Living in the Tampa Bay area usually means lots of time spent on the coast. But, if you’re looking for something different with a small farm town feel, head inland to Plant City. This historical town is most famous for the annual Florida Strawberry Festival. And yet, there’s much more to explore year round. A great place to base your Plant City adventures is Keel Farms, home to Keel & Curley Winery, as well as Keel Farms Agrarian Ale + Cider.
This winery, brewery and restaurant all in one is located just 30 minutes from downtown Tampa and is totally worth the trip.
Winery + Brewery at Keel Farms
Keel & Curley Winery was first born back in 2003 when Central Florida blueberry farmer, Joe Keel, decided to use his end of crop blueberries to try his hand at winemaking. Today, his son Clay Keel and his wife run the Plant City-based company, transitioning it to a younger, more family-friendly environment.
A farmhouse that serves as a wine tasting room and restaurant welcomes you as you first arrive on the grounds. The charming interior is casual, with a warm, welcoming glow. On either side of the open room are two long bars with plenty of seating, while tables and chairs provide plenty of seating in between. A massive selection of canned ales and ciders, as well as colorful bottles of wine stand proudly at the front, ready to come home with you.
You can also book a tour (Saturdays and Sundays only) to learn more about production and get behind the scenes access. Tours are $10 and include a glass of beer, wine or cider. Reservations are available online here.
Every wine, ale, and cider (served inside the tasting room and on the large outdoor patio) is made in-house. Florida wine is not like traditional wine from the famous regions around the country and world. Instead it is very sweet. To complement the sweetness, Keel & Curley Winery produces a large variety of fruit based wine. These sweet and casual wines are not for everyone, but they’re definitely fun to try. Craft beer and cider from Keel Farms Agrarian Ale + Cider come in a variety of flavors from traditional ales to fruity flavor combinations.
My husband and I visited with our young son on our way back from visiting the Anna Maria Island area (it’s the perfect date or family environment). He ordered the Pineapple Agrarian Cider and absolutely loved it. Bursting with sweet pineapple, the overall flavor was balanced with a crisp bite.
I wanted to try a variety of things, so I opted for a flight. The great thing about ordering a flight here is that you can mix and match. I ordered two ales and three wines.
First up, the Honey Ale paired perfectly with the food we ordered. I learned that the honey is produced on the farm thanks to the bees that are kept to help with growing blueberries and other crops on the farm. The Harvest Cherry Sour Beer was delightful even though I am not a big fan of sour beers.
Now onto the wines. I prefer traditional wines over fruit wine, but I enjoyed the variety and the chance to try different flavors.
I could not resist the Key West Key Lime wine. Full of island flavors and sweetness, it was like drinking a slice of Key Lime Pie, without the heavy cream. My favorite of the three wines I selected was the Wild Berry Pinot Noir. This luscious wine had a great balance of traditional Pinot Noir flavor and unique wild berry sweetness. I regret not buying a bottle — but now I have an easy excuse to go back, or order online. My least favorite was the Strawberry Riesling wine, which I’d skip next time as it was way too sweet for my tastes.
They also have four different types of blueberry wines – dry, semi-dry, sweet, and Gulfcoast. Other flavors include Peach Chardonnay and a few fruit fusion wines.
What would a trip to a farm-based winery and brewery be without some delicious farm fresh food? The food menu is focused and simple, yet there is something for everyone. The fresh salads and sandwiches were very tempting, and based on our experience we will absolutely be back to try more food, wine, ales, and ciders. On this trip we selected two appetizers.
The Pretzel Bites came with house made honey dijon mustard and craft beer cheese. It is impossible for me to say which dip I preferred, and they went perfectly with the ales and ciders as we sipped. As a Florida native I could not pass up the Spicy Gator Nuggets. The way Keel Farms prepares their gator nuggets is special. The tender Gulf Coast gator is tossed in sriracha aioli, and then garnished with toasted sesame seeds and pickled onions. It impressed me immensely, and I order gator pretty much anytime I see it on a menu. Keel Farms’ rendition reminded me a little of Bang Bang Shrimp, a trademark dish at Bonefish Grill.
As we sat along the bar we admired the endearing décor. Music played and a TV facing the bar showcased the farm’s offerings from live music and special events, to self-guided exploration of the farm itself. Our server exuded friendly southern hospitality and made us feel at home. We are Orlandoans, so I felt a pang of remorse that we do not live closer to this great place.
Keel Farms Events and Activities
After our sips and savoring, we explored outside. Keel Farms is very family friendly if you need to bring the kids along for date night. There’s a small playground and you can also walk through the farm grounds. Kids will love seeing a few of the farm animals. Whether you have kids or not, Keel Farms is a fantastic and truly unique date night spot. The outdoor patio is full of life, with a warm glow from string lights hanging above.
Practically every weekend live music fills the country air. On Tuesdays you can test your knowledge during trivia night. And multiple times a month there are yoga sessions offered among the grape vines, including occasional sunset yoga.
Check out Keel Farms’ event calendar because it is full of fun events that would be perfect for date night.
Nearby Plant City Fun
To get the most out of your time in Plant City, you absolutely must visit the historic downtown area. Plant City Main Street is picturesque and full of charm, with antique shops, cafes and more to explore. After browsing, head to McCall Park to sit and relax. The last Friday of each month (except November and December) from 5-9pm, you can browse a market full of special vendors. Beautiful historic homes line many of the nearby streets, so go for a little drive to fully explore this area.
An iconic roadside attraction is just down the road from Keel Farms. Dinosaur World is a classic Florida attraction, and it’s actually a really fun date spot. You’re allowed to bring in your own food, so make a special picnic with your finds at Keel Farms and/or Downtown Plant City. A surprising feature of Dinosaur World is that it is dog-friendly! Dogs must be leashed, but they are welcome throughout Dinosaur World. Be prepared to take lots of cute photos as the photo opportunities are plentiful throughout this fun attraction.
Lastly, while you’re in a farm feeling, consider adding a stop to Parkesdale Farm Market. This famous fruit stand serves iconic strawberry milkshakes, strawberry shortcake (in season), ice cream sundaes and more. You can also browse their delightful market with beautiful plants, fresh fruit and produce, and specialty gifts.
With so many wonderful coastal destinations in the Tampa area, it’s easy to stay focused on the coast. But make some time to explore the small-town roots of this area too. You’ll find the pace of life is a little slower out here, making it the perfect place to reconnect with each other.
All images by Dani Meyering, unless otherwise noted