1. Florida

Welcome to Florida. Here are the cult foods we know and love.

And no, we didn’t just repeat Publix subs 15 times.
A Publix chicken tender sub sandwich is seen Friday, May 3, 2019 in St. Petersburg. CHRIS URSO | Times
Published May 3
Updated May 3

When you think of Florida food, you probably think of Publix subs.

Admittedly, it seems strange that, in a whole state full of glorious food cultures, Miami, the Florida Keys, Disney World (okay, kidding), our most iconic food would be a grocery store sub. You’ll just have to try one to understand.

But thinking about Publix Subs got us wondering: What other cult foods define Florida? So we did some research.

We polled our newsroom and talked to Reddit users about the best cult food favorites in Florida. What are the foods that have their own social media pages? What foods are old reliables when we know we’re in need of some comfort?

What’s the first thing you just have to get when you step off the plane and find yourself in Florida?

Photo from Reddit.

Explore our favorites below. It wouldn’t be an accurate list, after all, if we didn’t start off with Publix.

Publix Subs

Publix chicken tenders subs are messy, gargantuan, delicious ... and on sale this week. [CARL LISCIANDRELLO | Times]

Publix chicken tender subs are a fan favorite. There’s a whole Twitter account dedicated to determining whether they are on sale.

On any average day in Florida, especially around lunchtime, you can generally find five or six people waiting in line for their Publix sub.

It’s hard to put into words just what makes these Pubs so special. Is it their fluffy bread? Maybe. Their Boar’s Head meat? Possibly. (And they always ask, ‘Do you want Boar’s Head?’) Or is it just the novelty of getting a fantastic sandwich from a grocery store? I go with all three.

And trust me, if you want some mid-day entertainment, try this little experiment.

Cuban Bread

Loaves of Cuban bread at La Segunda Central Bakery in Tampa. Photo courtesy of Amy Pezzicara, La Segunda Central Bakery

Cubans are great, but Cuban bread is an art form all its own. It’s so rare, in fact, that Ybor favorite La Segunda had difficulty finding bakers who could craft the bread as well as it was made in, well, 1915.

Conch Fritters

Conch fritters with Floridian aioli at Sea Sea Riders at 221 Main St. in Dunedin. Times (2011)

Do conch fritters signify the Florida Keys to you, with that combination of seafood and fried goodness?

One Reddit user called them “a pretty popular cult food with a rich history. They fit the cult definition as they can be polarizing.”

Another replied: “Ah yes, conch fritters. The ‘You must like this is you are from the Keys’ food.”

Cuban Sandwiches

Aguila Sandwich Shop's Cuban sandwich is seen at Aguila Sandwich Shop in Tampa. The restaurant is a popular local choice for Cuban sandwiches. Times (2012)

Pick a place to get the best Cuban in Florida and you’ll quickly find yourself in the middle of a feud. At least, that’s what happened to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio when he called La Segunda’s Cuban the best in the state.

Key Lime Pie

Key Lime Pie at the Thirsty Marlin in old historic Palm Harbor. Times (2015)

Key lime pie is, wait for it, the official state pie of Florida. Bet you didn’t know there were even official state pies.

Our reporter Craig Pittman broke down the interesting history behind Key lime pie in this Twitter thread.

I myself have to admit that my favorite Key Lime Pie comes from Publix. Where do you get your favorite?

Hooters Restaurant

Sign for Hooter's restaurant in Brandon.

Yes, Hooters originated in, of all places, Clearwater. The original still stands today but the restaurant has since expanded to more than 400 locations internationally.

Tropicana Orange Juice

Tropicana orange juice, to compare to price of a gallon of gas. Times (2008)

Tropicana’s founder Anthony T. Rossi made it into the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame.

Rossi came from Sicily and eventually moved to Bradenton, Florida, where he started a restaurant business. Later, he began selling fruit to New York department stores, according to the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame. As he continued to supply citrus and orange juice, Rossi created a process for pasteurization of orange juice that would allow the juice to be stored without concentration or refrigeration.

Publix Hula Hula Macadamia Ice Cream

The Hula Hula Macadamia Ice Cream, purchased Monday at a Publix in St. Petersburg. [Photo by Michelle Stark]

This Hula Hula Macadamia Ice Cream is a Publix exclusive product and beloved by its fans. The vanilla, caramel and candied macadamias make for a good mix, our Taster’s Choice panel found.

The product is seasonal, so let’s hope it’s back in stores by now.

Dole Whip

This Pineapple Float Dole Whip served at the Aloha Oasis in Adventureland inside Disney's Magic Kingdom is a refreshing treat.

The Dole Whip is an icon all its own to Disney lovers. Google Dole Whip and you’ll quickly find multiple articles about its popularity in the theme parks. “Where to Find Dole Whip at Walt Disney World,” “Disney World Just Introduced Dole Whip Froscatos.”

The only problem? Good luck getting one. Our photographer Allie Goulding was at Disney World recently for an assignment and stopped to get a Dole Whip only to find a long line. Her take? Not worth the wait.

Home-Cooked and Home-Grown Food

Scott's Zellwood Triple-Sweet Gourmet Corn is seen stacked up at Long and Scott Farms in Mount Dora, Fla. Florida sweet corn has become a rare delicacy. Times (2017)

My personal favorite answer on what defines Florida’s cult foods was from a Reddit user. I’ll let them take it from here.

“Florida food for me isn’t about the stores or food chains, it’s about home grown. That mango tree in town that everyone wants a taste of. Polk greens, sweet corn and green beans all from the same plot of land that’s been in the family for 100 years. Only in Florida can I have a Cuban sandwich and coffee for breakfast, swamp cabbage and wild hog BBQ for lunch and either catfish or grouper for dinner."

Only in Florida, folks. Full disclosure: I was eating a Publix sub while writing this.


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