By Michelle Cannon Epting

Destination: Remarkable Restaurants Worth a Drive

When planning a Florida getaway, there are many destinations and factors to consider. If one allows one’s palate to be the guide, a visit to one of these places may be inevitable.


Key West

At the southernmost tip of Florida, and indeed all of the U.S., lies a tropical paradise known as Key West. Attracting free spirits, wannabe pirates, and party people from all over the world, Key West has a unique vibe. Perhaps the best spot to experience this easygoing ambience is Blue Heaven, a well-known destination in its own right.

Upon walking under the painted arch bearing the establishment’s name, one enters a “chill” open-air zone where cats and roosters roam freely, artists create works for guests, musicians play for the diners, and the drinks are flowing at the always busy bar. Be forewarned, there is almost always a wait to be seated, sometimes as long as two hours. The meals are certainly worth the delay, and there are plenty of distractions to make the postponement quite pleasurable.

While being serenaded by steel drums, one can sip a tropical thirst-quencher and watch a featured local artist create the piece that will soon hang in that tourist’s living room. As children attempt hoola-hooping in the courtyard, adults can initiate a rousing ping-pong competition.

Before you realize it, your time has slipped by, and the hostess calls you to your al fresco table nestled beneath the tropical canopy. Roosters and chickens weave their way in and out of the tables as you peruse the menu, which features American, Caribbean, and vegetarian selections. Serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner seven days a week, as well as Sunday brunch, Blue Heaven is an especially enjoyable experience in the morning after a late night of Key West fun. The BLT (bacon, lobster, and tomato) omelet or benedict (with lime hollandaise) is particularly delectable, especially with a side of Betty’s homemade banana bread. The key lime pie is made daily in the bakery with freshly squeezed limes and topped with a mound of baked meringue and freshly squeezed lime juice.

After consuming heaven on a plate, a visit to the Rooster Gallery and Gift shop is a must. In the shop, one finds clothing, jewelry, books, pet gifts, souvenirs, and various local artists’ work. One could also purchase a colossal key lime pie,with those otherworldly, unimaginable heaps of meringue.

The best souvenirs though are a contented stomach, a heart full of memories, and a soul gladly still here on earth to visit this paradise.


St. Augustine

Founded in 1565 by the Spanish, St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied settlement and port in the continental United States. Today, the town preserves its historical past, while serving as a popular vacation destination. As it is located just over two hours north of Brevard County, St. Augustine is a convenient and idyllic weekend getaway spot.

One of the best locations to enjoy some of the best food, beverages, and views of the charming town is A1A Ale Works. The restaurant and event venue is also a local brewery, serving award-winning handcrafted beer made on-site.

Located in the heart of old St. Augustine on King Street, A1A Ale Works offers breathtaking views of Mantanza Bay, the famous Bridge of Lions, and the old fort, especially from the second floor and outdoor deck. The restaurant specializes in a “new world” cuisine featuring Caribbean, Cuban, Latin American and Floridian influences.

A first-rate first course is the A1A Ale and Cheese Soup, which is made with Red Brick Ale and aged cheddar and pepper jack cheeses, caramelized onions, and roasted barley. Lunch options include a superb Artisan Grilled Cheese, featuring sourdough bread topped with gruyere cheese, smokehouse bacon, and avocado mayonnaise. Dinner selections include Prosciutto Crusted Snapper (topped with sun-dried tomato pesto and served over tomato butter sauce) and Lobster Seafood Pot Pie. The White Chocolate Sun-Dried Cherry Bread Pudding (served warm over a rum butter sauce and topped with shaved white chocolate) is guaranteed to satisfy almost any sweet tooth.

Feeling the warm breezes, admiring the stunning views, and sipping a Cucumber and Basil Collins (highly recommended handcrafted cocktail, if desired) is as close to perfection as it gets. From the brew to the view, A1A Ale Works makes a trip to St. Augustine complete.


Sanibel Island

A popular tourist destination in Florida, Sanibel Island offers white sand beaches, breathtaking sunsets, and world-renowned shelling. The laid-back energy, quiet charm, and natural beauty of the area attract many repeat visitors, who have been coming to Sanibel for generations.

Sanibel Bean, affectionately called “The Bean” by regulars, is the local coffee shop on the island. The food choices include pastries, bagels, soups, salads, sandwiches, and smoothies. The main attraction, though is the amazing coffee. Offering a selection of hot, iced, and blended coffee drinks and alternative tea and hot cocoa drinks that would put any chain coffee shop to shame, the “regular” coffee choices are abundant. A white board displays the day’s featured brewed coffees, categorized by roast level (mild/medium/dark), which include house blends and fair trade international coffees.

A staple on Sanibel for over thirty years, Pinocchio’s Original Italian Ice Cream serves up over 130 flavors of ice cream, gelato, sorbet, sherbet, and frozen yogurt. Thirty-seven flavors are made and dipped daily, and scoops are not counted or weighed at Pinocchio’s. Generous (immense) portions are served by the flavor — a large is three scoops, medium two, and small one. Each treat is topped by a signature animal cracker accent. Some of the unique flavor creations are the World Famous Sanibel Crunch, Dirty Sand Dollar, Wedding Bells, and Birthday Cake. It’s hard to go wrong with any choice.

Whether starting a day on Sanibel at Sanibel Bean or ending at Pinocchio’s, these island destinations make a special trip even tastier.