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Tastebuds on Vacation in Florida

A (dining) room with a view! One of the greatest things about being by the coast is being able to have a great meal while taking in the beauty of the ocean. We had just this experience at 50 Ocean in Delray Beach. We had been out in the heat and humidity at the Everglades Holiday Park so when I asked my dad if he knew of any places on the beach for dinner it's no wonder that this gem came to mind.

But I'm jumping ahead. Other than airport food, our first meal in Florida was at Brother Jimmy's BBQ in CityPlace.

Everyone knows how difficult it is for two people to decide where to eat. It's not any easier with three. CityPlace is a huge outdoor mall and includes lots of restaurants. We wandered around a few before resting on Brother Jimmy's and though it wasn't the favorite meal of the trip, their selection was wide and I, for one, liked what I had which was the Brisket Po'Boy. I ordered the crispy brussels sprouts for my side and they were delicious.

This casual BBQ joint offers three house BBQ sauces and serves some pretty good sweet tea. Brandon and my dad weren't wowed but I enjoyed my meal and thought the atmosphere was fun with lots to look at on the walls. It looked like they have a stage for live music and I bet it's a fun place to be later in the evening.

I'm not a big breakfast person (I usually don't eat breakfast at all, although a Starbucks chai tea latte and croissant definitely hits the spot), but we had some spectacular breakfasts in Florida.

On our first day out and about we headed down to Miami, stopping first in Ft. Lauderdale because someone had to see the house from Flight of the Navigator. Compliance! We decided to check out Yelp! reviews for the area and couldn't pass up The Alchemist seeing its stellar rating and speciality coffee. We were not disappointed! It's true: any restaurant with a resident cat earns major bonus points from me, but The Alchemist has the coffee and food to make this place a favorite for all the right reasons.

Their sandwiches, called "slicers" are amazing and they have quite the variety. I ordered the Avocado Slicer with avocado, onion, garlic, cilantro, lemon, EVOO and mixed greens on top of a gloriously thick slice of toasted baguette. Flavorful and filling (especially with the add-on fried egg)! And so much avocado! Brandon ordered the Smoked Salmon Slicer with goat cheese, red onion and capers. It looked incredible (and Brandon says it was way better than the lox bagel from Einstein Bagels). We each ordered their speciality iced coffee (I got mine extra sweet, of course) and it was great! It's made with 24-hour cold brew coffee, brown sugar, sweetened condensed milk and whole milk. The flavor and sweetness was spot on for me, but it wasn't quite as smooth and creamy as our favorite cuban iced latte here in Minnesota (oh, how we love the lattes at Victor's 1959 Cafe).

You have to cut us some vacation slack for this next part: we hopped right over to the restaurant next door and shared a crepe. I know most people don't have dessert after breakfast but we've been on crepe kick lately since I just learned how to make them and when Brandon happened to catch a glimpse of the menu on his way back from the shared bathroom, we could not resist splitting a sweet crepe. Voo La Voo Cafe was also highly rated on Yelp! (although we had no idea they were right next door to each other). We ordered the Mixed Berry Crepe with English custard cream and raspberry coulis. It was so good! The crepe was sort of translucent but had an almost pasta-like texture. The woman who served us and made the crepe had a french accent so we were perfectly willing to accept that this is how crepes are supposed to be. The filling was delicious and the cream was such a perfect accent. We're so glad to checked it out and would definitely return to try the other crepes if we lived in the area. It's perfectly reasonable to have two back-to-back breakfasts when there are two amazing restaurants right next to each other that you'll probably never have to chance to visit again!

Breakfast meals continued to not disappoint! On our way up to the Kennedy Space Center we pulled off in Hobe Sound and stopped at the first place we could see which was the Old Dixie Cafe. They're one of those local places that doesn't even have a website but they have great food (and a whole tribute wall to Burt Reynolds who lives in the area). I decided on the Biscuits and Gravy which was absolutely perfect. The biscuit was moist and fluffy and the gravy was super tasty. The breakfast basics that came with it were good as well. Brandon got the ham and cheese omelet which he liked and my dad got your basic breakfast: eggs, toast, sausage and breakfast potatoes. The cafe definitely had a local, casual vibe to it (I think the owner was out on the patio with some friends because he greeted us and thanked us when we walked in and out), but the food is definitely worthy of a loyal following.

The only place we ate at twice (an extreme rarity for us on vacation) was Eggscetera Cafe and we immediately understood why my dad likes to go there. Although you may have to wait for a table, it's well worth it when you see their menu and specials. My dad gets the breakfast basics but Brandon and I both oped for the Lobster Benedict our first time there. Huge chunks of lobster (along with shredded lobster meat) crowned the english muffin, tomato, spinach and poached egg which is then drenched in their famous hollandaise sauce. And their home fries could almost tie for first place on the plate. They're generous slices of potato, perfectly crispy and slightly firm tossed in a great mixture of seasoned salt. I almost made myself sick trying to finish the huge portion of them. To finish it off, each plate comes with a juicy, ripe slice of cantaloupe to offer just a hint of light dessert to finish the meal. Everything was so delicious that I was the only one to change my order on our second visit, and only slightly. I gave the Smoked Salmon Benedict a whirl and I think I might have actually liked it a little better than the lobster. The salmon has such a refreshing taste and texture and I also enjoyed the bagel as the base instead of the english muffin. Brandon and I also tried a couple of their specialty coffee drinks. It was a particularly muggy morning so Brandon's Cappuccino Freddo and my Cafe Frappe really hit the spot. From crepes and their many varieties of Eggs Benedict, to stuffed pumpkin cheesecake french toast, it would take us many visits to exhaust the amazing dishes at Eggscetera, that is if we could manage to try something new each time and not keep ordering the same thing we loved from our first time!

Of course we did more than just eat breakfast. I had heard about Naiyara in Miami Beach and was pretty excited to check out their unique sushi (they even serve a sushi "bagel" that is topped with gold leaf!), but we discovered - after driving there - that they weren't open until dinner. One of the habits that's been hardest to break when we travel is assuming that restaurants will be open during what we consider to be "normal" business hours. We've noticed that a lot of restaurants in the south aren't open in the middle of the day. They are open for lunch, take a few-hour break and then re-open for dinner. Fancier restaurants in Minnesota have more limited hours too, but this trend was really surprising (and frustrating) for us. Our meal times can be pretty random when we're away from home due to all the sight-seeing so we really need to get better at checking restaurant hours if we want to eat at specific places. Luckily for us on that day, there was another sushi bar on the same block.

At Pubbelly we shared a couple of their unique rolls like the Wagyu Beef Tartare roll with gochujang mustard, avocado, sesame and truffle poached egg, and the Navarro Salmon roll with crab, serrano peppers, mozzarella, crispy onions, spicy mayo and eel sauce. The salmon roll was so good. I've never had melted mozzarella in sushi, but I want to do it again! The flavor and texture was so decadent. The whole combination was incredible. We also each ordered a poke bowl. I chose the salmon bowl with cilantro lime dressing and Brandon ordered the Bigeye tuna bowl with their house "PB Poke" dressing. Each bowl comes with brown rice, bean sprouts, goma wakame, kale, red onions, Japanese pickles, sesame seeds and soy beans. The bowls were good but a little too exotic for me. There was a lot going on and a lot of new flavors. I started out enthusiastic but the novelty gave out and I didn't finish mine (probably partly due to the sushi we had earlier). I would have liked to try some of their other specialty sushi rolls and would definitely check it out again. The atmosphere was casual and slightly trendy. We had a great waitress and overall it almost got us over the disappointment of not being able to go to our first pick.

We passed a local coffee shop on the way to Pubbelly and it wasn't hard to convince Brandon when we were done that we should stop in and grab an iced coffee for the hour-ish drive back to pick up my dad from work near West Palm Beach. Panther Coffee is a pretty interesting place. There's lot of seating and seating zones and some fun decor (and they sell a pretty decent amount of branded merchandise including a pretty cool backpack made out of a burlap coffee bean bag). They're big on method so not only can you choose the single origin source of your coffee after reading their extensive profiles displayed on clipboards nearby, but you can choose the way it's brewed. I tried their Classic cold brew with notes of malted milk, deep chocolate, vanilla, honey, and cherries, served over ice with cream (extra sweet) and Brandon ordered their Nitro cold brew which was "creamy and smooth with a gorgeous cascade" (from their menu descriptions). Both were good. The place stayed fairly busy while we were there and their baristas seemed to be pulled in all directions (which made us feel a little awkward not knowing the normal flow). If we lived in the area I'm pretty sure Brandon would have a ton of fun experimenting with all of their different options.

That night we enjoyed a great steak dinner at Texas Roadhouse (although I forgot to take any pictures). My dad and Brandon got a ribeye and I got the steak tips. Everything was great and it was a shame to run out of room (especially because their fresh bread and whipped butter is so good)! While we typically avoid chain restaurants while we travel, the benefit of going somewhere with multiple locations is that you get to relive some delicious meals without having to fly to a different state! When we're missing my dad or Florida, we can hop a couple towns over and reminisce over another great steak.

We're finally getting to back to the dining room with a view that I mentioned above. We were hot and sticky from being out in the heat and humidity at Everglades Holiday Park, but all of that went away when we walked the couple blocks from our parking spot, through the Delray Beach Pavilion to the glorious ocean. To me the ocean is this magical place where nothing and everything changes every minute. I could sit on the beach or stand ankle deep in the water in the same spot and even though it's just sand, water and sky, all three are like living beings that never sleep. The sky changes with the time of day and the billowy clouds rolling by. The giant mass of water is always moving but never in the same way. Its color and its shape find no rest. The sand glistens as the water brushes past it and then shows its matte finish when the waves fall back leaving seaweed, shells and foam (and beckoning seagulls to forage it's new stock). Maybe it's because I've lived in Minnesota my whole live, about as far as you can get from any of the U.S. coasts, but I am just enthralled by the ocean. Getting to be near it, and eat in view of it, is such a treat!

I have no concept of time when I'm by the water (which is actually very out of character for me) but when we finally brushed off the sand, rolled our pant legs down and left the beach, we didn't have far to go to arrive at the place my dad had in mind. We crossed the street from the pavilion and arrived at 50 Ocean. It has an unassuming store front with a lower level that I didn't get a good look at, but my dad headed right for the stairs and when we turned the corner after reaching the second level we were instantly greeted with a full wall of windows framing the ocean and the beach we had just enjoyed up close. We were seated right next to the window and my dad had said something to the effect of "Will this work?" with a smile knowing that he had totally nailed it.

Everything on the menu sounded delicious. Our waitress was very friendly, helpful and attentive. She recommended sharing a pot of their mussels (with a broth so good that she said she often sends people home with any leftovers to pour over pasta the next day). They were excellent, but still probably not as good at the mussels and broth that Brandon ordered at St. Genevieve here in Minneapolis (you'll have to check out our local pages for more information on that!).

For the main meal, my dad ordered the Kurobuta Chop which was double cut, with bourbon braised apples, roasted chestnut and pomegranate salad, cauliflower puree and blueberry jus. Brandon decided on the scallops which were dayboat harvested and cooked rare with five spice pork belly, green curried kale and a parsnip emulsion. After asking the waitress to help me decide between the snapper and redfish I went with their specialty: the snapper. It was pan seared, and came with coconut risotto, mango-ginger cream, cilantro-corn relish and two huge, perfectly cooked stalks of asparagus. The presentation was creative and beautiful and the flavors were unique and delicious. You could tell that everything on the menu was meticulously planned and personally prepared. In fact, there were a couple items that weren't available that night because their chef was getting married that evening and he makes some of the dishes himself.

Our waitress was a pretty smooth operator. Not only had she succeeded in up-selling us on the mussels (not that she had to twist our arm), but she also came by mid-meal, before any of us would realize how full we were getting, to try to entice us with a dessert that needed to be ordered in advance. We were able to resist which was lucky because by the end we were definitely too full for dessert. She brought out three petite chocolate mouse cups, "compliments of the chef," and they were the perfect, sweet end the meal. The perfect, sweet end to our trip the next day belongs to the always-a-favorite Dairy Queen, but I still have one more meal to mention before then.

On the last day of our trip we went with a natural crowd-pleaser: pizza. My dad said that it's been hard to find good pizza in Florida, something that we pretty much take for granted in Minnesota and surrounding areas. He had discovered, though, Mellow Mushroom in CityPlace and we all enjoyed it. The decor is perfect for kids and amusing for adults too. It kind of reminded me of the space-themed restaurant in Toy Story. It's full of bright colors, large funky sculptures and crazy cartoons. Even their bathrooms are loaded with personality. I couldn't help snatching a picture of the ceiling. We shared a large sausage, pepperoni and green olive pizza and an order of their garlic cheesy bread. My only complaint was that they didn't have root beer! Come one! What kind of a pizza place doesn't have root beer?!

On this trip both our layovers were long enough to have a meal. While our meal in Charlotte on our way out wasn't nothing to write home about, we did have a pretty good meal at The Greene Turtle in the Baltimore airport. Who eats crab dip at 9:30 in the morning? We do when we're on vacation and we're not ashamed to admit it. The dip was hot and cheesy and was served with huge soft pretzel baguettes. It was so good that the people next to us congratulated us on our choice, no doubt having just finished theirs (also not ashamed to eat crab dip in the morning). I ordered the crab cake sandwich which did taste better than it looked. In the picture it looks like a blobby mess. Brandon tried one of their more unique items: the Comeback Burger, which was topped with hardwood smoked bacon, cheddar & American cheeses, and a fried egg drizzled in maple syrup and served between two Belgian waffles. I didn't surprise me at all that he opted for tater tots as his side (also ok to have for breakfast on vacation). Though not technically related to the state we visited, who knows, you might end up flying through Baltimore on your way to or from Florida too!

And that just about covers the fun our tastebuds had in Florida. There were some big hits and nothing really flopped. If you're planning your own trip and want to check these places out, click on our "Tastebuds on Vacation in Florida" custom Google map below! Enjoy the taste of travel!

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