219 Capri Boulevard, Isle of Capri, FL
On many occasions, visitors will quietly approach and ask, almost as if they are willing to share a secret.
“You live here, right?”
“Yes I do,” is the natural response.
“We would like to find a really good local restaurant off the beaten track? We want something on the water, something that has inside or outside dinning and a great place for either lunch or dinner.
Then that classic, faraway look comes into the eyes and the newcomers will really begin to plead their case.
“We want an out-of-the-way restaurant with lots of local color, character and charm.”
“Oh, and by the way,” is always the added afterthought, “is there anywhere that specializes in old-fashioned Florida seafood? Seafood that is right-off-the-boat fresh? The kind of restaurant that tempted folks to come to Florida in the first place?”
After the culinary adventuress and I topped the bridge, turned onto Capri Boulevard, and drove through the winding mangroves, we arrived where the stuff of vacationers’ dreams are found.
At the cozy little Capri restaurant where the pelicans play, the dolphins visit and the fishing boats dock, everyone that enters is welcomed as old friends by Mike, Jackie, Brenda Lou and the entire Pelican Bend crew.
After only a few minutes at Pelican Bend, a realization arrives that simply states: This is it! This is what everyone hopes to find when looking for that best kept old-fashioned secret. A restaurant on the water that offers lunch or dinner, a restaurant that serves not only great food from a tradition that was founded in Florida, but a waterside eatery where the charm and local color jump right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Pelican Bend is the epitome of an old-fashioned Florida seafood restaurant on the water, but with an age-old recipe that many restaurants have forgotten.
Years ago, when Florida was too wild for tourists, hunting and fishing expeditions were one and the same. A rifle or shotgun was carried alongside cane poles for fishing, and hunting dogs were always along for the adventure. Hunting and fishing wasn’t just a sport in the early 1900s, it was a serious endeavor to bring home food for the family. Hunting dogs worked just as hard as the hunting and fishing humans and ran all day searching out and retrieving game. At the end of the day, the dogs were as tired and hungry as their two-legged counterparts, and when a campfire was kindled and fresh fish was frying in the pan, the dogs would go crazy as the aroma drifted through the campsite. After the fish were fried, the campfire cooks would add little balls of seasoned cornmeal and chopped onion to the frying pan. When the hot and tasty side dish was golden brown, the hunting and fishing folk would toss the round little treats to the yelping pups and say, “hush puppy!”
During the 1950s and ’60s, hush puppies were side dishes at virtually every Florida restaurant. If seafood was served, there were hush puppies.
When folks travel to Florida, they want fresh seafood, they want to eat on the water, and they want boats bobbing at the docks. Perhaps the folks that are asking for the best-kept restaurant secrets where Old-Fashioned Florida seafood is still found, are really looking for a glimpse into a nostalgic past. At Pelican Bend, 219 Capri Blvd., a glimpse of old Florida is alive and well in one of the best-kept secrets in Collier County since 1979.
At Pelican Bend there are tarpon trophies on the wall, waterside views and there is a family-friendly atmosphere that is truly genuine.
After a smiling Brenda Lou brought out iced cold beer, she served a side of piping hot hush puppies and helped with our dinner selections.
Vicki Lynn opted for the “Fish of the Day” which was white roughy for $15.95, and I chose the Angus choice prime rib for 19.99. A petite cut for $15.99 is available, but with the aroma coming out of Chef Carlos and Jeff’s kitchen at Pelican Bend, the large prime rib was the only way to go.
Pelican Bend has many signature menu items and one of those is a classic traditional wedge of iceberg lettuce straight from a few moments in the freezer. With a tempting choice of homemade salad dressings, the wedge of lettuce at Pelican Bend is a winning classic.
With Brenda Lou’s encouragement, we chose the creamy garlic and settled into a tasty and oh-so-crisp Pelican Bend starter. Another signature appetizer of sautéed frog legs kicked off the evening and when the Prime Rib and Fish of the Day arrived, our cozy corner of Old style Florida began.
With Brenda Lou’s earlier advice, my Angus Choice Prime Rib was prepared with Cajun blacking spices and finished on the grill. The signature steak was served with Aus-jus, horseradish, and a foil-wrapped baked potato. The beef at Pelican Bend is as tasty as every seafood item and when asked about the white roughy fish of the day, Vicki Lynn described her seafood entrée as “decadently delicious!”
Pelican Bend is open everyday for lunch from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. and open for dinner from 5 until 9 p.m. Daily specials and information is available at 394-3452.
For a lunch or dinner experience inside or out, Pelican Bend’s Cooper family has been serving their patrons the way it ought to be.