Florida's Food Towns

By: Gary McKechnie

Florida's unique history and rich agriculture played a major role in the state's heritage – as well as provided us with some wonderfully silly town names.

Florida's the rare state where a road map could be confused with a menu. Depending on your tastes, you could roll over to Bean City, Peach Orchard, Honeyville or Berrydale. Maybe head out to Fruit Cove, Mango, Orange City, Orange Lake, Orange Mills and a bushel of other orange towns. From any fork in the road, you'll roll toward tasty towns like these, where you'll find an interesting story, some Old Florida charm and must-see stops along the way.

So what's in a name? Well, according to legend, the city of Cocoa on Florida's mid-Atlantic coast would have been called "Indian River City" had that name fit on a postmark. Instead, Captain R.C. May attended an 1884 town meeting where residents considered local products or features, and Captain May, cuckoo for cocoa plants, pitched the name. Soon after, Washington gave Cocoa its postmark stamp of approval.

Cocoa's downtown village features a wonderful collection of shops, restaurants and the Cocoa Village Playhouse. From here you're only a few minutes from Cocoa Beach, home of world-famous Ron Jon Surf Shop and, just up the coast, Kennedy Space Center.

About an hour northwest of Orlando, Fruitland Park is the gateway to 620-acre Lake Griffin State Park which, along with camping, canoeing, hiking and picnicking, features Florida's eighth-largest lake which connects with the St. Johns River and, eventually, the Atlantic Ocean and the rest of the world.

Okay, so why is the town called Fruitland Park?

In 1877, inspired by the Fruitland Nurseries of Augusta, Ga., Orlando Rooks filed for the name. Postal authorities replied there was already a Fruitland, Florida, so Rooks had to settle for a runner-up choice, Gardenia. But as letters were being mailed to Gardenia, railroad schedules that had already been printed found freight being shipped to the then non-existent town of "Fruitland Park." Amid the confusion, the post office was asked to re-consider, they did, and it's been Fruitland Park since 1888.

South of Fruitland Park, Mount Dora has been dubbed "The New England of the South" and "The Antiques Capital of Central Florida" and is known for its festivals, hills and architecture. Connected via quiet roads and a chain of lakes and surrounded by lush citrus groves is the sweet town of Tangerine. While Mount Dora was the inspiration for "Fort Repose," the city featured in Pat Frank's 1959 classic Alas, Babylon, the novelist actually picked Tangerine as his home.

Sometimes you feel like a nut. Luckily, there's Walnut Hill, a town tucked inside northwest Florida just east of Alabama. Like Tangerine, locals here looked around and noticed there actually were (and still are) walnut trees. Nearby, Pensacola is the home of Historic Pensacola Village, the National Naval Aviation Museum, the daredevil Blue Angels and the beautiful shores of Pensacola Beach.

Midway between Gainesville and Tallahassee on U.S. 27, Mayo holds the distinction of being the county seat as well as Lafayette County's only municipality. Judging by its name, I assumed they didn't have apartments here, just condiments. Actually, the name has nothing to do with the sandwich spread; instead, it was named in honor of Confederate Col.  James Micajah Mayo. Here, you're less than a mile from the famed Suwannee River and surrounded by a proliferation of parks: Lafayette Blue Springs State Park (in Mayo) Suwannee River State Park (40 miles), Ichetucknee State Park (30 miles), Peacock Springs State Recreation Area (seven miles), Troy Spring State Park (13 miles), Big Shoals State Park (36 miles), the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park (36 miles) and the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park (30 miles).

St. Augustine
is the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in America and is highlighted by the 400-year-old Castillo de San Marcos and a stunning historic district. For food (town) aficionados, though, less than 30 minutes southwest of St. Augustine on Highway 207 is a real treat: the community of Spuds – known, naturally, for its potato farming. Just think if Spuds and Mayo were sister cities. You could make a potato salad.

About an hour west of Tallahassee, Marianna is a picture-perfect Southern town with beautiful architecture, a town square and, on the outskirts of town, the lovely Florida Caverns State Park. Yet only about 20 minutes northeast on Highway 69 is a most unusual Florida destination, Two Egg.

During the Great Depression, bartering became a way of life. Two boys who constantly swapped two eggs for sugar at the general store prompted locals to name it the "Two Egg Store." The name stuck and, in 1940, a highway sign appeared at the town limit. The following year, something equally notable appeared in Two Egg: A baby named Dorothy Faye, better known as Faye Dunaway.

Now that's food for thought.

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