Our annual food guide is a lip-smacking, appetite-inducing tour of our favorite Florida foods, drinks, people, places and things. So don’t be shy — dig in!
The historic Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant is poised on Long boat Key just off Sarasota Bay. Stroll this Old Florida fave’s pier after you chow down on the steamer pot (crabs, mussels, shrimp and lobster in Old Bay seasoning). So, quench your thirst with a delicious raspberry-vodka- laced Mar Vista lemonade.
At Bahia Cabana’s rustic dockside restaurant in Fort Lauderdale on the Intracoastal, arrive by water taxi for combo frozen rum runner and piña colada cocktails, plus fresh peel ’n’ eat shrimp and some of the best chicken wings. Watch the yachts pass by or just hang with longtime locals at the bar.
In April, when cobia migrate through the warm Northwest Gulf water, Pensacola based chef Jim Shirley is among the first to put this sweet fish with firm alabaster flesh on his Fish House upscale menu.
Have a Hammer- head Tropical Hurricane (served five ways) while relaxing on the Choctawhatchee Bay at Sandestin’s Baytowne Wharf in Destin. It’s here that you’ll definitely find Hammerhead’s Bar & Grille, where chargrilled oysters on the half shell are a true house specialty — with a great view!
Harvest your own seafood dinner the fun way: Dive into shallow water and collect handfuls of bay scallops from the grassy bottom of Crystal River and Crystal Bay. Captain Kyle Messier takes you to the prime spots for finding clusters of these tasty bivalves — from July through September.
A sign hanging by the counter at Keys Fisheries in Marathon keeps track of how many lobster Reuben sandwiches have been sold to date. Last time we checked, it was 154,549! Best time to order this sandwich is during lobster season (August to March), when the Florida spiny lobster is freshest.
Farming clams off the shore of Cedar Key is a livelihood for the locals as well as a bonanza for foodies. And if you haven’t tried Tony’s clam chowder, put it
on your must-indulge list. Light, smooth and satiny on the tongue, the chowder has small pieces of tender clams, diced potatoes and a kick of heat at the finish. Well worth the trip to this rustic outpost.
Not all fish spreads are created equal. Case in point: The Owen’s Fish Camp in Sarasota makes a smooth blend of salmon, amberjack and mahimahi. Served in vin-
tage mason jars with saltines, it’s a perfect starter. We also like the smoked mullet dip at the Old Homosassa Smoke- house near Crystal River as well as the tuna dip at Louis Louis in Santa Rosa Beach.
Once upon a time, Ted Peters smoked mullet, laid it on a plate with potato salad and plopped it on a picnic table. Cold beer? Root beer? And that was enough to keep folks coming back to Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish (727.381.7931) in South Pasa- dena near St. Pete. Sixty years later, and it still is. A no-frills place serving local mahimahi, mullet and mackerel straight from the smoker. The fish get about 3 hours in the smokers, filled with Florida red or water oak to create the right smokin’ flavors. They’re cooked with salt and a light basting with a house mix of vegetable oil, garlic and tomatoes. When it comes to sides, order the tart, bacony German potato salad and a frosty mug. So bring a cooler to take home some of the killer fish dip. And lastly, we request cash only, please.
Sit by the Jupiter River or grab a barstool under the thatched tiki at Guanabanas. This casual Jupiter fave has lots of lush foliage and stone bridge walk- ways over rushing waterfalls. Perfect for a Planter’s Punch & Bahamiam conch burger or a fresh catch on Cuban bread.
Any reason to celebrate our hometown chocolatiers is a good one. Jacksonville-based Peterbrooke is best known for its off-kilter creations, such as chocolate-
covered popcorn — of which we just can’t get enough. St. Augustine’s Whetstone doles out fudge flavors (rocky road and peanut butter chip are faves). Also in St. Augustine, Claude’s Chocolate uses fine Belcolade Belgian chocolate to create pure confections from pistachio bark to passionfruit bonbons. For tasty clusters laden with caramel, nuts and even toffee, Angell & Phelps Chocolate Factory located in Daytona Beach does it right.
Key Lime Pie
We’ve searched, and tasted, our way up and down the Florida Keys and haven’t found a better Key lime pie than Barbara Cockerham’s version, which is served at MA’s Fish Camp (305.517.9611) in Islamorada. This native Keys girl grew up on the citrus pie her mom made: thick graham-cracker crust, creamy and tart yellow filling, and beautifully peaked meringue. Her Bab’s Dessert Shoppe opens this winter.
Take cash if you really want the raw orange blossom honey from the Struther‘s honey house (863.632. 5424) in Lake Wales. There’s no cashier here
— just an honor system and a wooden box. (It’s $4.25 for a one-pound “bear,” $35 per gallon jug.) Alden Struthers and his wife Lotta move their 800-plus hives to pollinate cantaloupes, peppers, blue- berries and the king crop — oranges. Unprocessed and filtered through a cloth, it’s the purest citrusy sweet stuff you can buy — since 1935.
In one of the warmest states in the country, ice cream definitely takes on a whole new meaning, which is why we scoured the state for icy treats you can’t resist on a hot day — or any day. A visit to down- town St. Petersburg should include a stop at Paciugo for scoops of the creamiest gelato (pictured); mix and match flavors like amerena black cherry swirl and chocolate coconut rum. Head to Siesta Key in the Sarasota area for a tasting of Big Olaf Creamery’s Kahlua Krunch. Handmade in the neighboring Amish village of Pinecraft, it’s packed with pure old-fashioned flavor. If indulging in ice cream is a diet buster, go all out with a cone of Deep Purple Cow, black raspberry ice cream with blueberry bits and milk- and dark-chocolate chunks, from Emack & Bolio’s — no regrets. You can find it in Duck Key, Naples, as well as Orlando.
The Grease Beast at Grease Burger Bar in West Palm stacks a 10-ounce cheeseburger between grilled-cheese-and-bacon sandwiches piled high with fries. At $27 a pop, sirloin is stuffed with short ribs, foie gras and truffles at Miami’s db Bistro Moderne. In Orlando, Pine Twenty2 offers several gourmet options, from goat’s milk cheese to roasted red peppers, with its burgers.
No talk of Florida barbecue is ever complete without the mentioning of 4Rivers Smoke house in Orlando. Pit master John Rivers (pictured left) blends regional ’cue styles for his loyal fans who line up out the door for juicy pulled pork and smoked brisket — including a line of tasty sauces and rubs.
Here’s some advice for an adventurous cook: Use garlic when preparing alligator meat. Genie Tillman of Park Island Gator Farm in Lake Placid says that their farmed gator, processed at around 14 months, is less fishy-tasting and contains less fat marbling than the wild rep- tiles, so garlic gives it a nice flavor boost. You can pick up fresh gator meat, and alligator hide purses, at the 30-acre farm or order by phone.
Taste the reddest, plumpest straw- berries right from the field at Oak Haven Farms in rural Sorrento, near Orlando. After you pick your patch clean, indulge in a homestyle strawberry shortcake and a handmade berry milkshake under the shade of a giant oak tree — dripping with Spanish moss. They even have “free” hayrides and other fun stuff.
For 25 years, Sherry Stoppel- bein has been growing datil peppers. “They only grow in St. Augustine, where the climate, soil and humidity are perfect,” she says. You’ll find pickled peppers and datil sweet pickles, along with hot sauces, on her shelves at Hot Shot Bakery in St. Augustine.