What To Eat in Florida
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.
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.
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A rowdy restaurant bar on Key West's old waterfront, the Half Shell is great place to enjoy cracked conch, fresh oysters, and tropical libations.
A "chef-driven restaurant" serving modern Southern cuisine, FireFly, in Key West's Bahama Village, is a source of classic dishes with inventive twists.
Florida's oldest diner, Angel's is an unrepentant hash house serving cheap eats from dawn to dark. The celebrated dishes are burgers and onion rings.
Creative, from-scratch donuts are big and intriguingly delicious at this simple Key West storefront shop. A breakfast must for sweet tooths.
A more secluded version of Key West's fine French bakery serves the best pastries in town. Egg breakfasts, bread, coffee & smoothies all are grand.
Cuban street food, traditional and wildly creative, is served in a colorful Key West shack. The Frita burger and Cuban sandwich variations are memorable.
A small-town cafe where the locals come for breakfast, lunch, and Sunday brunch, Apalachee Restaurant is a taste of Deep South Florida.
Open by dawn, Arahi's is a friendly neighborhood bakery with cakes, pastries, plated hot breakfast, and strong Cuban coffee, all at bargain prices.
Utterly fresh seafood & clever cocktails served under sun by the water on a colorful marina make Hurricane Hole a dreamy destination at the edge of Key West.