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Florida's Signature dish

What is it and where can I get the best of the best.

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  1. Florida doesn't really have a signature dish. Heck, it doesn't even have an identifiable cuisine to call its own. Some would say it's cracker cuisine, but that could mean anything from gator tail to swamp cabbage. In the '80s, a group of chefs in South Florida started a cooking trend called Floribbean (or New World Cuisine), which used the cooking style and dishes of the islands but with a local (Florida) twist of available ingredients. Norman Van Aken was one of those chefs and he still serves his signature dishes at Norman's at the Ritz-Carlton in Orlando. Another chef, Mark Militello, had several highly regarded restaurants in South Florida, but the last remaining location closed recently.


    6 Replies
    1. re: Scott Joseph

      I have to disagree. Florida has 2 dishes that come to mind - one, very simply, is stone crabs. The other would be a Key Lime Pie.

      1. re: mikek

        Absolutely correct, Mikek. Fortunately, stones will be in season this month. Scott, let's not forget Chef Allen Susser who is one of the best.

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

        1. re: Alfred G

          What about Blue Crab and Bay Scallops?

          1. re: mikek

            I would also say spiny lobsters. Where else except Florida can you get spiny lobsters in the continental USA?

          2. re: Scott Joseph

            As far as I can tell, the signature dish of the Gulf Coast is smoked fish (preferably mullet) spread. I had never seen it offered before (or in such profusion ) I moved to St. Petersburg. It is the perfect food for this area... especially in the dog days of summer where all you want to eat is an icy cold glass of white wine, some flavorful smoked mullet spread and good crackers (with a little bit of jalapeno or hot sauce.) Nothing could be better, especially if you enjoy it by a waterfront view.

          3. Please discuss where these signature dishes can be found. General discussion of Florida specialties is off topic here. Thanks, everyone.

            1. There is no dearth of choices in this state. Florida is so multicultural that you could pick a few. There are at least three or five different floridas. we also share food traditions with Georgia/Alabama, and Louisiana, so that's a lot of ground we cover.

              how about OJ? for the very best go to the Citrus Exchange on US 19 just south of the Sunshine Skyway.

              Smoked Mullet: Ted Peter's in St. Pete is the king of smoked fish in the bay area.

              Key Lime Pie: the best specimens are usually not found in restaurants.

              Minorcan clam chowder: I saw this at O'Steen's in St. Augustine--- it was quite good.

              Cuban sandwich: It was always more popular in Florida than in Cuba. These days, you're lucky to find bread in Cuba at all. I still recommend the Museum Cafe in Homosassa for a great sandwich, and the Columbia is in the process of reinventing theirs. I will update here when it debuts in the next month or two. Cuban bread itself cannot be found in Cuba. Florida's bread retained the elongated shape, which came about in Cuba during the shortages in the Spanish-American war. Tampa's best bread outclasses Miami's, because it is baked directly in a hearth, not on a pan. La Segunda Central is the best IMO, Alessi's in Faedo's also do an admirable job. The Cuban bread at Publix keeps getting worse. For more info on La Segunda, check out a 3 part film I made for USF's oral history program:


              Stone crabs: an excellent choice, an obscure dish made prominent by the tourism industry. The season happily coincides with tourist season. Besides Joe's Strone Crab, the Columbia in Sarasota helped to popularize the dish during the 1980s. Who ate stone crabs in the 1940s?

              Grouper sandwich: another dish aimed squarely at tourists. The Hurricane on St. Pete Beach arguably popularized it in the late 1970s, and the Frenchy's folks in Clearwater jumped on the bandwagon.

              Swamp Cabbage: just a varoiety of hearts of palm, not nearly as exotic as it sounds. The cabbage palm is protected, so you're not likely to find it in restaurants.

              Devil crab croqouettes: a variation on Spanish/Cuban croquettes, mainly found around Tampa and Key West. My fave is Brocato's in Tampa.

              Gator: this can also be found in Louisiana. Most gator nuggets are tough and greasy. The best gator sausage I've had was at the Cajun Cafe in Pinellas.

              also plenty of great raw ingredienmts from our fair state: ruskin tomatoes, zellwood corn, gulf shrimp, and so on. If the food here seems in disarray, it has everything to do with our confusing history and mixed up demographics. Tourism hasn't helped, either--- most tourists in the past didn't want to eat exotic food.

              25 Replies
              1. re: andy huse

                Andy, you're consistently good and, I think, have hit them all. I recommend the stone crabs at the Columbia, both for not being overcooked (about the only way you can ruin them) and for the interesting dipping sauces they serve along with them. (Alas, I've never been to Joe's Stonecrab, a terrible flaw in my chowhoundish experience.) I'd put the popularity of stone crabs back a little further. Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, spent an entire chapter describing a stone crab, melted butter, toast points, and pink (!!--Bond thought it was a little girlish) champagne meal on Miami Beach in 1959's "Goldfinger."

                1. re: andy huse

                  *Besides Joe's Strone Crab, the Columbia in Sarasota helped to popularize the dish during the 1980s. Who ate stone crabs in the 1940s?*

                  Joe's Stone Crab in Miami Beach has been serving stone crabs since the 1920's and supposedly it was a local institution even before that time. The restaurant's (and the stone crabs') success is not by any means exclusively the product of the tourism industry, and it is generally as popular with locals as it is with tourists.

                  1. re: Frodnesor

                    Regretfully had property in Sarasota for too long, Columbia on St Armands was, imho, brutal. Used to drive to Tampa for chopped salad fix, and to other Spanish:Portugeuse:Cuban places all over Tampa most right near airport on Kennedy Ave. Would not eat a free meal at the SRQ Columbia

                    1. re: Frodnesor

                      I stand corrected, and should have known better. My point was that stone crabs were popularized througth the Florida tourist experience. A good article discussed this "Selling the Storied Stone Crab."

                      1. re: andy huse

                        Dolphin sandwich? Smoked kingfish dip? Stuffed pompano? Fried snook? These are things you don't see outside of Florida. Maybe even South Florida.

                        1. re: flavrmeistr

                          Could not agree more. Just about any restaurant that is unique to S Florida has these items available. Two that come to mind, though they are chain (egads!), are Flannigan's and Quarterdeck (used to be Flannigan's Quarterdeck until they went out on their own). I know they have smoked fish dip and dolphin sandwich. I don't think they have snook - in fact, I don't often see snook. I think because you can't keep but 2 if you catch them, right?

                          1. re: amyvc

                            Snook are gamefish and therefore not legally available commercially. But in certain bars that cater to commercial fishermen (if they know you), you can get it as the catch of the day. In other words, if that's what someone brings in, that's what you get but you won't hear it mentioned by name. There is no better-eating fish than snook. Flannigan's is a local chain started by a family of fishermen (Big Daddy, aka Flanman). All their fish is caught fresh in local waters. Dolphin and yellow-fin tuna are their usual, along with the smoked kingfish dip. Smoked fish dip was invented by the Summerlin clan in Ft.Pierce or Sally Peters in Rio (FL), depending on who you believe. The Pinder clan in Riviera Beach also lays a claim.

                        2. re: Frodnesor

                          The best Stone Crabs are those purchase at your local (reputable) fishmonger and eaten at home with your fingers and the juice running down your arms and a little lime and mustard sauce

                        3. re: andy huse

                          How about grunts and grits? Fried mullet? Conch chowder? Conch fritters?

                          1. re: flavrmeistr

                            all great suggestions, though you could find pompano in New Orleans for many years. The Columbia still does their's in the parchment. The conch selections are definitely a must, though I'm not sure where to find the best. Seems to me that smoked mullet is more representative than a fried one.

                            It is funny, everyone begins with the assumption that we have no distinctive food or culture, and our list seems to be longer than that of most states.

                            1. re: andy huse

                              Fried mullet (red mullet) seems prevalent on the west coast for food. Folks on the east coast usually use silver or finger mullet for live bait. We don't have red mullet as a rule.

                              1. re: flavrmeistr

                                I'll probably get pounced for this, but I personally don't consider Fla. silver mullet to be an edible option when you have such high quality options like pompano, grouper, snapper, etc. I grew up in Ft Lauderdale fishing as a kid and mullet was only to be used as bait or given away to the less fortunates. It is only served smoked because of the high oil content, same as kingfish. There's a reason why you can buy mullet in the grocery store for $3/lb., because it is at the bottom of the edibility chain.

                                Red mullet is a different family of fish all together.

                                1. re: freakerdude

                                  Silver (finger) mullet is excellent live bait, especially for snook. As you say, they aren't really fit to eat.

                              2. re: andy huse

                                The best conch comes from the Bahamas. There used to be plenty of conch in the waters off Palm Beach and Broward, but they've been largely fished out. There is still a large Bahamian community in Riviera Beach and Lake Park. There used to be several little joints specializing in conch and souse along Dixie Highway, but they were cleared out when the port project got underway. Sisters In The Pot are still in business, the undisputed queens of all things conch. Their conch stew, fresh conch salad and conch fritters are superb. They will also sell whole fresh conch from the Bahamas.

                                1. re: flavrmeistr

                                  With very limited exceptions (which do not include Florida's coast), domestic harvesting of conch is prohibited ->
                                  While it may have a history, I'd be hard pressed to say that something that is no longer domestically fished should qualify as Florida's "signature dish".

                                  1. re: Frodnesor

                                    I disagree. Conch may not be commercially fished in local waters (although it's only about 45 miles from Riviera Beach to West End Bahamas, where it IS fished), but it's widely available in South Florida restaurants and fish markets. I've never seen conch, fresh or otherwise, served in any other state than Florida. Sisters in the Pot, I discovered last week, also has a new store in Port St. Lucie.

                                    1. re: flavrmeistr

                                      *I've never seen conch, fresh or otherwise, served in any other state than Florida.*

                                      Then you haven't traveled enough. Just looking at the chowhound universe, there are over a dozen threads on each of the Manhattan, Bay Area and LA boards that mention conch dishes, for instance.

                                      I will give you that it is much more widely available in South Florida than elsewhere in the country (and I'm definitely not saying the conch fritters would be the first thing I'd order in a NY restaurant), but it seems a bit odd to me to designate as a state's "signature dish" an item that has to be imported from another country (no matter how close it is).

                                      1. re: Frodnesor

                                        I travel more than I care to nowadays, but I still haven't seen conch on the menu except on the southeast Florida coast and the islands of the Caribbean. I'm not saying it doesn't exist anywhere else, because conch is found in tropical waters around the world. I personally don't think there is a "signature dish" of Florida, but there are more than a few dishes that you see almost nowhere else. I believe conch fits in that category. As with anything, there are bound to be some rare exceptions. Probably some displaced Bahamians at the root of it. As Andy Huse noted, the list keeps growing.

                                  2. re: flavrmeistr

                                    Where exactly is this Sisters In The Pot place at?

                                    1. re: freakerdude

                                      Used to be on Broadway near 45th street, but I think they've gone underground as a catering company. You can catch them at the West Palm Beach Green market every Saturday morning. Follow your nose. The conch fritters, chowder and cracked conch all rock.

                                      1. re: flavrmeistr

                                        seriously? I thought their conch fritters sucked and were unbelievably overpriced. I had them at the Greenmarket one weekend and swore I'd never get taken again.

                                    2. re: flavrmeistr

                                      It's not that they are fished out, but that it is unlawful to harvest queen conch pretty much everywhere in Florida. And no where on a commercial level. Consequently, diners literally don't know conch salad, cracked conch, conch ceviche, conch fritters, or conch broiled with garlic.
                                      Near to me in the Village of Cortez, between Sarasota and Bradenton, Star Fish sells 5 pound boxes of frozen conch, for about $45. It's from Turks & Caicos. You have to know what you are doing, even when it's fresh fresh. Frozen is more challenging, still.

                                      1. re: Veggo

                                        Heh. Years ago, I brought a live conch home from the beach for my girlfriend's fish tank. Within a week, it had eaten every other creature in the tank. Needless to say, it didn't win me any points. Those suckers are voracious.

                                2. re: andy huse

                                  Andy nails it as usual with a slight Tampa Bay skew but all are Fla favorites.

                                3. The classic Florida specialty is the "Early Bird" Dinner special!

                                  3 Replies
                                    1. re: nosh

                                      There are a lot of Fl residents who do not live in retirement areas. I am a native and have never lived in a retirement area. I grew up with some great tourist restaurants though. Captain Andersons and Boars Head on Panama City Beach. They served Florida's signature fresh caught from the gulf seafood. Captain Anderson's is still there, not sure about Boars Head.

                                      1. re: rhnault

                                        Boar's Head is still there, AFAIK. We only get into Panama City Beach a couple times a year though.

                                        In the Panhandle, replace the stone crab with Apalachicola Bay oysters for typical local seafood.

                                        80% of the people who live here come from Somewhere Else. They bring the recipes for their favorite dishes with them, and then end up experimenting some and adapting them to local ingredients. (Bastard that it is, the Cuban panini at my corner sandwich shop is darn tasty)

                                        I'd love to see Disney come up with an actual Florida restaurant. Their specialty- not just a signature dish but a five course meal that reflects the very diverse places that Florida cuisine wanders.

                                    2. Thanks so much for the replies. I have alot of eating to do.

                                      1. I didn't see Grouper on here. I know you can get it other places but if it's fresh, it's delicious....

                                        1. Soused snowbird served on a slow Grand Marquis can be found in almost all parts of the state......

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: bkhuna

                                            I'm not even sure they are souced. That's just how they drive. In supermarket parking lots they drive right over concrete wheel stops, and when they use reverse it's until they smash into something. And they're baaack.....,making left turns in front of oncoming motorcycles.
                                            EDIT: I have been gorging on large/jumbo stone crabs for $11/lb since Wednesday; I have enough for a Rays victory party tonight. Good price. Go Rays!

                                          2. Bimini Bread is a Fort Lauderdale classic; the best versions of the buttery-sweet and doughy bread come from Bimini Boatyard and Ernie's.

                                            The Mahi sandwich is arguably more popular, at least in Broward, than the grouper variety. There are countless bars around FTL that serve it.

                                            Gator - Both Alligator Alley and Rosey Baby's serve stellar gator: sauteed medallions with marsala reduction, gator po'boys, and (sometimes) ribs at the Alley; A spicy skillet of sauteed tenderloin with peppers and rice (a bit greasy, but delicious) at Rosey's.

                                            4 Replies
                                            1. re: johnmlinn

                                              And don't forget the great tunes at Allligator Alley. They do have wonderful gator, quite incredible for a blues bar.

                                              1. re: johnmlinn

                                                Mahi is the Hawaiian word for dolphin. Dolphin is not porpoise or tuna or grouper anything else. The Spanish (Cuban) word for dolphin is dorado. For many years dolphinn was much cheaper than hamburger because it was always much cheaper to cath a dolphin than to raise a beef.

                                                1. re: flavrmeistr

                                                  True - mahi mahi is a more recent word for dolphin. I think because people too often think porpoise when they see dolphin, so they use the Hawaiian term. I believe that the spelling used to be "dauphin" but I could have made that up. I always laugh when I tell people that we go dolphin fishing and they recoil in horror. Then I have to go thru the explanation, that no it's a fish, you know, mahi mahi??

                                                  1. re: amyvc

                                                    yep. It just got easier to use mahi than to try to recover from the reaction of YOU EAT FLIPPER!

                                              2. They do ...

                                                As I am sure you have read.

                                                Ever heard of Key Lime Pie
                                                The Florida dish

                                                Stone Crabs
                                                many places around florida. Very traditional, just steamed, Been made popular by many restaurants.

                                                Grouper Sandwich
                                                Absolutely, fried or grilled

                                                Swamp Cabbage
                                                A varoiety of hearts of palm, hard to find in restaurants

                                                Our cuisine can be diverse because it is made up of many influences. Alot of southern backwoods cooking, Like the GA, LA, SC cooking, but some Island influences as well. Just like any state I guess.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: kchurchill5

                                                  Swamp cabbage is from palmetto, aka cabbage palm. Not saw palmetto or any other kind of palm.

                                                2. This gets me thinking. What about latin food? In S Florida, I tend to think Cuban. I realize that much of this may actually be from Cuba, but aren't some items unique to Florida? I think we've mentioned the cuban sandwich in other threads, that was developed in Cuba and perfected in Miami or Tampa (depending where you're from). What about the cafe cubano at places like the Latin American Cafe in Miami? Is that from FL or an import from Cuba?

                                                  1. Without hesitation - Florida Stone Crabs - at Joe's in Miami!! Wish I could have some tonight!

                                                    1. There was once a natural fusion of Cuban, cracker, and Italian cuisines that flourished around the Tampa area. Only vestiges remain, but had it survived an excellent case might been made for Crab chilau as the state dish. Since it did not, I vote for the plain old stone crab.

                                                      1. How about rock shrimp? Dixie Crossroads in Titusville.

                                                        3 Replies
                                                        1. re: yayajac

                                                          You may not believe this, but...i worked through most of the 70`s on the boats that were the first to work exclusively on rock shrimp. We were out of Port Canaveral and helped set up the processor who later built Dixie Crossroads. Anyway, you`re on to something here, it`s hard to beat rock shrimp. Excellent eating, and Dixie Crossroads is pretty nice too.

                                                          1. re: yayajac

                                                            You beat me to it, yaya. Dixie Crossroads is awesome for rock shrimp. And as lowtone suggests, the family who owns the restaurant patented the means of harvesting and shelling the shrimp so that they're commercially viable.
                                                            They used to have a separate Web site where you could order the shrimp online but I can't seem to find it at the moment.
                                                            Second, is of course Key lime pie. Which, oddly enough, is found at Kermit's in DeLand, off 92 just behind the airport. The pies are made there and shipped down to Key West, which should tell you the quality. (I've had the key lime pie on a stick and nearly died.) Lots of other products too: http://www.keylimeshop.com/

                                                            1. re: Covert Ops

                                                              We have some pretty stiff competition in Miami concerning tostones and maduros, let alone black beans and rice. Whose are the closest to signature places?

                                                              Although these are also available elsewhere, so is everything else.

                                                          2. I just thought I'd throw out a list of things off the top of my head I included drinks as well.

                                                            1. Conch Fritters
                                                            2. Fried Gator Tail
                                                            3. Puerto Rican Rice and beans (Arroz con habichuelas)
                                                            4. Gulf Shrimp
                                                            5. Conch Chowder
                                                            6. Red Snapper

                                                            Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice
                                                            Key lime Mojito

                                                            1. Key Lime Pie
                                                            2. Orange Pie

                                                            1. II grew up in Florida, in Ponce Inlet, but live in NYC now. Recently in nearby Daytona there was some sort of scandal involving the grouper. It turns out that many of the fishes being sold to restaurants were being called grouper, though they was actually some kind of Asian catfish? Anyone else know about this? Not sure if that taints the grouper nomination to Florida Signature dishes or not, but thought it was worth pointing out.

                                                              Other Florida foods worth mentioning are Gatorade, South Beach Diet Juice, Orange Juice, Burger King (e.g. the whopper +croisantwich,) Larry's Giant Subs, Checkers, Benihana, Goya, Apalachicola Oysters (even the Native Americans ate these), and freeze-dried foods (developed by NASA). Also food related items like the mechanical refrigerator, Tupperware and the metal can, all have Florida origins.

                                                              I've often wondered why there are not more Orange-based dishes in the Sunshine State. Though I’ve vaguely heard of a Florida Sour Orange Pie, I have never tasted one. If I had to vote for one Florida Signature dish it would be the Key Lime Pie. Superb. Here's a little history to it: http://whatscookingamerica.net/Histor...
                                                              How I’d make it? Real Key Limes (not the bottled juice), no meringue, and most definitely a Graham cracker crust.

                                                              3 Replies
                                                              1. re: adamhgraham

                                                                you're right, adam, over the years many FLA restaurants have been found to be selling fish other than grouper as grouper. But quite frankly, Florida grouper is endangered and we need to give it a rest until populations rebound. Eco-conscious chowhounds would do well to eat low on the food chain when it comes to fish, although pompano is plentiful and is killer delicious when cooked right.

                                                                1. re: zenana

                                                                  pompano, pompano, pompano!!!

                                                              2. This is a BIG state and therefore there are probably many signature dishes depending on which part of the FLA you are in, having said that, here are some from my neck of the woods:

                                                                1. Stone Crabs
                                                                2. Cuban Food - Ropa Vieja (Old Clothes), Vaca Frita (Fried Cow), Cuban Sand., Boliche, etc.
                                                                3. Wahoo is a very nice fish along the lines of Sword. Order it when you see it!
                                                                4. Grouper
                                                                5. Conch

                                                                I'm in MIami Trick!

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: netmover

                                                                  Wahoo is actually in the mackerel family, along with barracuda. It is also one of the fastest fish in the sea. Certainly one of the most delicious.

                                                                2. If there is one dish that I think of when I think of Flordia it has to be be Key Lime Pie.
                                                                  When reading through the overall replies, others make strong suggestions but the Key Lime is the only full out Florida disk. Oranges would be something else but not truly a dish - and not only for Fla but also for California.

                                                                  Conch is Floridian but more just assoicated to Key West area.

                                                                  I do like to note about Early Bird specials but again not a disk.

                                                                  1. Kinda late on this one but I was born and raised a 5th generation florida cracker. So the food my family makes are recipes passed down from women to women all memorized nothing written down. These are recipes they made before carribean influences or cuban so I belive these to be true florida dishes. I used to sneak in the kitchen when my great grama was cookin and try to steal some food but I would always get smacked. Anyway cooter is a main staple along with ferrel hogs fried anything chicken catfish turtle scrub chicken we had grit with every meal and my mom still cracks corn by hand we would make trips to the coast and fish and collect oysters we make the best smoked fish spread with horseraddish fried snook. We grow all our own veggtables and raise our own cattle. Swamp cabbage stew and fritters are amazing. A lot of what you people say on here are not true florida dishes I think there just made to apeal to the yankees who come down every year. Conch was a treat for us but when they were put on the protected species list we just stopped getting them same with scrub chickens. Occasional deer and a lot of smoked sausages but the dish I honestly think of the most when I think of home is some sweet okeechobee catsdeep fried with hushpuppies and grits . Boiled penuts were also a big treat.

                                                                    1. Key Lime Pie available in Matlacha at the SANDY HOOK FISH AND RIB HOUSE 4875 Pine Island Road NW http://www.sandyhookrestaurant.com/ . I learned the recipe when I worked for the family 25 years ago and have gotten thumbs up from every one that has tried it. If you have never been to Matlacha, you have to go see old Florida before it was Disney and highrises everywhere. Art galleries, family owned restaurants and fisheries in colorful abundance.

                                                                      Key Lime Cafe
                                                                      211 Colorado Ave, Stuart, FL 34994

                                                                      1. A friend Grouper sandwich or Grouper made ANY way is a Florida GEM. If you should catch a Snook in season, thats the cadillac of fish and very elusive unless you are a great fisherman.
                                                                        Ms. Danie Huizenga