South Florida has never been our kind of place; wild poolside partying with fruity drinks just isn't our speed. But in the other Florida--the northern zone, the panhandle, where the deepest South meets the Gulf of Mexico--wild means scandalously delicious quail served at a Sunday night church supper. And we could spend a week touring the area for what we would pay to lounge around a Miami pool for a day.
To taste that quail--and to explore more of northern Florida's fascinating branch of Southern cuisine--we charted an east-to-west, coast-to-coast route across the panhandle. We would begin in St. Augustine, the oldest continually inhabited town in America, drive through the state's swampy, produce-rich backcountry, explore the Gulf Coast's oystering and fishing hamlets and finish in the resort town of Seaside, which was built in the early Eighties and made famous in 1998 by the Jim Carrey movie The Truman Show.
We arrived in St. Augustine just ahead of Hurricane Floyd. But the city has survived worse threats than that in its 435 years. Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés founded St. Augustine as a Spanish colony in 1565, more than half a century before the Puritans stepped ashore at Plymouth. The city's Spanish character is stunningly preserved in its architecture, especially the fortresslike buildings of pale yellow stone, with peaked colonnades and terra-cotta-tiled roofs. The downtown area encircling the city plaza is a medieval maze of tight alleyways lined with brick cottages and handsome stucco storefronts, shaded by arching palms.