On the Waterfront:
My Favorite Waterfront Restaurants
What better place to dine than looking out
over a water view. Some of my fondest memories are of some of my
favorite waterfront places. Here are a few.
at Peace River Seafood
I recently had the good luck to dine with a
group of other travel writers at the
Peace River Seafood and
Crab Shack In Punta
Gorda, Florida. Wow! This place is amazing. If the seafood
was any fresher it would have had to jump from the river, just
behind the restaurant, onto the stove in the kitchen. They have
a dock right there and local fishermen bring the day's catch
directly to the Crab Shack.
The food was so good and it just
kept coming. I got to sample almost everything and didn't find
any I didn't like. Since I don't personally like Calamari, I
didn't try that but those who did said it was tasty. I think my
favorite was the blue crabs. They were huge and cooked just
right. The mussels were some of the juiciest I ever tasted.
I loved the shrimp and
enjoyed the mullet and catfish even though I am more of a
Atmosphere abounds at Peace River Seafood. It's no chain. That
is obvious by the authenticity of the place. Owners, Jimmy Beal
and his wife Kelly, are local. Jimmy is a crabber. The
restaurant is housed in an simple Craftsman style bungalow
shaded by huge old oak trees. A resident cat meets you as you
stroll up the walkway. Inside, Gaspar, the resident parrot,
croaked out a "hello" but why sit inside when you can enjoy the
wonderful outdoor Florida weather. We sprawled at one of the big
picnic tables where we could really dig into good seafood and
not worry about making a mess. They even have an outside sink to
wash up for all those finger-licking crab particles you don't
lick off. They had a few interesting items on the menu like
Thorton Branch Gator Gumbo, Myakka Slew Shrimp Creole and Bull
Bay Stew but one can only eat so much delicious seafood without
bursting at the seams.
|Our server, Bill, and Mayor
Our server, Bill, just kept bringing the
food until the table was overflowing then he juggled things
around to make more room. He was taking no chances any of us
left hungry. Fat chance of that. The side order of corn on the
cob was tasty but I only had room for a bit or two. Had to save
room for some of their traditional Key Lime Pie.
Like all the rest of the
food, it was true old Florida, yellow as it should be and a
little tart as Key limes are naturally.
Someone asked about the dollar bills covering the inside dining
room walls, a la Key West bars. He told us,
"Customers kept saying
that the seafood here
was even better than the crabs they'd eaten up north.
One of the wait staff
responding, 'If I only had a dollar for every time
someone said that!' and before long,
it became a tradition
for customers to sign a dollar bill and hang it in the net on
|The wall of dollar bills in a
Chef Jerry Collins stopped at the table to
see how we were doing and explained that the only thing not
caught locally was the salmon. "People sometimes get mad if we
run out but we never know how much we will have as our supply is
caught right here and cooked the same day. We don't do freezers
Punta Gorda mayor, Rachel Keesling, met us
for lunch and told us even more good things about Punta Gorda
and Charlotte County. With places like Peace River Seafood
acting as ambassadors for the city, her job should go smoothly.
Any city with a restaurant as good as this has to be a wonderful
place to live.
is located in
Pungo about 20
minutes from Virginia
Breach. It's a
bit out the way and hard to find but well worth the effort.
|Blue Pete's is really over the
I was not disappointed in eitherthe food or in its setting
on the waters of Back Bay . Blue Pete’s is named for the little
duck like bird, the American coot, locally known as
You are sure to see some. Not on the menu but happily
swimming around the water behind the restaurant.
I dug into my Seafood Sampler filled with crab cakes, shrimp,
scallops and flounder and a side of sweet potato bread smeared
generously with orange marmalade, I could look out over the
water and watch all kinds of birds searching for their dinner as
well. That always make good food taste even better.
Blue Pete’s began life as a rough bar located on a rustic wooden
building built on stilts over the water. The owner. came over
and told me about the history. “The original place was a rough
and tumble bar back in the 1970s.
|A fish plate at Blue Pete's
It was just a shack with four tables and a bar.
Boaters and fishermen would pull in by boar and come in
for a drink and then clean their fish on the back dock. They
were a really wild bunch. All of them had guns and would sit on
the back dock and shoot at things.”
I noted that the brick looked really old and she told me that
earlier there had been a tiny post office here. The stories and
history here is as good as the food.
Cabbage Key Inn and
Restaurant in Pine
Island Sound just
off Lee County coast
is one of my favorite islands off the Lee County Coast. It can
only be reached by boat keeping it a real part of Old Florida.
No cars just a few golf carts and bicycles; no highways, just
paths and The only restaurant on the island is at the inn that
was originally built in the 1930s by Mary Roberts Rinehart. But
that is all you need to get great seafood or other choices.
|The landing at Cabbage Key. This
is how Florida should look.
The Inn’s restaurant is famous for its
“Cheeseburger in Paradise,” believed to be the inspiration for
the Jimmy Buffett tune. He
is reported to have
sat atop the island's old 65 foot water tower. There is also a
dollar bill tacked to the wall bearing the chief Parrothead's
autograph although he had never verified the cheeseburger claim.
The dining room and bar are decorated with a collection of over
30 thousand one-dollar bills signed by patrons and stapled to
the walls and ceiling. When it falls down, it is donated
to a local charity.
The inn offers guestrooms or cottages for overnight visitors.
The restaurant is open all day and serves breakfast , lunch and
dinner. I have had both the breakfast and the lunch and can
vouch for both. The
French Toast Breakfast Special and the old-fashioned bacon and
eggs breakfast are both equally good choices. The servings are
generous and everything was cooked to perfection.
interior of the restaurant at Cabbage Key
For my lunch there
I choose the Shrimp in the shell. Messy but delicious.
Another member of the party did try the cheeseburger so I did
get to sample the famous burger. Yummy, it does deserve it's
name. The inn and restaurant have received the 2013 Certificate
of Excellence form Trip Adviser.
The island residents have been known to
ride out hurricanes on Cabbage Key because of its relatively
high elevation. It is built on top of a 38 foot Calusa Indian
shell mound making it the
highest elevation in Florida. I guess the Indians liked their
seafood too and that is the reason the shell mound is piled so
on the water at Gulf Shore, Alabama.
Seafood is great there.
can sample Lulu's
Crazy Sista Honey Ale here.
For those not in the know, Lulu is Jimmy Buffett's sister and
the chief Parrothead himself has been known to drop in at lil'
sis's place unannounced and sing a few songs.
Even without the relationship, Lulu's stands firmly on its own
feet. If Lulu were related to no one on earth, her food would
win her aclaim in her own right. The Half and Half Seafood
Basket is my choice. I like the shrimp and oysters fried but you
can choose fish if
you prefer. The shrimp and fish can be grilled or blackened if
you're trying to eat healthy.
Naturally, Lulu's also features the Cheese Burger in Paradise.
The menus are pretty extensive and the view terrific.
Aside from the food, which is tasty and generous, the drinks,
which range from a simple brew to a smooth iced concoction,
and the music, a strong flavoring of Key West,
what more could you ask.
Well it does offer more. Lulu's is pet friendly. When I visited
I noted the sign at the door saying "all doge must be on a
leash." Okay, fair enough. Inside we met Ranger who was indeed
on his leach but it was only attached to him as he made his
rounds visiting and getting petted by all of the dog loving
parttons. He was so cute. His owner was happily ensconced at his
own spot while Ranger made new friends right and left.
|Band at Lulu's
What a fun place!
passionate about Alabama's Gulf Coast. She says,
“So come on, get back to the beaches we all love.”
You can enjoy a great meal at
Riverside Crab House
in Homosassa, Florida
or a drink at their Monkey Bar (best spot for monkey
watching) or the Yardarm at Riverside Resort. The seafood is
tasty, and you can also watch the resident monkeys. Occasionally
you can spot manatees in the water too. There is a doc to
accommodate boaters needing a tasty meal or cool drink.
|View of Monkey Island from
Riverside Crab House
How the monkeys got their own island in the
middle of the Homosassa River is an interesting tale. The island
itself started out as a pile of rocks that were just below the
water’s surface at high tide, wreaking havoc on many boats that
passed over them.
In the late 1960s, Mr. G. A. Furgason, who
owned the attraction that is now Homosassa Springs State
Wildlife Park as well as what is today the Riverside Resort,
decided to help out the boaters and had some mud dredged up
around the rocks. The result was an unattractive man-made island
in the middle of the river. In order to make the island more
attractive he had a little lighthouse constructed there.
Then he got a brainstorm. He had some monkeys at the park that
had been part of the polio vaccine experiment. Some of them were
always getting out of their cages and robbing tourist’s cars of
candy and even biting visitors. He had jokingly said he “wanted
to send them to Alcatraz.” Now he realized he had his own
version of a monkey Alcatraz. He put three spider monkeys and
two squirrel monkeys on the island. He soon discovered he had
created a popular tourist attraction. The tradition has
continued, and today, when you visit, you will see five happy
spider monkeys playing on the island. They have their own
|Veronica and Mattie monkeying
I have lunched there several times and had
a great time watching them play. My favorite dish there is the
blue crabs followed closely by the Shrimp Alfredo. For the pasta
or salad, you can build it your way and add toppings like
shrimp, lump crab meat, chicken or any number of other tasty
choices. They aim to please. It's hard to go wrong there. The
view and their live music always makes good food even better.
the meal, it's fun to walk out on their dock and watch the water
birds. Pelicans are my favorite but there are many others you
may spot, herons, egrets, ibises or gulls. Or you could take a
few pictures to remember all the fun in their "Caught Monkeyin'
Around" sign where you can put your own face in place of one of
the resident monkeys.
Crackers Bar Grill and
Tiki in Crystal
River, Florida is located on Kings Bay making it a great
manatee watching spot. The spring fed waters of the bay and
Crystal River hold a 72% temperature year round making it a
perfect place for these gentle giants to congregate. February is
one of the best months to see them frolicking in the water but
you could see them anytime.
|Crackers ovelooking Kings Bay
That you can enjoy some of the best Florida
seafood anywhere here is a bonus. Crackers Bar and Grill is not
fancy but the food is scrumptious, hot and served in generous
You can arrive by boat as well as drive
here making it a popular spot for local boaters and those
visitors lucky enough to discover it.
Their Coconut Shrimp appetizer is one of my favorites. It's
enough for a lunch in itself but if you have a really big
appetite try their
Combo Platter, your
choice of Scallops, Oysters, Grouper, Gator, Shrimp, Pollock, or
Chicken. You can have them fried, blackened, sautéed, or
|Crackers fish plate Photo credit
This place has a big menu and lots of unusual items like gator
and conch fritters. They even offer a different twist on the
classic Reuben, Grouper Reuben. Again, there is
a big sandwich menu. For
the health conscious, there are a wide choice of salads or
Crackers is a perfect place to dock and dine after a fun day on
Schooner Wharf Bar
in Key West is one
of my all time favorites. It’s one of the few places man’s best
friend is welcome to belly up to the bar.
You might find yourself sitting next to a purebred poodle
or a Conch mutt but they are all surprisingly well behaved. When
we visited before my dog, Romeo, passed, he was so happy to be
allowed inside he sat and lapped his water and ate his portion
with all the manners of a connoisseur.
|Always a happy crowd at
The bar’s co-owner, Evelina Worthington
will be happy to show you the portrait of the Key West dogs
hanging over the bar and tell you their story beginning with her
own pup she got one night as a tip while she tended bar.
She and her husband
began as a small bar on a schooner and when they came on land
the budget was so tight the bar consisted of a plank between two
old filing cabinets. Even then they served quality stuff. The
upscale liquors were kept in the top drawers of the cabinets.
Don't let the name "bar" fool you. it is
also a top notch restaurant wining the "People's Choice Award:
since 1993. The
commented, "Schooner Wharf is a slice of Key West
before million-dollar condos began sprouting up like kudzu....
it's as funky as a pair of well-worn flips and every bit as
comfortable, just a ramshackle open-sided bar, small stage and
umbrella-covered tables set on a gravel patio. The menu is
identical to those of dozens of other Keys dives.... The
difference is the Schooner does them better. The oysters and
shrimp are impeccably fresh, the chowder flavorful and spicy,
and the fritters are actually worth eating. The mojo-marinated
fish sandwich is great."
|There is usually live music
They really summed up the Schooner Wharf in that comment. The
menu is very extensive and ranges from breakfast through dinner
and on to late night snacks. My favorite is the Drunken Shrimp.
Cooking them in beer instead of plain water really makes a
|In memory of Romeo's visit to
located on the wharf right next to where the Key West Flag Ship,
The Western Union is docked.
The Schooner Wharf Bar really
is a taste of old Key West. Don't miss it next time you visit
"The Conch Republic."
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