Imagine asking a guy from the local tire shop for his take on the shrimp étouffée and classic pavlova with berries at that restaurant that has the internet abuzz. 

The reference to a tire store refers to Michelin – the brand most recognizable for its lovable marshmallow-esque mascot – and the company that more than 100 years ago also instituted a global standard for fine dining called the MICHELIN Guide. 

Clearly the hyperbole is on par with saying “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse,” (it’s true, horse meat is a delicacy in some European countries) but in our comparison-crazed culture that is always looking for something better, I encourage you to let your taste buds do the talking before your grand appetite gets your fingers swiping and typing beyond our city.

The Michelin brothers were struggling with their tire business in a small French town, so they had the ingenious idea of creating a travel guide, encouraging people to travel for food that was worth getting in the car to track down. It was a PR gamble, but clearly one that paid off, and one that makes me laugh because of how a century later it feeds into how we feel about chefs and dining experiences.

I’m sure you’ve heard of 1, 2 and 3 star Michelin restaurants, but did you know, that until this year, not a single Florida restaurant had garnered Michelin star status? Seriously — none of the top chefs from around the world who call Miami home, and none of the fine dining establishments of one of the world’s pre-eminent tourist destinations, Orlando, could make the list?

Having indulged in and explored the growing and diverse food and restaurant landscape of Lakeland the past month, my point is simple — make your own list, and give the places closest to you a first try, or maybe another try. Save your tires!

In Lakeland we have everything from Cuban to French to Thai cuisine done well, and we have chefs and owners who have had success around the globe, but who truly love serving the locals.

As you will read in this issue, there are more than 30 motivated and talented entrepreneurs working hard in Catapult Kitchen to earn your business and give you something to add to your list of favorites. 

We have spots presidents have dined, we have an old house turned into a great late night spot where Elvis reportedly once hung out — and most importantly, we have passionate talented individuals who are worthy of your own personal rating system and bitmoji celebrations.

Spend some time in our “Only in Lakeland” restaurant guide for a curated taste of what you should taste. And the next time you get your tires changed, suggest one of your local favorites to the person helping you stay safe on the road. 

RJ Walters