Back in 1945, Coopertown Airboat Tours was founded on frog legs. When John Cooper would take his airboat out frogging in the Everglades, observers often asked for rides in the unique machine. The demand became so great that he built a passenger airboat?and today, the company has a fleet of seven. Coopertown itself has a population of only eight, and is a largely wild slice of land on the edge of the Everglades, making the popular airboat tours a main source of traffic.
The airboats that depart from Coopertown head deep into the wetlands, where sawgrass covers the water and gators are plentiful. Guides point out a wide variety of wildlife, ranging from herons and turtles to endangered species such as the snail kite. For a more intimate encounter with nature, they also run private tours, voyaging into areas that are only accessible by smaller airboats. Tours typically culminate by the Coopertown restaurant and gift shop. There, guests can snack on the frog legs that started it all, or sample other swampland delights including gator-tail nuggets and catfish.
Donut Gallery started with a handshake. That handshake was the one in 1971 that sealed Benjamin and Acela Zambrano's purchase of a Miami-area restaurant and inspired them to transplant their entire family from New York?where Benjamin had been working in the hospitality industry since emigrating from Cuba in the 1960s?and carve out their own slice of the American Dream.
To this day, locals and visitors alike flock to Donut Gallery, which no longer serves donuts, for its throwback diner vibe. A long counter and a completely open kitchen lets diners watch and even chat with the cooks as they flip and chop. Anything on the menu is available at any time the restaurant is open. In the mornings, the cooks pile up pancakes, squeeze fresh orange juice, and top open-faced English muffins with bacon, ham, and cheese. But their work doesn't end with the morning rush; they continue filling empty bellies into the late afternoon with an extensive lunch menu of burgers, sandwiches, and milkshakes.
Moonlite Diner transplants stomachs into the middle of a 1950s high-school date or a Norman Rockwell painting, with hearty platters of comfort food and sleek red and white décor. Tucked within a streamlined dining-car exterior, munching molars can grind up selections from Moonlite Diner's massive menu. Rev up for a day of lifting steam engines and rescuing Roombas from trees with the body builder, which stuffs an egg-white omelette with grilled chicken, tomatoes, onions, broccoli, and mushrooms ($9.99). Midday noshers can anchor incisors in a bevy of sandwiches such as the grilled tuna melt, where tuna salad, tomato slices, and a hearty duo of swiss and american cheeses bridge the gap between two pieces of grilled rye ($8.99). Comforting portions of homemade meatloaf snuggle up with sides of warm smashed potatoes, veggies, and brown gravy for an evening treat ($12.99), and Moonlite's smattering of burgery delights sates appetites anytime. Cool off after a marathon meal by slurping down a sundae or splashing your face with a milkshake.
By day, Diner By-The-Sea is just that?a classic American spot for good grub, where visitors will often find the owner, Billy, manning the grill or refilling coffees. In the morning, the cooks turn out piles of crispy, browned home fries next to eggs benedict draped with creamy hollandaise, and midday, they match soups and sandwiches with sides of slaw or salad.
Far more versatile than your everyday bacon-and-eggs joint, Lemon Tree Cafe serves each meal of the day with aplomb. However, breakfast may still manage to steal the spotlight. Inside the unpretentious dining room, guests can cut into stacks of buttermilk or Oreo-flecked flapjacks at any hour, even steak o'clock. The menu also has a huge array of omelets, sandwiches, and a special section dedicated to healthy choices?plates that clock in at 500 calories or less. Come dinner time, the kitchen preps fresh seafood, pan-tossed pasta dishes, and shepherd's pie.
Scattered pimento-like across the Boca Raton area, Mitch and Cory Shidlofsky's microcosmic Brooklyns serve teetering deli sandwiches and hearty breakfast fare. Every morning, diners tuck into 20 types of bagels, including egg, sunflower seed, pumpernickel, and marble, and slather them in cream-cheese flavors such as scallion, honey walnut, and strawberry. Sweeter options abound as well, including challah french toast, and Oreo pancakes that help children-at-heart relive their glory days when their heads were the size of cookies. Gloriously messy sandwiches star on the lunch menu—foremost among them the New Jersey sloppy joe, in which roast beef, corned beef, and turkey spill out from under russian dressing and coleslaw.