Sea Oats

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Doc Ford's Rum Bar and Grille

Let me preface this review with a bit of an explanation. I do not have a sophisticated palette. If I eat out when I am working, I usually just grab some standard fast food fair. But every once in a while, I like to treat myself. I don't know much about ingredients. I have actually been accused of burning water, so no chef am I.

The last time I saw saffron, it was a triple word score on a Scrabble board. I wouldn't know a béarnaise sauce if it came up and bit me on the ass, but I do appreciate good food and good service. That is what you can expect at Doc Ford's.

Doc Ford is a marine biologist in a series of great books by author Randy Wayne White. A good read in the vein of Steinbeck's Cannery Row and John McDonald's Travis Mcgee series.

Doc Ford's Front entrance, Ft. Myers
Doc Ford's on San Carlos Bay, at Matanzas Pass just before Ft. Myers Beach is a great spot for lunch or dinner. It sits overlooking the bay and the adjacent marina. Just off in the distance is where the commercial fishing fleet docks. Mostly shrimp boats with their rigs raised in salute as they return with the day's catch.

Large windows face the bay giving diners a great view of the boat traffic. I chose to dine inside because it was 94 degrees outside. Over the years, I've proven my ability to eat under almost any conditions. Such as in the cockpit of a sailboat in ten foot seas on a delivery, where no matter how good and warm the food was in the galley ten minutes ago, in the cockpit it tastes like cold oatmeal made with sea water. If the weather is right, there are several outdoor dining areas, all with a view. Inside the main dining room, there are two levels. I was on the second level as there were no seats empty near the windows.
Outdoor seating for weather where the temps are lower than 110 degrees.
My server, Nicole, a bright and attractive girl, brought me a menu and returned quickly with my big glass of iced tea.

When I eat at a restaurant for the first time, I like to think about what I'd like and then try to match my bright idea with something on the menu. I've had a lot of fish over the years, caught by me, prepared usually by more competent souls and have enjoyed many a good fry up. Fish buried in batter is just that. You quite often don't actually taste the fish itself. You taste the batter. There is nothing wrong with that as there are many fine ways to batter fish that lend a great taste to it. This time I wanted grilled.

The choices were confusing to someone with a drive up mentality.

DEEP WATER MAHI-MAHI - freshly filleted mahi-mahi seared in sweet soy sauce, placed on a jasmine rice stir fry with a prickly pear ginger vinaigrette. $19.95

Or,  BANANA LEAF SNAPPER - snapper wrapped in a banana leaf lined with Masa Harina, Ancho Chili Purée and Pine Island lime juice. Steamed, paired with black beans and rice with a Dynamite Lime Cilantro Roasted Pepper pesto. $21.95

Or, CEDAR PLANK SALMON - freshly cut salmon filet topped with a mango chipotle glaze, served with au gratin potatoes, wilted spinach and caramelized mushrooms. $21.95

Or yet again, ACHOATE GRILLED GROUPER - fresh grilled grouper seasoned with a blend of South American spices, served with saffron rice mixed with broccoli and mushrooms, topped with pineapple salsa. $24.95

I chose the Deep Water Mahi-Mahi. I've never heard of anything else in the description, except for the mahi-mahi. I was amazed. A large two piece slab of Mahi on top of the rice. The rice has veggies in it, like little tops of broccoli, onions and some other things I didn't recognize. I now like sweet soy sauce and prickly pear ginger vinaigrette.

Mahi-Mahi is easy to screw up. Overcook it and it comes out like rubber chicken. Undercook it and it tastes like wallpaper paste. This was done perfectly. There was not a scrap of Mahi or a grain of rice left when I finished.

Nicole kept my iced tea topped up without me asking. And then she pulled a very classy move. I was about half way through with lunch, and since there were no tables left on the lower level, she had to seat a couple near me. I thought, "Oh well, I'm sure they'll be quiet and let me finish in peace." Well, Nicole put them two tables down. When I commented to her that I appreciated that move, she replied, "I don't like have people seated on top of me either." Almost every other restaurant I've visited seated everyone at one table after another, even if there were open seats where everyone could have some space. I know it is easier for the servers, but it makes all the difference in the world to the diners. Nicole's tip went up right there.

Pretty full, but still having small hole in my appetite, I looked at the desert menu. I judge quite harshly seafood restaurants by their Key Lime pie and almost everyone one of them serves some version of it. Some have it brought in from Key West, which is very, very good Key Lime pie and others buy local with mixed results.

Outdoor seating overlooking the waterway.
Doc's makes their own. It came on a chilled plate/bowl about the size of Frisbee. The slice was man sized, not one of those little thin slices that the ladies like to share. ( I appreciate the effort ladies, but I'm a guy.) It had whipped cream to one side with a mint sprig on top Don't eat the mint sprig. It sticks to your teeth and is not as tasty as it sounds. On the other side was, and I'm guessing here, was raspberry sauce. Whatever it was, it was gone with the pie.  

That did it. Pleasantly stuffed, I shuffled towards the door and went to my room to take a nap.

I am not qualified to be a restaurant critic in any way except that I know what I like. My grandmother said I was a meat and potatoes kind of guy. Well, Grandma, I like fish too. This was truly one of the best meals I've had in a long time.

You'll be hungry by the time you find the place too. While visible form the bridge going over to Ft. Myers Beach, you going to have rough time finding how to get there. You'll need Capt. Jack Sparrow's compass from Pirates of the Caribbean, "an island that cannot be found, except by those who already know where it is hidden." Captain Sparrow uses his unique compass - rather than pointing north, it points to what its holder wants most, and you'll want this restaurant.

You have to go under the bridge on a little road that is not well marked. There is a sign for Doc's next to a bus bench if you are coming from the east. That's it. Well worth the effort though.

Doc Fords Ft Myers Beach
708 Fisherman's Wharf
Fort Myers Beach, FL 33931-2204
(239) 765-9660

Monday, August 8, 2011

Jekyll Island, Georgia

                                                          TheJekyll Island Club
                                                     Southern Comfort At Its Best.
Photo courtesy of the Jekyll Island Club
"Have someone bring up some coffee, and strawberries in fresh cream, please.  Thank you." You replace the phone and stroll out onto your balcony. The soft click of croquet balls reaches you. Below, ladies in traditional white, move silently around the green velvet carpet of grass, lining up their next wicket shot.
Photo courtesy of the Jekyll Island Club
The sun is still below the tops of the one hundred and fifty year old oak trees bearded in Spanish moss. Turning back into the room you ask, "Should I have the Rolls brought around?" On this island it's hard not to imagine yourself as one of the elite in a bygone era. Here, the crème de la crème once sought quiet months of solitude hidden away from the pressures of business. Yet, in the paneled smoking rooms of the Jekyll Island Club, the very foundation of modern banking, the Federal Reserve System was hammered out. Even here, in the quiet solitude that only the richest of the nation's capitalists could afford, the demands of business interrupted vacations.
The Turret Room. Great romantic rental. Photo courtesy the Jekyll Island Club
All that has changed for the better. Where once the captains of industry strolled, couples now ride bikes and walk wooded trails. At the dock where J.P. Morgan tied up his 340-foot yacht, the Corsair II, lovers watch the sun set over the salt marshes of Georgia's Golden Isles. Jekyll Island retains the ambiance of its moneyed past. Quiet lanes wind past private homes with lush green lawns. The multimillionaire's summer cottages of  yesteryear, which even by today's standards are luxurious homes, sit silently, their vacant windows overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway. Jekyll Island is for those wanting to immerse themselves in the restive atmosphere of what was once called ". . . the most exclusive playground in the United States," without breaking the bank.
For modern day business moguls and mavens looking for a way to unwind, Jekyll Island has much to offer. There are four golf courses, including the nine hole Oceanside Course, which has been played for almost a century.
Circling and intersecting the island are twenty miles of bike and jogging paths. The paths parallel the roads around most of the island. There are very few instances where you will share the roadway with vehicles, making it a safe and enjoyable way for to tour the island. And what jogger wouldn't be inspired on their early morning run by spotting the fleet-footed deer as they make their way through the pines that line the paths?
Biking is a great way to spend a day touring the island. Bikes are available from several different vendors. You can rent them from the mini-golf course, most hotels, the airport, the Jekyll Island Marina, or at the campground. Have your hotel pack you a picnic lunch and head to the beach.
One of the most underrated activities is hardly an activity at all. Lounging. At the Jekyll Island Club, balconies and porches with wide brimmed overhangs, surround the hotel. Pull up a comfortable chair or lounge, order a drink from the bar, and pretend you own the place. Or you may wish to go beach combing, strolling the nine miles of sand on the island, while the Atlantic washes away your footsteps. If you would like to wet a line, there is a fishing pier that juts into St. Simon's Sound at the north end of the island.
King Room with Jacuzzi. (Not shown.) Jekyll Island Club photo.
The Jekyll Island Club is a Four Star, Four Diamond, Radisson Resort. Paneled walls, wide wooden staircases, and beautiful appointments take you back to an era when even "regular millionaires" weren't invited to spend the summer. Pearl Johnson, a concierge at the club says, "The Club was completely restored in 1987, just in time for the 100th anniversary. The deluxe suites have Jacuzzis and some have double fireplaces. Each room has been furnished with faithfully reproduced 19th century custom furnishings. If the original founders of the Club, the J.P. Morgans, the Pulitzers, and the Rockefellers, were to come here now, they would be very pleased. Everything has been upgraded. It's all very nice." Ask Ms. Johnson to show you the hall of mirrors. They are slightly concave, and you can see yourself endlessly in their reflections.
If you want to dance the night away, take the short ride to world famous St. Simon's Island. Just ten miles up the coast from the Jekyll Island Club, it offers a variety of shops, restaurants, boutiques, and night clubs.
The Jekyll Island Club offers several accommodation packages. A very popular option is the "Romantic Fantasy." It includes a deluxe suite with  Jacuzzi for two nights, continental champagne breakfast in bed one morning, long stem roses at turn down, and gourmet chocolates upon arrival. You also receive free use of a bicycle for one day and a complimentary picnic lunch. If you have any energy left, free tennis is also included. And to help you save the memory of your interlude, you'll receive a commemorative photograph. Rates are $169 to $439 per room, depending on the season. Other packages, including golf and tennis combinations, are also available.

The Jekyll Island Club gives you the chance to feel like a millionaire, without spending like one.

Hotel offers a smoke free environment in all sleeping rooms and public areas.

Room Amenities

  • iPod Dock Clock Radio
  • Color 32″ LCD Flat Panel TV with Cable and DVD Player
  • Iron / Ironing Board
  • Hair Dryer
  • High Speed Wireless Internet Service
  • Phone with V/M & Data Ports
  • In Room Safe
  • Refreshment Center
  • Coffee Maker

Meal Plans

  • Full American Plan (3 meals daily, breakfast, lunch and dinner) – $92.00 per person per day*
  • Modified American plan (2 meals daily, breakfast and dinner) – $72.00 per person, per day*


Monday, August 1, 2011

Morikami Japanese Gardens and Museum

A little peace and quiet. That’s all you want. Just another five minutes. Is that too much to ask? Five more minutes without the kids yelling that somehow your youngest daughter is stuck on the roof, the dog is barking at the cat who is squalling like it hasn’t been fed in a week. Please, just stop it.
Ironically, snuggled between two very noisy highways, the Florida Turnpike and I-95, is a sanctuary of serenity. Morikami Gardens &Museum.  The Roji-En, the “Garden of the Drops of Dew” awaits.
As you enter the garden grounds, you can feel the enveloping arms of the soft shade trees lining the winding drive. Park and enter the museum building after passing a quiet waterfall. The air-conditioned building is shaped like a pagoda.  The curved eves of the roof were originally designed to deflect marauding evil spirits, but today they seem to deflect all the worrisome rattle and clatter of the outside world.

After one of the people at the desk gives you some basic directions and pamphlets, you then pass through the large doors leading to the garden. You are immediately greeted by a still lake with barely a ripple on its surface.  Across the water is small building that looks something like a Shinto shrine.
Turn to the right and ahead of you is another small lake with trees growing along the edges. A bridge lies to your left. It arches gracefully over the water and leads to a wooded area. As you cross the bridge, everything around you seems to grow quieter. You turn around to make sure you didn’t leave the kids in the car. The water has that affect on people. Even kids. Various wild birds wade along the shore. A snowy egret, resplendent in a gown of white, stands guard while cormorants doing their impression of mighty eagles, stretching their wings out to dry after a morning of diving after fish.
The overall Garden is divided into smaller gardens reflecting the different periods of Japanese history. Such gardens as the Shinden, Paradise Garden, Shishi Odoshi (Deer Chaser) all have their own unique character.
A short way down the path you will find a Kodai-mon, an Ancient Gate, shown at the top of this post.. Enter through the gate for another peaceful view of the lake. There are many benches throughout the gardens for sitting and letting the “talking bamboo” carry all your worries off. Many flat boulders are also available to rest on, just make sure the kids don’t climb every rock in sight. The little dears might trample the orchids.
Rock gardens, later known as flat gardens, favor rocks instead of plants, which are carefully placed in the landscaping to represent water, islands, and nature condensed into a small, contemplative space. Japanese gardens often tie the inside of the home to the outside. So instead of tripping over bicycles and the swing set, the garden flows calmly from the cool interior to a small garden of stone, lilies and a koi pond.
After you’ve been in gardens for a short time, you may not notice how quiet everything is. I heard one airplane go by but other than that, it strictly the sounds of nature. It was once pointed out that there was hardly a place in the United States you could go without hearing the sounds of human activity for more than fifteen minutes. We may have just found one of the exceptions.
Half way around, we discover the building we saw earlier across the lake. It houses a children’s museum and information center.  There are several interactive displays and the reproduction of a typical classroom. Kids can see how students in another land attend class. In addition there is a typical Japanese apartment. With tatami mats on the floor and shoji screens, you might believe you are in Tokyo. Except for the blissful lack of noise.
There is a small bonsai display outside, some of which are made from plants native to Florida. Take a class in training bonsai and find out what can be done with a little patience and a lot of skill.
Working your way around the lake, you will come to a small alcove. Listen and you’ll hear a soft melodic sound. Follow the path around and almost unexpectedly under the trees is a waterfall. Once you’ve found a place to sit, you won’t want to leave. But you must.
Walking towards the main building, the lake on your left, you have almost forgotten how wonderful quiet can be.
As you climb the short set of steps up to the main building, you will notice on your left a small café named the Cornell. The unassuming respite at the end of your journey offers a variety of selections. The café has been rated among the top three in museum dining experiences by the Food Network.
Gather your brood and make your way back into the main building. Off to the right is a small museum with ever changing displays. I saw cases and cases of movie monsters in addition to traditional kimonos. Something for everyone.
There are self-guided tours available. The whole garden will take about an hour to see, but it will be an hour spent in blissful serenity. The garden opens at 10:00 AM. Go early in the day in the summer to avoid the heat.
Along with the various Japanese festivals celebrated on the grounds, group tours, special corporate events, and weddings can be held in the gardens. Nearly all of the garden paths are handicap accessible. Anyone with mobility issues will find the gardens easy to navigate. There are coolers with cool water path along with paper cups stationed around the grounds. They are on the sides of the trash receptacles. Not nearly as unsanitary as it sounds. I would bring a bottle of water, especially during the summer time.