Our third day in Florida, we followed a quick run on the beach and a shower with a trip into Apalachicola to join friends for brunch at The Owl Cafe. Nothing in Apalachicola is very formal, but the substantial influx of vacationers from urban areas in the south and beyond has led to the presence of numerous sophisticated restaurants offering much more than the standard fried seafood. (Not there’s anything wrong with that). The Owl is a favorite for many reasons, from the airy, simple rooms upstairs and downstairs, to the extensive wine list and the creative use of the best local fish, shrimp, crabs, oysters and produce with preparations including creole, Mediterranean, Italian and plain old southern.
On my first visit to The Owl Cafe a couple of years ago, the wait staff and chef endeared themselves to me by making chicken fingers for my kid, who was not about to eat anything fish-y or fancy. Cheerfully and calmly the waitress asked him what he would like, and alongside our salmon and crab cakes there appeared a plate of hand-breaded chicken strips with homemade honey mustard dressing for dip, French fries and a lovely little salad with no onions.
On our more recent visit there was a burger on the menu, and Sam (who is a more sophisticated eater but will not yet allow fruits of the sea to cross his lips) was perfectly happy with that. I was tragically conflicted about whether to have the Sauteed Shrimp with Garlic and Creamy Cheese Grits or the Blue Crab Cake Benedict. I solved this dilemma by compelling my mother (who never eats all her food) to order the Shrimp, while I ordered the Crab Cake Benedict with grits as a side.
Although they were busy, and there was a wait, they diverted us with a bountiful assortment of breads including slices of rolled cinnamon bread, tiny poppy-seed muffins, and chunks of fresh wheat and white bread with crisp crust. When my entree came, it was simply but neatly presented: English muffins topped with crab cakes topped with perfectly poached eggs topped with Hollandaise. A veritable pond of grits lay to the East of the twin towers, and a dish of fresh, bright fruit lay to the West. It was hot and good, the crab cakes were meaty and crisp, and the combined flavors were swoon-worthy. Although I forced myself to try a generous forkful of my mother’s shrimp and grits, I felt that the Food Gods had guided me well from the great kitchen in the sky; I definitely ordered the right thing.
With my festival of cholesterol I enjoyed two glasses of a very nice Pinot Grigio, good conversation, and a view of Apalachicola waking up on a sleepy Sunday morning. There is not much room for a leisurely Sunday brunch in my “real” life, and there is no room for such a meal followed by a lovely drive, a nap, and sunset on the beach. I tell myself that this rarity is what makes such occasions special and memorable, but between us, I might be willing to trade a little rarity and specialness for a regular Sunday gig at The Owl….