Sunday, December 16, 2012

Pancakes and Paddleboats

When two fun places come together, it’s a win-win situation. The Old Spanish Sugar Mill Restaurant sits inside the De LeonSprings State Park in De Leon Springs, Florida. The park is named after the Spaniard, Juan Ponce de Leon, who explored Florida in the 16th century – and who is said to have discovered the Fountain of Youth. The park area eventually became a plantation that grew, among other plants, sugar cane. All that remains of the sugar mill is a chimney. A small on-site museum expands on the location’s history all the way back to 8,000 when Native Americans roamed the area.

Today’s visitor comes to the park for outdoor recreation, like picnicking and bird watching. Birders have reported seeing 212 species of birds. Many come for the lively water activities of swimming, paddleboating, canoeing and kayaking. Canoeists and kayakers may follow the springs into the Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge where they will find 18,000 acres of lakes, creeks and marshes.

But the draw for many people is the unique and cool experience at the Old Spanish Sugar Mill Restaurant. Most of us have cooked our own breakfast and we have paid to have our breakfast cooked for us, but few have paid to cook their own breakfasts. At this eatery, diners cook their own all-you-can-eat pancakes or eggs right at their table with a griddle in the middle. You may choose apple or banana slices, applesauce, pecans or chocolate chips to sprinkle on the flapjacks and the wait staff serves a variety of breakfast meats.  

De Leon Springs is west of Daytona Beach. On weekends, it’s advisable to arrive early, because the parking lot fills up quickly, thus turning away subsequent automobiles.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Seafood by the Seashore on Virginia's Eastern Shore

I love looking at bodies of water while dining. I don’t mean sitting on the sand eating a sandy sandwich. I mean sitting at a table in a rustic seafarer’s café of an upscale seaside restaurant. Living on America’s East Coast presents many opportunities to satisfy my seaside and fresh seafood desires. 
So recently I visited Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Here are a few of my favorite eateries.

Virginia Beach
Bubba’s Restaurant sits so close to Lynnhaven Inlet that, from inside, it appears to float. Picture windows wrap around three walls of the dining room, filled with long tables. My group sat indoors, but there’s a covered deck where you can enjoy your food accompanied by the sounds of seagulls and lapping water.

I ordered the Eastern Shore sandwich. The oysters were plump, moist, lightly coated and crisply fired. They snuggled close to the best coleslaw ever – a white and purple cabbage mixture with a piquant dressing.

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel
Imagine eating a full hot breakfast in the center of a 17½-mile bridge. You, too, can experience this unique experience at the Chesapeake Grill, a full-service café that prepares breakfast, lunch and dinner, using mostly locally-grown ingredients and fresh seafood. In their gift shop, you can pick up some local products, including the highly-rated Virginia wines.

Cape Charles
The historic Victorian town of CapeCharles, I admit, perfectly fits the title of “sleepy.” No malls, traffic lights, hustle or bustle – perfect for a family vacation or lover’s getaway. Since I wasn’t there with my family or my lover, I went for the food.

Located in the Bay Creek Resort’s upscale Marina Village is Aqua, a handsome restaurant that features meat and pasta dishes, along with fresh seafood creations. We lunched in the dining room with a stunning view of the bay. They passed around a tasty appetizer of fried calamari with onions and chilies. For my entrée, I chose Aqua’s Signature Crab Cake Sandwich with fries, cole slaw and chipotle aioli. The crab cakes were meaty with no detectable filler.

We were treated to goodies brought by Pamela Barefoot of the Blue Crab Bay Company that specializes in gourmet foods, condiments, gifts and stoneware. I couldn’t stop snacking on the spicy honey peanuts.

There were some good inland restaurants, too, but I’ll mention them at another time.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Young Elvis Visits Tupelo's Hardware Store

We all know that chance can change our lives: an accidental meeting, buying a lucky lottery ticket, being discovered by a Hollywood talent scout as you work in a drug store (former movie star Lana Turner), missing the last plane… you get the picture. In the tiny hill town of Tupelo, Mississippi, they attribute Elvis Presley’s enormous success to a piece of luck.

When I visited the store, the manager, Howard Hite, told us the story. According to a letter written by Forrest L. Bobo who was a clerk at the store at that time, Elvis’ mother, Gladys, brought him to the store for him to spend money that he had earned running errands for folks. Once there, ten-year-old Elvis wanted a 22 cal. rifle. Gladys wasn’t having any of that – she wanted him buy a guitar. Mr. Bobo showed him the rifle first, and then let him look at the guitar. Elvis played with the instrument for a while and liked it.

Unfortunately, the boy didn’t have enough money to purchase the guitar that cost $7.75 plus 2% sales tax. Gladys said that if he would take the guitar over the weapon, she’d make up the difference. That was the start of something big.

Mr. Hite weaves that tale and others when people stop by the store. He told us that 2,000 national and international tourists visit this old-fashioned hardware story each year, including the rich and famous. He said that Joe Perry of Arrowsmith bought a Sunburst guitar when he was there, and Prince Albert of Monaco, a big Elvis fan, stopped by. A busload of Japanese tourists had just been there the week before. When I was there, I met the Verheijen family from the Netherlands.
It’s an interesting place to stop in to browse, shop and hear some really cool stories whenever you’re in Tupelo.