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Good to the Last Bite

Getting real with food in Pasco County?

Farm to Table

By Robin Draper

I am a foodie. When I travel, I love good food. Who doesn’t? But I don’t always want fancy foods or even fussy meals. What I seek most is fresh from the farm good food. On a recent trip, I was delighted to discover a vibrant, farm-to-table food culture emerging in Pasco County.

Just 45 minutes north of Tampa, with its western border facing the Gulf of Mexico, Pasco County has miles of coastline and dazzling pink mimosa sunsets. On Pasco’s eastern side, I was mesmerized with its rolling green hills, citrus groves, orchards, and pastures where beekeepers, ranchers, and farmers live a traditional agricultural way of life. This is where a farm-fresh movement is taking root, creating a new buzz among both farmers and restaurateurs who are partnering to keep Florida green, and our tummies happy.

My travels took me to Pasco County’s eastern hub, Dade City, where Florida’s southern charm combines hospitality, history, and a golden gem of a small fruit known as the kumquat. It is an unhurried, laid-back Florida southern town delivering a huge dose of “real” Florida.

Small citrus, big flavor

At the centerpiece of the town square is a classic 1909 Revival Style courthouse. Adjacent to the square are down-home restaurants, antique and quaint specialty shops. Across the street from the courthouse, I noticed a restaurant window sign proclaiming “fried green tomatoes,” while Olga’s bakery a few doors away boasted Kumquat Refrigerator Pie.

Courthouse Square is the perfect place to launch a farm-to-table culinary journey, and you will definitely want to come hungry. There are a number of choices including a local classic, Lunch on Limoges. This southern restaurant offers chalkboard menu items such as Pecan Chicken, Pecan Grouper, or their signature Chicken Salad, plus an array of delicious, seasonal desserts.

Kafe Kokopelli is another favorite recommended by locals. Once a Model T salesroom for the Florida Motor Company, the restaurant is adorned with old Florida relics, photos, and art. Chef Steven Queen offers a sumptuous dining menu including local Florida favorites of fried green tomato napoleon, fried gator, catfish sandwich and mixed organic salads.

Not far from the Dade City Square is Pearl in the Grove Restaurant. Owner Curtis Beebe and his wife Rebecca, abandoned a fast-paced life in Tampa and moved the family to the area, where they have created a delightful restaurant specializing in locally grown food prepared with an upscale twist. Both Florida natives, the Beebe’s have become local champions of sustainable farm-to-table dining.

Pearl in the Grove is a dining delight and I loved the down home atmosphere. My favorites were the fried chicken served with buttermilk biscuits and sautéed greens, and the shrimp Creole with wild gulf shrimp in Creole tomato sauce.

Dade City is a cornucopia of great farm-to-table restaurants. While in the area, I also picked up some fresh produce to take home.

If you follow along some of Pasco’s farm trails you’ll find plenty of fresh produce, honey, and fruit. Green Acres Aquaponics specializes in leafy salad greens, herbs, and vegetables. Queen Kathleen and her bees is a must stop for raw honey. Local farm stands showcase all Florida citrus, and yes, that includes the famous tiny fruit—the kumquat.

So what exactly is a kumquat? Orange in color, this small, bite-sized fruit is a member of the citrus family. The whole fruit can be eaten—skin and all—providing a flavorful, sweet and sour taste. It is often baked into cakes and pies, or used as a glaze or flavoring for main dishes. The kumquat-growing season is from November through March and celebrated annually with the town’s biggest event, the Dade City Kumquat Festival, held in late January.

During the spring, you can experience a wide array of U-Pick farms including peaches, blueberries and a southern favorite—muscadine grapes.

I also enjoyed the salt fresh air and coastal areas on the west end of the county. These areas are also part of the trend with Gulf-to-table fresh seafood. The Market off Main Restaurant on the Cotee River is ideal for homemade entrees including Cuban soup, salads and a local fish favorite—smoked mullet. Up the river, try Frankie’s Raw Bar for fresh shucked oysters. After a plate of oysters, I went next door to Gill Dawg Marina for a Gulf of Mexico sunset boat cruise that tours the historic stilt homes built out in the shallow water.

My culinary adventure was a memorable trip. The farm-to-table trend makes for truly tasty and satisfying meals and Pasco County fits my palette to the very last bite.

Find your favorite Pasco County flavor.

Florida native Robin Draper is a columnist, author and owner of the award-winning website, AuthenticFlorida.com, a travel and lifestyle blog devoted to the simple pleasures of Florida living. She is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers and the Florida Outdoor Writers Association.
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