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Restaurants that personify "Old Florida"

Since moving here last year I have been intrigued by descriptions of "Old Florida" by old timers and native Floridians nostalgic for a time gone by. Foodwise, what would Hounds on this board consider "Old Florida", and what restaurants or markets in your neck of the woods serve up "Old Florida"-style grub? For example, Ted Peter's smoked mullet in St. Pete comes to mind.

I realize what people think of as Old Florida grub may differ among the various regions of the state, and even from family to family. What's your take?

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  1. I agree with Ted Peters. I would also suggest Arco Iris in Tampa due to the inclusion of fried rice on their predominantly Cuban menu. The fried rice goes back quite a way in Ybor City.


    1 Reply
    1. re: RibDog

      Love Arco's Iris they are awesome and cheap. Taco bus in tampa is amazing they have a great old school vibe going also, Roberts on westshore has the best old florida feel and the best filet mignon sandwich if Florida!

      In Anna Maria Rod and Reel is a good place to eat with one of the best views around. It's a old fishing peir in the middle of the water that serves you food!

      Starfish co in Cortez defines old florida. You eat in a fishing marina they server pompano,sword fish,grouper, just about anything and it comes with grits!

    2. The Yearling has got to be the most authentic "Old Florida" place I have ever eaten.This place has been around since the 50's.For such an out of the way place,it is always packed. I had fried frog legs,my friend had gator bites and quail. They serve venison,coon,turtle with wonderful homemade sides,large french fries,hushpuppies to die for,slaw etc.The atmosphere is so backwoods Florida,that it is actually in the middle of two lakes.While waiting for a table,you can browse the antique room that features all Florida antiques of this old house.Willie Green sits on a stack of coca~cola crates playing his acoustic guitar while singing the blues in between two of the dining rooms.
      Arriving early I got to meet the cook and have him autograph my Cross Creek Cookbook,his mother was Marjorie Keenan Rawlings cook.

      2 Replies
      1. re: DenimOrchid

        The Yearling sounds wonderful. Where is it located?

        Ribdog, I've been wanting to try Arco Iris for awhile now. Your post has pushed it to the top of my list.

        1. re: laurie

          The Yearling is in Hawthorne which is in the middle of the state south of Gainesville.


      2. The Hungry Tarpon on Lower Matecumbe Key serves grunts and grits for breakfast. It doesn't get more authentic than that.

          1. Another funky old FLA joint is Allen's Historical Cafe in Auburndale.
            Cooter, gator, rattlesnake and armadillo are on the menu. All kinds of weird old artifacts lying about as well. I don't know if it is still there.
            They had some pretty good bluegrass on the weekends.

            3 Replies
            1. re: keysrat

              Allen's was great but it has been gone for years.

              1. re: EOutlaw

                Too bad about Allen's.
                I ate armadillo for the first (and only) time at Allen's.

                1. re: keysrat

                  Ugh...sounds like possum on the half shell....

            2. You might want to try the Linger Lodge at 7205 Linger Lodge Road on the Braden River, a few miles south of Bradenton. This RV resort restaurant lodge overlooks the Braden River. If you eat on the (non-air- conditioned) porch, you are practically over the river. (The interior is air-conditioned.) Al Roker featured it on his program, labeling it "One of the Top 5 Weirdest Restaurants" in the U.S.

              The food can range from excellent to indifferent. And you have to like fried food. (Non-fried fish is available, but I don't think the cook's heart is in it.) The menu features alligator chowder, black beans and rice, cracker salad (featuring swamp cabbage), conch fritters, Braden River frog legs, redfish sandwiches, crab cake sandwiches, fried catfish, fried freshwater yellow perch, assorted other fried gulf fish, bread pudding, cherry-peach cobbler, bourbon chocolate pecan pie and mixed berry shortcake. The rest of the menu items are more contemporary, but they are not what one goes there for.

              The restaurant is in an old, wooden, creaky building and has stuffed Florida animals and fish mounted on the walls. The web address is info@lingerlodgeresort.com and the telephone is (941) 755-2757. You actually pass under "Linger Lodge Road" (which is so labeled by a small sign on the overpass) while on I-75, a few miles north of the University Parkway exit in Sarasota. The best way to get to it, I think, is to exit one exit north of University Parkway and ask directions. It is actually East of I-75, yet still on the river, which surprised me. All the locals know where it is. It is a local landmark, which has been in business for over thirty (or something) years and used to be a fishing camp. I found out about it through the Sarasota newspaper, which ran a feature on it, due to its unusual and "old Florida" nature.

              1 Reply
              1. re: gfr1111

                Great seafood at the Linger Lodge...atmosphere is about as close to 'old florida' as you can get!

              2. Ted Peters for sure. If you're in the St. Pete area, I would add Star Fish Co. in Cortez, near Bradenton. Tark's in Dania is also good, but on the other side of the state, near Fort Lauderdale. Searching this board for any of these places should offer some more background.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Nick

                  Tarks is definitely worth going to. Excellent wings, beer and fries and some of the best unintentional entertainment from the denizens of the industrial area.

                  1. re: Nick

                    Star fish rocks! Fish and grits!

                  2. I don't know where you're located, but I love Walt's in Sarasota and Moore's Stone Crab on Longboat Key. Walt's has been around forever and the fish is beyond fresh. It's probably the least expensive place to eat in Sarasota, which is otherrwise a pretty pricey town.. Moore's is so low key, I don't even think they have a web site. I haven't been in several years but if it hasn't been "modernized" it's a remarkable little slice of a time long ago and far away. I kept waiting for Jimmy Buffett to walk in and start singing "Margaritaville" :-}



                    1. Try Skipper's Smokehouse in Tampa. A classic seafood shack with great food, reasonable prices and some of the best live music in the Tampa Bay area. Gator tail, smoked mullet, soft shell crabs. Plus: a laid-back vibe, beautiful live oak canopy out back and friendly people. After 25 years, it qualifies as a Tampa institution.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Bergerman

                        The Yearling is great, but it's not in Hawthorne. It's in Cross Creek south of Gainesville. I recommend going there after canoeing or kayaking the area at sunset - it's absolutely gorgeous.

                        1. re: Podie1956

                          My bad. They had the wrong city in the address for it on the Florida Secrets page. Thanks for correcting this.


                      2. Wow, you guys have all given me some great suggestions. I'm going to make it a goal to visit most (if not all) of these by the end of the year. I'm in Clearwater, so most of these would qualify as a day trip at most. But I'm also very interested in digs in the far reaches of the state, as well. Love the tips--keep 'em coming!

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: laurie

                          Since you're in Pinellas county, you sould go to Safety Harbor. Try the Whistle Stop, or Heathers Place on a 3rd Friday of the month.

                        2. In Everglades City, aka Chokolosky there is a place called the Oyster House....it's very historic and the walls are lined with relics - some more than a hundred years old - that typify the area. The food is great too.....lots of seafood of course. I believe that this town is as far south as you can go by road on the west coast of the state.

                          1. Joe's Stone Crabs-South Beach
                            Jimbo's-Virginia Key (smoked fish)

                            1. For original in the panhandle, Hopkins Boarding House on Spring Street near downtown is the place to go. They serve family style, you pass the bowls. And if your there on fried chicken day, they still serve the pulley bone separate, you have to ask for it. There is the porch to sit and rock away the meal. And the price is still under $10 a person for all you can eat. They have been serving food since 1949.

                              If any of the bowls on the table start to get low, they replenish the bowl.

                              2 Replies
                                1. re: afoodieslife

                                  It was in Pensacola, but has been closed for a couple of years now. McGuire's by the Civic Center aquired the fried chicken recipe somehow, and will serve it as a weekday lunch special at times. (Thuoght it's probably not exactly the same)

                              1. I would have to recommend Peeble's BBQ in Auburndale, FL. It's in an old chicken coop, with no air conditioning and a dirt parking lot. Only open Thursday - Saturday and closed in the summer, but they have some of the best chopped pork, pork ribs, and sauce you'll ever have.

                                Another recommendation from this area is the Cherry Pocket in Lake Wales. It's been around for years and rumor has it that the men used to ride through on horseback to get a drink. Kind of like a Old Florida drive-thru.

                                1. In Broward County (City of Lighthouse Point, near Pompano Beach) you'll find Cap's Place Island Restaurant. The establishement was started inthe 1920s by Cap Knight as Club Unique, a place where patron.s could partake of illegal booze and gambling as well as food.

                                  Following Cap's death, the place was taken over by the family of his long-time bartender and remains in their haands to this day.

                                  Most people take Cap's boat to the restaurant, which is housed in old wooden buildings. Little has been modernized, othe than the kitchen and the installation of air conditioning. There is also a great bar housed in a separate building with plenty of old photos and memorabelia.

                                  The place serves fresh fish (as well as other dishes) in a relatively "old-fashioned" manner.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: floridan

                                    I loved this place - only got to eat there one time, but it was great, and really worth hunting it down.

                                    Only time I've ever had *fresh* hearts of palm, too.

                                  2. Hi Laurie!

                                    I was just introduced to this site about 5 minutes ago from a gal at another forum and your topic is the first I've read!

                                    Since you're in Clearwater, just come on up U.S. #19 (north) and make a right, as soon as you cross Pithlachascotee River.

                                    The Crab Shack


                                    The Crab Shack is a covered outside restaurant, sometimes with music, sometimes without! You might want to check out mapquest to show you the right turns you must take until you make the final left turn into the Crab Shack. If that lot is filled, just go back the way you came to the first corner on the left and there a larger parking lot there!

                                    I'll be back in a few minutes or two, as soon as I find a site for: Sam's Beach Restaurant on Hudson Beach, which is farther north than the Crab Shack and is right on the gulf! Year's ago, it was called Sam's Place ~ but you might want to call to see when they're open, 'cause they used to be closed on Monday's!

                                    1. Hi (again) Laurie!

                                      The following two, I can not really say the food is great ~ they've been around for awhile and are on The Gulf! You might want to call them, regarding hours, menu, prices, yet they are OUTSIDE dining and are not part of a chain. I could not find their personal sites...

                                      Mike's Dockside Bar & Grill


                                      Sam's Place or Sam's Hudson Beach Restaurant


                                      Sadly, the wonderful restaurant is closing this week! It was a favorite of ours for many decades!

                                      Ile De France Restaurant


                                      Other U.S. #19 Restaurants that have closed are: Leverock's and Catches

                                      Out of the 3 I have cited ~ The Crab Shack has good seafood, reasonable prices. They only serve beer, wine and wine drinks.

                                      Sam's is good, 'cause it's right on The Gulf ~ and Mike's has an outdoor area (covered) away from the main restaurant, though there's seating outside.

                                      But, before you go anywhere ~ call to see if they are still in business, other than the "chains", the family restaurants are closing!

                                      Is it that way down in Clearwater?

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: Debbi64

                                        Thanks for the recs, Debbi! We've had some mourned closures in these parts in the past year as well, but the established family restos seem to be hanging in there. I'll be sure to patronize your recs, since their a pretty short jaunt for us.

                                        1. re: laurie

                                          Hi Laurie!

                                          Basically, we're from the old/old school of smokers! So most places are out of any question for us any more! When we've HAD TO DO the remaining ones, including the "chains" they have become more than over expensive and load up on MSG!

                                          Will be heading to the Indian Reservation-owned properties ~ have been told they are smoker FRIENDLY! Wheeeeeeeeeeeeee!

                                      2. http://swampcabbagefestival.org/
                                        in labelle, this is not a restaurant, but you will get some good grub:
                                        steaks, swamp cabbage (YUM!), indian fry bread....
                                        fun excursion!

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: alkapal

                                          Ohh man, where the heck is this?! I gotta go. Nothing like celebrating the Swamp Cabbage Queen while enjoying armadillo races on a Florida February day!

                                          1. re: laurie

                                            laurie, it is in LaBelle in late February. gotta see the armadillos! nice little day trip from tampa. do a trianglular itinerary and spend the night in fort myers or naples/bonita before heading back to tampa. threads on chow about good eats those places, too.

                                            *(look for link in this to photos of past events. also google swamp cabbage festival for various stories/blogs/accounts)

                                            1. re: alkapal

                                              I was accidentally in Labelle once. Unfortunately, the only food experience I remember was that I was providing nourishment for more mosquitos than I had ever seen before.

                                              1. re: proboscidian

                                                mosquitos --- not so many in February, during the festival -- if any(!)
                                                your accidental visit was summer/fall? in any event, be prepared at all times, with cutter bug repellant on hand.

                                        2. Anybody been to Marsh Landing in Fellsmere? If so, what are your impressions?


                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: Neely_Ohara

                                            Have any of you heard of Pecks Old Port Cove !! wow the drive there is awesome and the food is better!! they have blue claw crabs out back in huge tanks on a backwoods river/ marsh The place has a old town florida feel for sure!!!!

                                            1. re: bigkush

                                              We go to Peck's often (Ozello, FL, in Citrus County). The winding road going in is a favorite of motorcyclists. I think the neighborhood, and leaving Hwy 19 a few miles behind you, is part of what suggests "old Florida," too.

                                              I also vote for Sam's- Hudson. I think I recommend the food more highly than the original poster. However, I never thought of it as "old Florida." A fun beach bar- awesome sunsets. Usually a decent band on the weekends. And did I mention awesome sunsets? Dolphin sightings?

                                              I have been to the Yearling Restaurant in Cross Creek a few times when others wanted to go. The food was not remarkable on any visit, but the atmosphere and overall experience would fit "old Florida." I do not especially recommended it.

                                          2. I have 2-dockside seafood restaurants to recommend, both in the same category/genre as the Star Fish Co, in Cortez, FL (http://www.starfishcompany.com) or the Mather's Bridge Restaurant, on the south end of Merritt Island (unfortunately, now closed 20-years
                                            1. Casey Key Fish House: http://caseykeyfishhouse.com/; 801 Blackburn Point Osprey, FL 34229; 941-966-1901. A bit $$$ for dinner, but lunch is priced about right.

                                            2. Hogfish Bar/Grill: http://www.hogfishbar.com/; Stock Island FL (Near Key West); 305-293-4041. A much better option in price & atmosphere, then anything you can find in Key West

                                            Bon Appetit

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: hessrick

                                              Star fish co rocks! Fish and grits!

                                              Hogfish grill in the keys is prob the best fish I've ever had! I will make a trip just to eat there

                                              Thanks for posting your right on with these picks..

                                            2. May I suggest:
                                              Saltwater Cowboys, 299 Dondanville Rd., south of St. Augustine.
                                              A fish-camp atmosphere on a backwater marsh. My wife and I have always loved the atmosphere and food. We are long overdue to get back there (for us, a little bit of a drive- hopefully the place has not changed in 3 years). The reviews on-line are mixed- some folks love everything about Saltwater Cowboys, and some disappointed. But its "old Florida!"

                                              Fred's Southern Kitchen, 2120 Harden Blvd. Lakeland.
                                              I think they have other locations, too. This makes my list after a family gathering there about 2 weeks ago, when I saw a packed-out restaurant with people enjoying very "southern" dishes- that's the "old Florida" part for me. The atmosphere is just a nicely presented modern facility on a busy road, and that has no connection to the "old Florida" theme. Go for the collard greens, turnip greens, fried chicken, grits, etc., etc...and go back for seconds and thirds.

                                              4 Replies
                                              1. re: Florida Hound

                                                and for that matter, O'Steen's, also in St. Augustine, with its dumpy building and no frills (no alcohol, no credit cards, no reservations) -- it's about as old school as it gets - but some of the best fried seafood and Minorcan clam chowder around.

                                                Also the Colonnade on Bayshore Bld in Tampa -- haven't been there in a few years, but last time I was there, it was supper-club atmosphere, and really good seafood, with a view of Tampa Bay.

                                                1. re: sunshine842

                                                  We have been a fan of the Colonnade for years, although their quality had gone done considerably when we went there a few months ago. But I am not sure about anything at the Colonnade that would be "Old Florida."
                                                  On the other hand, I am not familiar with O'Steens and we may have to check it out on our next trip to St. Augustine. Thanks.

                                                  1. re: Florida Hound

                                                    Not "old Florida" as in fishing shacks with sand on the floor, but a throwback to an earlier era -- like I said, very supper-club-ish.

                                                    O'Steen's is easy to miss -- it sits on the right-hand side of the road after you cross the Bridge of Lions headed out to the beach - one-story, cinder-block building, directly across from the Anastasia Inn (which isn't fancy, but clean, inexpensive, and comfortable) -- if you get to the British pub, you've gone too far.

                                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                                      I know the neighborhood, but not O'Steens itself. Sounds like another stay at the Anastasia Inn is on our list for 2013. Thanks again-

                                              2. Well, it seems I haven't been around since 2007, and things have changed in Pasco County ~ I will try and update here:

                                                Now closed: The Crab Shack on the Pithlachascotee River ~ it's empty!

                                                I don't know whether it's called Mike's Dockside Bar and Grill or Hurricane Hank's ~ I don't go there any more, but you can google one or the other and it's in Hudson, Florida.

                                                Sam's Place or Sam's Hudson Beach Restaurant is still there in Hudson, on The Gulf.

                                                Across the street is: http://www.innonthegulf.com/

                                                Inn on The Gulf has the most delicious food ~ and Staff is great!

                                                I can highly recommend:


                                                it's on the Pithlachascotee River ~ across the river is:

                                                http://catcheswaterfrontgrille.com/ and http://catcheswaterfrontgrille.com/in...

                                                Right next to Catches, but with a different menu is:


                                                Catches and Rum River are both in Port Richey on Bayview Street. We go to Rum River, but not Catches.

                                                In the same area is: Seaside Inn


                                                We used to go there a lot!

                                                Go North on U.S. #19, on the "east" side is:

                                                Skinnys Bar And Grill - Hudson, FL 34667


                                                It's sometimes on the "net" as: Rescue me at Skinnys

                                                All of the above have inside and outside dining (except Rum River, all outside) to accommodate smokers and non-smokers!

                                                If you want just great food and no ambience (spg?) ~ check out:


                                                This is in Gulfview Mall, on the west side of U.S. #19 and is
                                                part of: http://seltzerssteakhouse.com/

                                                Yes, inside and outside dining!

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: Debbi64

                                                  Crab shack in st. Pete/tampa area is right over the Gandy bridge, has been there for like 50 years, and has old florida food, such as a swamp platter, blue claws anyway u want them,crawfish,snow crab, catfish and gator tail. My personal favorite is there shrimp pasta with Alfredo sauce it is outta this world good. Also in Pinellas is Ted peters smoked fish, and they do it right with smoked mullet salmon, and king fish I think. There burgers are great also, and the German potato salad is awesome!

                                                2. I would submit Spring Creek Restaurant. Crawfordville, not too far from Tallahassee.

                                                  They will cook your own fish for you. Fish the grass flats all day and then take some trout or spanish over there for them to fry up.


                                                  1. Capt. Anderson's right on the beach in Panama City Beach has been serving fresh Gulf seafood for 45 years. We love this place!

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: pikawicca

                                                      I'm a huge fan of their whole grilled Red Snapper.

                                                      Hunt's Oyster Bar and The Captain's Table, both in Panama City proper are worthy additions to the list.

                                                      You can get fried Grouper throats at the Captain's Table. Not something you see very often on menus.

                                                      1. re: kengk

                                                        Grouper throats are sometimes on the specials boards at Stewby's Seafood Shanty in Ft. Walton Beach, along with a lot of other old Florida fish shack staples. It's a newer restaurant (though the owner has been in the restaurant business for years) built out of an old portable classroom, and has a few picnic tables in a climate-controlled porch, and a drive-thru window.

                                                        And very tasty relatively affordable seafood it is:


                                                    2. I have only been one time ,but Oh My... Very Old Florida... I had the catfish...Very good.. http://www.marshlandingrestaurant.com/

                                                      1. The NY Times just 'reviewed' 8-Florida-Panhandle restaurants that represent the "Old Florida" theme. Here's a link: http://travel.nytimes.com/2013/03/31/...

                                                        1. Billy's Tap Room, Ormond Beach is typical old Florida. Really good fish offerings. Go there every time I'm in Daytona Beach on business.