Art House. The Raphsodic Bakery caters to the traveler with a sweet tooth and a sensitive stomach. The baked goods here are all egg, dairy, and honey free, but the bakery also makes items that are gluten, soy, corn, and nut free. Their plethora of cupcakes – Chocolate Chunk Pistachio, Lemon Drop, and Orange Cranberry Walnut just to name a few – pair well with a mug of Black Hills roast coffee. 

Jeremiah's Italian Ice. Ideal for parched summer travelers, Jeremiah’s boasts 40 varieties of Italian ice, soft serve ice cream, and gelati – layers of Italian ice and soft serve. Flavors include reliable choices such as Lemon, Cherry, and Tangy Green Apple. For the more daring, there are Horchata, Cafe Latte, and Passion Fruit.


Gina's 5 Favorites

1. Favorite view: Sunrise at the beach. 

2. Favorite place to write: At home, sitting at the kitchen table. 

3. Favorite museum: The Orlando Art Museum. New collections come in and out frequently, and the museum is located directly across from the Orlando Shakespeare Museum.  

4. Favorite coffee shop: Juice N Java Café. I love its eclectic beach-y vibe, and the coffee is superb: the coffee beans are ground in-house. 

5. Favorite thing about Orlando: I love how Orlando – and Merritt Island where I grew up – are so close to NASA. The space program verily influences the identities of these two cities.