5/26/2021 0 Comments
#109) So - How Old Are You Now?
Mezza Luna Ristorante - Dining Review
“So… How old are you now?” I asked the hubby, as we sat down to dinner.
We had just been seated at our lovely outdoor table at Mezza Luna Ristorante - for a special Saturday night - a birthday celebration - dinner out.
“29,” he says.
“No, really?” I question him.
“35,” he then says.
“No... I seriously don’t know,” I say. Now resorting to begging for his age. “I literally do not remember your age, and I only remember that I am 40 because I am, right now, at this moment, the big four o.”
“35,” he says, again. “And I’m not getting any older.” That’s it. It’s been authoritatively decided. Discussion over.
Well - I simply knew that wasn’t true. But we proceeded to dine upon some fabulous food, all the time with me not knowing the real number. The age for which we were celebrating this fine night.
Because, you see, I don’t really know if it's a “covid thing” or what, but time is just flying by.
One breath, and a day has passed.
One blink, and a whole week flutters past us.
One sip of water, and a whole month is swallowed up whole.
In fact, by the time we finish eating this very meal, we will be 65 years old.
And the pandemic itself - well that flew by too. I tend to think it’s all because I’m the busiest I’ve ever been, and not because of a global plague that seemingly altered time itself. But, who knows?
Either way, I can barely remember my own age, let alone the age and/or birthdates of anybody else I know and love, including my own husband - and maybe that is not a covid thing? I think I’m just really, really bad at ages... and birthdays... and numbers.
I guess I always have been. But the older I get, it apparently shows more now… As I sit across from the hubby, proceeding to ask my own husband for his age on his own birthday during this very special night out.
Our server comes over. We start with water for both.
Gulp, and another month disappears. Hooray!
I then ask for lemonade, and Bryan requests an old fashioned.
By the time our meal was perfectly prepared, cooked, seasoned, and served to us, we were flying well into the year 2022. But that all hasn’t happened just yet.
Eventually, we settled on 43 (???) Our take on his real age this evening. On this beautiful day in the month of May, in this grand and fabulous year of life on Earth: 2021.
“Are you sure?” I ask. Doubting even the truth, simply because I have no idea or grasp on reality any longer… Ages and time blown apart. The Earth, to me, might as well be spinning around the sun at a rate of 365 rotations an hour instead of 365 rotations a year. No concept of time any longer, not even a smidge, even left in my brain at this point in my life. And that, I finally have come to believe, has something to do with Covid.
And maybe that’s all simply because, when people are asked to stop living their lives - living - becomes increasingly more important. In my head, that is.
It’s a beautiful evening at the beach. We are seated on the outdoor patio of Mezza. Located at 110 First Street in the Beaches Town Center area of Neptune Beach, this local Floridian establishment has always seemed upscale and expensive in my mind, and seemingly a bit out of reach for an everyday occasion. But for birthdays, anything goes, right? So, while I expected quite an expensive dining experience, Mezza Luna ended up being nothing like what I thought and perceived it to be - In a good way. It wasn’t nearly as pricey as I was predicting, and it was a much more casual atmosphere as well - also, in a very good way.
With today’s hits playing loudly on the stereo speakers, intermixed with some oldies and goodies, the vibe was upbeat, happy, and not at all stuffy or too fancy. Our entire dining experience ended up being an absolutely and utterly perfect atmosphere for the type of dinner we were going for that evening.
It’s now May. So at dinnertime - the sun - it’s still out. And, gosh, it was a hot one. There were seats on the back patio - straight in the sun - and I knew we could never last out there. Not even five minutes. I would have easily melted away. I had just finished a shift working outside in the heat all day, and sitting straight in the hot sun was never, ever going to happen that night.
But the whole front end of the restaurant has another outdoor area that is completely covered in shade. It’s actually set up really, very quaint. You’re “inside” the restaurant, with the feel and coziness of being inside and away from the elements, but the front wall is open to the outdoors and fresh air. So we were technically seated outside - per my request placed on my OpenTable dining reservation app. Also, the mask mandate in the local Jacksonville area had just been recently lifted, so for those looking to enter without a mask, no mask was needed. Every single staff member of the restaurant still had masks on though.
If you don’t have OpenTable, and you enjoy dining out, I highly recommend it. The process of booking takes a mere few seconds, it’s free, and it’s easier than a phone call. Plus - all your reservations add up to monetary rewards. I’m a big fan.
Our drinks arrived, and ice cold lemonade never tasted so good. I downed my drink, and another was brought immediately over to me.
We then ordered the meatball appetizer to split, and Bryan ordered a wedge blue cheese salad as well.
The meatballs were seasoned wonderfully, with a creamy sauce of something or other underneath. I didn’t really bother to look at the menu, I really just devoured it as quickly as I did my lemonade; noting later - however, that it was served with creamy polenta, tomato, mint, and piave cheese at $11.00.
And Bryan’s iceberg salad was served with crispy shallots, bacon, sun dried tomatoes, and blue cheese dressing, at $9.00.
Our server asked if we wanted fresh bread, and of course, because we are merely human, we said - Yes.
Dinner was fabulous. And I couldn't remember the last time I had such a marvelous meal, seated that close to the ocean, and so close to home.
We both ordered steaks for the main course. I had the filet (at $35.00), my usual go to, and Bryan had the grilled flat iron steak frites (at $27.00), any steak - his guaranteed usual.
The bordelaise sauce drizzled over my filet was superb. And I immediately commented to Bryan… “How come we can’t replicate this at home?” I kept eating and I don’t remember what we decided our answer to that deep question was.
Being that it was Bryan’s birthday, dessert was a must. So, we ordered two, of course. And that way we could each try each other’s and share.
I loved the affogato. To death. I would go back to Mezza just to order it once again. At $6.00 it was worth every penny, and a cool treat on this hot night.
And, then there was the cheesecake. Oh, is there anything so good in all this miraculous world as a slice of cheesecake?
Well, maybe the next best thing is taking the leftovers home. At $8.00, and heaven on Earth, I asked for the seasonal sauce to be left off. I just wanted the slice served plain. And as we were too stuffed to eat anymore, I asked for my remaining cheesecake to be boxed up. To be feasted upon later that evening back home of course…. And therein lies the only ‘problem’ of the magnificent evening. And I dare say it was really even a problem. I actually just asked for a box…
Meaning, I would box up the cheesecake myself. But, the server wanted to bring the dish back to the kitchen and box it up. And that’s when I realized he did the same with my steak.
This was the very first time since covid began, that a server wanted to take my meal away from me, that I had already touched, and bring it back into the kitchen. That act seemed to go away, nearly one hundred percent of the time, since the beginning of the pandemic.
As soon as the plague began, everything and anything was all about contact. Touch points were focused upon. And the less touching the better. Along with cross contamination, and risk of cross contamination. So, I naturally thought it was swell when seemingly every single restaurant started bringing the box out to the table, instead of taking the touched plate back into the kitchen to box up there, thus risking more germ spread back onto everyone’s food unnecessarily.
So, I did think it very, very strange that the server wanted to take my slice of cheesecake, that I had already feasted upon, and bring it back into the kitchen to box up. I didn’t say anything, but I did ponder this, deeply.
And as I pondered, my cheesecake was making its untimely transition.
When my lovely piece of food was brought back out to me... it looked like this:
A fine meal. A lovely evening. Everything - perfection. Down to the sights and sounds.
And then - sad face. :(
Or, should I say smoosh face.
My cheesecake went through the ringer back in the kitchen. My cheesecake died a slow death. It transformed from a slice of cake... To cheese mush inside a plastic see through box. Sealed for transport into space. Or somewhere else very far away.
But who am I kidding?! I did not really care one bit. As we learned growing up, it’s not what’s on the outside that matters, it’s what’s inside that really important.
It’s not the gift that matters, it's the thought that counts.
Never judge a book by its cover.
Contents may have shifted during transport.
Wait - none of that is what I was going for here.
Anyway, I could care freaking less what my cheesecake looked like as I carried it out the door. And yes, it got eaten less than two hours later in less than two seconds flat. Presentation be forgotten that night, my dear friends. No, I did not care what it looked like on the outside. I didn’t care. It all certainly did not really matter to me.
Because, if I’m so busy loving my life, so very freaking much, to the point that I cannot remember how old I am, or how old my husband really is, because life is too much fun to stop and think about it. Then I certainly could care less about the doggie bag presentation at a fine dining establishment with today’s hits blasting on the radio overhead as we freely inhaled the salt life.
All I cared about was the birthday that was being celebrated. And the fun time we were having. And the very fresh and very salty air that we were breathing in on that beautiful patio. As we watched tourists and locals pass by on the adjacent sidewalk. And we ate our fresh bread, and slapped on way too much butter.
And scooping up whatever that creamy mush was underneath our meatball appetizer, while enjoying a steak that I could never replicate in my own kitchen. And bringing home with me a cheesy slice of heaven. It all didn’t matter what it looked like. And how it was presented to me. And as I pondered the state of my flattened and battered and weathered and worn and completely beat up cheesecake seated in front of me, sealed tightly for transport across great oceans on a big container ship for a long haul journey… I decided to ask my husband, once again.
I stared at my smooshed cake. And I pondered the physics of time and space once again. “44?” I questioned him.
Desperately aching to know and confirm his real age, yet again. And too lazy to pull out my calculator to simply subtract 2021 from his year of birth, to find the correct number in a matter of seconds.
“NO!” he desperately bellowed back at me. “I am NOT 44 today.”
So we settled, once again, on 43.
He was 43 years old. And yes, I am 40.
We had that confirmed. Leaving no room for doubt.
And so we continued our evening. And we both knew each other’s real ages. At least for that one night. Until I proceeded to forget it all once again. When the day transitioned from Saturday to Sunday and I didn’t even know what universe I was living in, once again.
So, yeah, we knew we were in our forties. We knew we loved our steak dinner. And we certainly knew covid was in the rear view mirror. And life kept moving on. But, the funny thing is, life never really stopped. That’s the amazing thing. Covid never stopped our lives. As we celebrated the transition from 42 to 43… life was still happening. And life would continue to go on. Whether we knew our ages at the time or not. Under a mezza luna moon… life was continuing to happen all around us.~
Ohhh, Celebration - such a very unique and yet very uniform town. I have been visiting Celebration since I was pretty young. I’ve loved every visit… since its birth in the 90’s, when people really made fun of its strict strive toward perfection. And I still love to come to Celebration now that the town has grown into a mature adult. And people definitely still do make fun of the town.
And while I’ve traveled there many times, each of those trips were always very short - much more like brief encounters - and not a genuine visit, or stay. I recall a lunch outing, a dinner years ago at the town diner, and a quick ice cream outing, but never an overnight.
I even remember visiting Celebration shortly after getting married. It was Christmas time, and my husband and I were in town at Walt Disney World to see all the holiday decorations. That trip was one of the rare times we had a car with us. We usually always just flew into Orlando, got ourselves to Disney, and then relied on Disney transport for the entire remainder of stay. That lack of a personal vehicle during our Disney vacations meant a lot less freedom of movement around central Florida, or basically anywhere outside of Disney World really. So on that Disney trip surrounding the holidays, with access to a car, I remember the one place we both really wanted to go see was Celebration. We had heard about snow falling on their Main Street and decided it was worth us checking it out.
Being from the Chicago area and managing many inches of snow each winter of our lives, before moving to Florida a few years back, we were naturally very curious to see how snow looked in Florida. Never could I imagine such a sight. We absolutely had to see it.
So there we were, in warm central Florida in December, spectating all of the Celebration holiday festivities at night time, ice cream in hand, and watched the snow fall from the sky. Kids running and screaming with joy. I remember wondering if any of these kids seen snow before? In Florida? Were they locals and this was normal to them, or were they visitors like us? Did the kids know it was all fake snow? Not that the type of snow mattered in the least, I just remember being so amused and intrigued by the sight of it all.
Looking at all the endlessly falling white goop and bubbly substance that was supposed to resemble actual snow reminded me of watching cold, wintry scenes in old black and white Hollywood films from the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s. They had sort of a difficult time back then representing snowfall with any realism on the big screen. I love old films, and I always find it comical when snow begins to fall in those movies. A snow “flake” would land on a human - like on top of their coat or in their hair - but then the snow always failed to melt. It was either always a white liquid goo with a bubbly consistency, or, like soap flakes, and almost like a feathery substance. And once that snow landed on whatever it landed on, it just sat there. It sat on the hair of the actor or actress' head just like a feather might. It sat on their coat, or any other clothes the person was wearing. And the snow stayed that way for the remainder of the scene in the film - always amusing me.
That’s exactly what this snow was like that fell in Celebration. It fell, and it stayed. The street was absolutely covered in what was probably some kind of soap bubbles. Tons of it. Liquid white goo was all over the entire closed off street. Hilarious. But to kids, snow is snow. A good time was had by all, that’s for sure. No matter what the snow was made from, it was falling, from above, and that’s all that mattered to the children. What happened after the snow fell was of no concern to the kids. We stood in the snow-covered street, eating our ice cream, and laughed.
It was a very memorable evening. And I’ve not seen snow in Florida since then. Not even at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party where I hear that it snows on Main Street USA during each and every nightly party. And that evening, years ago, during the holidays, was my last encounter with Celebration. It was a genuine good memory, and I’ve always wanted to go back and spend a bit more time there.
So this year when I found out some of my family was going to be traveling from Illinois to Orlando for a vacation, I wanted to make the drive from Jacksonville and meet up with them while they were in town. We would be needing a pet-friendly hotel due to our dog Madeline traveling with us, and something prompted me to look into Celebration.
It turns out, their single hotel in town happened to be pet-friendly. That was my deciding factor. This would allow me to spend some time in Celebration, bring my dog along, of course, and visit family at Disney at the same time. And this would finally grant me the opportunity to spend two solid nights in town - at the Celebration Bohemian Hotel.
We booked our hotel room through Marriott Bon-Voy and signed up for the Marriott Rewards Program as well. Our two nights at the Bohemian offered us a package experience, including a $25.00 resort credit per day of our stay - to use on anything we liked. We ended up using the credit at the lobby lounge one hot afternoon for a cold cocktail, and then for a room service hot breakfast on our first morning. Never, ever, do we spend on room service, so having that credit allowed us to experience something we normally never do. Breakfast was super, and even arrived to our room on trays with those little old-fashioned ketchup bottles made from actual glass. I was ecstatic.
During the two night stay I kept an informal pro-and-con list in my mind regarding my overall experience. When I got back home and analyzed everything, I sensed an overall theme to my visit and I’d like to present you with my summary here. Specifically, I decided upon two positives and two negatives that you may want to take into account while considering and planning your potential visit to the town of Celebration. And since I’m a fan of ending on a positive note if I can help it, I’m going to start with the two con’s from my list; and then we will finish with the two pro’s:
Con #1: Limited Selection - And Only One Hotel In Town
Yep, that’s right, there’s one option. The Celebration Bohemian Hotel is currently the only choice if you want to stay downtown Celebration. However, let’s not forget this town is located directly inside the greater Orlando area, so there are many - practically countless - options just outside of town. But in town, if you want to stay overnight in a hotel, and then walk around outside to the Starbucks down the street for your morning coffee and newspaper without getting into a vehicle, the Bohemian Hotel is THE option.
It’s not a bad option though. It’s a fine hotel for a short visit. Rates were reasonable, and they did not abuse us on the pet fee either, like many places we’ve been to. Our room did not have a refrigerator inside, and I mean even just a simple, tiny mini-fridge. I would say the lack of that amenity was really the only downside to my stay at the Bohemian. I’m not sure if any of the rooms come with refrigerators as an option, but if they do, on my next stay I will most definitely be requesting one. Otherwise, I’ve already decided that next time I just need to bring a cooler in with me and I’ll be just fine for a few nights. I love cold water, and ice, and being without access to a chilled beverage during the night was kind of annoying, but nothing I couldn’t handle being without for two nights.
Other areas of limited selection include coffee shops and gift/souvenir shops, and there were also some things that we were just never able to see. Overall, just not a lot of choice. But I probably should have known that - considering Celebration is quite a small town. There’s a few restaurants and a couple of coffee shops, but obviously nowhere near the hundreds of dining locations one is used to when staying in Disney World or traveling throughout Orlando.
Also, I found out that the town movie theater, one of the main iconic symbols and landmarks of the town, is closed. I remember when I was younger, that the theater was THE PLACE to go, it was the hangout spot for the evening. There were always crowds outside the movie theater. But not this visit. The entire area around the theater was always empty. I must say I was kind of sad to find out that one cannot go see a film while in town, a non-operational theater sitting vacant, and has been for quite some time. Apparently it was a victim of the Great Recession and has never opened back up since. A closed and vacant building at the center of town can really change the vibe. A lot. It just felt like there was a big, empty hole inside the town square area.
While the closed theater was the first thing I noticed, as the vacancy was difficult to miss., I then noticed some vacant window fronts of shops while walking around town. Either Celebration overall hasn’t fully recovered from the last recession, or it’s not as “in demand” of a location as I thought it could be. Maybe leasing space is very expensive too. It was just sad to see so many closed storefronts. We tried to visit the local stores and restaurants when we were there. Starbucks, of all places, kept the best hours, so that’s where we ended up for coffee.
During this stay we also went to Disney Springs for the afternoon, came back to Celebration in the evening, and the town was all quiet. The other night of our stay, upon our return there were tons of people and lots of music and parties at the hotel too. I never knew what to expect.
We also tried to eat at the diner. And it was always closed. I actually gave up trying to eat there, deciding to make no further attempts on that trip as I was disappointed each time. The diner advertises coffee, ice cream, and all kinds of other meals, in print outside on the windows and facade of the exterior. So I tried to get coffee in the morning - closed. We tried to get ice cream in the evening - closed. The diner did an excellent job of appearing to be open though, as more than once we tried to walk in - the lights inside were always on, but they were always either not open yet, or had just recently closed. I guess the diner wasn’t looking for our business. It was not too early in the morning and not too late at night by any means each time we tried. And it was always closed. Hence, the many visits to Starbucks.
I did find an open souvenir shop on my way out of town after checking out of our hotel though. I was finally able to purchase something from the town. I came home with a light green, light cotton, short sleeved tee. There were not many options for men at all in the shop so I wasn’t able to buy the hubby a souvenir... I’m fairly certain he didn’t mind though. Either way, I was glad to go to a local store and buy something from the town.
Con #2: You Will Need/Want A Car
While, arguably, Celebration can be considered part of the “Disney Bubble”, it is also most definitely NOT inside the Disney Bubble. Celebration is located just outside Walt Disney World property. And once one leaves Disney... they do enter the real world again. As I mentioned, Celebration is a REAL town. A living, breathing, working, functioning, real town. A lot of people think it’s part of Disney, which it was at a point in time in the past. But now, it’s a regular town with all the laws and municipal operating systems of any other suburb in the Orlando area. Being that it is a real town, and when one leaves Disney property, the Disney transportation system that so many tourists rely on when they visit Orlando does NOT operate in Celebration. If you want to visit Celebration you will need to drive over there, or Uber, etc. But you cannot take a Disney bus there, even though it happens to be so very close to The Mouse.
And now let’s discuss some positives of visiting Celebration!
Pro #1: Not Far From Walt Disney World
Celebration is literally just a hop, skip, and jump away from Walt Disney World Resort. If you are visiting central Florida, with access to a vehicle, it is worth a drive over to check it out. I would say to come during the day, while you are guaranteed more establishments to be open, and maybe even check hours of operation on Google beforehand on the specific place or places you intend to visit. You can eat at a local restaurant or get some coffee etc,; and you won’t be spending Disney prices on that food and drink either. Plus, sometimes that escape from Disney and Universal pricing can be “priceless” in and of itself.
Pro #2: Peaceful, Non-Hectic Atmosphere
If you are trying to escape Disney for a bit, Celebration will definitely take you away from those rushed crowds. I would definitely recommend a short visit even just for a change of pace if you are on a Disney trip. There are no fast-passes needed to book ride times, and dining reservations don’t need to be made 180 days in advance of your visit. If you just need to slow down some and have a quiet, leisurely afternoon outside of the theme parks, this may be a good place for a rest. Also, I noticed plenty of churches in town too if going to church on vacation is your thing. Either way, whatever you are interested in seeing, the pace is slower than Disney and that can be a good thing indeed.
I know that slow down, or rest, can be pretty vital on a Disney style vacation. Keep up the Disney pace for too long and I have known many a person to get sick on or after their trip, myself included - countless times. In fact, I got sick on vacation so many times that my entire traveling and vacation style has changed because of it. I do not strive to keep a rushed pace anymore while traveling. I am looking and actively seeking peaceful, and maybe slower-paced, yet wonderful outings. I still do Disney, but definitely at my own, leisurely pace. Celebration is and can be that slower pace, and that can definitely be a positive. Sometimes compared to Disney, anything at all can be said to be slower paced. But Celebration does have very limited options so there is not too much craziness or even need to do everything and/or anything during your visit there. And by leaving Disney property, and seeing an area of Orlando outside of all things Mickey Mouse, it can really change one’s perspective, and I believe that change is a good thing.
Celebration is a very unique town that I think anyone who visits it can attest to. The ascetic consists of a lot of uniformity and equality in the design and architecture, and that uniformity is ironically what makes it very different from all other towns. Everything - sort of - looks the same. All the houses and buildings follow the Celebration building style codes, down to the color and style of a buildings exterior. That fact is what people make fun of. The uniformity of the town. I’ve heard Celebration be called “The Truman Show” and the “Stepford Wives” and other such comparisons toward a perfection. For the most part I just ignore those sentiments and come up with my own opinion from my own experience. And while there weren’t too many things to do there, I still had a great time and would come back for sure.
In fact, I’m already actively trying to plan a return visit. My two nights in Celebration were quite wonderful, peaceful, and different than what I was used to while visiting the central Florida area and theme parks. That different perspective is almost always priceless to me, and opens me up to a variety of experiences. Before we even checked out of the hotel, I was already wondering when I would be coming back. Next time my family in Illinois goes to Disney, I’ve already got a most perfect plan in place to meet them, a peaceful place to stay, and some more restaurants to visit as well. And just maybe, if I’m lucky, that goopy, bubbly, and soap flaky snowfall holiday event will be taking place while I’m there. ~
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