Updated 11 months ago
Eating and drinking is a bigger business in Florida than ever. For many, it’s dining in on meals ordered online and delivered by taxi or maybe drone, but those who dine out have a wealth of choices.
Foodies and would-be restaurateurs and second-career dreamers love to start out micro in menu and size. Monomaniacal makers of artisan bread, tacos, kebabs, corned beef, bagels, ice cream, beignets, beer, kombucha and acai have started across the state. They begin in home kitchens, garages, old postal vans, pop-ups and tiny spaces with barely a dozen seats and sometimes none, just a three-foot counter.
There are so many that they have created a new breed of developers who collect and manage them like studio moguls of old.
Not all is small. Every chef with any renown or success has started a second, third or ninth venture next door or in other cities. Jose Mendin of Miami’s Pubbelly group is eyeing Broward; the Groshells and Medures of Jacksonville each have at least half a dozen spots, high-end and casual.
Floridians continue to create chains of our own, no outsiders needed. Mr. and Mrs. Crab, started in Bradenton in 2017, now has six locations serving eat-with-your-hands heaps of Szechuan seafood and six more underway. Cracker Barrel bought Maple Street Biscuit Co. of Jacksonville for $37 million.
Chefs from the Panhandle to Fernandina Beach now shine as much as Miami’s. They have taken the lead in championing a new Southern cuisine that is truly local, rooted in tradition and ties to the region’s farms. It’s a renaissance of pride in sweet tea-brined pork, honey, ranch beef, grits, oysters, greens and succotash, often cooked in cast iron and over wood fires.
Vegans and vegetarians are finding more options in restaurants of all types, beyond fast food’s fancy for plant-based burgers. A new generation of veggie-focused chefs has opened restaurants in many cities, and smart operators everywhere include all vegetable entrees from lasagna and rustic French tian to stuffed squash and expanded side dishes. Comeback vegetable of the year: The carrot, roasted, charred or sauced with brown butter.
New restaurants have rediscovered that Floridians love seafood. Whether the catch comes from our waters, Puget Sound or off the Faroe Islands, menus on both our coasts give new prominence to finfish and shellfish, especially oysters, clams and crabs.
Diners and chefs alike still have a passion for foods of the farmhouse, diner, deli, barbecue and the kitchens of nonna and abuela. Yet global flavors continue to penetrate. Korean kimchi is on menus of all stripes, whether in Brussels sprouts or ceviche. Indian cooking is modernizing to hipper presentation and hybridizing with the likes of Mexican tacos.
The Old Renewed
The hunger for new flavors and business opportunities has led us to a renewed appreciation for buildings as old as nostalgic recipes. Not just bungalows and Victorian homes but the gritty commercial and industrial buildings. Eating in former power plants, ice houses and waterworks, we still enjoy the taste of bricks and mortar.