Robert Tolf's Favorite Delectables
Citrus comes immediately to mind. The Yellow Pages provide identities of bonded shippers, but I like to go to the source, to places like Orange Blossom Groves, at 18200 U.S. Highway 19 in Pinellas County (813/536-3588); Palm Beach Groves & Marketplace, with its original packing house and ole-timey wagon tours at 7149 Lawrence Rd. in Lantana (1-800-327-3208); or Blood's Hammock Groves, with forested surroundings and overflowing produce and plant stands in Delray Beach at 4549 Linton Blvd. (407/498-3400).
For non-Florida fare, there's always the kingpin in the fruit-shipping big leagues, Harry and David (1-800-345-5655), but they are way out in Oregon. I use them only for their incredible Royal Riviera Pears and such innovative specialties as their Fruit of the Month Club. I prefer to stay closer to home when marking the holidays, relying on select, service-oriented specialists around the state that do so much to bring cheer to the holidays:
3800 Chalet Suzanne Dr
If you're looking for a real "far-out" gift, why not some Moon Soup? It was taken to the moon aboard the Apollo 15 and 16 moon flights and is sold at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum. Created by the Chalet's Carl Hinshaw and produced under his constant supervision in the Chalet's own plant, it's available for immediate shipment - $13.95 for three cans, $22.95 for six. Other soups run the alphabet from A to W, from asparagus-potato (Carl's newest creation) to watercress. Orange and tomato aspics are also made on the premises and make great gift items, as do the orange and mint sauces, including one made expressly for ribs and chicken. The efficient, experienced shipping department will deliver "Soupery Three, Six or Twelve" cans for $13.95 to $35.95.
Hoffman's Chocolate Shoppes & Gardens
5190 Lake Worth Rd.
2403 S. Dixie Hwy.
West Palm Beach
10957 N. Military Trail
Palm Beach Gardens
Royal Palm Plaza 50A
"We Ship Anywhere," the proprietors here proudly proclaim, and they produce enough chocolate to ship it by the ton. You can peruse Hoffman's catalog and make purchases by phone, but I like to visit the headquarters and factory, a kind of Willy Wonka escape west of Lake Worth. Take time to taste and look at all that hand-dipped decadence being produced; then visit the beautiful gardens and the l,800-square-foot Candyland model railroad, with more than 500 feet of track, 17 switches and six trains tooting past a water-powered grist mill, rock candy mine and crystal mint waterfall. Among my favorite indulgences here are the almond butter crunch, the "Nutty, Chewy & Crunchy Assortment" and the one-pound boxes of oven-roasted nuts. The toll-free number is 1-800-545-0094.
Palm Beach Taste
l303 Central Terrace
This is a newcomer out to prove the old adage about building a better mousetrap, or in this case, a better holiday basket. Palm Beach Taste's baskets are filled with muffins, cookies made of oranges and sugar cane, plus orange-coconut corn bread and orange-coconut marmalade. The colorful, shrink-wrapped wicker baskets range in price from $15 (serving two to four) to $35 (for 19 to 22).
3000 4th St. N
This is the town's best specialty food shop, with an extensive selection of all kinds of goodies for filling gift baskets including a fine selection of wines. Among my favorites are the steak and wine and the cheese and crackers. Prices range upward from $25.
Truffles And Trifles
711 West Smith St.
College Park, Orlando
There are a couple thousand items in stock, so the combos are countless, but consider such zingers as A Florida Basket with Key lime cake, pretzels and mustard, fresh Florida fruit and such extras as white chocolate macadamia nut cookies and cheese crackers ($50). Another basket called The Barbecue Chef comes with Wisconsin Wilderness barbecue sauce, salsa and chips, Vidalia onion BBQ sauce, Texas Country lentil chili, coyote nuts and mesquite charcoal ($40). The Ultimate is a $125 array of such wonderments as hot apricot mustard sauce, brandied cherries, Kozlowski Farms tomato chutney, amaretto chocolate topping, French cornichons and trout pate. Out of the area code, call 1-800-TRIFLES for a catalogue.
Margaret Ann's Gourmet Cookies
5625 4th St. N
In addition to the popular cooking classes and catering services, Margaret Ann does magnificent gift baskets, tins, boxes and now flower pots of blooming cookies, as well as holiday wreaths of cookies, each of them individually wrapped. Surround the goodies with the colors of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars, Florida State Seminoles or Florida Gators. Prices range from $20 to $100.
Eight of the 33 nationwide outlets of this purveyor of premium, cornfed, Midwestern beef are in Florida, including five locations in South Florida (Aventura, Boca Raton, Dadeland, Plantation and Fort Lauderdale), two in Tampa Bay and one, the newest, in Winter Park. But there's more than choice and prime cuts naturally aged for three weeks: Think of ordering rack of lamb or a boneless leg, breast of chicken Kiev or Cordon Bleu or a half dozen other ways, lobster tails, sole almondine and steaks of halibut and salmon. They even have catfish and New York-style cheesecake. And they guarantee, "If you are not absolutely thrilled with your order from Omaha Steaks for any reason at all, we'll cheerfully replace your order or refund your money, whichever you prefer."
Twenty-two of the 220 links in this successful U.S. chain are in Florida, and if you've never been inside one, you might like the experience. A recent unannounced visit to the one at 1990 North Federal Highway in Pompano Beach (305/785-8225) was a most pleasant revelation. Clean as the proverbial whistle, I could have had open-heart surgery on the floor. But come the holidays, the manager and a pair of veteran assistants are joined by 60 more - 30 in the back, doing the slicing, glazing and packing, and 30 out front, taking care of customers ordering the honeybakes and smoked turkeys and such sensational gift selections as the Southern-style breakfast pack, turkey breast and barbecue dinners, ribs, turtle cheesecake, pecan pie, apple crumb tarts, tins of mixed nuts and a chocolates basket. There's also a Ham Club whose members receive honeybakes two, three or four times a year, plus a Holiday Club whose members get shipments for six major holidays. A colorful catalogue explains it all.
2080 Constitution Blvd.
This wholesaler-retailer of specialty foods, primarily from Italy as the name indicates, is a supplier to sellers of gift baskets. Casa Italia also makes up its own shipments of such hot-button items as novello extra virgin olive oil, panforte, pandoro and panettone. There's a terrific assortment of Italian olives, deli meats and cheeses plus 120 carefully selected Italian wines. A highly personal place with lots of TLC.
The Giving Gallery
P.O. Box 540424
It's a bit off the point, but why not a Stress Buster Basket filled with anti-stress soak, peppermint body scrub soap and sleepy time bath oil? Or one with Walker's Pure Butter Scotch Bread, jumbo Washington State Red Delicious apples dipped in caramel then rolled in toffee, cookie crumbs and pecans and then drizzled with milk chocolate and topped with holiday sprinkles? There are coffee lovers' collections, complete with biscotti, tea cookies, cakes and chocolate-covered stirring spoons. The menu of basket items also includes shrimp and trout pates, Lindt truffles and Irish whiskey cake. Hannukah baskets with Star of David cookies and truffles also are available. Call 1-800-573-GIVE for a catalogue.
Great Cakes By Sweet Endings
1220 Old Okeechobee Rd.
West Palm Beach
This company produces two basic types of temptation: New York-style cheesecakes and a line of products with such zingers as Mile High Apple Crumble, Nutty Buddy Chocolate Explosion, Better Than Sex Brownies and the Mega Milky Way, with no fewer than a dozen Milky Way bars. Prices range from $10 for a bag of brownies to $24.95 for all those Milky Way bars.
Dat'l Do-It is a four-alarm hot sauce made from Datil peppers, grown only in the St. Augustine area and ranking up there with habaneros as the second- or third-hottest pepper in the world, probably brought to Florida hundreds of years ago by Spanish sailors. You can find this hot sauce at Albertsons, Publix and Winn-Dixie, but why not buy it directly from the source? The sauce is sold by a company called Dat'l Do-It, founded and run by Chris Way, the owner of Barnacle Bill's, a restaurant in St. Augustine (14 Castillo Dr.; 904/824-3663) that's easy to recommend with enthusiasm. Chris has also developed relish, vinegar, mustard, chicken wing sauce, pepper dills and pepper jelly.
Chefs Grill Plus
P.O. Box l504
Chefs Grill Plus is a product created by the chef of Destin's Marina Cafe, Tim Creehan. It's a food-preparation seasoning sauce to be used while you grill fish, fowl, meat and vegetables with a nonstick ingredient built in. It's also good to toss with hot boiled seafood.
43380 U.S. 19 North
One of the premier wine stores in the South, with a savvy staff and a fine selection of gift baskets in all price ranges. Customers do the gift choosing and compilation if you don't like the ready-made baskets.
Crown Liquors And Wine Merchants
4131 N. Federal Hwy., Boca Raton
7620 Peters Rd., Plantation
l296 N.E. l63rd St., North Miami
l2555 Biscayne Blvd., North Miami
These are the four super wine stores of Crown's South Florida group of 24. Each stocks a fine variety of gourmet gift items to supplement whatever liquid is selected to put in a wonderful variety of baskets and containers - olives, special mustards, pasta, cookies, cowboy caviar, preserved fruits, cheese and crackers - (photograph below). Whether you're going to give someone a bottle of Chateau St. Nick, something simple from San Remo or a jeroboam of l988 Chateau d'Yquem for $799.99, Crown has it all. And the store in Boca is also blessed by the presence of Tom DeCicco, one of the best and most pleasant basket makers and wrappers in the state, if not the nation.
ABC Fine Wine & Spirits
Each of ABC's 175 Florida outlets has special holiday displays, and they operate in the Orlando headquarters a special gift basket department, shipping out wine, cigars, stemware and such specialty items as smoked salmon, whiskey-laced cakes and chocolates. This year, they are also mailing out 300,000 catalogues in a new direct mail push. Call the 800 number for your copy.