A taste of paradise in foodie Florida
It's high time you flew to sunny Florida in order to sample the tastiest food and drink on offer in its beautiful south-west region, writes Simon Lovell.
QUALITY ingredients are abundant in Florida, America's 'Sunshine State' – and some of the scenery isn't too bad either.
Here's a handy guide to the best Floridian foodie haunts hungry holiday-makers would be well advised to try out while visiting Captiva Island, Pineland, Cape Coral and Fort Myers.
:: Super for sunset: Old Captiva House, 'Tween Waters Inn, Captiva
South-west Florida is packed with restaurants serving sensational seafood in impressive locations, and Captiva House is one of the best. Whether the Oysters Alexander or the Blue Crab Bisque are your choice of starter, you won't be disappointed.
Time your visit for sunset over the Gulf of Mexico; front of house, outdoor tables are perfectly positioned to watch the honey-yellow disc slip below a watery horizon.
The Caribbean Spiced Grouper is a popular main course here, but be a bit daring and try the exquisite Lobster Spaghetti.
Pay around £46 for a two-course meal.
:: Visit captiva-house.com
:: Perfect for Instagram: Cabbage Key Island Restaurant, Pine Island Sound Aquatic Preserve, Pineland
Cabbage Key supposedly inspired American singer Jimmy Buffett to pen his 1978 hit Cheeseburger in Paradise so it would be rude not to sample one of the meaty delights at this quirky spot.
The Stone Crab Claw Lunch and Shrimp Deluxe are also popular choices, but whatever you choose at the only restaurant on this small, car-free island, make sure you follow a tradition stretching back to the 1940s.
Back then, a thirsty fisherman left his autographed dollar bill taped to the wall, guaranteeing him a drink the next time he stopped, even if times were not so good.
Thousands have followed suit ever since, and the wall is papered with signed notes, so finding a space is a challenge – and then you've got to make it stick. Charity benefits when time takes over and the money drops to the floor, so everyone really is a winner here.
Pay around £25 for a two-course meal.
:: Visit cabbagekey.com
:: Best for burgers: Ford's Garage, Cape Coral
This eatery may not be able to compete with the location of Cabbage Key but it offers a bigger selection of burgers – and they're excellent.
Modelled on a 1920s service station/prohibition bar, Ford's pays tribute to one of the area's most famous winter residents, motor magnate Henry Ford.
Curiously, some of the dishes are named after local dignitaries – including (bizarrely) Lee County tax collector Larry Hart. If you get bamboozled by the choice, keep it simple and enjoy a Ford's Signature burger with Black Angus, cheese and bacon. It's all you really need.
Pay around £10 for a burger.
:: Visit fordsgarageusa.com
:: A rum treat: Wicked Dolphin, Cape Coral
More than half the sugar cane produced in the United States comes from Florida – with the rich and fertile fields just 35 minutes away from the home of Wicked Dolphin, an award-winning, family-run distillery making an impressive range of rums.
Enlighten yourself with a free 60-minute tour of the distillery, which produces around 100,000 bottles a year.
The smooth Coconut Rum is the favourite, accounting for almost half of sales – but the Barbados Spiced Rum is also worth investigating. Bottles are available to buy, although according to Florida state law, you can purchase no more than two directly from the distillery.
:: Pull in for a pint: Big Blue Brewing, Cape Coral
Craft breweries are big in Florida, with the number rising from 75 to more than 720 in just 10 years. Big Blue has been open barely six months but it's already making the right impression.
Located in an old bingo hall, there are nods to its previous life in the decor. Head brewer James Retzler has come up trumps with some fine brews, most notably the 6% IPA and 6.2% Golden Ale.
Sip them to the soundtrack of V8 engines cruising downtown Cape Coral for a perfect accompaniment.
Sports fans would do well to stay inside though, the big screens will keep them up to speed with the latest action on both sides of the pond.
:: Pay from £3 for a pint. Visit Bigbluebrewing.com
:: Dose up on Vit C: Sun Harvest Citrus, Fort Myers
The near-flawless Florida weather, coupled with its oranges, make Sun Harvest worth a cooling visit. Robert Edsall Snr planted his first citrus grove in the state in 1940; fast forward 77 years and his grandson David McKenzie now leads the operation.
Pay homage to the orange and quench your thirst with a sample cup of their fresh juice, but be warned, you'll need a car to get here as it's on the edge of town and not really walkable.
:: Visit Sunharvestcitrus.com
:: A sweet ending: Norman Love Confections, Fort Myers
The first inductee to the Chocolatier Hall of Fame, award-winning Norman Love truly has conquered all, and his salon is worth a visit.
Don't chance it on Valentine's Day though, when parking space is at a premium and police patrols are needed to keep an eye on the queues which stream around the block: Love's shop and backroom production line makes and displays a fantastic array of chocolates.
Customers visiting the unit next door for a freshly-churned gelato have also been known to see Love taking a break from chocolate duties and helping out with the preparation of crepes.
How's that for dedication? Pay around £10 for a box of five chocolates.
:: Visit Normanloveconfections.com
:: How to get there
Virgin Atlantic (www.virgin-atlantic.com) flies to Fort Myers from London from £490pp.
Seven nights at the Westin Cape Coral Resort starts from £150 per night.
Visit www.westincapecoral.com and www.fortmyers-sanibel.com