Best Day Trip (2000)

Lunch at Joanie's Blue Crab Café

Next time the urge to leave town strikes, hop on Tamiami Trail and head west. That's what Joanie Griffin did, and she didn't bother to return. Twenty years ago she took over an old restaurant in the swampside hamlet of Ochopee, about 70 miles west of downtown Miami. You needn't repeat her experience, but we recommend this arrow-straight little journey into the Everglades. Griffin's lunch menu features steamed blue crabs as well as alligator fritters laced with chopped onion and three kinds of peppers (red, green, and yellow). To ensure you have enough time for a couple of scenic detours before you eat, hit the road by 9:00 a.m. Once you cross Krome Avenue, you'll find several options for pulling over and viewing the wild and weird life. First are the airboat tours. The Anglo operators along the southern edge of the road wax profusely about animals and feds. Their Miccosukee counterparts, stationed further west on the north side, loquate less but locomote more as they buzz you to a traditional camp. (We recommend obeying the reduced speed limit while driving through the reservation, or you may not have lunch at all.) Don't tarry because you still have another half-hour haul to Joanie's. Note the Dade-Collier training runway on your right; it was the first slab of a planned commercial airport until conservation-minded souls spoke up in the late Sixties. Once you reach Joanie's, you will join the ranks of other exotic visitors who have made the trek. Among them: the elderly Northerner who left a collection of plastic bottle-art hanging from the rafters and the Sioux-Eskimo gentleman who gave the proprietor a spirit arrow that hangs on the wall. After lunch head a quarter-mile west and check out the pride of Ochopee: a tiny post office. Then it will be time to head back toward the Magic City. But you won't want to miss swamp photographer Clyde Butcher's Big Cypress Gallery (open Wednesday through Saturday), about twenty miles east of Joanie's. If you're in the mood for more amusement, visit the Miccosukee Cultural Center on the reservation. There you can witness a man wrestle an alligator in an ersatz traditional village for a measly five bucks. About a mile east you can stalk birds, ride bikes, and jump on the trolley at the Shark Valley Visitor Center in Everglades National Park. If you putz around long enough before getting back into your automobile, you'll arrive just in time for supper at the psychedelically decorated Miccosukee Resort & Convention Center at Krome Avenue and Tamiami Trail, where employees will be waiting to serve you in any of three dining areas.


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