Eat & Drink Like a Local

How to Eat & Drink Like a Local Floridian

Originally Published May 2023, Updated May 2024

Picture yourself savoring crispy conch fritters and indulging in a slice of tangy key lime pie on a scorching Florida day—it's the epitome of Sunshine State dining! Beyond the well-known icons (aka mouse-shaped ice cream bars), there's a world of culinary delights waiting to be discovered.

Join us as we embark on a culinary journey across Florida, uncovering the hidden gems from coast to coast. We'll be your guides, sharing our favorite dishes that embody the spirit of Floridian cuisine. And because no meal is complete without the perfect beverage, we've got you covered with expertly curated drink pairings for each dish.

Cuban Sandwich & Cuba Libre

Illustration of a Cuban Sandwich and Cuba Libre

From cigars and sandwiches to cries for independence, the Tampa area is rich with Cuban history and culture. In 1886, Spanish-born Cuban immigrant Vicente Martinez-Ybor brought the cigar industry to Tampa after establishing factories in Havana and Key West. Thus, Ybor City was born, and immigrants from Cuba, Spain and Italy came to take advantage of the affordable housing, gainful employment and upward mobility thanks to the mutual aid societies cropping up among this new immigrant community.[1]

The Tampa area’s thriving Cuban population set the stage for a Florida heavy-hitter to take center-stage: the Cuban sandwich. Miami and Tampa have long been duking it out for which city gets to claim ownership of the Cuban, but according to Andrew Huse, librarian at the University of South Florida and co-author of The Cuban Sandwich: A History In Layers, the Cuban’s home is truly…well, Cuba. With the massive wave of Cuban immigrants coming to work the cigar factories followed by the Cuban revolution at the end of the 1950s, the Cuban sandwich (and plenty of delicious new ways to make the traditional recipe) arrived in Florida.

"Havana conceived [the sandwich], it's safe to say, but Tampa really curated it for a long time," Huse said. [2]

So, what’s the best drink to sip alongside a storied Cuban-American sandwich? A storied Cuban-American cocktail, of course.

You may think that the Cuba Libre is just a plain old rum and coke with a lime garnish, but the history of this cocktail is rooted in the thirst for Cuban independence. So, the story goes, a captain in the U.S. Army stationed in Havana during the Spanish-American War poured cola and a squeeze of lime into his glass of Bacardi and raised a toast “Por Cuba Libre!” (“To a free Cuba!”) [3]

When making a cocktail this simple, it’s important to use the best quality ingredients that tell the story of where the drink comes from. That’s why we recommend making a Cuba Libre with rum from the St. Pete Distillery in the greater Tampa area. Drink local and raise a toast to Florida’s dynamite Cuban grub!

Cuba Libre

Cuba Libre

The Recipe:

Combine rum, cola and lime juice in a highball over ice. Garnish with lime wedge.

Stone Crab & Francois Martenot Chablis

Illustration of Stone Crab & Francois Martenot Chablis

Stone crab claws are legal to harvest in Florida October 15th through May 1st, and the beginning of stone crab season is like Christmas morning for Sunshine State seafoodies. The firm, sweet meat from these crustacean treats is traditionally served with a cold mustard sauce rather than cocktail sauce or butter. The combination is a tangy flavor explosion that calls for an acidic white wine to temper the mustard sauce’s zest.

Next time you dig into a cold plate of claws, pour yourself a glass of Francois Martenot Chablis, a dry white wine with a citrusy, fresh finish. This pairing is dripping with sun-soaked, sea-sprayed Floridian deliciousness.

Strawberry Shortcake & Michaels Strawberry Irish Cream

Illustration of Strawberry Shortcake & Michaels Strawberry Irish Cream

A Floridian’s rite of passage is attending the Florida Strawberry Festival in Plant City, eating your weight in the festival’s eponymous red fruit and taking a gut-lurching spin on the Berry Go Round, a carnival ride with carts shaped like strawberries.

As adults, our Tilt-a-Whirl days might be behind us, but a whole new world of dessert and drink pairings lies ahead. If you’re enjoying a strawberry shortcake with succulent Florida strawberries, there’s no better pairing than Michaels Strawberry Irish Cream. Sip it in a glass over ice or, even better, pour it right on top so the cake can soak up that creamy goodness.

Grouper & Marcel Chevalier Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Beaune

Illustration of Grouper & Marcel Chevalier Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Beaune

Speaking of another Florida seafood favorite, grouper is a fish with numerous species across the state and a large in-season window, typically from May to December. It’s popular for its mild flavor, lightly sweet taste and delightfully chunky flakes. It’s also a great jack-of-all-trades fish, able to stand up to whatever spices or cooking methods you fancy. We’re partial to blackened grouper, which is best paired with a bold white Burgundy like Marcel Chevalier Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Beaune.

“Grouper is light, flaky and easy, but once you add the blackening to it, that flavor is going to be the dominant flavor characteristic that you need to pair your wine with, so you need something heavy and weighty enough to withstand these flavors,” said Nathan Dale, wine expert with ABC Fine Wine & Spirits. “That’s why I love white Burgundy.”

For a complete breakdown on how to pair wine with fresh Florida seafood, check out this video:




Key Lime Pie & Plumeria Moscato d'Asti DOCG

Illustration of Key Lime Pie & Plumeria Moscato d'Asti DOCG

What would this round-up be without THE official Florida state pie? (Seriously, look up statute 15.052.)

Key limes are more tart and aromatic than your average grocery store lime, so key lime pie is a delicate dance of tart key lime filling and sweet, fluffy meringue or whipped cream topping. Try pairing it with a sweet, bubbly wine like Plumeria Moscato d'Asti DOCG. The sweetness of the wine will soften the tartness of the pie filling, making for a refreshing blend of sugar and acidity that’ll transport you straight to the Florida Keys.

Conch Fritters & Florida Orange Mule

Illustration of Conch Fritters & Florida Orange Mule

Known as “the escargot of Florida,” conch fritters are sea snails that are deep-fried and best enjoyed when dunked in a creamy dipping sauce. You can enjoy these golden nuggets across the state, from St. Augustine to the Keys, but every fried food deserves a cold, bubbly cocktail to sip before you dip.

Mix up a Florida Orange Mule while you’re frying your next batch of conch fritters. This twist on the traditional mule uses fresh Florida orange juice and a dash of orange bitters. Orange you glad we suggested it?

Florida Orange Mule

Florida Orange Mule

The Recipe:

Combine vodka, orange juice, lime juice and orange bitters in a shaker with ice. Shake well and strain into a glass over fresh ice. Top with ginger beer and garnish with an orange wheel.

Check out more cocktails you can make with fresh Florida oranges here.

Gulf Oysters & Dominio de la Peseta Cava Brut

Illustration of Gulf Oysters & Dominio de la Peseta Cava Brut

Whether you slurp ‘em alongside a Bloody Mary, a local craft beer or a glass of crisp wine, Gulf oysters are a salty gift from Florida’s waters. We prefer to dig into a dozen of these aquatic treats with a glass of sparkling wine; the pairing is even scientifically proven to work synergistically to give you the yummiest oyster tasting experience possible.[4] Try it with a glass of effervescent, dry cava, like this Dominio de la Peseta Cava Brut.

Gator Tail & Los Rijos Ranch Water

Illustration of Gator Tail & Los Rijos Ranch Water

Show most Floridians a live alligator and they won’t bat an eye; show them a plate of golden-brown, fried alligator tail, and they’ll start setting the table.

Gator tail is tender, firm and, yes, it does taste a bit like chicken. Mix up a simple, thirst-quenching cocktail, like a Los Rijos Ranch Water, to drink with your post-airboat ride plate of alligator tail bites.

Los Rijos Ranch Water

Los Rijos Ranch Water

The Recipe:

Rim glass with lime wedge and dip in salt. Add tequila, lime juice and top with club soda. Stir to combine and garnish with a lime wedge.

Bay Scallops & Jules Taylor Sauvignon Blanc

Illustration of Bay Scallops & Jules Taylor Sauvignon Blanc

Florida summers might be brutal, but the sweat and sunburn comes with an upside: bay scalloping season, which starts in July and usually ends in September. These mollusks taste like delicious little pats of butter and make a mouthwatering addition to a plate of garlicky, lemony pasta. Pour a glass of acidic New Zealand sauvignon blanc, like this Jules Taylor Sauvignon Blanc, for a smooth pairing that won’t overpower the delicate scallops.

Spiny Lobster & Hayes Ranch Chardonnay

Illustration of Spiny Lobster & Hayes Ranch Chardonnay

Last but not least, the spiny lobster is a Florida must-try. If you’re expecting the sweet, firetruck red lobsters found in northern lobster rolls and most seafood restaurants, you’re in for a (pleasant) surprise. Spiny lobsters pack more tang than sweetness, kind of like crawfish, which makes them the perfect addition to savory dishes like grits, mac ‘n’ cheese and stews. Enjoy with a big white wine that can stand up to the meat’s briny flavors, like Hayes Ranch Chardonnay.

Interested in learning more? Visit our ABC Blog page.