Updated: Nov 12, 2020
First published in The Montauk Sun, April issue 2018
Florida’s Forgotten Coast!
Florida’s Panhandle is renowned for its white, sandy beaches and quaint little fishing towns that produce some of the best seafood in the state, and we were on our way to discover the most southern coastal part of it.
It’s almost a contradiction, but having traveled through much of Florida, we felt that the farther north we came (6 hours north west from our winter domicile, Palm Coast) the more “Southern” it got.
Alabama and Georgia hem in the land embedded in the left shoulder of the Florida peninsula.
For a while we took the road less traveled and passed through miles and miles of Palmetto forest and farmland and small towns with interesting histories and odd names, like, “Sopchoppy”, home to the annual Worm Grunting Festival. Worm charmers hammer wooden stakes into the ground, and rub them with metal slabs. The resulting vibrations cause worms to surface, whereupon they are typically gathered and are used or sold for fishing bait.
But we were on the way to the town of Apalachicola, located in the neighboring county, on Apalachicola Bay and perched on an inlet of the Gulf of Mexico, and we eventually decided to take the faster route, 98. However route 98 turned out to also be the “Scenic Route” and the white, sandy beaches and turquoise waters of the Gulf enticed us frequently to stop and take photos.
By the time we entered “Carrabelle”, a charming small fishing village that reminded me very much of the Montauk I knew 30 some years ago, we were longing for a coffee break.
Here we found “Carrabelle Junction”, a unique old café with lots of memorabilia from the 50th and 60th, where we got a hot, strong cup of java for 50 cents! Carrabelle is famed for being home of the world’s smallest police station, located in a phone booth. www.carrabelle.org
All we knew of Apalachicola was that the historic port town draws enormous crowds, over 25,000 people annually to its Oyster and Seafood Festival in October, Florida’s oldest maritime event. To get to Apalachicola we had to cross the John Gorrie Bridge that carries US 98 over Apalachicola Bay, leading us straight to the historic Gibson Inn almost at the entrance to town, our domicile for the weekend.
This beautiful three-story Inn is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and a fine example of Florida “Cracker” Architecture. This was the style of wood frame structure used widely in the 19th and early 20th century in Florida. A widow’s walk and cupola crown the tin roof, all a reflection of the area’s steamboat past. Built in 1907 of native heart pine and black cypress, the Inn soon became known as a first class luxury hotel and was the only one between Pensacola and Jacksonville heated entirely by steam.
Most of the 30 guest rooms are uniquely appointed, some with antique furnishings, such as the authentic commode in our bathroom, which we didn’t get to use… We loved our 4 poster bed and water-view over the bridge and the attention of their wonderful staff. www.gibsoninn.com
Downtown Apalachicola is in close walking distance from the Inn and packed with great restaurants and plenty of things to do, whether you enjoy fishing, shopping, take a boat tour with Captain Richard Scarabin Sr. (incredible knowledge of the local history) and discover the Maritime Museum, or sit in the sun and enjoy an ice cream at one of the street cafes.
Unfortunately we had already gone overboard for lunch at the Apalachicola Seafood Grill (Established in 1903 and famous for the world’s largest fish sandwich) with a Seafood Gumbo, a Grouper Basket and Key lime pie, for even more local color. www.apalachicolabay.org/business/apalachicola-seafood-grill/
So, we strolled through the neighborhood and admired some of the skillfully restored homes that portrait Apalachicola’s proud past. Over 900 homes, buildings and sites are listed in the National Register District. A scenic walking tour of the town rewards visitors with sites such as the cotton warehouses, which housed the town’s once prosperous cotton export during the 1800s, as well as a sponge exchange.
On the working waterfront we couldn’t believe our eyes when we witnessed a houseboat floating down the river while the owner was firing up his grill on his tiny front porch! We got to talk to local oyster men at work, and it became clear to us that the famous Apalachicola Bay oyster and maritime culture is alive and well.
The name “Apalachicola” comes from the Apalachicola tribe and means “land of the friendly people”. We couldn’t agree more. www.downtownapalachicola.com
Apalachicola Bay was always famous for its oysters, but is now also recognized for their home-brewed beers.
The owners of Apalachicola’s Owl Cafe & Tap Room founded the Oyster City Brewing Co. in 2014. The rustic-chic tasting room was packed to the rim when we dined our first evening with white tablecloth at the elegant Owl across the street.
The Owl’s “Catch of the Day”, a Black Grouper, sautéed with roasted garlic, capers and artichoke hearts was terrific and so was the service. www.owlcafeflorida.com
Our lovely front desk girl, at the Gibson Inn, couldn’t have chosen a better location for a fun Saturday night dinner then the “Up The Creek Raw Bar”, a funky waterfront restaurant at the mouth of the Scipio Creek, on the Apalachicola River. Here we witnessed an amazing sunset that can only be comparable to the sunsets at Gosman’s Dock in Montauk.
While in the company of friendly, talkative strangers, some with dogs (the restaurant is dog friendly, the whole town is pet friendly) we indulged in the fresh harvest of the Bay. After all, 90 percent of the state’s harvest comes from “Apalach”. We dove into these succulent Apalachicola Bay oysters (ours, cooked lightly with Colby jack cheese, chopped jalapeños and bacon), boiled Bubba Gump shrimp and no filler blue-crab cakes. It was a feast! www.apalachicolabay.org/business/up-the-creek-raw-bar
Falling in love with Apalachicola was an instantaneous event, almost the same way I fell in love with Montauk as a young woman. But our adventure wound have been incomplete without a quick stop across the bridge to climb the Cape St. George Light, a high brick lighthouse which had originally stood for 153 years on St. George Island, until toppling into the Gulf in 2005. The pieces of the lighthouse were retrieved, and in 2008, the light’s restoration was completed. www.stgeorgelight.org
On the way back we skipped a visit to Carrabelle’s historic “Crooked River Lighthouse” due to time restraints but stopped for lunch at the Fisherman’s Wife restaurant. The owner is the wife of a local fisherman and the mullet was caught that morning and so fresh that we ate with our fingers and sucked the delicious white meat from every bone! www.facebook.com/TheFishermansWifeRest
Until next from another interesting location. - Love, Ingrid ♥
As featured in The Montauk Sun April issue 2018
Edited by John Lomitola
Escape From Paradise, Blogger www.EscapeFromParadise.net
Award-winning TV Host, Publisher, Travel Writer www.MontaukSun.com
Ambassador for www.Seven-Stars.com & 15 Emmy awards www.aTasteofHistory.org