The path… twisted through mangroves and up a steep shell hill. Jungle crowded in beside him, above him, and there was the smell of heat and vegetation like wood ash and warm lime peelings, an odor that was pure Florida.
–Sanibel Flats, by Randy Wayne White
The phenomenon of Island time—a pervasive sense of mañana —is not exclusive to the Fort Myers-Sanibel area. But as in many a warm and tropical locale, a languid pace is considered appropriate. If this plays havoc with schedules—should one be foolhardy enough to have one—then flexibility comes in handy.
What we thought might be a speedy round on The Dunes Golf and Tennis Club course turned out to be on Island time, and we had to scuttle lunch at Doc Ford’s Sanibel Rum Bar & Grille.
I made do quite well at the club’s restaurant, downing a Samuel Adams Boston Lager in the process. But I confess to some disappointment about missing the Doc Ford stop, only because I had actually prepared for it by buying and reading Sanibel Flats by Randy Wayne White.
White is something of an institution in the area. He was a fishing guide for more than a dozen years before writing his first Doc Ford novel, Sanibel Flats, which subsequently made it onto the American Independent Mystery Booksellers Association list as one of the Hundred Favorite Mysteries of the 20th Century.
In March the 21st Doc Ford novel appeared, Bone Deep. That’s a milestone of sorts, as I’m sure Mr. White knows—the late John D. McDonald wrote 21 Travis McGee novels, and Doc Ford is surely a literary heir of the great McGee. But there’s no indication that White will stop at 21, and a potential television series is said to be in the works.
McGee plies his adventures on the east coast, from a houseboat in Fort Lauderdale. Doc Ford sets forth from a house in the water on stilts near a marina in Sanibel. While he tries to make a go of it at home as a marine biologist, Ford’s past as a government operative keeps him involved in adventures all over Florida and the world. As with McGee, there’s plenty of mayhem to keep Ford on his toes and plenty of willing women to keep him more horizontal.
The series has been successful enough to name a small chain of restaurants after the main character, with White as an investor. I was curious to see the beer list, since among his other ingratiating traits is Doc Ford’s pleasure in embellishing his day with beer, alone or with the many characters who drift through the novel and by his house.
Not that Doc Ford aims too high on the beer evolutionary chart in Sanibel Flats. I caught references to a quart of Coors, bottles of Steinlager, a Tropical (“good Costa Rican beer in a dark bottle”), and an imaginary beer from the imaginary country of Masagua. But Sanibel Flats was published in 1990, before the craft beer surge began washing up on Florida’s shores. I may have to check out Bone Deep to see if the good Doc has upped his beer game any.
He does say at one point in the first novel, “Do you know that Viking sailors signed onto boats almost strictly on the basis of the quality and amount of beer the captain was taking? They didn’t ask what countries were going to be plundered, or how long they going to be gone. Just what kind of beer and how much.”
Reasonable questions; though there was probably plenty of beer on board the Dolphin Watch and Wildlife Adventure Cruise we took later, none of it was very exciting, and I didn’t see any Vikings on board.
But the Captiva Cruises company says mainly bottlenose dolphins are spotted 95% of the time on their voyages, and this one didn’t mess up the statistic. I barely managed a shot of one, but plenty leapt about the boat on our 90-minute trip around Pine Island Sound.
I toasted them with a Heineken, and pondered how Heine used to be my go-to beer when there was nothing else of interest on hand. But that was like 20 to 30 years ago, even predating Doc Ford. Now a Samuel Adams Boston Lager often fills the role, as it did again later in the evening at The Bubble Room restaurant. As far as beer goes, we would have been better off returning to that morning’s breakfast spot, the Lighthouse Café, which had a respectable list:
The Boston Lager is the Boston Beer Company’s flagship beer, a solid amber with a study malt profile and a pleasing noble hop character. It’s a far better go-to beer than Heineken, which I can barely tolerate these days. Still, given a choice, I’ll always opt for something more interesting, even if only a different Samuel Adams brew. As I noted in a review of the Samuel Adams Winter Lager, the company brews so many different beers that you could have a different one every week and still not make it through the entire portfolio in a year’s time.
Likewise, you could spend weeks pouring over all the kitsch and old-timey paraphernalia in the varied dining areas of The Bubble Room–toys, dolls, Christmas decorations, mid-20th century sheet music, movie posters and photos—and not exhaust the endless possibilities. The place has to be experienced to be believed, but one thing you can surely believe is the slogan, “You will never leave The Bubble Room hungry.”
More likely, as fellow Warrior Hal Phillips here relates hilariously about the restaurant’s really big food, you will leave in a near overeating coma.
Hal made the mistake of ordering the Tarzan cut of prime rib, when the Jane portion would have been plenty to challenge a dedicated trencherman. This after servings of Bubble Bread (a cheese-encrusted hard bread) and sticky buns, and before servings of dessert that basically looked like a quarter of an entire layer cake. Mercy!
I kept my streak alive—shrimp three nights in a row—if only having it as an appetizer. But while later pondering a map of where we’d been all day, Sanibel and Captiva began to look like a jumbo shrimp to me. I couldn’t be sure I wasn’t in an overeating coma myself, and decided I’d better wean myself away from the little critters.
Name: Heineken Lager Beer
Brewer: Heineken International, The Netherlands
Style: Pale lager
For More Information: www.heineken.com
Name: Samuel Adams Boston Lager
Brewer: Boston Beer Company, Boston, Massachusetts
Style: Amber lager
For More Information: www.samueladams.com
[April 29, 2014]