One of the favorite pasttimes of both Florida residents and visitors is going out to a restaurant. Rather than visit the chain spots – many of which got their start inb the Sunshine State – I suggest looking for places that reflect Florida in menu and style.
Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’ – Disney Springs, Orlando
North Florida native Art Smith and national cooking celebrity has teamed up with Walt Disney to create a down home Florida restaurant featuring classic Florida style Southern cooking. Everything in the building is from Florida – the wooden structure, the decorations, and the menu. It looks like a fish camp building landed in the middle of the Disney empire.
You better get reservations for this restaurant, for it not only is booming in popularity with tourists, a lot of Orange County locals choose this outing whenever people visit. Don’t be shocked if Art Smith, a television chef, shows up at your table, for he takes his reputation very seriously and spends time in his nameplace.
The menu adds and subtracts neat specials but the fried chicken, sugar doughnuts, Florida grouper, and shrimp and grits never leave the selections, nor does the church lady deviled eggs and thigh high chicken biscuits. Don’t start your diet until AFTER you eat here. Remember that Florida country farmers burn a lot more calories than we city-slickers.
Ulele Restaurant – Tampa Heights
You can take a water taxi up the Hillsborough River from some downtown Tampa hotels or the Straz Center or Convention Center to a restaurant that features very unique approaches to Florida food. The restaurant is next to the Old Tampa Water Works and is part of the growing Riverwalk from downtown.
Richard Gonzmart, fourth generation member of the Ybor City family that owns the oldest and largest Florida restaurant The Columbia, was inspired by Florida history and dishes. I love the seafood traditionals like Gouda Grouper and Florida Pompano, but you can try the Crab Mac N Cheese and the Alligator Hash Puppies.
The Ulele Indian princess statue at the entrance reminds you this is a Florida based menu with some additions from around the world. Just think something as basic as ice cream for desert and when you see Valrhona Chocolate and Uganda Vanilla Bean tell you everything on the menu is special.
The Old Spanish Sugar Mill and Griddle – DeLeon Springs State Park
DeLeon Springs State Park north of Orlando is a great family outing for boating and swimming and exploring the wildlife of Central Florida. It is also a neat place to have a late breakfast or bunch. It was a restaurant in the replica of one of Florida’s old Spanish mills.
This is not a traditional restaurant. Each table has a huge griddle n the center and you can make all the pancakes you want. Throw in some Florida strawberries or blueberries and add some bacon and ham. Try some Florida orange juice before attacking the river waterland outside the restaurant.
More state parks should add a breakfast place or two.
PLNTHOUSE – Miami Beach
I may be accused of being a transplanted Yankee historian who loves old seafood places so I decided to include a good example of the new international, urban Florida. Here is a crisp oceanfront vegan café open for breakfast and lunch and a large bar right in the heart of the Miami Beach action at 2341 Collins Avenue. Filled with plants and clean in its design.
Planthouse is the creation of noted plant-based author and chef Mathew Kenny. The menu has a huge list of wraps and salads and items like green herb tacos and beet and mushroom burgers and hearts of palm salad.
Just The Cook Off the Hook – Panama City
When you talk about going out to eat in Florida waterfront restaurants serving Florida seafood is a good possibility. Not many people would expect the seafood and burger spot to look like Panhandle restaurant Just The Cook – it is a small floating boat in a crowded yacht basin.
There is barely enough room for a table in the restaurant so most people elect to take their food to their boat rather than use the picnic tables on the far-side of the dock. The fact that this tiny place has all the needed ingredients to be successful – online food reviews and photographs of food selection, this is a neat spot that fits the Florida lifestyle as the fancy sit-down spots.