Common food in an uncommon setting, the Kapok Tree Restaurant in Florida was the place to go for dinner from the late 1950s to the early 1990s. The streams of vacationers in a fall migration would every year head south to their seaside Florida rentals and once they got settled in, they would get all dressed up and head to dinner at the one place that truly left an impression.
With it’s large dining rooms with classic greek columns with imported statues it’s interior and exterior exuded class and history. Victorian fountains, antique paintings and vintage chandeliers embellished the rooms. Outside were large formal gardens where dinner guests could go for a walk and a drink before, or after their meal. The Kapok Tree was a famous Florida experience.
When it began in 1957 in Clearwater it’s popularity caught on quickly and expansion was inevitable.
Four more Kapok Tree Restaurants were opened across Florida and the experience caught on, but by 1988 they unexpectedly filed for bankruptcy. At the time every location except for the first Clearwater restaurant closed, and eventually that too closed, and by 1991 it was the end of an era. But not for my friend Mike.
Mike remembers the Kapok Tree by collecting the glasses you used to be able to purchase. And each year he goes south his collection grows as a distant reminder of Florida history. One night he presented them all to me. I was amazed by the shape of the glass, with it’s thick ink emblazoned on them all with a tropical shapely flair. And I couldn’t help but wonder what the experience must have been like to have a meal there.
I discovered a website that is a tribute to the Kapok Tree which describes the food:
“The menu choices were ham, fried chicken, fried shrimp or T-bone steak. All came with roasted potatoes, hush-puppies, green peas served family style and a lazy-susan relish tray with creamy cole slaw and famous apple butter.”
Simple fare with an exceptional dining experience can no longer be found in Florida, at least not to the level of the Kapok Tree. It certainly holds it’s place in Florida’s elaborate past.
For those interested in hearing more stories about the experience of the Kapok Tree Restaurant, there is an independent website dedicated to the Kapok Tree and their Guest Book is filled with memories of this truly amazing place please check it out.
Thanks to Mike for sharing his collection, I was thrilled to discover while writing this story a famous recipe from the back of the box, that the souvenir Kapok Tree Glasses used to come in. Mike, if you’re reading this I suggest we throw a vintage party and make a great big bowl of this punch and pour them in these glasses, here’s the recipe:
Kapok Tree Planter’s Punch Recipe
- 2 oz. Orange Juice
- 2 oz. Pineapple Juice
- 2 oz. Lime Juice
- 1 1/4 oz. White Rum
- 1 1/2 oz. Amber Rum
- 1/2 oz. Egg White
- Shake above ingredients and pour into glass filled with ice.
- Top with 1/4 oz. Grenadine and 1 oz. of heavy Jamaican Rum.
- Decorate with assorted fruit slices and cherry.
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