If you like Bar-B-Que, take the last exit before getting on Alligator Alley going south & go to Porky's Last Stand. Its about a mile off the interstate & you really have to look close as it is also off the secondary road accross a canal. Very informal, with picnic tables out back where you can also feed your dogs.
For seafood, take the Ellington exit & try the Crab Trap. A little expensive, but lots of choice on good seafood.
re: charlie jordan
Hmm, when I drive from Gainesville to Key West, I find it faster (and yes, more expensive due to tolls) to take I-75 to the Turnpike rather than stay on I-75. It takes me 9 to 10 hours and I try to make it to the Fort Lauderdale area before stopping. A meal on Las Olas is my reward for the long drive!
for great, quick, inexpensive, authentic, Cuban try La Teresita in tampa. From 75 heading south, you would get off at the 275 south Split. You would exit at Howard/Armenia. they are one way streets so you take which ever one heads north (rt turn). I cannot remember which as I no longer live there. You then take a left on Columbus ave and the restaurant will be on your left after the cemetary. I really miss this place. To get back you go back the way you came and take a rt on howard or armenia (again, which ever one is heading south one way and get back on 275 south....which eventually join 75 south again. A side benifit is you get to go over the lovely skyway bridge. I really do not think this will take you too much out of your way and as long as you are not hitting town at rush hour, it should take longer then going strait down 75 all the way. here is a link in case you are interested.
The problem with I-75 is it cuts through the suburbs and so you will find a lot of fastfood just off the interstate. you'll need to get off and drive a bit to find someplace satisfying. Especially south of Charlotte Harbor. Around Naples it is dismal.
For a cuban sandwich you could get off the interstate at Sarasota's St. Armands Circle, at Lido Key. There's a Columbia Restaurant there. This would also be a nice place to stop and get out and stretch your legs. Or take a walk on the beach (as they will have nothing as nice as these beaches in Key West).
I just went to their web site and noticed that the St. Armands location is closed for renovations until early November. You didn't mention when you're traveling. There are also other restaurants at St. Armands Circle but it's a bit pricey there (although the columbia is reasonable).
re: Tandoori Girl
Eh, Columbia is a good hike from 75 for mediocre food and service. If you're going that far into Sarasota, there are better quick lunch options, like Pho Cali on Main.
I agree with the above suggestion for Hickory Hollow. Barbecue Ray's Way is also just down the road from there and also has great 'cue.
I've been making the Miami to KW drive regularly lately and my stops have been El Puerto de Vallarta in Homestead for great ceviche and seafood soups and El Palacio de los Jugos (8th St. location, not far off the turnpike) for fresh juices, lechon asado and ropa vieja. Robert is Here, in Florida City, is also a good stop for killer fruit milkshakes and all sorts of exotic local produce. I believe they're closed until early November however.
Depends when you leave but if you hit Ellenton and 301 after 11 try the Hickory Hollow. The worst thing there is the BBQ. And its pretty good. It's Eastern Carolina style. Pulled, chopped and served with vinegar base sauce. You can get traditional too. Don't really care for the ribs. But the sides are on center stage there. Choose from 20 or more. Southern style and fresh from the farm. Never a can to be seen. Fritters are big, hot and crisp. God Brunswick stew, too. About 3 or 3 1/2 hours south of Gainesville.
Hickory Hollow Barbecue
Address: 4705 U.S. 301 Ellenton
Hours: 11 a.m. until at least 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.