10 Best - December 2008

By staff December 1, 2008

Citrus marmalade is one of Albritton Fruit Company’s superstar products. It’s in so much demand the company offers it in 2.5-pound containers for snowbirds who need a fix ofFlorida sunshine when they’re back inBuffalo. This sweet, tangy treat comes in three citrusy flavors: tangerine, Honey Bell and orange-pineapple-cherry. Slather it on your toast or marinate fish in it. Wherever you are, it’ll bring a sunny smile to your face.5430 Proctor Road,Sarasota(941) 923-2573.

The heart of palm is Florida’s answer to the asparagus. This sweet, crispy, nutty, nutritious delicacy is harvested from the inner portion of a palm stem. Once called “millionaire's salad” because of its prohibitive price, hearts of palm are now affordable as well as exotic. (The French love it.) Café Epicure’s Insalata Tropicale is an exquisite concoction of hearts of palm, arugala and avocado—lightly dusted with Parmesan. Who knew a tree could taste so good? Café Epicure,1298 Palm Ave.,Sarasota (941) 366-5648.

The alligator is the oldest Floridaresident there is. They’ve been known to bite—and now you can return the favor at Linger Lodge. With its deck overlooking the Braden River, taxidermy wall art and chickens running wild outside, Linger Lodge is as backwoods Florida as you get. Try the alligator chowder, chock-full of farm-raised ‘gator meat, potatoes, onions, celery, garlic, heavy cream—and Cajun spicing for that special kick. Just like Mom used to make—if she lived in a Cracker shack in the Everglades. 7205 Linger Lodge Road, Bradenton (941) 755-2757.

Grouper is Florida’s signature fish. You can find the ubiquitous grouper sandwich at any fish shack—or go for the gold at Beach Bistro. Proprietor Sean Murphy sautés his signature Grouper Gulf Coast with a touch of sherry, adds plenty of fresh citrus, mango and papaya, and kisses it all with Key lime butter. It’s truly inspired Florida cuisine, though Murphy prefers the term “cookery.” Whatever—we’ll just call it delicious. 6600 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach (941) 778-6444.

Consider the hardy Florida stone crab. This versatile creature can regenerate its claws up to four times in its life—a good thing for stone crab connoisseurs, since Florida law forbids harvesting the whole crab. At the family-owned Moore's Stone Crab Restaurant on Longboat Key the claws come to you hours after being harvested. Dip that rich, buttery meat into Moore’s mustard sauce and don’t even think about leaving room for dessert. (Stone crab season is Oct. 15 to May 15). 800 Broadway St., Longboat Key (941) 383-1748.

With its rich, nutty flavor, mullet offers a rich man’s taste at a poor man’s price. Since pioneer days, it’s been as quintessential to the Gulf coast as grapes are to Sonoma Valley. Walt's Fish Market & Restaurant keeps the tradition alive, serving mullet fried, steamed, broiled and smoked. Their creamy smoked mullet spread is downright delectable. 4144 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota (941) 921-4605.

CortezVillage’s Star Fish Company Dockside Restaurant is a picture-postcard setting for enjoying vintage Florida food—and views. The Star Fish runs a commercial fishing business, so the fish you eat here is flopping fresh. But what about something to go with that fish? Don’t look further than their acclaimed cornmeal hush puppies—deep-fried so they pop with sweet corn goodness in your mouth. These puppies are so popular they sell the mix by the bag. 12306 46th Ave W, Cortez (941) 794-1243.

Oysters taste like the sea. Well, make that the Gulf, because 90 percent of Florida’s oysters hail from Apalachicola. Kick back with an icy brew and generous helpings of ice-cold oysters on the half-shell at the Portside Patio Bar at Marina Jack, a lively open-air raw bar smack on Sarasota Bay. Just don’t do it alone. Oysters are known to create a taste for romance. 2 Marina Plaza, Sarasota (941) 365-4232.

Conch fritters are Florida’s official fast food. Thanks to overfishing, conch meat is now imported from the Caribbean, but it’s still the same great taste. At Anna Maria Island’s beachside Sandbar, flip-flops and bathing suits are welcome, and conch fritters are the order of the day. These fritters are acclaimed for their zesty kick (the recipe calls for generous amounts of jalapeños) and crispy bite; they’re served golden-fried to perfection. 100 Spring Ave., Anna Maria (941) 778-0444.

Not all Key lime pie is made from real Key limes. The pie at Beach House Restaurant is, and that makes all the difference. This traditional Key West recipe demands the freshest Key limes and plenty of eggs. The result is a creamy yellow custard—not the phony green stuff. The crust is made from crumbled graham crackers, as it should be. This Key lime pie is lighter than air, sweeter than your high school heartthrob and pure, sweet Florida. 200 Gulf Drive N., Bradenton Beach (941) 779-2222.

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