Roadside Attractions: Iconic Florida Eateries
If the idea of a road trip makes you giddy, and you truly believe the journey is the destination, while wandering the highways and the byways of Northeast Florida, hunger will eventually become your companion. When this happens, remember, you can’t always judge an eatery by its exterior. Some of the most memorable meals come in eclectic packages and involve far more than the food presented on one’s plate. Next time you set forth to do some rambling, keep an eye out for eateries that somehow tell a story; roadside attractions that say something about a place. There’s a reason they’ve stood the test of time. It’s where an unexpected culinary adventure may await. Here are three of our favorite discoveries in the region.
Cross Creek, made famous by Marjorie Kennan Rawlings, is very much the frontier landscape of old Florida, punctuated with lazy alligators and fish camps, plus fire and brimstone church marquees. In what resembles the marriage of a log cabin and a country general store, The Yearling Restaurant is a cultural trove of backwoods fare and classic Southern decor. Sip an extra spicy Bloody Mary with a meal of gator tail, venison sandwiches and fried okra while listening to Delta bluesman Willie Green sing of love and suffering. After your meal, check out the antiques and bookshelves full of Florida history and walk just past the ancient fishing cabins to the gator strewn creek. 14531 County Road 325, Hawthorne; 352-466-3999
At the mouth of the St. Johns River next to the ferry terminal, Singleton’s is a Mayport mainstay and a necessary stop for lovers of nautical kitsch and seafood that’s delectably fresh. Not much more than a covered dock hemmed to shore by a fleet of shrimp boats, this place is ripe with ramshackle charm and a testament to the merits of disappearing waterside dives. People in the know come here for shrimp, unloaded daily off the trawlers. After enjoying a meal on the deck, be sure to peruse the small museum annex full of fishing boat models constructed by the original owner, a retired shrimp boat captain. 4728 Ocean St, Atlantic Beach; 904-246-4442
With curbside service and a menu featuring diner favorites as well as local specialties like frog legs, this is the perfect refueling station for any road trip that takes you through Palatka. Angel’s, a roadside shrine to sock-hops and fryer baskets, has been serving milkshakes and hamburgers since 1932 (hence its claim as Florida’s Oldest Diner), and don’t be surprised if you are dining next to regulars who, having frequented Angel’s for over 50 years, will regale you with childhood memories of long-ago Sunday breakfasts. 209 Reid St, Palatka; 386-325-3927