The Florida Strawberry Festival, the annual shortcake-powered celebration that combines midway, music and Plant City's most famous agricultural export, opens in only a few days.
I decided to enjoy my annual strawberry shortcake before the festival opens on Thursday for a run that concludes on March 9. So I stopped at Parkesdale Farm Market, a year-round resource for all things strawberry — berry-based cookies, breads and jellies — as well as farm-fresh produce, plants and souvenirs.
Open since 1969, the market is defiantly old-school, from its red-and-white, order-by-the-number wooden menu boards to the picnic tables inside a greenhouse dubbed the "Garden of Eatin'."
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I didn't exactly beat the rush. The garden was crowded on my visit, with a line of berry-hungry patrons stretching around the building and into the parking lot before lunchtime.
Still, the line moved with impressive efficiency and soon I was standing in front of the screened window to order a strawberry shortcake with vanilla ice cream (No. 2) and a strawberry milkshake (No. 5). The Food Network, in a 2010 poll, declared the milkshake the best drinkable dessert in the country.
I ate my milkshake with a spoon, so that gives you an idea of its thickness. The milkshakes are available year-round, but the window for shortcakes runs only from January through April. The market (parkesdale.com) is open from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. daily through April, then closes on Mondays from May through September.
After my dessert-for-lunch, I worked off calories by strolling the market. Adorned with orchids, dieffenbachia, gardenias, ivy, crotons, tomato plants, peppers and herbs, the garden is surprisingly serene.
There's an element of silliness in the form of a cheesy-looking red throne, where visitors can enjoy a photo-op as strawberry king or queen, a short-lived title that comes with a borrowed throne and cape. I resisted the urge to proclaim myself king, though it was tempting.
Genuine strawberry queens are part of the mix at the Strawberry Festival (flstrawberryfestival.com), which also features music by classic rockers Styx (Thursday), country band Rascal Flatts (March 2) and soul group Boyz II Men (March 7), among others.
And more shortcake.