Friday, January 28, 2011

Panacea to Cedar Key

By Lynne Brandon

There is a part of Florida where time stands still. It is the place that sprung to life at the hands of writer Marjorie Kinan Rawlings who paid homage to Florida’s early frontier in “Cross Creek." It is the original Florida in the Big Bend region that sidles up to Florida’s Gulf Coast with off the beaten path towns like Panacea, Steinhatchee, Suwannee and Cedar Key.

Fresh seafood from the Gulf’s waters is what the region does best. An unassuming shack on Highway 98, in little Panacea, set the tone for some of the best seafood in these United States. Culinary greatness looms within the walls of Posey’s Seafood Steamroom & Oyster Bar, and in short order, seafood and shellfish danced across plates with a drum-like precision. Oysters on the half shelf, fried and smoked mullet, mullet roe, shrimp and more were consumed in short fashion. The highest mark goes to the delicately fried, lightly battered oysters that give “fresh” new meaning.

Mullet seining is big business in Panacea and watching skillful seamen net thousands of teeming fish was science married with art against a pristine Florida sky. Oysters are equally abundant and tantalizingly fresh. Like all Florida seafood, there is no taint of BP.

Dinner was a visual and palate pleasing experience at Spring Creek restaurant. Owned and operated by the Clay Lovell family, Spring Creek beckons visitors in with seafood from local waters from its tucked-into corner of the world enshrouded with large oaks dripping with Spanish moss and Florida vegetation.

Steinhatchee was up the road a short piece by way of the backwoods Dixie Mainline, where Roy’s Restaurant serves up the town’s culinary treasures fished daily from its waters. Cruising back at sunset after an afternoon with Captain Charlie Norwood of Sea Hag Marina worked up an appetite, and a feast of massive proportions was laid out at Fiddler’s Restaurant by Chef Jim Hunt. The effervescent chef inspired with ceviche-style scallops, local fish, melt-in-your-mouth sides, silky key lime pie and a stellar wine collection perfectly paired to the cuisine.

The evening was spent reveling in the old-world beauty of Steinhatchee Landing Resort and its amenities including cottages for every taste, skillfully designed by Dean Fowler.

The Big Bend region is home to the largest concentration of freshwater springs in the world, and the world-famous Suwannee River, where pristine beauty and serenity is the order of the day. Russ McCallister of Suwannee Guide is an apt and entertaining narrator of the area’s wildlife. He led us to Dan May Island where wild pigs still roam the brush and humans are scarce. It was Little House on the Prairie set in the Land of Palm Trees.

The last stop was Cedar Key: adored by artists, inspiration for writers, and loved by all who want a change in latitude. It helps to love clams in the town that rules as the clam capital of the world and where clam aquaculture is not just an adventure but a crucial industry.

A clam trifecta begins with a visit to Tony’s Seafood, home of two-time world champion chowder; Island Room at Cedar Cove where we noshed on clams and pasta, and the legendary Island Hotel’s Heart of Palm salad and Clams Athena. Sipping Florida wines from Dakotah Winery capped off the clam tribute.

The Island Hotel is an eye-catching destination brimming with history, lauded in Jimmy Buffet songs and said to be a favorite haunt of ghosts. Before you turn in, take a quick jaunt over to Rusty Rim Pub, part of Coconuts of Cedar Key restaurant. Sitting on the deck at sunset is the perfect backdrop for platters of fresh, raw oysters, dips, stuffed clams and luscious libations.

Leave the tourists, malls and strip centers behind and visit the last frontier of Florida, where the days are sunny, living is easy and the food is fresh. You might just have to stay awhile.


1 comment:

  1. Hi Lynne,
    My name is Jane and I'm with Dwellable.
    I was looking for blog posts about Cedar Key to share on our site and I came across your post...If you're open to it, shoot me an email at jane(at)dwellable(dot)com.
    Hope to hear from you :)