In “Ways to the Glades,” there’s an Everglades restaurant I didn’t have space to recommend, Joanie’s Blue Crab Café in Ochopee. The conversation with pole boating guide Jack Shealy that led me to try it went something like this:
Me: “I’m staying in Ochopee tonight. Is there a place to eat nearby?”
Shealy: “Uh, not really. There is one, but you’d be better off going to Everglades City.” Everglades City is a thirty minute drive.
Me: “That café down the street? So I shouldn’t go there.”
Shealy: “It’s kind of uneven.”
Like the Kate Campbell song ‘Wild Iris,’ if you say “don’t,” I will.
The red shack exterior with the big blue Cold Beer sign lives up to its Florida Cracker promise inside with Everglades specialties like the garlic blue crab platter ($16.95) and the Swamp Combo, a sampler of frog’s legs, gator, crab cakes, and fried bread ($16.95). Everything’s locally source and totally fresh: The gator, for instance, is wild-caught by state trappers.
Help yourself to a beer and present the bottle caps at the bar to pay. Ogle the wall decor – everyone does – alternating between naïf water colors of Big Cypress and nudes posed in the great outdoors by local photographer Lucky Cole. (In one scene, Cole’s model is posed next to an alligator.)
Live music is performed generally from noon onwards, and if there’s a good crowd, the house stays open past quitting time. South Florida blues-folk-rock artist Raiford Starke is a regular at Joanie’s. For the local entendre of the name, know that Raiford and Starke are state prisons in two backwater Florida panhandle towns of the same names with an aura akin to “Deliverance.” Colin Kenny, the musician’s real name, adopted the moniker when he decided to remake himself as the embodiment of Cracker. See and listen for yourself:
Joanie’s Blue Crab Café
39395 Tamiami Trail, Ochopee
Posted by Patricia Borns, Globe correspondent