I just got back from a family vacation in Fort Lauderdale. A much needed break after the miserably cold winter and just back in time to find that spring has finally arrived! Now, when you think of Florida, you probably don’t immediately think of fine dining. But after several years of vacationing in south Florida my family and I have a few tried and tested restaurant recommendations that I’d like to share with you.
Rustic Inn Crabhouse
4331 Anglers Avenue, Fort Lauderdale
First on my list is the Rustic Inn Crabhouse. This out of the way gem is a must for us on each trip to Florida. It’s tucked away west of the I95 in an industrial area near the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport next to a waterway. As you’re driving there you’ll ask yourself, where in the world would a seafood restaurant be located around here? Trust me on this one. I’ve been going there for the past 18 years and it never disappoints. As the name implies, it is quite rustic as in plastic tables covered in (at one time newspaper) white paper, plastic chairs, and walls decorated with fishing paraphernalia. But it’s all about the atmosphere. If you order crabs or lobster you are given plastic bibs and wooden mallets (which you can also purchase) so you can whack away at your food. If you happen to be there on your birthday, you can have it announced and all diners will bang away on their mallets in order to wish you a happy birthday. It can get quite loud!
So, about the food. We are creatures of habit and like to break down our meal as follows: Appetizers include peel and eat Old Bay spiced shrimp, fried calamari and oysters on the half shell. I have never seen such huge oysters, so fresh and tasting of the ocean. Perfect! My daughter also enjoys a bowl of the New England clam chowder. Next, we recently started ordering the linguine and mussels in a clam sauce as a shared entrée. This dish is meant for one person but is ridiculously large, probably 1/2 pound of pasta on one plate surrounded by mussels. It was the perfect entrée for the four of us to share.
And then, the main dishes. We definitely exaggerated this time. We ordered two grilled tuna steaks and my son insisted on the rack of ribs, served with potato wedges and cornbread! By the way, if anyone in your group does not like fish, several meat choices are available. What a feast, but by the time we got to our main dishes we realized that we had over ordered! No problem. The leftover tuna steak became a tasty tuna, white bean and cherry tomato salad the following day for lunch. And my son was glad to have leftover ribs. We definitely had no space for dessert, but we have enjoyed their key lime pie and mud pie. If you do go, ask to sit outside on the patio. You’ll be siting next to a small waterway and can watch the boats go by. Inside is way too noisy and cold. Besides, if you’re in Florida, you’ll want to spend as much time as you can outdoors, right?
1900 Atlantic Blvd., Pompano Beach
We also recently discovered our favorite doughnuts. We’ve been driving past Dandee Donuts for years and after coming across reviews of the place we finally decided to stop by about two years ago. You may already know that I prefer salty chips to dessert any day and we practically never stop for doughnuts here at home but one bite and I was hooked. We’ve picked up a dozen (you get 13 to the dozen) when getting together with friends in Florida, and they all agreed that they are the best. There are sour cream glazed donuts, fluffy and moist, with a crispy glaze. My favorite are the plain, unglazed, old-fashioned cake style doughnuts. My husband discovered the peanut crunch doughnut (I’m so sorry if you are allergic!), a plain doughnut completely encrusted with chopped peanuts. And I recently read that there is a key lime filled doughnut that I missed so I just have to go back!
I’m so upset because I had a few photos of the different types of doughnuts but I screwed up in the transferring process and lost them! This photo does not do them any justice as it was taken one night at 9:30 as we were about to devour them and the lighting was awful, but I had to give you a glimpse of one. You can always check out their web site at: http://www.dandeedonuts.com/. By the way, the place is also a diner and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and their location on Atlantic Blvd is open 24 hours a day. They have another location in Hollywood. So, if any of you have tried a meal there, let me know how it is.
1635 North Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale
Zona Fresca is another favorite for an inexpensive, quick stop for fast food that doesn’t taste like fast food. This is a counter service restaurant for delicious, fresh Mexican food. We often make a stop there on the way to or from the airport. In fact, this is where we started eating fish tacos. My favorite is the Baja ranchero plate which includes chicken or beef with tortillas, black beans and rice, cheese stuffed poblano pepper, guacamole, salsa and sour cream. All for less than 10$! A salsa bar with tortilla chips is included. There are quesadillas, burritos, tacos, and even the flan for dessert was pretty good! Where else can a whole family eat for less than 50$, not even at McDonald’s! Several locations in south Florida: http://zonafresca.com/.Local Ingredients
But our vacations in Florida are not only about eating out. There are two key ingredients that I pack in my suitcase to take home as they are not available locally. Bottled key lime juice and grits, yes as in “kiss my grits” for those of you who are old enough to remember the t.v. show “Alice.”
Key lime juice is not the same as lime juice and you can not substitute one for the other. Key limes are much smaller and have a more intense citrusy flavor. It’s the main ingredient in key lime pie but also great in many other recipes such as guacamole, marinades for meat or fish, and for drinks. I’ll be whipping up a recipe to share here with you soon.
And finally, grits. Grits are made up of coarsely ground corn and are Native American in origin. Grits are commonly found in southern American states and served as a side dish for breakfast or in casseroles with cheese and sausage and of course you’ve heard of shrimp and grits. I like to serve grits as a side dish with roast chicken instead of potatoes. You can serve them plain or, as we like them, with cheese stirred in.
So there you have it, my south Florida food round up. Let me know if you give these places a try and let me know your favorite finds. Happy travels!