Floridian cuisine: 10 things we love
Patrick Quakenbush, executive chef of Tampa’s Ulele, a restaurant specialising in native Floridian food, shares his recommendations for what to eat and drink in the Sunshine State
Want to learn more about Floridian cuisine? Looking for Floridian dishes to try? Read Patrick Quakenbush's guide below, then check out Florida's foodie neighbourhoods to visit and our Miami foodie guide.
Patrick Quakenbush, executive chef of Tampa’s Ulele, a restaurant specialising in native Floridian food, shares his recommendations for what to eat and drink in the Sunshine State.
Floridian cuisine: Patrick Quakenbush's guide
1. Cuban sandwiches
The pressed Cuban sandwich reflects the migration of Cubans, as well as Spanish, Italians and Germans who came to Florida in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Fillings can vary: pork, ham and cheese are layered with mustard and pickles. Tampa’s version also includes Genoa salami.
2. Alfresco dining
Floridians love dining outdoors. They like to feel connected to where they live, and a waterfront view is one way to do that, whether they’re dining casual or something more formal. Florida has 1,350 miles of coastline, so there’s often a water view to enjoy, usually in the sunshine.
3. Grouper sandwiches
In the late 1970s, restaurateurs discovered that the inexpensive, mild-flavoured fish made for a great dining experience, especially when fried or blackened and stuffed into a bun. The sandwich took off in popularity, making grouper one of the most popular fish in the state. A grouper sandwich is now, in many people’s eyes, a symbol of being on vacation in Florida and there are as many variations as places that sell them.
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4. Fresh seafood
As a peninsula, Florida has an abundance of fresh seafood nearby, whether it's served in restaurants or caught on a line during a fishing trip while standing on a bridge or seawall. From fish, such as grouper and snapper, to many varieties of clam, stone crab and Florida lobster, you’ll find it prepared as everything from ceviche to chargrilled.
5. Stone crab
Florida’s stone crab season, from October to May, is religiously observed by diners looking to enjoy meaty crab claws dipped in melted butter or a traditional mustard sauce. Florida’s lobster season is equally anticipated, as the spiny delicacies are harvested in the Florida Keys for a mini season in July and then from August to March. You should note that these lobsters don’t have big front claws, eating them is all about the tail.
6. Cocktails and craft beer
Across Florida, cocktails have always been popular. Citrus and tropical fruits grow in the state, so there’s a range of readily available flavours to use fresh. Florida also has a beer-making tradition that only continues to expand – find a local one to wherever you are.
7. Michelin-starred dining
Florida’s incredible dining scene, including in Tampa, Orlando and Miami, is being spotlighted – there are 15 restaurants with Michelin stars. Ulele is Michelin-recommended, alongside diverse dining experiences from craft bakeries to Thai small plates and smart tasting menus.
8. Breakfast treats
In Tampa, breakfast is often a simple café con leche with Cuban toast – this means slices of Cuban bread, buttered and cooked in a sandwich press. Floridians are, of course, big orange juice fans, too. While it’s very American to eat meals and snacks on the go, we certainly enjoy long, leisurely brunches as well.
9. Native ingredients
At Ulele, the goal of our native-inspired menu is to emulate what the Tocobaga natives and early European explorers, who arrived during the life of Ulele (the daughter of a Tocobaga chief in the 1500s), would have eaten here in this area of Florida. We serve several dishes made with local ingredients, wild seafood and meats raised on family farms. We make our own hot sauce with the Florida datil pepper, cook oysters on the half-shell over open flames and we encourage our guests to eat alligator hush puppies with their hands.
10. Floridian food culture
Florida’s revolving door of diverse guests and locals breeds a unique standard for dining establishments. At any given hour, restaurant guests might be on their way to a theme park, cruise ship or nearby beach. Because of this, some establishments keep things casual, while others create elevated environments, and some restaurants combine styles – it’s not uncommon to see flip-flops at a fine dining restaurant in Florida.