Every year in late February or early March, Sam and I join my parents on St. George Island, Florida for at least a week. This is not the Florida of spring break revelry; there is no Miami glitz, no Palm Beach cash, just a beautiful island where the beaches are unspoiled and often empty, the sandpipers run, the cormorants fish, and dolphins can be seen swimming quite close to shore right around dinner time. (I am assuming for purposes of this entry that dolphins, like the rest of us, dine at around 6:00 or 6:30).
There is, blessedly, nothing to do other than walk the beach and eat fresh seafood, and (for a really big time) drive across two bridges to the town of Apalachicola where there are some good restaurants, a delightful store that sells knitting paraphernalia and carefully selected books, and a harbor full of shrimp and oyster boats.
To get to St. George, Sam and I fly into the Tallahassee airport, and this trip we were fortunate enough to arrive around dinner time, justifying a stop at The Wakulla Springs Lodge. Built in 1937, the Lodge has a simple, un-fussy atmosphere that is a refreshing contrast to the stressful, plastic, corporate and commercial harshness of a day spent in airports and on airplanes. There is also the food served in the Lodge’s dining room, which is simple, fresh, Southern and delightful.
My Wakulla Springs Lodge experience began as I stood outside in the sun (in short supply in Michigan at this time of year) calling my husband to let him know we had arrived safely. As I leaned against the side of the building, an absolutely adorable young man with slicked back black hair that would do Elvis proud walked by me with his waiter apron swung over his shoulder. He winked at my 45-year-old self and said “how y’all doing?” This was a good sign.
Inside, I discovered that Elvis was my waiter, and imposed upon him immediately for sweet tea, which doesn’t much exist in my part of the world. I then had some real biscuits, and ordered fried shrimp which came with hush puppies, a perfectly baked potato, and (be still my heart) a monkey dish of fried, green tomatoes. Those Southern types bread things like nobody’s business, and my shrimp were fresh, with crisp, light breading and the tomatoes were a sort of mystical combination of tart and juicy inside and crisp and dry outside.
Honestly, I don’t even really like fried green tomatoes, but the two little slices of tomato in that dish so endeared themselves to me that I felt the presence of hundreds of phantom southern women fluttering around the table asking if I wanted a little more sweet tea or maybe a slice of pecan pie. If I’d stayed for breakfast, I’m certain that some bacon cheese grits would have been on offer. I am resolutely northern, a Yankee born and bred, but when the South opens her arms to me at the end of a long winter, I can’t help falling into her embrace.