I travel to eat. At least it seems that way sometimes because I’m completely obsessed with trying local cuisine. My recent trip to Charlotte County, Florida, indulged my closet foodie.
This is a region of Florida is known for its seafood. However, like most places, you need to know where to go. My trip was hosted by the local visitor’s bureau and they made sure we tried some true “down home” favorites.
Peace River Seafood – All I can say in O.M.G! Located on a lonely stretch of Duncan Road in Punta Gorda, this un-assuming establishment has tables full of diners even mid-afternoon. We started with a bowl seafood chowder packed with every kind of seafood they sell: clams, fish, shrimp, crab and I don’t know what else. What I do know is it was thick, creamy goodness.
Then the platters started coming on faster than we could eat: baked fish, steamed shrimp, crab cakes, fish spreads and chips. One of their specialties is whole, steamed blue crab, something I had never had before. After a quick demonstration, I tried to make my way into the whole crustacean. Perhaps a few beers would have helped. I just couldn’t get the hang of dismembering the crab to get to the yummies inside. What I did get was best sweet-salty melt-in-your-mouth crab I’ve ever tried. I didn’t get much, but that was okay because there was plenty of other seafood to fill my belly.
The Fishery – Another spot a visitor would likely miss, but the locals know well, is The Fishery in Placida. Artfully prepared, generous dishes are complemented by the view overlooking the bay and mangroves. Their spicy seafood gumbo is my new favorite – and I’m known to drive a long way to find good gumbo. For a main dish, I tried their non-traditional spin on shrimp scampi. It was served over yellow rice and topped with a sprinkle of chopped green onion.
The owners of The Fishery are also accomplished artists with a studio right around the corner. Take time to check out their Florida inspired work while there. An added bonus, Grande Tours Kayak Center is just around the corner so this is convenient spot to eat after an invigorating paddle.
The Lock N Key – Across from the beach in Englewood, the Lock N Key has been a local destination for decades. The salads and sandwiches are simply done right. There are a few surprises on the menu such as the South Beach Salad. Coconut shrimp sits on top of a bed of spring mix with fresh mozzarella, cran-raisins, candied pecans and chucks of mango. Don’t miss their famous pumpkin bread which is worth fighting over, even as leftovers…
Peace River Seafood, The Fishery and the Lock N Key are relaxed and casual restaurants. We also tried a couple of more elegant restaurants during our stay.
Opus– Located in downtown Punta Gorda, this is a good spot to visit after a walking tour of the City’s famous murals or shopping. Although the décor and service are upscale, like most places in Southwest Florida you could wear nice shorts and fit in. I ordered the duck with a port and black cherry sauce. The skin was crispy and the meat juicy.
JD’s Bistro & Grill – I’ll admit, as we pulled up to JD’s Bistro and Grill I was concerned because it is located adjacent to a Days Inn. Call me biased, but I usually don’t have good experiences with hotel restaurants. However, its location was where any resemblance stopped. JD’s had a nice atmosphere, good service and the ribeye steak was excellent. A pianist playing throughout the evening was an added bonus. JD’s is a good pick for a romantic dinner.
By the end of four days in Charlotte County, I had gained a couple of pounds and a new respect for the food scene in the area. By next visit, I’ll feast on the blue crab like a pro!