Looking for the Restaurant Essence of Florida
Hello all, I plan on doing a lot of traveling around the state and am in search of the "essence(s) of Florida," if such a thing exists. Depending on where you are, there are many Floridas: the deep south of north florida, the sleepy inland hamlet, the waterfront dive bar, the funky Keys fry shack, the roadside BBQ stand, the campy Miami places, etc. I'm looking for places that scream Florida in all its diversity. All suggestions are welcome. In the Tampa Bay area, I'd include Ted Peters, Chattaway, the Columbia, etc. Thanks!
Here in SW Florida, you must take a trip out into 'cane and orange country to LaBelle (in Hendry County). There you will find Flora and Ella's, home of real Southern cooking and the most delicious pies anywhere. Flora and Ella's is on SR 80 (Palm Beach Blvd.) in the heart of LaBelle, just west of the main intersection in town (SR 80 and SR 29); LaBelle is approx. 25 miles east of Fort Myers. When you get there, and you must, order the fried chicken and be prepared to wait, b/c they make it from scratch. It's juicy and succulent and terrible for your arteries! Make sure you try the fried green tomatoes with the remoulade-like sauce; try the Hoppin' John; order the chicken pot pie if it's on the menu. The sides are as good as the main dishes: the cole slaw is the perfect harmony of cabbage, vinegar, and mayo; the corn nuggets are little fried delights of fresh corn; okra-lovers will not want to miss the fried okra, and the mashed potatoes and gravy are true comfort food. Whatever you do, save some room for the pie. In fact, call ahead and find out what whole pies are available to take home; the ladies will put some aside for you. I recommend the coconut cream, the pecan, and the Dutch apple. The chocolate cream and peanut butter pies are delicious, too. Flora and Ella's is Old Florida at it's all-too-rare finest. Go soon because one of the big developers is buying up the entire town and the restaurant, too.
I live in Naples, and my husband is an ardent 'hound. He reads these boards constantly, but he's too reticent to post. Going the other direction from Naples, head down Tamiami Trail forever until you come to Everglades City. This is the home of the state's stone crab fishing fleets. You know all those shimmering, salmon-colored crab claws they serve at Joe's on Miami Beach? They all come from the fleets in Everglades City. When you get to this last stretch of paradise, avoid the Rod & Gun Club at all costs. The food is toxic. Instead, head over to City Seafood (702 Begonia St.), which is situated right on the Barron River. You can order freshly-caught stone crabs, fish smoked in-house, and some great seafood chowder. Feel free to order whatever they've caught fresh. You might even see a manatee or dolphins as you sit and eat your meal on the deck overlooking the river. If you're smart, you'll remember to bring a cooler and some ice with you so you can take some goodies back home or to your hotel. For dessert, drive down to the circle, and stop at Susie's Station for a key lime pie.
Although I'm a Naples expert for Tripadvisor.com, I'm not a frequent visitor to Chowhound. Looks like I'll have to add this to my weekly routine.
If you haven't checked the thread on Classic Florida Restaurants that netmover started some time back, there's a lot of good information there.
There are also a couple of threads abour Florida's beach shacks, beach dives, etc, that have good information in them.
There is so much diversity in food here -- seafood, citrus, Floribbean, Vietnamese -- that I suspect this will become another long running thread.
re: Bob Mervine
We just moved here a few months ago and I just gave birth to twin girls so I haven't been able to sample too many places but I am an obsessed foodie and talk to people all the time about great places. I tend to favor hole-in-the-wall places and I've had a few friends recommend Dolly's in Bonita Springs--very casual, great breakfast and lunch, amazing waffles, big porch with porch swings...it's on Bonita Beach Road.
Randy's Fish House I can attest to personally--the best belly clams ever (do NOT ever get belly clams--or any food, for that matter, at the Dock--completely mediocre). It's great for kids, too--they serve kids meals on frisbees the little tykes can take home and the restaurant rafters are inhabited by flocks of pink plastic flamingos. Great kitsch.
Awesome Vietnamese can be found at Noodles Saigon on Tamiami Trail...great Vietnamese iced coffee, summer rolls, whole fish, etc.