Our recent Gulf Coast Road Trip that wound through coastal towns in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Florida presented us with more unique local foods and experiences than we ever expected. We ate sea-to-table oysters in Gulf Shores, moon pies and neon pink hot dogs in Mobile, and boudin balls in Lafayette, to name just a few. And as we headed back to our home state of Florida, the landscape - and the food - started to change. By the time we hit Tallahassee, the state capital of Florida, we still had oysters and others fruits of the sea, but the food scene turned more eclectic and international. That makes sense given that Tally is home to two of the state's largest universities - Florida State and Florida A&M - and is the youngest city in the Sunshine State.
We couldn't have been more pleasantly surprised - sorry, we meant blown away - by the unique places to eat in Tallahassee - from hole-in-the-wall local joints to elegant and upscale eateries. The choices were funky, artsy, organic, and locally-sourced. And that's just breakfast. The dining scene is overwhelming in the tastiest way, so if you love good food and are planning a trip to Florida, you owe it to yourself to check out these 10 innovative and unique eateries in Tallahassee.
1. Kool Beanz Cafe
While it might sound like just another coffee house, Kool Beanz Cafe is, well, very very kool. What we thought was a stop to have a coffee and a pastry turned out to have a laid-back vibe, some funky colored walls covered in original art, and uber creative cuisine. Hardly a coffee shop at all - there's a wine list, a great selection of beers, and menu choices ranging from smokey corn crab cakes to Tuscan style lamb. But the real show stopper was the toasted coconut meringue layer cake. Oh my! Treat yourself to this, with a cup of their excellent coffee. Kool Beanz Cafe, 921 Thomasville Rd, Tallahassee, FL
2. Sage Restaurant
We were impressed with the relaxed atmosphere that offered an eclectic menu of fresh and inspired dishes using locally sourced produce and seafood. There's definitely a fusion of several cuisines going on here, something we love, and we dove right in. Here's a good example - Panko encrusted Louisiana catfish with kimchee grits and fried green tomato - Japan and Korea meet the Florida Gulf Coast! And it was excellent. We liked that we weren't rushed here and the service was outstanding. Sage Restaurant, 3534 Maclay Blvd S, Tallahassee, FL
3. Lofty Pursuits
There are many breakfast places in Tallahassee to choose from, but our breakfast at Lofty Pursuits will be one of our most memorable breakfasts ever. A soda fountain, toy store, candy making shop - it's all three. Along with standard breakfast items are a unique selection of waffles and pancakes. It gets better. Want a milk shake with breakfast? Who doesn't! Or maybe a scoop of ice cream over your waffles from a staggering number of flavors - why not. But what really sets Lofty pursuits apart is the rest of the shop. There are vintage toys, a yoyo museum, a Haiku vending machine, and there's an original wall mounted rotary dial payphone (you don't have to pay) from the 1920s that a kid can dial and listen to a recording. Pretty cool. Visit on a Friday evening or Saturday afternoon and watch custom candies being made. It's a fun place and the breakfast was great. 1355 Market Street A11, Tallahassee, FL
4. The Edison
This was an unexpected sort of venue. Formerly a state of the art power plant when it was constructed in 1921, The Edison has been converted into a spacious hip bistro with a patio and large covered deck for outdoor seating. The decor is quasi-industrial with a very nice bar area to accommodate their featured wine events, and expansive views of scenic Cascades Park right outside. We were here for a comfortable lunch and enjoyed several items from their simple menu including some very good sweet potato fries, and an excellent lobster roll chock full o' meaty chunks. 470 Suwannee St, Tallahassee, FL
5. Cypress Restaurant
With its red painted walls and original artwork, Cypress Restaurant is a contemporary upscale restaurant serving an eclectic menu based on local produce, aged meats and fresh seafood. The Grilled Cobia Paella and Sugar Cane Mopped Beef Ribeye were both excellent. And please don't pass on dessert, especially the Southern Pecan Pie Turnover. Everything here was prepared extremely well. We loved the relaxed decor and the service was well paced. The only downside was our lack of an extra day or two to come back for more. 320 E Tennessee St, Tallahassee, FL
6. Canopy Cafe
We love a good diner setting for breakfast so the Canopy Cafe was right up our alley. They have three locations in Tallahassee and we tried "The Parkway" location. The breakfast menu was extensive with some unusual choices and healthy options as well. Two things that caught our eye were the sweet potato pancakes and the Country Fried Steak, though the Country Scramble was yummy too. The Canopy Cafe was bright and fun, and bustling on a busy weekend though we never felt rushed. It's a Tallahassee breakfast institution. 1779 Apalachee Pkwy, Tallahassee, FL
7. Merv's Melts
Started in 2014 and born from the owners' love of the classic grilled cheese sandwich, Merv's is a small, local eatery big on creative melty sandwiches. Of course, you can choose their version of a grilled cheese sammie, but there's so much more. We passed on the "breakfast melts" and went right to the sandwiches - all the handcrafted cheese sandwiches here are made to order using locally sourced ingredients, We tried the Mushroom Melt - the earthy 'shrooms and the crusty bread was a killer combo. The Caprese, a mouthwatering taste of Italy. We truly enjoyed Merv's for doing simple food so well. They fry their own potato chips, use locally baked bread and bake their own desserts daily. Suffice it to say, we left Merv's inspired, but certainly not hungry. 825 Railroad Ave, Tallahassee, FL
8. Crum Box Gastgarden at Railroad Square Art Park
For a fun lunch, head to Railroad Square Art Park and look for a big red caboose sitting on rails. If you have trouble finding it, look for the long line. Crum Box Gastgarden is truly a funky place to eat. They're known for the house made “grind to grill” sausages as well as their original house seasoned sausage. Try the original with all the fixins' - onions, sauerkraut, and dark mustard - it's a big sandwich, messy and delicious. We were only here for lunch but in their outdoor area on certain nights there's live music and even a movie night. 602 Industrial Dr, Tallahassee, FL
9. Shell Oyster Bar
This local Tallahassee institution may be a bit challenging to find (and to find parking), but it's worth the effort. I wouldn't say it's a hole-in-the-wall or even a joint. It's a simple place to have some great food. The oysters were really fresh and sourced locally from nearby Apalachicola Bay and Cedar Key. They serve them baked or freshly shucked (is there really any other way to eat 'em?). We rounded out our lunch with the cheese grits, and the fried shrimp with house slaw and hush puppies. This is the kind of local place we search for on our travels - local food with great service from a friendly staff. It's BYOB if you want, but their house-made sweet tea went well with everything. We'll definitely stop here again when we're back in Tallahassee. 14 FAMU Way, Tallahassee, FL
10. Backwoods Crossing
If you love local farm-to-table restaurants like we do, Backwoods Crossing might be just what you're looking for. Their menu includes locally sourced meats and seafood, and fresh veggies, herbs, and fruit from their 3 1/2 acre farmette. This isn't an "upscale" restaurant. It's casual and comfortable, with a creative and farm fresh menu. We ran out of time on our recent trip to Tallahassee and unfortunately missed eating here. But isn't it always good to leave something on the table for next time? 6725 Mahan Dr, Tallahassee, FL
We can't wait to get back and explore more of the good eats in Tallahassee!
Many thanks to Visit Tallahassee for hosting our stay in the capital. As always, all opinions are our own, always based on our firsthand experience.