The names are iconic in the American food lexicon, but few may know they originated in Florida.
The whopper. The blooming onion. And a few other recognizable and popular delicacies, all of which first arose on the shores of the Sunshine State.
It makes sense that food like this would come from chain restaurants that were born in Florida, with our service industry mindset, many transplants from across the country, and millions of tourists from around the world visiting every year.
You can even make some of these at home, but it may not taste exactly like the original in these restaurants.
Here are some of our favorites that we think could 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 Jacksonville’s Beach Boulevard. Later that decade, two Miami-based franchisees bought the financially troubled company and renamed it Burger King.
But it wasn’t until 1957 that the chain launched its legendary Whopper for the first time. The flame-broiled burger remains a virtual staple, and USA Today even ranked it #4 on its 2019 list of “Most Iconic Fast Food Items in America.”
“There are countless ways to customize the Whopper,” the story goes, “by adding or subtracting ingredients, asking for light or heavy portions of ingredients, choosing a variety of side dishes, etc. (The company’s website states, that there are 221,184 possible variations, although that seems unlikely).
“The size and packaging of the burger has changed several times since its birth, but the whopper remains the hallmark of Burger King.”
By the 1970s, Burger King could be seen in almost every living room across America with its “Have It Your Way” commercials, which touted, “Hold on the pickle, hold on the salad, we don’t mind special orders.”
Burger King has over 18,700 stores in more than 100 countries. — Dave Osborn, Naples Daily News
Red Lobster, Cheddar Bay Biscuits
Lakeland-based restaurant chain Red Lobster is known for its seafood, but it’s their Cheddar Bay biscuits that really caught on.
Red Lobster opened in Lakeland in 1968 and General Mills acquired the company two years later. The chain expanded rapidly, especially in the 1980s, and today has more than 700 restaurants worldwide, including almost every US state and countries like Japan, Mexico, China, and others.
But these famous cookies, first served in restaurants in 1992, became so popular that the cookie mix hit grocery store shelves for consumers to bake at home. Who hasn’t enjoyed the cookies at a family reunion?
And all too often, customers at restaurants ate so many of these cookies before their food arrived that they often didn’t have room for the appetizer. — Dave Osborn, Naples Daily News
Olive Garden, “endless” soup, salad, breadsticks
The word “endless” is great when the following words are “soup, salad, and breadsticks.”
Popular Italian restaurant chain Olive Garden — which opened in Orlando in 1995 as part of General Mills — became known for its trio of delicious appetizers.
Sure, popular pasta dishes like shrimp alfredo and chicken parmigiana are great, but give us the warm breadsticks, soup options (with the waiter adding the shaved parmesan until you say “stop”), and bottomless crunchy 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, almost world famous wings
The first Hooters opened in Clearwater in 1983, and the restaurant’s “Nearly World Famous Wings” have been a star on the menu ever since.
The Original Hooters Wings are hand breaded and flattened into a piece of crispy, buttery deliciousness with each drum – especially when paired with their signature bright orange Buffalo-style hot sauce.
Hooters also serves “boneless wings” and “naked wings,” which are unbreaded traditional wings tossed in one of their 11 signature sauces and rubs. These include the standout Caribbean Jerk Rub and for heat-seekers 3 Mile Island, billed as “a meltdown you won’t soon forget.”
Our new darling? The Daytona Beach sauce you like to order crunchy on some “bare wings”. Equal parts sweet and fiery, Daytona sauce is aptly advertised as “spicy BBQ with Florida heat.”
The original Hooters operated from a ramshackle wooden building on Gulf to Bay Boulevard connecting Tampa to Clearwater Beach before being almost entirely demolished and rebuilt in 2012. Now the restaurant has an indoor and outdoor bar area, a merchandise and to-go restaurant, and a museum dedicated to the history of Hooters.
In addition to the friendly staff in the famous orange and white outfits, the main attraction is of course the wings. On Super Bowl Sundays, for example, these Tampa Bay Hooters run about 20,000 of them.– Wade Tatangelo, Sarasota Herald-Tribune
Outback Steakhouse, Bloomin’ Onion
Thanks to the recent release of the blockbuster film Crocodile Dundee, Australia was very popular at the time. 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 “had a dream of opening their own restaurant – a casual place where quality food and service are top of the list.” the restaurant’s website.
And while the quality of the steaks was definitely critical to the restaurant
continued success, perhaps a certain iconic appetizer remains even more important when it comes to satisfying guest cravings.
Founded in 1988 by co-founder Gannon, Outback has wisely kept the Bloomin’ Onion the same for the last three decades: hand-slicing a super colossal Spanish onion into “200 perfect petals,” then breading and deep-frying the sliced onion into a bouquet of ” golden goodness” that goes perfectly with their Kick’ Bloom sauce.
Incidentally, this addictive Bloom sauce has been incorporated into the Bloomin’ Fried Chicken, which can be found in the ‘Not’ Steaks’ section of the menu. Outback’s signature sauce also accompanies the newly added Bloomin’ Fried Shrimp, which you’ll find alongside other tasty “Aussie-Tizers” like the Aussie Cheese Fries, Kookaburra Wings and, yes, the original Bloomin’ Onion. – Wade Tatangelo, Sarasota Herald-Tribune