A visit to the Sunshine State in the early months of each year, does a few beneficial things for my soul: the warm weather and sun rays brighten you both physically and emotionally. You get a change from the normal rat-race routine, and you get to go out to eat often–okay, very often. Thanks to a wonderful friend (who is also my cousin), I get to do these things each winter.
In the 5 years that I have been visiting, the Southwest Florida region gets more crowded each year. More snowbirds, more tourists and many more people who came down as snowbirds or tourists, are now there permanently. My cousin’s neighbor joked that Florida was going to start sinking into the Ocean.
Along with that development from all the money moving in to the state, comes high-rise condos, elegant homes, expensive restaurants, shiny yachts and well-manicured golf courses. So my ears perked up when my cousin’s friend suggested a restaurant just over the bridge. “It’s an old Florida place,” he said. I replied, “what is Old Florida?” He indicated that I will know as soon as we get there. Was he ever right.
We drove down the two-lane highway, past the yacht clubs and nice condos–what we know as the vacation vision of Florida. We turned left off of the highway onto a small road where my cousin said, “here it is.” The sun was going down but what you could see was an old wood porch connected to a dilapidated building. Plastic tables and mismatched chairs were outside on the ground in front of a small stage. There were dogs, beer signs, and a backyard-grill /deep-fried aroma. Some dim out-of-season Christmas lights helped you see your way around. Once inside, dollar bills autographed by proud patrons were stapled to the walls.
We sat down at a table with chairs that would make an estate sale proud. The menus were already on the table–stuffed between the paper towel roll and the ketchup. This was the Bean Depot Café. One thing was apparent here–they like their meat dead and they like it deep fried; they liked everything deep fried. We got jalapeno poppers as an appetizer. They were crisp, they were filled with cream cheese, they were deep fried and they were delicious.
You had your choice of an assortment of burgers or fish with fries, onion rings, macaroni & potato salad as sides. I had a grilled filet of some fish whose name I had never heard and may never hear again. My sides were homemade macaroni and potato salad. I actually liked the fish and the sides were doable.
What I did like was the atmosphere. It was apparent that this was the place where the tourist do not come. There was nothing to draw them in and I’m sure the cooks and wait staff could care less whether they ate here or not. Our waitress knew a few people by name and went on conversing with them about their lives.
A lone singer belted out some music on the outdoor stage. A few people were gathering out there, drinking beers, holding their dog’s leash and waiting for more music.
Bean Depot Café is tucked right against the water and not many yards from a newer condo complex. The atmosphere is down home and relaxing. Even though I was a tourist, it’s easy to feel like a local. These are places like these that hang on and stay around. They hang on to what they love, the hang on for the regulars. And most importantly, they hang on for the sheer desire of just hanging on. Just like the greatest time of your life–you know it will end eventually but that makes the moment that much better.
Up Next: Dancing with Hippies, Searching for Alligators.