About as far as I typically venture into Plant City is the few blocks it takes to go from Interstate 4 to Buddy Freddy's buffet on Thonotosassa Road.
What would it take, aside from a strawberry festival, for me to explore further? How about Plant City's Parkesdale Farm Market being named among "America's Best" for drinkable desserts in a poll in the September issue of Food Network Magazine?
And to burn off the calories, let's follow dessert with a stroll through Dinosaur World, that place with the big dinosaur statues that you point at when you whiz by Exit 17 on I-4 without stopping to check it out.
It all started out fine.
Taking the recommendation of several locals, I stopped for an early lunch at Johnson Barbeque (1407 MLK Blvd.; johnsonbarbeque.com). After all, a guy can't have dessert on an empty stomach. Johnson's has been in Plant City since 1954 and the Grandpa's Lunch Special (1/4-pound pork sandwich, with side and a drink for $6.79) was tasty enough to put this place on my map as a pit stop on Orlando- Tampa road trips.
Alas, I can't report on the award-winning fare at Parkesdale Farm, on West Baker Street across from the Strawberry Festival grounds. The place was closed for vacation, something that wasn't mentioned when I looked up the hours on its website (parkesdale.com).
Sitting in the empty parking lot, with no prospect of drinkable dessert, the only thing to do was to go to Dinosaur World (dinoworld.net) without it. Value is its claim to fame and it is inexpensive: $12.75 for adult admission, $9.75 for children.
For that price, you gander at 150 motionless statues of dinosaurs. How realistic is it? The Tyrannosaurus Rex had a Gatorade bottle in his mouth. No air-conditioning, not even a ceiling fan. No snack bar, just a Pringles vending machine. Hungry Howie's delivers to the parking lot. For real.
Now I really needed a drinkable dessert. Thankfully, I found one at Keel & Curley Winery (keelandcurleywinery.com), which offers strawberry wine freezes in air-conditioned comfort. It was an award-winner.