219 Capri Boulevard, Isle of Capri, FL
I always enjoy the short ride from Marco over to Isles of Capri. It’s different world, of sorts, reminding me of the smaller islands in the Florida Keys, with out-of-the-way restaurants serving really fresh seafood.
On Sunday evening, I headed over to the Pelican Bend restaurant on Capri Boulevard with my son, Noah, 12, for a well-deserved dinner after finishing all that back-to-school stuff.
We arrived before sunset at the restaurant and marina on Johnson Bay. The parking lot was almost full, so I knew the restaurant would be busy. Noah and I walked into the foyer and waited for the hostess; in the meantime, we looked at all the photos, art and memorabilia that lined the walls. And we waited a little more. I walked into the dining room and the hostess finally saw us and seated us at table for two in the main dining room. There was another, smaller dining room closer to the water, that a large group had taken over. We still had a nice view of the bay and sunset. Noah recognized the hostess — who is also an owner, along with her husband and the family at Pelican Bend — as the reading teacher at Tommie Barfield Elementary. Of course, we talked about school starting the next day.
Noah and I looked over the menu after our server, Brenda, took our drink order — two diet sodas. We ordered coconut friend shrimp and a bowl of Captain Birdie’s Florida seafood chowder as appetizers to share. Brenda also suggested an order of hush puppies and we nodded in agreement.
The dinner menu was extensive, with seafood, steak and chicken entrees. There is also a fresh fish sandwich and a Pelican burger for the sandwich eaters. A children’s menu is also available for the younger ones.
The puppies arrived first, six large ones, with honey on the side. They were perfectly fried, with a nice, not-too-crisp crust and still steamy on the inside. Don’t be looking for onion or peppers in these puppies, these were straight up cornmeal. Noah put a little honey on his and I didn’t even put any butter on mine.
Brenda then brought the chowder and coconut fried shrimp to the table with extra plates and spoons for sharing. The not-too-big, not-too-small shrimp were accompanied by a sweet coconut-pineapple dip and the usual cocktail sauce. I would have liked more coconut in the breading, but the dip makes up for it. Don’t worry about running out; there was plenty. Noah preferred the spicy cocktail sauce.
The chowder, described on the menu as a mild, creamy blend of fish, clams, potatoes and onion, was divine. The chowder was not overloaded with flour or potatoes and every spoonful was loaded with fish and clams. I could have eaten the whole bowl myself, if Noah would have let me.
Earlier, when we were ordering, Noah decided on steak, I tried to steer him toward seafood, but his mind was made up. He ordered the large cut, 16-ounce prime rib. I chose the homemade American crab cakes. We both decided on baked potatoes and the wedge of lettuce with homemade garlic dressing.
A wedge of lettuce? No cucumber? No tomato? Yes, simplicity has it’s rewards. The unadorned wedge of iceberg lettuce was served smothered in garlic dressing, with a serrated knife stuck in it. Don’t ask for the dressing on the side — trust me. You can eat the wedge several ways: cut it up as you eat; cut it all up at once or any combination of the two; mix the lettuce up with the dressing or use the lettuce to mop up the dressing. Noah summed it up best: “It was the best salad I have ever eaten!” I agreed.
Noah’s giant prime rib, with sides of au jus and horseradish, arrived with the baked potato on a side plate. I admit, I had to help him cut up the perfectly cooked prime rib and had a few bites of the steak. We both agreed on the “Yum” factor.
When my crab cakes were served, they were a little too dark on the outside. Brenda said to go ahead and try them and see how the inside was. The inside was all crab and no filler, with a good flavor, but I just couldn’t get past the over-fried outside. Brenda returned immediately and offered to bring me something else. After asking about where the oysters were from — Apalachicola — I quickly decided on fried oysters. Brenda whisked the crab cakes away and promised to bring the oysters quickly. Sure enough, an ample mound of mouth-watering, golden brown oysters arrived within minutes, easing my mind that the oysters might come overcooked, too.
As Noah and I munched on our dinners, we watched an amazing sunset over Johnson Bay. We hardly touched our baked potatoes, served with sour cream and chives on the side, but took a few bites at the end of the meal.
Of course, we saved room for dessert and picked two of Gramdma’s homemade pies. Noah had to have the peanut butter pie; I picked the classic key lime pie. There’s also a chocolate mousse that we did not try.
Pelican Bend’s pies come lightly frozen, and that might not appeal to everyone, but the cool filling, buttery crust and whipped cream is a recipe made in heaven. The key lime was just enough tart and sweet. Noah especially liked the crunchy peanuts and the chocolate cookie crust of his dessert.
Service was exceptional, Brenda or one of the other servers kept our drinks filled, and she made sure we were taken care of, but did not hover. Pelican Bend, off the beaten path, has a Keys-like atmosphere that we both love. No posh seating here, but little lanterns on the table give the restaurant a cozy feeling. Don’t forget to look up, or you might miss the large tarpon mounts on the wall.