A Few Florida Food Experiences
By Emily Nipps
You can feel the sunshine, you can smell the ocean water, you can hear the seagulls, you can see the palm trees. Now close your eyes and imagine what you think Florida tastes like. Most likely it’s the well-known, time-honored staples: the tender grouper filets, the tangy citrus juices, the creamy Key Lime desserts.
But a full culinary experience in the Sunshine State is about so much more than native fruits and fish. These days, travelers seek out a full array of food experiences, from the casual to the creative, from the rich and meaty to the light and spicy. Florida is a melting pot, offering a bite of this and a sip of that for everyone. No matter where you are in the state, your next great meal isn’t far if you remember these five simple Florida food facts...
Seaside Dining Tastes Better
We’re not sure what the science is behind this, or if this is even true. But anyone who has tasted a freshly steamed crab claw while gazing at the body of water the creatures came from or toasted a glass of Pinot to the sunset knows the experience is nothing short of magical.
Beauty and the Feast
Where: 601 North Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd. (in the Atlantic Hotel), Fort Lauderdale.
Taste this: Sea scallops with wild mushrooms, fresh seafood paella, whole roasted pig. Everything on the menu is handmade from scratch and farm-to-table fare, making it a favorite among self-proclaimed foodies.
The Fish House
Where: 600 S. Barracks St., Pensacola.
Taste this: Daily fresh catches, such as snapper or grouper, served with sides of fresh vegetables or mashes. Go out on the deck for an unforgettable happy hour.
Vue on 30A
Where: 4801 W County Highway 30A, Santa Rosa Beach.
Taste this: Escargot swimming in port and boursin cream, garnished with caramelized onions and served on puff pastry, French toast foie gras. Wall-to-wall windows ensure everyone gets a view.
Floridians Love Their Beef
The state is actually one of the largest cattle producers in the nation, though calves are often sent to other parts of the country, where they fare and feed better in drier climates. At these restaurants, the cows literally come home… in the form of juicy steaks and hamburgers.
Where: 915 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach.
Taste this: Kobe ribeye, beef tartar, truffle mash and Gouda tater tots. This place is known for fantastic service and pretty plating.
Charley’s Steak House
Where: Locations in Tampa, Orlando and Celebration.
Taste this: Tender porterhouse steaks and other juicy cuts are served by a knowledgeable wait staff, eager to explain every cut and method preparation. Feels like an old-school steakhouse, and the lobster comes highly recommended by the regulars.
Tree Steak House
Where: 11362 San Jose Blvd., Jacksonville.
Taste this: Juicy prime rib, filet kabobs and sizzling New York strips, cut to specification and cooked to perfection. Save room for the Milky Way Cake.
But They Also Like to Eat Their Veggies
Vegetarians and vegans need not worry.
Dandelion Community Café
Where: 618 N Thornton Ave., Orlando.
Taste this: Henry's Hearty Chili with organic tempeh, tomatoes, kidney beans, bell peppers, sweet corn, red onions, and spices. The fun, colorful 1920s bungalow makes for an interesting setting.
Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant
Where: 6575 Park Blvd., Pinellas Park.
Taste this: Vegetarian/vegan Vietnamese cuisine such as spring rolls, soups, salads, hot pot, stir-fry, banh xeo and banh mi, and a few Chinese dishes. Hit up the weekly vegan buffet for a real treat.
Where: 729 Thomas St., Key West.
Taste this: Homemade granola with soy milk and fresh fruit), tortilla with sautéed tofu, black beans, brown rice and avocado. A friendly, funky, al fresco dining spot that has delicious dishes for carnivores and herbivores alike.
The Quirky, Niche Spots are Always Memorable
Ask the locals and they can point you to their towns’ best-kept secrets.
Where: 5137 North Florida Ave., Tampa.
Taste this: Weekly menus keep patrons coming back for surprises, such as 5-spice pork belly small plate or cottage pie made of a pecan, honey, rosemary, red potato mash and pickled pumpkin. Chef Greg Baker whips up fancy, exotic dishes, served in a rustic house with mismatched silverware.
Funky Buddha Brewery
Where: 1201 NE 38th St., Oakland Park.
Taste this: Even those who don’t like craft beer will have fun tasting these creative and unusual brews, which incorporate the flavors of maple bacon and coffee, peanut butter and jelly, passionfruit, peppercorns and more. A regular food truck rotation gives drinkers delicious options to soak up the suds.
One Flight Up
Where: 440 N Donnelly St., Mount Dora.
Taste this: Climb the – yep – one flight up to this quaint spot with a lovely balcony and have a reasonably priced glass of Cabernet, a warm and oozing brie plate with apples and nuts, a slice of Quiche Lorraine, a towering slice of coconut cake or a piece of apple pie.
Yalaha Country Bakery
Where: 210 Florida 48, Yalaha, FL 34797.
Taste this: This tiny town is about a 45-minute drive from Orlando and somehow seems like the perfect place for an authentic German-style bakery and deli, which serves artisanal ryes and pumpernickels, salami, liverwurst, bratwurst, knackwurst, frankfurters, sauerkraut, and schnitzel. Wash it down with imported German beers.
The Tried and True are Still Around For a Reason
Don’t shy away from the popular and reliable standbys.
Beverly’s La Croisette
Where: 7401 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach.
Taste this: The Hangover omelet stuffed with corned beef hash and topped with hollandaise, the huge pancakes or the nine variations of eggs Benedict. A no-frills experience that thrills the locals.
Raglan Road Irish Pub & Restaurant
Where: Downtown Disney, 1640 East Buena Vista Dr., Lake Buena Vista.
Taste this: A Downtown Disney favorite, this intricately designed restaurant with a domed ceiling, outdoor seating and long wood tables has live music and Irish dancing, as well as some of the best fish & chips in Florida. The house-made tartar sauce with capers, onion and mustard makes the dish.
Lost Lagoon Wings & Grill
Where: 2004 N. Dixie Freeway, New Smyrna Beach.
Taste this: One of 17 Black Angus specialty burgers, such as the Black N Bleu stuffed with blue cheese, the Brunch topped with bacon and an egg, or the Big Taco. Ask for a side of cheesy Boom Boom sauce. Casual Florida at its best.
While seafood and citrus will always be the go-to flavors for Florida visitors, be sure to step out of your comfort zone for some unexpected treats on your trip. Armed with these guidelines, you’re bound to go back home with some mouthwatering memories.