A small taste of Florida for foodies
By Stuart Nulman – mtltimes.ca
With the fall season well underway, which means that another cold Canadian winter is not that far behind, many Canadians – especially Montrealers – transform themselves into “snowbirds”, as they make their annual southbound trek to Florida, whether it be for a two-week vacation during the Christmas holiday season, or that six-month November-to-April escape.
Now for that Canadian snowbird, making that journey to Florida during that six-month period means getting your fall and winter’s share of sunshine, warm temperatures, palm trees, sandy beaches, sitting by the pool, or just enjoying the laid-back lifestyle that makes the Sunshine State so attractive to us.
However, these days, there are more reasons to take a vacation in Florida, especially if you’re a foodie.
“Recently, there have been a great deal of new and interesting restaurants that have opened across Florida … and they’re not a McDonald’s,” said Megan Dougherty, Public Relations Representative from Visit Florida, the official tourism marketing corporation for the state of Florida, during a special dinner that was held recently for several local travel writers at the Chez L’Epicier restaurant in Old Montreal. Incidentally, the restaurant’s owners, Laurent Godbout and his wife Lauren Denault, recently opened a branch of Chez L’Epicier in Palm Beach, which offers a menu made up of the region’s popular dishes with a French-Canadian twist to it.
Ms. Daugherty also noted that over the past several years, Florida has become more attractive not only to those who enjoy good food and fine dining, but has also attracted some of North America’s most popular celebrity chefs. Case in point is Emeril Lagasse, who is best known for his New Orleans-style cuisine. He made the move to Florida in 2009 because of his fondness for the growing food scene there; and three years later, he launched a new TV series on the Cooking Channel called “Emeril’s Florida”, which showcases the culinary skills of Florida’s finest chefs and farmers; the show is now in its fourth season.
So whether you’re travelling to the Panhandle, the Keys, or any other part of the Sunshine State in between, Florida has a wide variety of restaurants to choose from that offers tasty dishes that are exclusive to the state. Here are some recommendations to consider when you are making your way down south this winter.
Located on the southern most point of the state, the Florida Keys is not just well known to foodies for its famous Key Lime Pie. Many of its restaurants serve up fresh seafood dishes that are practically straight off the fishing boats that same day. One restaurant in particular, the Hogfish Bar and Grill, takes it to the next level. Their menu offers many “straight from the boat to your plate” selections, where you can catch the fish yourself, bring it to the restaurant, and let one of their professional chefs cook it up that very same day. However, if you want to savour your deep sea catch when you go home, the Islamorada Fish Company will be happy to custom pack and ship your catch to your home address.
If you decide to vacation on the western side of Florida, the St. Pete/Clearwater area has something for those who enjoy a good craft beer or two. The recently-established St. Pete/Clearwater Beer Trail is a haven for beer lovers, with a string of craft and microbreweries that offer their own unique brand of beer with flavours that are unique to Florida through beer tastings, brewery tours and even meet-and-greets with the brewer. For example, Florida Weisse has a line of low-alcohol brews that feature fresh fruit accents to them such as key lime, raspberry, mango and pineapple; and the Dunedin Brewery – now in its 20th year – delivers their hand crafted beers in such flavourful varities as Mango Makrut Paradiso and their popular Apricot Peach Ale.
And if you plan to spend the day catching the Daytona 500 NASCAR race, Daytona Beach has many locally owned and operated restaurants that serve freshly-made dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You can have breakfast at the Dancing Avocado Kitchen, which has a wide choice of meals that are made using Florida-fresh produce; for lunch, try Crabby Joe’s at the Sun Glow Pier, which gives you a wonderful view – and taste – of the beach; and experience Frappes Italian Grille for dinner and its menu of “organically groovy” food, and in fact, if you enjoyed the dish you ordered, Bobby Frappier, the restaurant’s owner and chef, offers cooking classes so that you can cook that enjoyable dish at home.
For a culinary change of pace from the fast food spots that are found in many of the theme parks in the Orlando area, try these two restaurants that will give you an international twist to your palate. Morimoto Asia is a newly-opened, two-storey restaurant that gives diners a Pan-Asian taste experience that you don’t need to pack your bags and travel across that expansive continent for, in which you can enjoy such dishes as Peking Duck and the traditional Sunday dim sum. Txokos Basque Kitchen, which was nominated for the prestigious James Beard Award, will give you an authentic taste of the Spanish Basque region, with a menu that changes with each season, offers fresh vegetables and seafood and Spanish wines, meals that are served on small plates and even features an outdoor Asador for grilling.
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For more information on how you can have a unique gastronomic experience during your Florida vacation this winter, go to www.visitflorida.org.