The names are iconic in the American food lexicon yet few may know they originated in Florida.
The Whopper. The Bloomin’ Onion. And a few more recognizable and popular delicacies that all first formed on Sunshine State shores.
It makes sense that such food originated in Florida-born chain restaurants, with our service-industry mindset, lots of transplants from across the country, and millions of tourists from around the world visiting every year.
Some of these you can even make at home but it may not taste exactly like the original found at these restaurants.
Here are a few of our favorites that we believe might be yours, too.
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Burger King, The Whopper
Burger King was born in Florida, with the fast-food burger franchise beginning in 1953 as Insta-Burger King on Beach Boulevard in Jacksonville. Later that decade, two Miami-based franchisees bought the financially struggling company and renamed it Burger King.
Yet it wasn’t until 1957 when the chain first cooked up its iconic Whopper. The flame-grilled burger remains practically an American institution, and USA Today even listed it at No. 4 in its 2019 list of “most iconic fast food items in America.”
“There are myriad ways to customize the Whopper,” the story reads, “by adding or subtracting ingredients, asking for light or heavy servings of the additions, choosing a variety of sides, etc. (The company website says there are 221,184 possible variations , though that seems unlikely).
“The size and packaging of the burger have changed several times since its birth, but the Whopper remains Burger King’s trademark item.”
By the 1970s, Burger King was on television in just about every living room in the US with its “Have It Your Way” commercials that touted “hold the pickle, hold the lettuce, special orders don’t upset us.”
Burger King has over 18,700 outlets in more than 100 countries. — Dave Osborn, Naples Daily News
Red Lobster, Cheddar Bay Biscuits
The Lakeland-based restaurant chain Red Lobster is known for seafood, but it’s the Cheddar Bay Biscuits that really caught on.
Red Lobster opened in Lakeland in 1968 and General Mills two years later acquired the company. The chain expanded rapidly, especially in the 1980s, and today has more than 700 restaurants worldwide, including nearly every US state and in countries including Japan, Mexico, China and others.
But those famous biscuits — served in restaurants first in 1992 — became so popular that the biscuit mix hit grocery store shelves so consumers could bake them at home. Who hasn’t enjoyed the biscuits at a family gathering?
And all too often, in restaurants, customers would eat so many of those biscuits before their meal arrived that they often didn’t have room for the entrée. — Dave Osborn, Naples Daily News
Olive Garden, ‘endless’ soup, salad, breadsticks
The word “endless” is great when the words that follow are “soup, salad and breadsticks.”
The popular Italian restaurant chain Olive Garden — opened as a unit of General Mills in Orlando in 1995 — became known for its trio of tasty appetizers.
Sure, popular pasta dishes including shrimp alfredo and chicken parmigiana are great, but give us the warm breadsticks, soup options (with the server adding the shaved Parmesan until you say “stop”) and bottomless crispy salad.
The first Olive Garden opened on International Drive along Interstate 4 in Central Florida, not far from Disney World. — Dave Osborn, Naples Daily News
Hooters, Nearly World Famous Wings
The first Hooters opened in 1983 in Clearwater and the restaurant’s “Nearly World Famous Wings” have been a star of the menu ever since.
The Original Hooters Wings are hand-breaded with each drum and flat transformed into a hunk of crunchy, buttery deliciousness — especially when paired with their signature, Buffalo-style, bright-orange hot sauce.
Hooters also serves “boneless wings,” and “naked wings,” which are non-breaded traditional wings tossed in one of their 11 signature sauces and rubs. These include the outstanding Caribbean Jerk Rub, and for heat-seekers, 3 Mile Island, which is billed as “a meltdown you won’t soon forget.”
Our new favorite? The Daytona Beach sauce, which you’ll want on some “naked wings” ordered crispy. Equal parts sweet and fiery, the Daytona sauce is aptly advertised as “spicy BBQ with Florida heat.”
The Original Hooters operated out of a ramshackle wood structure, on Gulf to Bay Boulevard connecting Tampa to Clearwater Beach, before being almost entirely demolished and rebuilt in 2012. Now, the restaurant features an inside/outside bar area, a merchandise and to-go area, and a museum dedicated to Hooters history.
Of course, the main attraction, in addition to the friendly staff in the famed orange and white outfits, remain the wings. On Super Bowl Sundays, for instance, this Tampa Bay Hooters goes through about 20,000 of ’em.— Wade Tatangelo, Sarasota Herald-Tribune
Outback Steakhouse, Bloomin’ Onion
With all things Australian popular at the time thanks to the recent release of the blockbuster movie “Crocodile Dundee,” the “Land Down Under”-inspired steakhouse Outback debuted in March 1988 on Henderson Boulevard in South Tampa.
The story goes that friends Chris Sullivan, Robert Basham, Tim Gannon and Trudy Cooper came together with “the dream of opening their own restaurant — a place casual in atmosphere, with quality food and service at the top of the list,” according to the restaurant website.
And while the quality of the steaks has definitely been instrumental to the restaurant’s
continued success, a certain iconic appetizer remains perhaps even more important when it comes to satisfying guests’ cravings.
Created in ’88 by co-founder Gannon, Outback has wisely kept the Bloomin’ Onion the same for the past three decades: Hand-cutting a super-colossal Spanish onion into “200 perfect petals” then breading and deep-frying the sliced bulb into a bouquet of “golden goodness,” which pairs perfectly with their kicking’ Bloom Sauce.
That habit-forming Bloom Sauce, by the way, has been incorporated into the Bloomin’ Fried Chicken found on the “‘Not’ Steaks” section of the menu. Outback’s signature sauce also accompanies the newly added Bloomin’ Fried Shrimp, which you’ll find along with other tasty “Aussie-Tizers” such as the Aussie Cheese Fries, Kookaburra Wings and, yes, the original Bloomin’ Onion. — Wade Tatangelo, Sarasota Herald-Tribune