About Regional Flavor
Seafood in all its glory: oysters along the Gulf coast, crab and flounder and grouper and redfish throughout the state. Shrimp are divine on the eastern coast, especially around St. Augustine, which also is known for its unique Minorcan chowder, made incendiary by the inclusion of locally-grown datil peppers. Orlando is a beacon of good soul food restaurants; and in Tampa and Miami and out in the Keys, genuine Cuban restaurants are nothing short of spectacular. Need we mention that true Key lime pie is an essential? So much of Florida is new, but throughout the panhandle are a handful of charming old-Florida eateries – reminders that the farther north you go in this state, the deeper South you are.
Florida Regional Specialties
Deep-cupped Aplachicolas glistening with oceanic liquor are painfully tender, ocean-sweet, overwhelmingly satisfying cool on the half shell. Or gild the lily by having them flash-baked in a plush veil of butter, Parmesan cheese, and garlic.
A perfect storm of multiple ingredients, the Cuban is a sheaf of roast pork, sliced ham, at least one kind of cheese, puckery pickle slices, mustard and mayo all packed into a torpedo of crusty Cuban bread. The sandwich would fall to pieces as constructed, but it attains poise and harmony in a hot plancha, the Spanish toaster that is basically a toothless waffle iron. The heavy top of the plancha presses down on the assembled sandwich, causing all the different flavor notes to bond together as one resounding chord inside the crisped loaf.
It looks like Manhattan clam chowder but Minorcan chowder definitely doesn't taste like it. The difference is datil peppers, grown only in and around St. Augustine, Florida, which give it chowder a fruity pepper punch. The shock and awe come on slowly, beginning with a glow at the back of the throat that soon blossoms to set tongue and lips tingling. Chopped clams, shreds of tomato, corn kernels, and hunks of potato ride a slow-rolling capsicum wave that swells with sweet-tart citrus zest.
A small soul food restaurant with a big personality, Nikki's is an Orlando gem. Shrimp & grits, available at breakfast, lunch, & supper, is the best.