A lovely bunch of ladies, my audience reminded me how much the prospect of a good meal plays into my travel decisions. Maybe it's because I started by bragging about my terrific lunch at Dixie Crossroads on a recent Titusville jaunt. And then offered a hearty recommendation for the monster seaside burgers at The Breakers in New Smyrna Beach, and somehow slipped in another plug for JC's Lobster Pot in DeLand.
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All the talk about food turned my attention to the Florida Strawberry Festival, one of Central Florida's grand traditions that marks its 75th annual edition with festivities that run March 4-14 at the festival grounds (303 N. Lemon St.) in Plant City.
Over time the event has grown to become one of the biggest of its kind in the nation. In keeping with its name, the main focus is on the bounty harvested from more than 5,000 acres of strawberries planted annually in the Plant City area, between Tampa and Orlando along Interstate 4.
According to the festival Web site, there are some 2,600 farms in Hillsborough County that produce fruit and vegetable crops with an annual value of more than $400 million. So that's a lot to celebrate.
The big attraction at this festival, of course, is the famous strawberry shortcake, but there's an array of other fair-friendly (and waistline unfriendly) food, as well as livestock and craft exhibits, and daily free entertainment that ranges from bluegrass to puppet shows to big-band to lumberjack shows to those racing pigs.
If that sounds old-fashioned, the Mayberry vibe is updated by the ticketed entertainment lineup, which last year featured both Jessica Simpson and the red-hot Grammy-winner Taylor Swift. This year's headliners include Darius Rucker (March 7), Sara Evans (March 14) and Lynyrd Skynyrd (also March 14).
For details on hours, tickets and other festival updates, visit flstrawberryfestival.com or call 813-752-9194.
And don't forget to come hungry.