At about 50 nautical miles from Miami, Bimini is our closest Bahamas neighbor. But, unless you have access to a boat or private plane, the tiny island that captivated both Martin Luther King Jr. and Ernest Hemingway, has been difficult to get to with scheduled air service in the hundreds of dollars for the short half-hour flight.
With the introduction of a fast ferry service from Miami, Bimini is gaining in popularity. But if you go, don't expect the duty-free shopping arcades and gambling palaces of Nassau, Paradise Island, and Freeport (although there is one casino on the far North side of the island). For some, that's bad news. For us, it's nirvana.
Formal restaurants on this tiny slice of heaven? There are a few hotels that offer steak or sushi. But our question is, why on earth would you want a steak in the Bahamas? You want conch and lobster, taken that same day from the turquoise Bahamian waters.
Our suggestion? Rent a golf cart and stop by these three local establishments. None of them are fancy. In fact, they're all tumble-down shacks. But again -- that's the entire point of the exercise. All of them serve the freshest seafood you'll arguably find anywhere with the best view you will ever encounter. Barefoot beach side dining is what Bimini is about.
Joe's Conch Shack
At Joe's Conch Shack on Main Street in Bailey Town, you can get grilled fish and lobster. But, like the name implies, you're there for the conch. Joe dives in the early part of the week and keeps the giant sea snails alive in pens directly in the ocean behind his shack.
The shack's owner goes through about 300 conch on an average day, but during busy holidays and festivals, he can use as many as 3,000 in his salads and fritters.
If you don't believe him, stroll over to the water's edge, lined with tens of thousands of shells. Thankfully, there are strict restrictions on harvesting conch, which are plentiful in the Bahamas.
Try Joe's house made hot sauce only if you dare. Made with locally grown goat peppers, it packs serious heat. Scorch conch is a dish favored by the locals that come to the shack on Friday evenings after work for a salad and a Kalik. Fresh conch is cut into large chunks, then marinated with fresh lime juice, salt, garlic, and red onions. Joe's is open daily from sunrise to sunset.
Sherri's Beach Bar
When we first walked over to Sherri's Beach Bar on Queen's Road in Alice Town, Sherri's husband Eric said that they weren't open yet -- at noon on a Saturday! "Sherri's out catching lobster. Come back around two."
It wasn't difficult to waste away a few hours on the nearly deserted and pristine Radio Beach that Sherri's overlooks, and soon it was time to eat. This time, Sherri was back with her bounty from the sea -- fresh Caribbean lobster and conch. We order fried lobster and cracked conch and ask for a few Kaliks.
"You have to try my pina coladas. They're the best in the world." If someone hands you that line, they better have the goods to back it up, so we order a round. After unplugging the main kitchen light to run the line to the blender, Sherri's husband Eric proceeds to pour several different rums into a cup -- including coconut and dark. There are no mixes here - just fresh coconut milk, pineapple juice, heavy cream, and some more rum for good measure. The result? One creamy and amazing drink that could very well be the best pina colada ever.
When you get your lunch, you can take it to go or eat it on the back deck overlooking the ocean.
The fried lobster is sweet and succulent, however the cracked conch, usually a rubbery and heavily fried affair, is the clear winner. Tender conch is lightly battered and liberally peppered before being flash fried. Worth the wait, indeed. Sherri's is open daily from lunchtime until late in the evening, but don't be surprised if they have a "gone fishing" sign on their front door.
The reggae music draws us to Stuart's on King's Road in Bailey Town. At 9 p.m. on a Saturday, the place is packed. Luckily, two seats open up at the makeshift bar where we could watch Stuart make his conch salad. Stuart's offers scorch conch, vegetable salad, conch salad, lobster salad, and a "combo" of conch and lobster. We order a combo and a few Kaliks and settle in to watch Stuart work.
"Want to see how fresh my conch is?" Stuart demonstrates by squeezing a lime on a piece of flesh. Immediately, muscle memory kicks in and the piece of what was once a giant snail reanimates. It's a parlor trick that gets oohs and aahs from the crowd every time.
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The combination of conch and lobster is winning. The conch still tastes of sea, the lobster is sweet, and the tomatoes, onion, and peppers are colorful. Stuart's daughter tells us that she is going to school in south Florida and wants to bring her dad's recipes to Miami -- maybe as a food truck. We can only hope.
Did we forget to mention that Cuban rum is readily available? Officially you can't bring it back to the states, but be sure to buy a bottle for your room and a few cans of ginger beer and make some fantastic sundowners while you're there!