I am a foodie, so when I travel, I love discovering mouthwatering meals. 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 find a vibrant, food culture emerging in Pasco.
About 25 minutes north of Tampa International Airport, Pasco’s western border faces the Gulf of Mexico, with miles of coastline and dazzling pink mimosa sunsets. Pasco’s eastern side, blooms with rolling green hills, citrus groves, orchards and pastures where beekeepers, ranchers and farmers live a traditional agricultural way of life. It’s also home to upscale communities, dining and shopping—the Tampa Premium Outlet Mall is a must. It was evident the farm-fresh movement was taking root, creating a new buzz among both farmers and restaurateurs who were partnering to keep Florida green.
I started my food quest in Pasco’s eastern hub, Dade City, where Florida’s Southern charm combined hospitality, history and a golden gem of a small fruit known as the kumquat. Then I ventured west to dine in downtown New Port Richey and south toward wonderful discoveries in and around Trinity.
A stately 1909 Revival Style courthouse commanded attention at the centerpiece of the town square. Adjacent to the square were down-home restaurants, antique shops and quaint specialty shops. Across the street from the courthouse, I noticed a restaurant window advertising fried green tomatoes and kumquat refrigerator pie. Sounded like heaven to me!
I launched my culinary journey in Courthouse Square, and in retrospect, I’m so glad I went hungry. There were a number of choices including a local classic, Lunch on Limoges. The ever-changing chalkboard menu tempted with items such as Low Country Shrimp & Grits, crab cakes or their signature chicken salad. The counter hardly had room for the delicious, seasonal desserts that looked amazing.
While there, some friendly locals also praised Kafe Kokopelli. Once a Model T salesroom for the Florida Motor Company, the restaurant was adorned with Florida relics, photos and art. They also raved about Chef Steven Queen’s sumptuous dining menu that included local Florida favorites such as fried gator, Yuengling beer steamed mussels and blackened grouper tacos.
They also raved about Chef Steven Queen’s sumptuous dining menu that included local Florida favorites such as fried gator, Yuengling beer steamed mussels and blackened grouper tacos.
It was evident Dade City had a cornucopia of remarkable restaurants. I decided to experience the farm-fresh produce firsthand and take some fresh produce home. During the spring, you can load up on peaches, blueberries and a Southern favorite—muscadine grapes—at U-Pick farms. I decided to stop for some raw honey from Queen Kathleen. Other local farm stands showcased all Florida citrus, and yes, that included the famous tiny fruit—the kumquat.
Other local farm stands showcased all Florida citrus, and yes, that included the famous tiny fruit—the kumquat.
What’s a kumquat, you ask? Orange in color, the 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’s 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.
I ventured west to enjoy the salt fresh air and coastal areas on the west end of the county. It was easy to find the local-fresh culinary trend with Gulf-to-table seafood, especially at Frankie’s Raw Bar—the place for fresh-shucked oysters. After slurping up a half dozen, I went next door to Gill Dawg Tiki Bar & Grill for a Gulf of Mexico sunset boat cruise that toured the historic stilt homes built out in the shallow water. I also wanted to check out Whiskey Joe’s a couple of blocks away since I wanted to see the idyllic waterfront setting and take in the aroma of garlic steamed clams and mango-glazed scallops.
Next, I drove down the river toward the New Port Richey area to try Dulcet Restaurant & Lounge’s Seafood Cioppino—Gulf shrimp, crab, snapper medallions and clams in a saffron tomato broth over toasted orzo—which was just as impressive as the upscale atmosphere. Bloody Mary fans must saddle up to the bar at Fitzgerald’s Irish Tavern and enjoy the classic cocktail garnished with a loaded skewer topped with a Gulf shrimp.
Heading back toward home, I made one last stop at Craft Street Kitchen and Drinks in Trinity. I heard rave reviews from friends about the grilled flat breads and the Parmesan truffle fries, but I opted for bourbon banana bread pudding to-go so I could enjoy back home.
My culinary adventure was a memorable trip. The fresh ingredients and innovative cuisine made for truly tasty and satisfying meals and Pasco fit my palate to the very last bite.
Have your own culinary adventure in Pasco.