If you get hungry and thirsty traveling the Tamiami Trail on your way to Naples, you have few options. You could break out the water and trail mix you hopefully brought from home, you could stop at a roadside bathroom and drink some water, or you could stop halfway for a few beers and some lunch at Joanie's Blue Crab Cafe.
Located in Ochopee about 66 miles west of Miccosukee Resort & Gaming and about 40 miles east of Naples, Joanie's rises like an oasis out of the swamp, next to the occasional alligator or turtle on the road.
The front parking spots are reserved for bikers, so pull alongside the red house and gas station that Joanie Griffin converted into a roadside restaurant 25 years ago. Joanie is still there every day, either greeting you as you walk in with directions to get a cold one out of the coolers by the small band stage or working the kitchen, cooking up some gator.
Speaking of gator, don't feed the large reptiles that come up
to the patio begging for food. In this case, it's better to let the
gator feed you.
That, by the way, is basically the menu. Gator. Gator served in a burger ($9.95). Gator salad ($16.95). Gator nuggets ($13.95). Indian fry bread ($5.95) is served with dipping
salsa, and a swamp combo of gator, frogs' legs, and catfish is $16.95.
You'll also find the blue crabs that the joint is named for (three for $16.95). Vegans will enjoy homemade vegan chili ($5.95). There are also chicken sandwiches, burgers, and hot dogs.
On a Sunday afternoon, the place is hopping. A
group of about two dozen bikers sip beers on the side porch,
while a steady flow of tourists arrives for beer, sandwiches, and a much-needed bathroom break.
A keyboardist accompanies a pretty good
singer, covering everything from Adele to Jethro Tull. Whether as a pit
stop on the way to the other side of the state, or a day trip in
itself, Joanie's Blue Crab Cafe (along with a side trip to the Skunk Ape
Research Headquarters) brings back some good memories of times when
roadside attractions and lunch stops were kitschy and fun. It's a bit of old-school Florida. Just watch for the gators.
A cold one and some hush puppies ($4.95).
Grilled shrimp over greens and house pickled vegetables ($16.95).
Live music on weekends draws (and keeps) a crowd.
One of the critters who came to stay at Joanie's.
Don't worry...there's indoor plumbing, too!
Where are you? You're halfway to somewhere.
While you're in the neighborhood, stop and say hello to the skunk ape at the Skunk Ape Research Headquarters. We bet the Loch Ness monster and Bigfoot don't have their own hot sauce ($6.95).
Follow Short Order on Facebook and Twitter @Short_Order.