Monday, August 17, 2009

Cedar Key Downtown

My first stop in Cedar Key's business district was at the Police Station for two purposes. I wanted to exchange patches, a quaint police practice, to add one more to our department's collection. My wife also wanted to know where we should have lunch, and there's was a very astute reply, politically impeccable in a very small town. Anywhere's good on Dock Street, they said or on the corner of Highway 24 and Second Street there is Tony's. So we socked Tony's away for consideration as Dock Street seemed to be the place tourists would flock to, and took a tour, bearing in mind some changes have been made to traffic flow.
My wife insisted Dock Street was two way from her more recent visit last winter so I pulled through the launch ramp area and dutifully stopped at the new No Entry signs. Oh she said and we turned around to look for somewhere to park, of which there is an ample supply in August in Cedar Key as there is in Key West.I found further evidence of the late lamented boom years in Cedar Key's fishing pier. This was an elaborate structure, a public work of surprising sophistication in such a small town. I was more convinced than ever that my wife's assessment was correct. Some expert grant writer had retired to Cedar Key and offered his/her services to raise money for city projects.Dock Street is a hundred yards long slightly offset from the rest of the island and joined at each end to the rest of the city by bridges. It is a row of wooden structures each involved in selling whatever knick knacks a tourist feels they cannot do without.It was never my intention to go shopping in Cedar Key but apparently I was alone in my eccentricity. People were on the hunt:These women stopped to ask me if I had seen Jack Riepe and I answered, No, why? What did he do? and my wife cuffed me. Not one of them offered to raise their shirts for me so I'm pretty sure I misunderstood them. Dock Street has some pretty corners.Tourism was not bustling, perhaps Europeans haven't yet heard of Cedar Key. The owner of this store was taking the time to refresh her display and appeared a little offended when I wondered if she might take a little time off in summer.With enough window shopping under my belt to last the rest of the trip we took off again to see what's what, and immediately hit upon another elaborate public works project. We parked alongside a golf cart at the city's swimming beach. The man resting in the background was renting out beach apparatus:
The waters of the Gulf Of Mexico are placid and warm (86 degrees) but they are very dark and tannin colored which makes swimming unappealing to me. And across the street we have what appear to be rental condos with rental golf carts all ready to...rent:The all purpose golf cart, gasoline or electric, these are the mainstay of the island:
I stayed at the Island Hotel on Second Street when I last visited Cedar Key almost two decades ago and I remember it fondly, with wide decks all round upstairs and rocking chairs to hang out in. It looks much the same today as it probably did when it was built in 1859.Cedar Key has the air of a small village and with a thousand full time residents that's hardly surprising. I guess I was a bit surprised by how parochial the place seemed. Cedar Key is pretty, and unsophisticated and very rural. It's part of Levy County which puts it in that northern swath of Florida that some people think resembles Alabama more than the Sunshine State. Which I suppose would be true if Florida were just the beaches and condos of the southern coasts. Florida is also an enormous area of open woodlands and fields, full of country people of conservative mien. Count Cedar key in with that lot and don't expect Fantasy Fest or gay bars to be on the itinerary if you come here. This really is isolated living at a slow pace. Even The Bank looks cute rather than simply purposeful: And there is a drive through window in case you were concerned about having to get out and walk:We usually stop in local grocery stores when we travel but we didn't bother for some reason this time. I limited myself to snapping a quick picture before we headed in to lunch around the corner at Tony's Famous Clam Chowder Place. This is Cedar Key's scooter rental fleet:Tony's looks the part in some sort of historic building, called the Hale Building and I am reliably informed it is a fresh young thing compared to the hotel as it was built in 1880 fully twenty years later.My wife and I have a habit of trying odd things on the menu when we come across them. So here we ordered deep fried green beans which were crispy and were offered with ranch dressing for dunking. My wife woofed all the spicy dressing and I left her to it as she demands peppers with almost anything. She left it to me to order the main dish, and as we didn't know anything about the place I/we went with something safe in a seaside town; a fish sandwich. And because she let me order the whole shebang I went with the weirdest side which were baked beans and didn't seem the least bit compatible with fish:
The grouper was fried but it was well done.The beans were rated excellent by my wife who thought they might actually be home made and so Tony's passed muster. Naturally I forgot to photograph our cup of clam chowder which apparently won first prize this year at some Chowder Cook Off in Newport Rhode Island, which is a big deal apparently. The soup really was good, all creamy and chunky and full of clam flavor as chowder should be. I guess it really did earn first prize. Because I forgot to photograph the white soup I had to make an artistic photographic effort to show the empty bowl and the delivery golf cart in the background.
They even ship their chowder if the destination is further than a golf cart can manage. And across lay the street the store of my dreams: However the grand curmudgeon himself was not in residence. A neighbor saw me looking in at the windows and came over, small town style, to kindly let me know he probably wasn't coming back as his wife had had a major operation.
The bottom of the sign carried a message advising that he thought his wife's illness was more important than his business. Which seemed like such an obvious message I wondered why he had to mention at all. Perhaps he has a truly monumental reputation as the curmudgeon to end all curmudgeons. I hope his wife has solid health insurance.
And so, full of chowder, fish and beans we took off, heading south this time as Cedar Key had been our northern terminus in the Grand Florida Tour of 2009.