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"Florida" cuisine

I just moved to South Beach from Chicago and I'm searching for some really authentic Florida food experiences. Example: I've heard a lot about conch fritters. Any recommendations for good ones in the Miami-ish area, or are these really something just for the tourists? Please know that ttravelling for food is not a problem -- I'm planning to visit Naples over the weekend for example.

One **teeny** problem -- although I LOVE them, I'm painfully allergic to shrimp, crab and lobster (all other fish and seafood is OK, though), so while I would love to be eating blue crab, etc., I just can't do it. Suggestions?

If anyone is ever visiting Chicago and needs suggestions, let me know -- at your service!

Thanks so much!

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  1. In my humble opinion a good first experience in what could be called “Florida Cuisine” would be Ortanique on The Mile in Coral Gables. I think they are the heir apparent to a style called “Floribbean Cuisine” that a group of chefs, known as the “Mango Gang” established here years ago.

    For an “Old Florida” experience, on your way to Naples, you can stop at The Pit Bar-B-Q,16400 SW Eighth Street, West Miami-Dade. It’s been there forever. Besides great Bar-B-Q and you can try some frog legs & gator.

    1. Starting with conch fritters - I believe no conch actually comes out of Florida waters due to preservation issues but that's not to say you don't find conch fritters and other conch items on many local menus (comes from the Bahamas). I can't think of any that have really blown me away recently. For some reason, I like the ones from Captain Crab's Takeaway on 79th St. Causeway right before you get to the bridge. They're bigger, softier and doughier than many others I've had (which are often done as small hush-puppy size balls and equally crispy), and also greasier, but studded with big nubs of conch meat. May also want to check out Chef Creole which I've heard excels with fried seafood (haven't tried myself).

      As for "Florida Cuisine" generally -

      I think what distinguishes Florida (or more specifically Miami) cuisine is primarily the influence of the Caribbean and Latin America. There's obviously a huge and long-standing Cuban influence in Miami, but there's actually a tremendous range of Latin American and Caribbean cultures that now call Miami home - Argentine, Brazilian, Peruvian, Colombian, Honduran, Salvadoran, Haitian, Jamaican ... just to name a few.

      If you go to this post it has a list with links to several "best ____" threads that may help steer you in the right direction ->

      To name just a few, for Argentine, Graziano's (multiple locations, I've only been to the Coral Gables one) is probably head of the pack; on the Beach, I like Las Vacas Gordas (Normandy); Baires on South Beach has its fans too. For Peruvian, Francesco's (Coral Gables) is generally everyone's favorite; on SoBe, Chalan is an OK option. For Haitian, Tap Tap on South Beach has a lot of fans, probably as much for the vibe as for the food (which I've found somewhat underwhelming).

      Maybe 20 years ago there was a generation of chefs who started borrowing liberally from these cuisines and also the produce (primarily tropical fruits and tubers) grown here and south of us in more upscale preparations. Some of these folks still have restaurants locally. I'd put Cindy Hutson (Ortanique - Coral Gables), Alan Susser (Chef Allen - North Miami), Norman Van Aken (currently w/o restaurant), Dewey LoSaso (North One Ten - North Miami) in that group, and any and all of those restaurants are probably worth visiting (Ortanique probably being my favorite, and Chef Allen being my least favorite of the bunch).

      For a chef focusing on locally produced ingredients - and some of the best food in town - it's hard to beat Michael's Genuine Food & Drink in the Design District.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Frodnesor

        I should have added Douglas Rodriguez (Ola - South Beach) to that list of chefs who were part of the early 90s "Mango Gang". Also adding place links below.

        Ortanique On the Mile
        278 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables, FL 33134

        Michael's Genuine Food & Drink
        130 N.E. 40th Street, Miami, FL 33137

        Las Vacas Gordas
        933 Normandy Dr, Miami Beach, FL 33141

        Graziano In the Gable
        394 Giralda Avenue, Coral Gables, FL 33131

        Chalan On the Beach
        1580 Washington Ave, Miami Beach, FL 33139

        Chef Allen's
        19088 NE 29th Ave., Aventura, FL 33180

        Capt Crab's Take-Away
        1100 NE 79th St, Miami, FL 33138

        Francesco Restaurant
        325 Alcazar Ave, Coral Gables, FL 33134

        Tap Tap Haitian Restaurant
        819 5th St, Miami Beach, FL 33139

        Chef Creole Seafood Takeout
        200 NW 54th St, Miami, FL 33127

        Baires Grill
        1116 Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach, FL 33139

        North 110
        11052 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, FL 33161

        1. re: Frodnesor

          here's my list of "Florida" food experiences -- as an addition to the above
          stone crabs...definitely
          Karla Bakery - Cuban chain (Karlo bakery also excellent)
          Versailles - Cuban restaurant experience (Islas Carnarias is also good)
          La Moon, Primarepa (get the platter of fried goodness to share), MAO Columbian (try the super burgers) - Columbian fast food
          El Palacio De Los Jugos - Latin American market place atmosphere, fresh fruit smoothies
          Honduras Maya - Honduran, try baleada
          Fritanga (multiple names i.e. Monimbo) - Nicaraguan, try refresco pitahaya (dragonfruit juice)
          Kong's Jamaican - Chinese Jamaican, try Jamaican patties
          Chef Creole - conch fritters are more batter than conch but taste good
          El Rey de Las Fritas - Cuban burgers
          Salmon and Salmon - Peruvian, try palta rellena
          Tap Tap - overrated (food), but it's an institution and a great experience
          gelato - Roma's Organic
          my bookmarks:
          Antigua Guatemala - Guatemalan, try pupusas
          Braseros - Venezuelan
          El Atlakat - Salvadorean
          Parrilla Liberty - Argentinian
          Boteco - Brazilian
          Cliff's - Jamaican
          most chowhounders inevitably try Michael's, Michy's, Sardinia, Ortanique, Hiro's Yakko, Matsuri, Por Fin, Talula
          oh yes, and it does help to know a little Spanish...

        2. re: Frodnesor

          Graziano's on bird rd is superior to the one in CG. The one in CG though is very good.

        3. winegirl1973, I was in Chicago last year for the first time and had a great time trying new places there!

          If you ever make it to Tampa, Celebration (south of Orlando), or St. Augustine, you should try Columbia. The Tampa location is the oldest restaurant in Florida, opened in 1905. They have awesome Florida and Cuban food. The fish and meat dishes are amazing, and the "1905 salad" that you can get for the table is the best salad I've had in any city.

          1. Try the conch fritters and conch salad at Ernie's, with a big chunk of Bimini bread!

            Ernie's Bar-B-Q
            1843 S Federal Hwy, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33316

            1. The quintescence of Florida cuisine, blind to ethnic favorites, is stone crab, grouper, and pompano. Stone crab season is Oct. 15 - May 15, and is not on your diet. Forty (40) percent of grouper served in Florida restaurants is a fraudulently inferior specie of tilapia or similar. (Restauranteur- purveyor -supplier each claim innocence in a scam of three-card monty; I would hang them all at dawn). Red grouper is now $16/ lb, and many honest restaurants no longer serve it because of it's cost. (Fuel, mostly)
              Pompano is an exquisite fish: small, delicate, served in mild, underwhelming styles in finer restaurants. Check it out. And let's all hope for more favorable fuel prices, which impact more than our dinner selections, but the livelihood of our fishermen.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Veggo

                May I ask where you got that "40%" figure?

                1. re: joan

                  The Tampa Tribune and Bay News 9 TV did studies involving restaurant visits, ordered grouper, and sent samples for analysis. Both studies yielded similar findings of about 40% of fish that were represented as grouper was in fact not. Restaurants blame suppliers, every party plays the innocent victim. And older but similar thread here included similar results in other parts of the state as well, plus other varieties of fish substitutions in other parts of the country.

                2. re: Veggo

                  I'd add cobia to the list of fish to get when you see it at a reputable fishmarket or restaurant. Nice yummy fish that's generally only available for a couple weeks every year in a given area.

                  Apalachicola Bay supplies 90% of the oysters in the state, provided a resolution of water allocation for the Chatahoochie-Flint River system doesn't wipe the industry out.

                  As the saying goes here, the further north you go, the further South you get, and I've come to think the perfect three course Florida bar food lunch would start with a bowl of gumbo (the Panhandle's been invaded by the Louisiana crowd in terms of cuisine) and be followed by a grouper sandwich, and a piece of key lime pie for desert .

                3. If you see pompano on a menu, order it. To me it's the most delicate, tastiest fish in Florida. They usually come served whole but they're easy to fillet.

                  Other than my one little suggestion, everyone here seems to have given you a good primer on what to expect. I'm glad you're taking the view of "I'm in Miami, what's good here" versus "When I lived in _____ I used to have _____ and now I can't find it in Miami." Keep your curiosity going and you'll be rewarded.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: lax2mia

                    Wow! Florida Cuisine...Interesting topic....My family settled in what is now called Medley (North of the MIA) back in 1908 and then moved to what is now called Princeton in 1910 and then to Homestead in 1912.....I was born in Homestead in 1962.....Homestead was (and still very much is) a huge farming area....And we grew up eating a ton of veggies....Tomatoes, Corn, Red Potatos, Okra and Yellow Squash.....A ton of white and red beans with hamhocks.....Obviously we had our fair share of fish and we were always stocked up with grouper and jewfish (now called goliath grouper) which were caught down in Flamingo (which is in Everglades National Park)......We weren't big beef eaters back in those days.....A lot of chicken.....And a pretty fair amount of wild hog that was hunted out off the Old Loop Road which is off Tamiami Trail......Occasional gator tail that went nicely with grits, butter and perhaps a chunk of cheese.......Stone Crabs were an occasional meal and they came out of the Keys and Everglades City.......As a young teenager....it was nothing to go to Key Largo Fisheries and load up two or three big igloo coolers and take them back to Homestead and grill them up and eat 6 or 8 tails......Didn't seem to expensive....we weren't poor but certainly not rich.....and ol' Dad ponied up the cash......Florida Cuisine?.....It's varied.....And with the latin and northeastern and caribbean influx....Florida Cuisine is pretty much what tastes best and suits your pallot......it's all over the place.....Fun thread.....



                  2. For conch fritters, I recommend Scotty's Landing in Coconut Grove. I just had them the other day and they are nice an doughy with a good amount of conch bits mixed in each fritter. Also a great place for beer and music on Fridays.

                    Everyone else has covered the whole "Florida food" thing, so you should be good to go.

                    1. Joanie's seems like it would be a lot of fun, but I haven't been there (yet).


                      1. Winegirl1973, welcome to Florida! I, too, am a Chicago transplant, who has been living in various places between (and including) Naples and Tampa since 1990. In no particular order, so of the foods which I have found to be typical of Florida are:
                        1. Cuban sandwiches
                        2. Grouper sandwiches
                        3. Ropa vieja
                        4. Grilled grouper, snapper, and pompano, all generally served with a sauce
                        5. Mango salsa (often served with the above fish except the pompano)
                        6. Smoked fish spread
                        7. Key lime pie
                        8. A mojito (an alcoholic drink made with rum, lime juice, mint leaves, sugar and club soda)
                        9. Hearts of palm salad (a/k/a "swamp cabbage" salad)
                        10. Ybor Gold (a beer, formerly made in Ybor City, a part of Tampa, and now made in Melbourne, Florida)
                        This ought to get you started. The above list is a bit Tampa-centric, but no doubt the Miamians can filled you in on their side of the state. Also, as you can see, many of the above foods are "trans-Florida" in nature.
                        I, too, would urge you to visit The Columbia, a Cuban restaurant in Tampa, with about eight other branches. You should also try Bern's steakhouse, which does not sound like it would be different from a steakhouse in Chicago, but trust me, it is. And try the dessert room. Order the Bananas Foster. I hope you enjoy Florida.

                        1. On the Space Coast (Brevard County), we see a lot of simply grilled fish, especially Mahi-Mahi (Dolphin fish).

                          While I wouldn't call it "cuisine, there is a local treat that this transplanted NY'er had never seen before: Grimaldi's Chocolate Covered Potato Chips. These things are addictive! ( http://www.grimaldicandies.com/catalo... ) While I usually prefer dark chocolate, I think the milk version works better.

                          1. To the folks who keep mentioning stone crabs, that's nice info but the OP is allergic!

                            To me the local cuisine is the local fish, as was mentioned earlier, pompano , snapper, etc. The local warm-water fish varieties. I once read that the only truly native to south florida dish to eat was Frogs Legs from the Everglades, but that opens up the possibility of venison, alligator, snakes, none of which I'm fond of. Which leads me back to the local fish varieties.

                            7 Replies
                            1. re: Ralphie_in_Boston

                              What about swamp cabbage, grits and grunts, key lime pie, fried mullet, gator tail and smoked amberjack? Wahoo, cobia and bull dolphin? Florida lobster? Sheephead, snook, speckled perch, sea trout? Okeechobe catfish?

                              1. re: flavrmeistr

                                all good stuff! What I omitted in my post above when I mentioned the frogs legs and stuff, was that it was supposedly the only true *land-based native* source of food, then I mentioned the venison and other stuff.

                                1. re: Ralphie_in_Boston

                                  Don't forget "cooter" - Chrysemys floridana

                                  1. re: 2top

                                    hah...Cooter are mostly in Northern FL though aren't they?

                                    Up there with the "gophers"?

                                    1. re: Ralphie_in_Boston

                                      Cooter in South Florida means soft-shell turtle, which can get as big as a man-hole cover. Only had it a few times. Not much different than gator, the other pond meat.

                                      1. re: flavrmeistr

                                        I knew that Cooter meant Turtle in the south..but I thought that was more of a Louisiana thing than Florida.

                                        I have lived in both Northern and Southern FL and in the north have heard turtles being referred to as "gophers"

                                        1. re: Ralphie_in_Boston

                                          Like I said, cooters are soft-shell turtle. The gopher tortoise is native to South Florida. They are on the endangered list because their native habitat (dry scrub land) is also attractive to developers.

                            2. Trpletail...if you have the opportunity, I highly suggest it over grouper and any snapper. Pompano is a close second to tripletail IMO.

                              1. I agree with alot of the restaurants mentioned. I just had a wonderful dinner at Chef Allen's. But that's already been covered. I want to suggest 3 local, fun restaurants:
                                - Georgia Pig BBQ - 441 and Davie Blvd. Delicious BBQ. They've been around forever and definitely kick the old skool BBQ.
                                - Tom Jenkins BBQ - US1 in Ft Laud. Yum! Not the best for ambience, since you eat at picnic tables and order at the counter. I usually get take out.
                                - Rosey Baby - University Dr in Sunrise - some of the folks from Nawlins might think it's not authentic, but it's awfully fun with a great band. Can you eat crawfish?

                                PS Jack's BBQ in Ft Laud on Oakland Park Blvd is one that DH now raves about. Says the baked beans are the best ever. I have heard that Jack used to work for Tom Jenkins.

                                1. My favorite conch fritters are at Alabama Jack's in Key Largo. The rest of their food is ok but the fritters are amazing. I also love Garcia's for true fresh seafood. In Key Largo Ballyhoo's is great as well for their all your can eat Stone Crabs during the season.
                                  Baleen's for a great brunch on the water. There are many Cuban and Latin restaurants but that is more Miami than Florida and probably better for another post. Enjoy!

                                  1. To me, authentic and old may be different. I'm inclined to agree (as usual) with Frodnesor's ethnic response, but will recommend the everyday scale like my idol Ankimo has.

                                    Therefore, in Miami, I recommend the following:
                                    any experience at Versailles
                                    our united nations of empanadas in full array
                                    plenty of coffee window visits with croquetas on saltines
                                    Shorty's (average, but atmospheric)
                                    El Palacio de los Jugos
                                    Delicias Espana
                                    Happy Wine
                                    Le Sandwicherie
                                    Pizza Rustica (on Washington)
                                    any roti or Jamaican joint (like Sango and Caribbean Roti)
                                    Captain's Tavern
                                    La Estancia Argentina on Ponce and the Argentinian cafe in Doral
                                    Sabores Chilenos (with the best pebre)
                                    Walter's Coffee Shop which should be a national landmark (or at least a Perrine landmark)