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  • Lisa Codianne Fowler

Take a Bite Out of Old Florida

Updated: Mar 30


Tower Seafood Platter at The Beach House

Iconic Florida Restaurants


Florida is renowned for its sunswept beaches, eclectic shopping, endless sightseeing, and of course, award-winning dining. Locals and tourists alike enjoy savoring the melting pot of flavors, ambiance, and even heartwarming history of many of our fabulous eateries around the state. From north to south, here are seven classics that should be on your menu to try.



Bud and Alley’s, Seaside, South Walton

Named after a dachshund and a cat, this down home gathering place has been a Seaside tradition for more than 25 years. The restaurant/beach bar was founded by a couple of surfing buddies and remains all about, “good food, good people, good times.” Overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, the view can’t be beat. The menu spans breakfast, lunch and dinner and sports a varied selection, with items prepared only from fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. A breakfast fave is their scrambled egg and bacon sandwich made with ciabatta, smoked gouda and avocado. For lunch and dinner, you’ll find fresh seafood, salads, chicken, pork and a tender 7-ounce center-cut filet. Stay for sunset - the rooftop celebration is spectacular.

Hours: Daily 8 a.m. - 9 p.m.; open later in season. Tel: 850-231-5900. For more information, visit budandalleys.com.



Bayou Bill’s Crab House, Panama City Beach

Straight from local fishermen to your plate, Bayou Bill’s offers a raw oyster bar, special crab feast, shellfish, fish, and classic po-boy sandwiches. The crab feast includes your choice of Alaskan snow crab legs, blue crabs, and Alaskan Dungeness crabs. Other special dishes include chargrilled chicken, fish and steak, as well as pastas and decadent desserts. This family-friendly restaurant also offers photo ops with live alligators.

Hours: Daily 5 p.m. - closing time varies. Tel: 850-235-1010. For more information, visit bayoubills.com.



Casa Marina 1925 Hotel and Restaurant, Jacksonville Beach

The Grand Dame of Jacksonville Beach, the charming Casa Marina, built in 1925, is an alluring historic landmark and the last remaining piece of Northeast Florida’s Prohibition Era. The Rooftop restaurant and bar presents an unrivaled ocean view, serves lunch and dinner, and has a live DJ on Friday and Saturday nights. Food specials at happy hour hint at the creative food and drink offered here; such as spicy shrimp sauté with fruit salsa mint beurre blanc, and a cucumber lychee martini, one of many delightful concoctions on their martini list. Signature Tapas is served throughout the day Tuesday through Friday. Sunday brunch consists of an unforgettable feast of delicious egg dishes, fresh seafood, roasted carvings, pasta and salads, warm homemade breads, and decadent desserts.

Hours: Mon. - Thurs. 3 p.m. - 12 a.m.; Fri. 3 p.m. - 1 a.m.; Sat. 1 p.m. - 2 am.; Sun. 12 p.m. - 12 a.m.; Sunday Brunch 10 a.m. - 1:30 p.m. Tel: 904-270-0025. For more information, visit casamarinahotel.com.



Cafe Alcazar, St. Augustine

Lunch in an empty swimming pool? If it’s at Cafe Alcazar, you’ll be served heaping sides of history. Henry Flagler built the Alcazar Hotel and Casino in 1888, now known as the Lightner Museum. The Alcazar boasted the world’s largest indoor swimming pool in its heyday, and now it is home to the Alcazar cafe. The menu is fine dining meets casual, with items ranging from escargot prepared with white wine, garlic butter and fresh herbs, to a classic club sandwich. Enjoy live classical guitar during lunch, and afterward, peruse the surrounding shops filled with glittering antiquities.

Hours: Daily for lunch 11 a.m. - 3 p.m.; Tel: 904-825-9948. For more information, visit thealcazacafe.com.



Columbia Restaurant, Ybor City, Tampa

Go to the flagship Columbia restaurant on any night except Sunday for a riveting flamenco dance performance - a cultural complement to the restaurant’s internationally acclaimed cuisine. Founded in 1905, the landmark serves authentic Spanish and Cuban cuisine. Among its many must-try menu items are Columbia’s Original “1905” Salad,® Spanish Bean Soup, The Original Cuban Sandwich, Pompano en Papillot, Roast Pork a la Cubana, Chicken and Yellow Rice Valenciana, Filet Mignon Chacho, Café con Leche and Flan.

Hours: Mon. – Thurs. 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.; Fri. – Sat. 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. Tel: 813-248-4961. For more information, visit columbiarestaurant.com



The Beach House, Anna Maria Island, Bradenton

It’s all about “Toes in the Sand” dining at Chiles Group trio of restaurants, including MiraMar on Longboat Key and The Sandbar on Anna Maria Island. But if you haven’t been to The Beach House lately, you might not recognize it but for the picture postcard views, Jimmy Buffett-style music, and sumptuous menu items. A recent renovation elevated its ambiance from Beach Casual to Beach Chic. While still a come-as-you-are kind of place, the new fluid design with open-air dining on the powdery sands of the beach makes it more inviting than ever. While their signature grouper sandwich is always a treat, if you like shellfish, you’ll love the new Tower and Castle. Offered in one or two tiers, it’s a decadent presentation of clams, mussels, seasonal crab, oysters, peel & eat shrimp, fish dip, lobster and optional caviar - locally sourced whenever possible.

Hours: Mon. - Thurs. 11:30 a.m. - 9 p.m. ; Fri. - Sat. 11:30 a.m. - 10 p.m.; Sun. 11:30 a.m. – 9:30 p.m. Tel: 941-779-2222. For more information, visit beachhousedining.com



Toasted Mango Cafe, Siesta Key, Sarasota

This award-winning diner was founded by two spunky ladies determined to bring back the art of service. Servers are friendly and helpful, lending to the fun, cheerful atmosphere. Discover a large variety of super-fresh breakfast and lunch items; chef breakfast specials include their Sarasota Omelet with house roasted turkey, fresh avocado, spinach, tomato and jack cheese. For lunch, try their tasty Toasted Mango Blackened Chicken Salad. If its southern comfort food you crave, order their homemade biscuits with sausage gravy. Northerners will appreciate the generous smoked salmon platter served with a “real New York bagel.”

Hours: Daily 7 a.m. – 3 p.m. Tel: 941-552-6485. For more information, visit toastedmangocafe.com.



Leopard Lounge at The Chesterfield Hotel, Palm Beach

At this Palm Beach institution and favorite celebrity haunt, Leopard is the operative word. If you study the X-rated ceiling in the lounge you'll spot the creature among the abstract Rubenesque nudes painted by an Italian artist in Sistine-Chapel style. The gold-accented black lacquer walls, leopard print carpets, punkah fans, and bevelled mirrors completed its totally unexpected decor. Breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea or dinner, the menu items are as eclectic. Popular choices include their lobster and shrimp cocktail, Aberdeen angus beef burgers, and South African chicken curry. Stay for the nightlife here, it’s terminally hip.

Hours: Breakfast daily, 7 a.m. - 11 a.m.; Lunch daily, 11 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.; dinner Sun. - Thurs. 5:30 p.m. - 11 p.m. and Fri. - Sat. 5:30 p.m. - 12 a.m. Tel: 561-659-5800. For more information, visit chesterfieldpb.com.



Joe’s Stone Crab, Miami Beach

No visit to Miami would be complete without a visit to Joe’s Stone Crab. Not only is it the legendary restaurant the place to see and be seen, it was the very first restaurant to serve Florida stone crabs, back in 1921. Before then, the crustaceans were not considered edible. Since then, they have become a Florida staple and are considered a delicacy, as they are only available from mid-October through mid-May. Joe’s also serves other fresh shellfish, fish, meat and poultry, and offers a full bar and lengthy wine list.

Hours: Tues. - Sat. 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.; Sun. - Thurs. 5 p.m. - 10 p.m.; Fri. - Sat - 5 p.m. - 11 p.m. Tel: 305-673-0365. For more information, visit joesstonecrab.com.



Big Pink, Miami Beach

Whether you are hungry or hungover, Big Pink fills the reasonably-priced bill. This late-night retro diner is known for its belly-busting portions of classic comfort foods with an imaginative twist. Think fried chicken and waffles benedict with chicken apple sausage, 5-egg omelettes with a panoply of fillings, or a Big Pink TV Dinner with gourmet selections of teriyaki salmon, chicken, or meatloaf. With pizza, pasta, burgers, salads, sandwiches, and a literally huge breakfast selection, the menu is astoundingly varied. The decor is colorful and casual, with large TVs lining the walls. And you can’t miss the signature pink Volkswagen Beetles parked outside, poised for 24-hour delivery.

Hours: Sun. – Thurs. 8 a.m. – 12 a.m.; Fri. – Sat. 8 a.m. – 5 a.m.; Tel: 305-532-4700. For more information, visit mylesrestaurantgroup.com.


Did you know?

  • The Florida Stone Crab can regenerate its claws three to four times, making it a renewable resource and a favorite among conservationists.

  • Florida key limes turn yellow when ripe. Authentic key lime pie is yellow, not green!

  • Plant City, Florida, is the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World. More than three-quarters of the nation's winter strawberries come from Plant City.

  • Originally known as crisphead, iceberg lettuce got its name from the layers of ice covering heads of lettuce being shipped to Tampa via Henry B. Plant’s trains. As the trains pulled up, people would yell, “Here come the icebergs!”

Farm-to-Fork

It’s no secret that many of Florida’s restaurateurs have embraced using locally-sourced and renewable resources for their menu items. But the Chiles Group restaurant trio, which includes The Beach House, MiraMar, and The Sandbar in Southwest Florida, has taken the concept to new heights. They even own and harvest from their organic and hydroponic farm, Gamble Creek, and work in concert with Jubilee Orchids, Dakin’s Dairy, Cortez Fishing Village and countless others to put that super-fresh, farm-to-fork meal on your plate. Visit beachhousedining.com/menu/locally-sourced/ for more info.


Tampa Bay Times | Sunday, June 24, 2018 |

Travel Florida is an annual publication of the Tampa Bay Times.