Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sanibel-Captiva Restaurant Rundown (Part 2)

Sometimes the best things in life are the simplest ones. It's not exactly on the level of a dining mantra for me, perhaps more of a last resort. But after some mixed experiences in Sanibel and Captiva, we definitely found that we ate better when we kept things simple.

Over Easy Café

Case in point: the Over Easy Café. It's a modest place decorated in a cheerful provençal color scheme overlaid with recurring examples of a chicken motif, but the decor is not the story here. Rather, it's the hearty, straight-ahead, and well-prepared food that made me happy. I tweeted during our trip "Provided you don't get too clever, it is well near impossible to fuck up a club sandwich." Over Easy Café didn't. Sliced turkey, fresh lettuce and tomato, bacon that's still warm off the griddle, crisp but not shatteringly so, just enough mayo, nice crisp toast. It's a simple pleasure, but one that really hit the spot. A pasta salad for a side wasn't a mere afterthought, but was taken on a little Mediterranean spin with black olives, bits of red pepper and crumbled feta.

The kids thoroughly enjoyed their pancakes (not least because they were getting to eat pancakes for lunch, but still, they were nicely fluffy and light). A fruit cup featured fresh, sweet fruit, as if somebody had actually made the effort to taste and make sure the melon and berries were ripe before throwing them together. And that's what I enjoyed about the Over Easy Café: it tasted like food made by people who cared that it tasted good. We actually tried to make a return visit for breafkast, intrigued by such items as a Reuben Benedict (English muffin topped with corned beef, thousand island dressing, poached eggs and hollandaise). Unfortunately, we're clearly not the first to discover the place - there was an hour-long wait for a table. Maybe the trick is to sneak in on off-hours (open 7am - 8pm, with breakfast served till 2:30pm).

Over Easy Café
630 Tarpon Bay Road
Sanibel, FL 33957

Over Easy Cafe on Urbanspoon

(continued ...)

Holy Smoke Heavenly Barbecue

Another simple pleasure: Holy Smoke Heavenly Barbecue. This place is part of the South Seas Island Resort on Captiva where we were staying, and we went there for lunch mostly for convenience, but I was happily surprised by our experience.

I ordered a pulled pork bun, which brought a massive mound of porkiness in big shreds, displaying a real bona fide smoke ring at the edges of the pieces, all piled onto a potato bun. I dumped some of my cole slaw side on there, squirted it with a bit of sauce (Holy Smoke offers a few different types) and had myself a very fine sandwich. We also enjoyed the smoked fish dip, a generous serving, not overwhelmingly creamy, though Little Miss F's favorite is still the "Little Red Smoker" fish dip from Red Light in Miami.

The cornbread and the side of baked beans were only OK, and some Kansas City style baby backs disappeared before I could even try them. They also offer Memphis style spare ribs, "Fred & Barney's" bison ribs, smoked chicken, turkey breast, a brisket sandwich, and chicken wings. The place has limited seating, only a few picnic bench style tables inside and a few more outside, but you can always pack some up to take to the beach.

Holy Smoke Heavenly Barbecue
5400 Plantation Road
Captiva, FL 33924

Holy Smoke Heavenly Barbecue on Urbanspoon

Island Cow

The Island Cow is a busy, raucous place whose slogan is "Udderly Great Food." Its logo is a pink and purple cartoon cow wearing a hula skirt and lei. You can probably see where this is going.

I suppose Island Cow could be characterized as a "crowd pleaser;" it's a friendly, noisy place, and the menu seems to go on forever and in a million different directions. There are shellfish apps, raw, steamed or fried; other seafood-y type items like crabcakes, conch 'n' shrimp fritters, and "sea spuds" (potato skins stuffed with "crabaloo" stuffing and topped with melted cheese);[1] there's a selection of fish[2] which you can have broiled, fried, bronzed, blackened, pan-seared, char-grilled, BBQ'd, scampi style or coconut fried; there are steaks; there are pastas; there are sandwichs, wraps and po-boys; there are burgers, cheeseteaks and reubens; there's barbecue; there's red beans and rice, gumbo, and shrimp 'n' grits; there's quesadillas .. there's something to please everyone!

It's no doubt possible that amidst this cornucopia there are things they do well, but there's no guarantee you'll find them. I actually enjoyed some baked stuffed oysters I had for a starter. The conch 'n' shrimp fritters were also reasonably good, almost reminiscent of a hush puppy texturally but studded with little seafood bits. The smoked fish dip was peculiar, a creamy pinkish melange of mostly diced smoked salmon and cream cheese - not exactly what I was expecting.

I don't know what possessed me to order the shrimp 'n' grits for a main. It didn't even really seem like the right call at the time. It sure wasn't. If I had to hazard a guess at how to recreate the Island Cow version of this dish, it would go something like this: (1) open one packet of Quaker Instant Grits and prepare per package instructions; add margarine until grits have an oily mouthfeel; (2) cook 6-8 shrimp to death; (3) open can of brown gravy, warm until no longer congealed, add to shrimp, then pour shrimp and canned gravy over grits. I kept on adding hot sauce and worcestershire sauce to try to get it to actually taste like something, and it was like they were disappearing into a black hole of blandness. Another tweet from our trip: "Shrimp & grits, on the other hand, is apparently a dish that can easily be fucked up beyond all recognition."

Desserts are big, sweet, and indulgent. We had some sort of brownie sundae that was successfully shared among two adults and two children with very little quibbling. And the prices are pretty reasonable: shucked oysters and clams are about a buck apiece, fried seafood baskets are generally about $10-15, fish with a couple sides ranges from $14-19, and there's pretty much nothing that tops out over $20. And I suspect you can put together a decent meal if you know what to order. Just avoid the shrimp 'n' grits.

Island Cow
2163 Periwinkle Way
Sanibel, FL 33957

Island Cow Eatery on Urbanspoon

[1]And may that please be the first and last mention of "crabaloo" on this blog.
[2]Not a particularly good sign when you are literally surrounded by water and yet the fish choices include farmed tilapia.

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