Just back from the Detroit-Sanibel trip. We made good time on the road with a short overnight in Macon, Ga. (had a great home-made dinner with friends so wasn't able to use our Macon suggestions. Our read from suggestions and brief orientation to the town --real chow possibilities.)
With three hungry teens in tow we didn't expect to eat out often or at high end spots. With that context, here's a short report:
Bubble Room (Captiva)
What was a high spot in my culinary memory has now turned in a theme-park restaurant. What was a cozy, slightly eccentric cottage-y spot with pine walls, old-fashioned bubble Christmas lights and honest-to-god Fiesta ware dishes, has now sprawled across the parking lot, with a couple additions. Wait staff dress self-consciously "kooky" - Boy Scout uniforms, bunny ears --yech. Locals informed us ownership changed and that it's now known mainly for gigunga portions of OK food. (Though dessert case looked good.) Huge line even in hellish heat. Upshot: we skipped it with a slightly heavy heart and fond memories of past meals.
Island House (Palm Ridge Rd. Sanibel)
Menu looked good--crab cakes, fried chicken, local grouper fish fry, but was somewhat disappointing. My crab cake was flat as a pancake, and damp--nice crunchy outside and not a lot of crab flavor. OK beans and rice side. Husband went for the grouper fest--best piece of fish we had on the trip. Huge filet in a shatteringly crisp batter, served flamingly hot right from the fryer. Good fries also straight from the kitchen. Good value, too at $3.99. On off season they have daily specials which are worth trying. Daughter enjoyed very crispy fried chicken. Key lime pie was very good, though sweeter than I like --we really liked the shortbread crust, nice twist on a classic.
Lazy Flamingo (Periwinkle -Sanibel. Also a second at Santiva)
Lively atmosphere, dark and woody bar, dark highly-laquered wood booths and round tables with high stools lend a nautical air. Very much bar food. 16-year old friend had spicy wings with a side of "Dead Parrot Wing" sauce--meaty and spicy but didn't blow the tastebuds away. The incendiary sauce very hot but flavorful. Mesquiste grilled grouper very good --moist with subtle smoke flavor. Skip the conch chowder--cool presentation in a huge shell but tasted like Snap-E-Tom tomato juice with chopped peppers and clams added--way too salty to boot. Burgers are decent--good kaiser roll, grilled with a nice crusty outside.
Light House (Middle Gulf Rd. Sanibel)
Billed as having "World's Best Breakfast" on the outside of the restaurant. Small cafe with really great waitresses-service is top notch. Open only for lunch and breakfast. Stick to the grain-based breakfasts. Son had wonderful blueberry pancakes--studded with fresh berries and served with blueberry compote clearly made from scratch. Wheaty, fluffy and light textured-- the best item on the table. Daughter had huge light pieces of french toast--crusty outside, meltingly eggy inside with real maple syrup. Corned beef hash was canned -- skip it, but good poached eggs--hold their shape and nicely runny. Excellent hash browns with crispy, dark onion shreds. Good flavored grits (lots 'o butter I'm thinking" but runnier than I like. Fresh squeezed OJ was addictive and deliciously fresh and chilled.
Dairy Queen (Sanibel, really)
Both 16-year old guys really liked the pulled pork sandwich--real pork, shredded with a nice smokey BBQ sauce. I gotta believe them...
Cheeburger Cheeburger (Sanibel)
What initially struck us as a cheese-y (sorry) theme place was maybe the best meal we had. Diner decor with what looked like a whole sets of my mother's old kitchen/formica/steel table and chairs. Cheery, up-beat room with earnest young servers. Good vibe and kid friendly. Known for its huge 1 lb. burger. The guys had the "serious" burger (half pound, I think) was "substantial, well-made, beautifully cooked" --beefy, juicy, in all an exemplary American food icon. Fries are some of the best I've ever eaten. Medium hand cut slices with skin on, incredibly crispy --almost like kettle-cooked chips--but with a fluffy, creamy potato-rich flavor inside, close to baked potato consistency. Great flavor piqued with heavy hand of salt and pepper mix. Half order is enough for 2 or 3 people. Chocolate malt is intense -one teen diner actually thought too chocolate-y (which we know is impossible.) Wonderful menu of shake flavors including Key Lime Pie, Banana chocolate, any kind of cheesecake flavor, mango, and so on. A not to be missed spot.
Places we scouted out for next time, but couldn't get to:
Gramma Dot's (near lighthouse on Sanibel)
Home cooking in a small unpretentious diner. Fresh fish, great breakfast menu. Looked like serious, homecooked comfort food. Sorry we couldn't get there; a must for next time.
La Vigne (Periwinkle, Sanibel)
Northern Italian menu with a small but well chosen menu including pasta, fish, meat and a very nice selection of appetizers including a couple interesting bruschetta and soups. Well regarded by locals.
Village Cafe (Captiva)
Never saw it open, but is strictly a dinner place with a low-key but attractive dining room. If only open for dinner, probably very good.
Mucky Duck (Captiva)
One of the most popular restaurants on both islands. Spectacular site off Blind Pass. At the right seat, you can dine and watch the sun set into the ocean. Nice outside bar with an acutal enjoyable, low key live solo guitar/vocalist--added to the nice sunset ambiance. Menu is pricey for pub fare but less for lunch, Reliably good food ranging from bar apps to English fare to fresh, local fish.
No real finds on the road as we trekked with our own eats. Did get a chance to have boiled peanuts which were ubiquitous at every gas station. Tasted like a cross between a lentil and potato. The experience still hasn't made me a fan--but there must be many as the crock pots show up at every gas fill up.