Sunday, March 07, 2010

Food: A Frenzy of Florida Fast Food

The trend towards multinational fast-food franchises has sucked away a lot of the character that American fast food used to have. It's just boring when there's a KFC or Burger King on every street corner instead of a local mom-and-pop dive. If you're in the fast food doldrums, here are a few regional Florida selections I've visited in the past few months; they're worth a look if you're in the area.

Da-Kine Hawaiian Cafe, Tampa

Starting out your own fast food shack is tough. Starting out on Tampa's Dale Mabry Highway, in a crowded stretch of strip malls a few miles out from MacDill AFB, is darn near suicidal. But that's where Da-Kine Cafe is located, and they're out to make the best of it.

Da-kine serves fairly authentic Hawaiian fast food. The signature item, and the best thing on the menu, is the loco moco, a better-than-it-sounds combo of rice, hamburger patties, fried eggs, and brown gravy:

For around $7, you get a loco moco plate, a huge scoop of macaroni salad, and a full stomach. The other menu selections aren't as good, unfortunately, but sometimes you just need one good dish...

2/4 stars

Orange Tree Hot Dogs, Jacksonville (and now Gainesville)

The problem with basing a fast food joint on hot dogs, as Orange Tree has, is that literally everyone sells hot dpgs. Without some intense branding and advertising, it's hard to separate a good dog from the lukewarm greasetubes inhabiting your local convenience store.

Orange Tree attempts to set itself apart by giving you some interesting toppings - in addition to the traditional chili dog, they also offer a tangy red onion sauce and cole slaw for your frankfurters. I thought the cole slaw dog was decent (the slaw tasted a lot like Chick-Fil-A's, actually, and they give you a ton of it), though I wish they grilled the dogs to order instead of picking them out of a warming tray. If wishes were horses...

1/4 stars

Bud's Chicken & Seafood, South Florida

Can you be a popular fast food joint without offering anything that's actually tasty? The answer is yes, at least in the case of south Florida's favorite fast food fry-up emporium, Bud's Chicken & Seafood.

Don't get me wrong - Bud's food is serviceable since it's usually fresh and consistent. But all the dishes, whether it's the fried chicken, the fried shrimp and seafood, or even the slightly-sweet corn fritters, are bland. Not bland enough to be bad, but bland enough to be completely unremarkable.

Still, there's something to be said for Bud's cheesy commercials (complete with an awful '70s soundtrack), their hyper-regional presence (only 7 locations, all in Palm Beach County), and the complete lack of glossy ads, focus group-created menus, or celebrity tie-ins. In an age where fast food aspires to be hip, Bud's is happy to hand you a plate of batter-dipped, artery-clogging morsels without the fanfare.

1/4 stars


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