It’s said that famed Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León found his long sought-after Fountain of Youth here in what is now known as De Leon Springs, about an hour north of Orlando. If he were alive today, however, he’d more likely find a fountain of homemade pancake batter. At the Old Spanish Sugar Mill, diners can build and flip their own pancakes table-side in the verdant beauty of a Florida state park.
This syrupy nook of the park has a romanticized history and a more probable one. Park lore has it that the Spanish here erected an actual sugar mill in 1570, a site dramatically destroyed and rebuilt in both the Seminole and Civil Wars before being finally rebuilt as the structure it is today. Fact-beholden park rangers will tell you, however, the land was once a sugar plantation and that the building came up in 1900. At any rate, in 1961, mill-enthusiast Peter Schwarze bought the property and raised the mill to either its former or newfound glory, depending on your interpretation.
The Schwarze family still runs what may be the most picturesque pancake house in the country. The charmingly designed wooden building looks out onto the crystal clear waters of Spring Garden Lake, within De Leon Springs State Park. Feel free to go for a hike, swim, or canoe while you wait for a table to clear. Rest assured, there will be a wait.
Once inside, diners receive two homemade batters: one a stone-ground mixture of five different flours, the other unbleached white flour. From there, take your pick of blueberries, chocolate chips, bananas, apples, and pecans, and make the pancakes your own. Crisp or undercook each pancake to your liking on the commercial-grade griddle in the center of each table. Round out the meal with bacon, ham, sausages, or eggs.
If there’s no Fountain of Youth to keep you young, chuck another handful of chocolate chips in your pancake for that Saturday-morning toddler feeling.
Know Before You Go
To eat here, you'll need to pay the entry fee to the park, which is $6 per car. And again, unless you get there before opening, there will be a long wait. Take a boat tour, hike, canoe, or swim while you wait; as long as your name is on the list, they'll hold the table for you. Eighteen percent gratuity is added to every bill.