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Best Florida Road Food

I realize this is a broad topic, so let me pose it to you this way:

If you were going to take a road trip anywhere in Florida--in the county where you live or way across the state--where would you stop to eat along the way? I'm not looking for destination restaurants, but roadside cafes, diners, BBQ shacks, b-fast joints, and the like that serve satisfying grub to road-weary travelers. DH and I plan to take a rather unstructured road trip in the coming weeks, so I'd love to have a list of recs (together with roads they're on and names of the nearest towns) in case our meanderings happen to take us in that direction. Who knows, we might just decide on a direction based on your input! Look forward to hearing your suggestions.

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  1. The Yearling is a real out of the way place,on CR 325 about 1 mile North of Marjorie Keenan Rawlings Park,closest town is Hawthorne, It is well worth the effort to take the drive for this real Florida Food and people.The house is where M.K.R. lived and wrote her best works.You can stroll around the property and actually see & feel, the things she wrote about.

    6 Replies
    1. re: DenimOrchid

      You got me hooked--this is definitely on our itinerary!

      Any other recommendations out there?

      1. re: laurie

        Make sure you try the sour orange pie.

        1. re: Sunshine17

          Do you have the recipe for the sour orange pie?

      2. re: DenimOrchid

        Walt's Fish Market.in Sarasota It's a great no frills local place. The seafood is very well prepared.and incredibly fresh. The prices are insane. A quart of delicious clam chowder costs about as much as a cup does here in NY, I usually prefer to say, "inexpensive" but this place is downright cheap (cost, not quality) And I mean that in a good way..
        Here is the menu...

        1. re: DenimOrchid

          The Yearling is in Cross Creek, right outside of Micanopy, not Hawthorne. Hawthorne is to the north of Gainesville, Cross Creek to the south.

          1. re: grapefruitgal

            Actually, Hawthorne is to the East of G-ville. It is 10 miles from Cross Creek to Micanopy and 15 miles to Hawthorne. Nothing in Hawthone except the annual Hog Festival. Micanopy is an old, historic Florida town that offers some good antique hunting. No matter - - - back to The Yearling. It is located adjacent to the old MKR home and is worth the visit. Not great, but worth the visit. A great old "Road House" with a low, wood (hearts of pine?) celing that serves some old Florida cracker specialties including gator tail, frog legs and venison. Its a heavy dose of fried food, but what the heck. Good chowder, too. I have never had the steaks but I hear they are prime meat.
            On my visit this past summer, there was live entertainment. An elderly, black, blues singer. Again, worth the trip.

        2. Just off US 27 in Lake Wales is the Cherry Pocket. Good food and cold beer (if that's your thing). Fantastic Desserts.


          1 Reply
          1. re: polkcountygator

            Also in Lake Wales is Norby's Steakhouse--more like Steakshack. Doesn't look like more than a biker bar just east of the wal-mart on hwy 60. Fairly reasonable prices for extremely tasty steaks. sweet tea served in plastic cups...a whole stick of butter on the baked potato... Try the horsey bites for an appetizer: garlic bread with a slice of steak and freshly ground horseradish to top it all off. If this doesn't clean out your sinuses, nothing will!!

          2. Go to the website: roadfood.com

              1. re: steakman55

                Frog's is good but not great. I passed by may times and wanted to stop. Finally did just after thanksgiving. The Sauce is the best part. The ribs weren't very tender,, in fact they were tough! Good bbq ribs will pull away from the bone easily with little effort. I had to chew on these! I heard of a better place up the road in cheifland but I cant remember the name. There is also a drive thru fried chicken barn in perry. It kinda looks like a drive through beverage place but there is a big sighn on top that says "fried chicken".
                I will try this place next!

              2. On SR 48 ( north of Clermont off Hwy 27) are two jewels, both in a little bend in the road called Yalaha. There is a Barbeque place that is only open Wed- Sat. Take-out.
                There is also a bakery that looks like it belongs in Bavaria. The best breads and pastries in Central Florida. They also do sandwiches. The country around Yalaha is still pretty - rolling hills ( unfortunately becoming covered with houses) and lots of lakes. A welcome respite from Disney inspired insanity.

                3 Replies
                1. re: eimac

                  I second the Yalaha offerings. If it fits in your plans, go to the bakery (www.yalahabakery.com) on a Saturday morning. It is packed with folks there for the bread and the Free Live Music! It's a must, as far as I'm concerned! The barbecue place is about 1/4 mile from the bakery and is in a little general store. All orders are to go. If they have it, order the Brunswick stew.

                  1. re: eimac

                    The BBQ place is BC's General Store and is the best BBQ I've had since I moved here from North Carolina. Go to the Yalaha Bakery for dessert; I'm not a huge fan of their sandwiches. Their breads are awesome (so much so that my husband and I make 90 mile round trips for our breading needs).

                    Also, check out the Lakeridge Winery if you find yourself out that way. They make really good southern style wines.

                  2. CORKY-BELLES. Real old florida in titusville.

                    CORKY-BELLES!! In Titusville.. An old florida seafood house, and don't miss the deep fried pickles.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: JOJOGIRL

                      I second this one. My parents and I dragged my Marylander husband there when we went to see the shuttle launch in June. I think you have to order the fried alligator tail.

                      I also like the Catfish House on 192 in St. Cloud for Florida food.

                    2. Laurie:

                      If you are truly taking an "unstructured" Florida road trip, there may be a chance you will wind up coming down US 27 to my neck of the woods in Highlands County -- there is hardly another reason for someone from the Tampa Bay area to travel through here. If you do find yourself here, I offer up what I consider the best restaurant in our county to you: Taqueria Merlo. It just so happens that it is not a "destination" restaurant, and is, in fact, inside a small grocery store, thus qualifying as Road Food, I would say. That being said, it still beats the pants off anything we have in this area, at any price point, in any cuisine, in my opinion. (Admittedly, I am talking about Highlands County here, but I'd still throw Merlo's into the ring with Mexican joints in large cities and I'd bet Merlo's would at least hold its own.)

                      They serve freshly made corn tortillas with all of their tacos and many of their entrees, and the salsa and condiment/salad bar is unlike any of its kind I've ever seen at a Mexican restaurant. There are three different salsas (all of them spectacular in their own way), and various salads with combinations of vegetables as diverse as roasted jalapeƱo peppers, jicama, cucumber, nopal, cabbage, roasted green onions, carrots, and radishes. None of that would be noteworthy were it not for the freshness of every single item on that bar throughout the day. The staff is relatively large for an establishment of its size, and those salsas and salads on that bar are replenished by employees continuously. If it takes me 30 minutes to eat my meal, they will have already tended to that bar at least twice. If they refrigerate any of those salads, they are doing a good job of fooling my tongue.

                      I begin with that salsa/salad bar because that's where you make your money at Merlo's, regardless of what you order -- hell, I could make a meal out of the salsas and spicy salads by themselves. While it's hard to go wrong with anything on the menu once you bring that salsa/salad bar into the picture, I recommend the following: the barbacoa tacos, the al pastor tacos, and the lengua tacos: all stellar, always well-prepared and succulent. The carne arrachera will send you to the moon. The pozole is not far behind.

                      What brings me to Merlo's at least twice a week is the consistency. If it were stellar only every other time, it would probably be just another Mexican place. But the manner in which they are able to control the quality of everything they put out on almost every single visit is just amazing. Like I tell my wife every time we eat there, just after the first bite of lengua graces my own: "It's like the first time we ate here, all over again. How can I forget just how good this place is between visits?"

                      Merlo's is open seven days a week from at least 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. It's just east of US 27 on Main Street in the heart of Avon Park. While Avon Park is not much to look at, this place more than makes up for it.

                      Please forgive the effusive post. It's just that there has never been an appropriate opportunity on this board to tout the best thing going in my corner of Culinary Nowhere.


                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Noice

                        Noice, thanks so much for the rec! I happen to absolutely love a great taqueria (if you doubt my sincerity, read my many posts searching for good Mexican grub). I'm going to check out the Atlas this evening and figure out where this is--hope to include it in our itinerary!

                        1. re: laurie


                          You're very welcome. I failed to use the link to a place feature in my earlier post, so I hope it works this time.

                          There are a number of different, interesting ways to get to Avon Park from Pinellas County (where it seems you are). I would suggest that among the most picturesque is this one: take the Skyway Bridge down to I-75 and then hang a left on SR 64 heading east away from Bradenton. You will go through Ona and a few other places before rolling in to Avon Park. Merlo's will be on your left after you cross US 27.


                          Taqueria Merlo
                          1004 W Main St, Avon Park, FL 33825

                      2. Hi Laurie,
                        Although it's on the way to nowhere, you should check all of the posts about Cedar Key, if you like seafood...
                        Funk on!

                        1. If you find yourself anywhere near New Smyrna Beach I highly recommend JB's Fishcamp. We were on the way back to Boca from NC and got off I-95 to find JB's. It was well worth the effort. Great fish, crabs, and shrimp. If you love oyster stew, this is the place to go. It's everything a seafood-loving chowhound could ask for. http://www.jbsfishcamp.com/

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: RickL

                            Recommend JB's Fishcamp also! Wonderful seafood and great location.

                          2. And when you get to the panhandle, Stinky's Fish Camp and The Red Bar, both off Hwy 30A in south Walton County.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: tiomano

                              Also in the Panhandle, there's Nick's on Hwy 20 between Freeport and Niceville. Sides are kind of average, but they really know their fish and seafood.

                              You get indifferent taxidermy as decor inside, and the owner's free range chickens in the parking lot.

                              1. re: tiomano

                                OK, I absolutely have to make a trip to the Panhandle and eat at Stinky's Fish Camp, if for no other reason than to be able to say that I ate at a place called Stinky's Fish Camp. . . .

                              2. Love this post! If you are on I-10 going west, stop in Madison and try One Eleven Grill -they have the BEST fried green tomatoes and really great bread pudding and some great shopping too!

                                If you find yourself in Apalachicola then you must try Avenue Sea and promise me you'll try Boss Oyster.

                                1. There are many potential spots in and around St. Pete but I think Ted Peters in South Pasadena would be my choice if I had to pick one. Smoked fish, great burgers, cold beer. Served with an attitude in the open air about 20 feet from the road.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Wineman

                                    Boy, I agree about Ted Peters. When I crave a cheeseburger, that's where I head. And I pick up some smoked salmon for later. . . .

                                  2. Greek Gourmet in Naples is the best Greek/Med food I have had anywhere. It is non-descript, and you would never expect it. 390 Tamiami Trail.

                                    J.B.'s Fish Camp on A1A in New Smyrna Beach

                                    Black Hammock Fish Camp off 417 on the northeast side of Orlando

                                    Caroline's on Duval in Key West.

                                    1. If you're in the Space Coast (Brevard County) area, pick up a box of Grimaldi's Chocolate Covered Potato Chips ( http://www.grimaldicandies.com/catalo... ). Besides the company store, a lot of other shops also have them for sale.

                                      Note: they come in both Milk & Dark Chocolate. While I almost always prefer Dark, in this instance I think that the Milk goes better with the salty chip.

                                      1. Great topic! Are there any finds like these within an hour of Boca - or on the way from Boca to St. Pete?

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: flowergirl


                                          Are you taking the scenic route to St. Petersburg? I could recommend a few places across the Heartland that would make Boca seem like a different planet. Granted, you would add an hour or so to your trip, but you would see some interesting towns along the way and get some good down-and-dirty chow, I can guarantee you.


                                        2. If you find yourself driving through Orlando, I recommend Hot Dog Heaven off of 50 (Colonial Drive), near 436 (Semoran Blvd.).

                                          1. You definitely want to check out the Wild Turkey Tavern in Sebring on Hwy 27. They have the best wings I have ever tasted - delicious vinegary, garlicky sauce that you may want to drink it is so fantastic. Plus, there is no better place to get a taste of some Central Florida proud-to-be-redneck culture. The tavern is painted camouflage - how can you not love it?!?! They have cold beer on tap and a menu full of tasty tavern foods - besides the wings (which do take a little while because they are made to order), I recommend the burgers and the gator tail. The clientele is a mix of locals from every walk of life - doctors, lawyers, blue collar guys, and bikers. A definite must-try if you are in the area.

                                            1. If you find yourself near Lakeland El Mirisole Cafe has the best Latin food we've ever eaten. In Plant City you can't pass up The Whistle Stop Cafe they're only open until 2 p.m. Don't forget to try the 5c Cherry Smash. You'll feel like a kid as you get to blow bubbles in your drink. It's not only allowed, it's insisted.