Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Where We Eat: The Old Spanish Sugarmill Grill and Griddle House

“From the death of the old the new proceeds, and the life of truth from the death of creeds.”
-John Greenleaf Whittier

In 1961, a once illustrious sugar mill standing adjacent to Deleon Springs was at the brink of
demolition. The “old building” had been vacant for some time and many people were ready to see it go. But, as John Greenleaf Whittier suggested above, out of the old comes the new. Peter Schwarze, a fifth generation grist miller, recognized that. He envisioned the mill being restored and serving as a place to grind his flour. He also saw it as the perfect location for a restaurant and bakery that uses his

Peter was granted permission to lease the mill and he began restoring it. He outfitted the building with a gristmill of his own design. It wasn’t long before Peter’s vision was realized. It is a vision that has lasted for fifty-five years. One that has become known as the Old Spanish Sugar Mill Grill and Griddle House.

The Old Spanish Sugarmill Grill and Griddle House is probably the most unique place I’ve ever eaten. Each of the restaurant’s tables is fitted with its own personal griddle. Here you, the patron of the restaurant, are able to cook your own pancakes and eggs. The restaurant brings you all the ingredients you need, be it batter, eggs or pancake toppings (which include blueberries, bananas, peanut butter, pecans, chocolate chips, apples or applesauce). You then pour them on the griddle and flip them yourself. It is like being a chef in your own kitchen without all the prep work (or cleanup). The restaurant also serves breakfast meats (including vegetarian sausage), sandwiches and salads that are prepared behind the counter in the restaurant’s kitchen and they offer take out. But what is the fun in all that?

The Old Spanish Sugar Mill Grill and Griddle House website suggests that you should arrive early because it is both small and popular. We rolled up to the restaurant at 9:15, just a quarter hour after it opened, and there was already a thirty to forty minute wait. We entertained ourselves for a bit on the nearby playground and in the spring. Time flew and before we knew it our names were being announced over the loudspeaker.

We were seated next to a big window that looked out on the spring. It was such a beautiful setting. The waitress came by and quickly gathered the orders of everyone in the group: one pitcher of homemade batter (regular), one pitcher of the stone ground mixture (which includes five different flours), one vegan/gluten free pitcher, two fresh squeezed orange juices, blueberries and two eggs.

The Griddle and the toppings (molasses, honey and maple syrup)

The batters arrived and we were instructed on how to best make our pancakes. Pour in the middle of the griddle (the edges aren’t sealed so the hot batter could wind up on your foot) and when the edges begin to bubble flip them. Of course the most important instruction was skipped. TURN ON THE GRIDDLE FIRST. Because we failed to do that our initial batch of pancakes was quite a mess. But the next four pancakes (that’s about how many you get per pitcher) all cooked in about two minutes
and were a nice golden brown color.

                     Pouring on the batter

                      The final product

It is hard to argue with what you get here. I mean you are the cook. I was very impressed with the vegan/gluten free batter as it tasted a lot better than some of the recipes I’ve tried at home. It was clear that someone had worked for a while to get the recipe right. It wasn’t something that was just
thrown together to appease the vegans/celiacs. Even though I didn’t order any, I loved that this place, way out in the middle of nowhere, offered metropolitan fare such as vegetarian sausage. You just don’t find that at many breakfast places. The orange juice was fresh squeezed (and pulpy) and tasted that way. My only complaint, a minor one, was the blueberries were frozen. I would’ve preferred fresh. Unless of course fresh blueberries don’t cook as well on the hot griddle. In that case, I’m ok with frozen.

Vegan/gluten free pancakes, five of them, for 5.95 (plus the fee for entering the park) that didn’t taste like cardboard and had you stuffed until well into the evening? Fresh squeezed orange juice that lived up to the billing? A chance to cook over your own, private, hot ass griddle? What’s not to like? If you are ever in the remote vicinity of Deleon Springs, Florida (and by remote I mean within 100 miles), I suggest you visit the Old Spanish Sugarmill Grill and Griddle House and see what one man’s vision of the new can do for the old.

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Also a place where old becomes new? A yard sale. Yard Sale happens to be the name of the new Neon Hitch single. It is a track that is about leaving the past and letting go of all the emotional and physical things you don’t need anymore. Neon Hitch said that for the past few years she has been drowning in emotional baggage. This is her let go liberation anthem. Neon was recently emancipated from long-time record label, Warner Brothers, and plans to release her upcoming new music via her own fan-powered label, WeRNeon. The #WeRNeon movement is raring and ready to go. You can learn more about the movement and join the fun at www.neonyardsale.com.