In our travels we try to find eateries that are not chain operations, have food that is above and beyond normal restaurant fare and that have a fun and quirky atmosphere. Locating such places has been a challenge at times, but we have relied on locals and several travel blogs to steer us right.
While some have not actually measured up, either to our standards or our pricepoint, others have turned out to be true gems. All that being said, people’s tastebuds, pricepoints and interests may differ – but here are ours, in no particular order;
Quams Schoolhouse Burgers & Grinders in Titusville
This was recommended to us by the folks at the nearby Sunshine Bakery when we wanted to have lunch. The restaurant’s theme is an old schoolhouse, with giant painted blackboards which bear the story of the restaurant, supporting vendors, a pledge and of course the menu.
I got “The 1913”, which was a great ham and cheese. My wife (a former librarian) got “The Librarian” which was a grilled cheese. We both got the home made chips and I got a bowl of cole slaw. It was huge so we ended up sharing it.
Opened by a former teacher (and apparently some of his friends), the inside is a throwback to the old style school house – complete with wooden tables and stools, as well as a window bar where patrons can sit, eat and watch the parade of life. The bathroom is a must stop.
We recommend this place to everybody.
They apparently also have live music in the evenings which you can enjoy from an outdoor deck.
The bottom line is that there’s lots of good menu options, the food is well prepared and it is a great stop for luch that won’t break the piggybank.
The Blue Dog Bar & Grill in Matlacha
The ambiance in this place is only surpassed by their food. There are appetisers, sandwiches and full dinners. Being on the coast there are many seafood menu items – but there are plenty of other choices including ham, chicken and beef options.
We were struck by the colorful crowd, from the fishermen spinning tales at the bar to one of the staff rushing out to help a customer tie off their boat at the dock in the back, it seems like there is always something going on.
You can order just about anything off the menu and be pleased.
Crazy Fish in Lake Wales
It is located just off the exit ramp from Highway 60 to US 27 in Lake Wales (be careful or you’ll miss the turn). This is a place that can best be described as “funky.” The building is older, and looks more like something you might see nearer to the Gulf or Atlantic Coast.
Known as a meet up place by locals and non locals alike, the Crazy Fish is not necessarily a place for those who want fast food (“You cannot rush perfection” as one patron put it). The Pompano was recommended to us as the dish of choice, although the calamari and scallop baskets received high marks. There also are selections for non seafood eaters as well.
It may take a while to arrive, but service is great and it provides ambiance for you to enjoy your selections.
Squid Lips Overwater Grill in Cocoa Beach
This place was recommended to us by a number of the locals as we combed the area in search of lunch. On the Orlando Avenue overlooking the Banana River, patrons are greeted by wooden ramps, winding around koi ponds to the front door. The inside is decorated with a huge mural representing all kinds of sea life (some even are on the menu).
My wife, who judges restaurants by their chips and salsa, gave the chips & queso the thumbs up. They were both hot and spicy with tri-colored chips which also were warm.
I really enjoyed the onion chips (which we are trying to reverse engineer) and the signature Overwater burger, which came with Cajun bacon and bleu cheese. But from the Fried Calamari to the Crunchy Chicken Tenders to the Raw Bar it’s hard not to find something for just about anybody.
For those on vacation who are looking for something truly unique – Squid Lips is a great option.
The Living Vine in Fort Myers
One would not think they could find such a spot in a strip mall, but there it is. The Living Vine is an organic restaurant that shows off their dedication – from the hydroponic herb garden at the front of the store to their knowledgeable staff. Eating here is both pleasant and unique.
Their mission statement says they strive to use organic and non-GMO products sourcing local food providers and even locally roasted organic coffee.
The menu spans the gamut from smoothies and protein shakes to sandwiches, wraps and even plant-based burgers. There also are salads, soups and a quiche du jour. With some exceptions, most are vegetarian friendly and even vegan friendly. (I, however, recommend the turkey wrap)
They also have bakery selections such as muffins and vegan cookies
Drinks range from coffee and espresso raw juices and house made drinks including lemonade, ginger ale root beer
Olive the World Bistro in Tarpon Springs
Tucked in the downtown area of historic Tarpon Springs, Olive the The World is a wonderful combination of a restaurant and store. Patrons have an op
opportunity to try specialty olive oils and balsamic vinegars on specially-prepared dishes.
This is both a great culinary experience and a hands-on aid to help determine what you enjoy, what you want to purchase and the best way to pair it. For instance, the Insalada Caprese is served with a variety of balsamics. The Dark Cherry was to die for. The Pesto was delicious and came with another set of samples to try.
The Costello a roasted turkey breast with smoked mozzarella might be the best sandwich you will ever eat and is worth every bit of four stars and should be a must if you are in Tarpon Springs.
Frostbite Ice Cream & More in Frostproof
This is a real hometown place. It has good comfort food great ice cream and a wonderful little wait staff with mostly teen and early 20’s gals doing the waitress duties.
A steady stream of locals come by for cones or to sit and eat in the dining room, which is reminiscent of an old soda shop, with a lot of nostalgic metal signs hanging on the walls.
It’s a fun place to dine but you have to be going there. It is located off Alternate 27 (a.k.a. “The Scenic Highway”) in the sleepy Polk County community of Frostproof.
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