“We’re going to drive ‘all the way’ out there,” AdventureMan tells me and we laugh, because ‘all the way’ is such a relative term. When we lived in Kuwait and in Qatar, we would drive a minimum 30 minutes to get to a restaurant, any restaurant, not only because of distances but also because of traffic, horrendous traffic, in the evenings. While the Seafood Platter Deli is 13 miles away, it takes us less than 20 minutes to get there. Welcome to Pensacola
This is a very unusual restaurant. It is so old-timey Gulf Seacoast, and at the same time, I thought as we entered “My Moslem friends would love this!”
Many of my Moslem friends think Americans are unbelievers. They think we don’t talk about God. They don’t know we pray – sometimes without ceasing. Just as I was astounded as I learned things about Islam and Moslem culture living in the Middle East, they were also astounded learning things about us, like that we take care of our families. Think about it – most of what many people in the world know about Americans comes from the impact of cable TV. They watch American TV and they think they understand American culture. Horrifying thought, isn’t it?
So how amazing is it to walk into a restaurant where, as you stand at the counter to order, and you look at the big menu on the wall, there is a stand, with a bible on it. And there is paper, and a pencil, and a sign saying “Prayer requests.” I don’t know about your restaurant experiences, but this is unique in my experience – in America. In the Middle East, there are all kinds of restaurants with Qu’ranic verses on the walls, and the sounds of religious services piped into the restaurant. People talk about God all the time. It’s a whole different world; and my Moslem friends would feel right at home in the Seafood Platter Deli.
Of course, in Saudi Arabia, we would rush to buy our pre-sunset felafels, and then sit and munch, listening to all the souk grates coming down as shops closed for the Mahgrib prayer. Everything closed, five times a day, in Saudi Arabia, for prayer.
At the Gulf Coast Seafood Deli / Seafood Platter Deli (I don’t know what the real name is, and both names appear when you Google it) there are scriptures on the wall. When you sit down, the little basket holding condiments tells you to “count your blessings.”
The interior dining room (as opposed to the deli section, and the counter where you order food when you come in) is wall-to-wall sea mural, family friendly, Fish and sea life everywhere. There are also families who pray when their meal is delivered to the table, before they eat. The wait-staff is patient, and personal. You get the impression they truly want you to have a good experience at this restaurant.
We were hungry. We are mildly disgruntled to see piping hot food delivered to tables around us who arrived after we did, but not very. Even though we are hungry, we know that our ordering our food grilled or blackened slows things up in the kitchen, where the majority of the meals are fried. It is really really hard for people like us to watch other customers thoroughly enjoying their fried shrimp, fried catfish, fried grouper, fried scallops, etc. They look SO delicious. Every now and then, maybe once every couple months, we slip up and eat something deep fried, just because yes, yes, it tastes so good, and we know it is like the WORST thing for us. What a pity that deliciousness can be so lethal.
Ah! There it is! Our meals! We tuck right in and then I remember “Oh no! I haven’t taken any pictures!” AdventureMan is used to this, and bless his heart, he stops eating so I can shoot what is left of his grilled scallops, so tasty and delicious, so fresh!
I had so much salmon on my platter that I had salmon and steamed vegetables for dinner, too! The salmon was copious, lightly blackened, seared on the outside, moist on the inside, just the way I love it. It was some of the best salmon I have had in Pensacola (not exactly salmon country, but that little Alaska girl still lives in my heart and I can’t resist salmon when I see it on the menu.)
There’s another thing we loved about the Seafood Platter Deli – remember Dembo’s Smokehouse? We love restaurants that honor their heritage, and the Seafood Platter Deli has this wonderful wall:
Last, but not least, the food was so good, and so plentiful, that we couldn’t eat it all and ended up taking some home. We also took home some dessert, one dessert, $1.99 for a goodly portion of Vanilla Wafer pudding, that old-fashioned kind, maybe Banana pudding. It was so GOOD, we wish we’d gotten two.
Gulf Coast Seafood Deli / Seafood Platter Deli
Address: 2250 W Nine Mile Rd, Pensacola, FL 32534
We love this place, and look forward to driving ‘all the way out there’ for more fabulous Gulf seafood.
“That’s my very first gator!” our friend said, watching the reptile sun himself on the side of the big pond in the Audubon Bird Sanctuary. We had taken the very short hike out to see the gators and the turtles, and any birds who might be migrating through this gorgeous February day between storms.
(That’s not a stick; it’s a turtle head sticking out of the water )
We had a great day for a drive and a ferry boat ride. The car ferry only handles maybe thirty cars max on the trip across Pelican Bay from Dauphin Island to Gulf Shores. It cuts off a long long trip back into Mobile and around the huge Mobile Bay, and takes us along the beach back into Pensacola.
February is a great time of the year to walk these areas and to take a day trip. We had a wonderful day, mild temperatures and calm waters – altogether a great adventure, counting in our unforgettable stop at Smokey Dembo’s Smokehouse en route along Douphin Island Parkway.
Some mornings, I am astonished at how wonderful it is to live in a place where we have the luxury to set aside wide tracts of lands to preserve our natural heritage. St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge evokes that response in me. It’s even more astonishing that because a couple years ago I bought a lifetime Senior Pass, getting into the national parks is free – for the rest of my life. What a great country we live in.
It is a cold and frosty morning as we load up to head out to St. Marks for some serious bird watching and photographing. Serious, that is, for AdventureMan, who actually does birding trips with other serious birders. I am a bird-appreciator, as in I know what a cardinal is, and a blue jay. I can pretty well recognize a buzzard. Hey, show me a painting and I can probably tell you who painted it, but birds . . . not so much.
I love being outdoors in Florida on a wonderful clear cool day with fabulous conditions for taking photos. I love just wandering along some of the birding trails and seeing what we can see. It’s an amazing place; in some of the areas where we stopped to wander, it reminded me of places we like to go in Africa, of Zambia, of Namibia, of Botswana . . . some of the habitat is so alike, I can almost hear those tectonic plates creaking apart, drifting, and wonder how much of the flora is directly related to African flora.
We had these in Tunisia; we called them Prickly Pear, and the Tunisians used them for borders to separate their lands. They also made jam with the prickly pears, and they skinned the leaves and fried up the meat from inside the thick prickly pear leaves. I think what a great border they would make in Pensacola, but a very unfriendly border. Good for keeping away thieves and burglers, but not very attractive, and not very welcoming . . . but very very African:
Some fishermen, probably setting some crab traps near the shore:
The St. Mark’s lighthouse:
Every now and then you have a lucky moment, and I happened to shoot this heron just as he had a wiggling sparkly fish in his beak, just before he swallowed it. I admit it, I wasn’t trying. If I had been trying, I could never have gotten it just at the right moment:
Some very clever park person went around and made all the deer crossing signs into Rudolph signs, LOL!
The park is full of very serious-faced people carrying HUGE lenses on cameras attached to seriously sturdy tripods, lenses meant to capture the details of the pinfeathers, cameras to document a rare sighting. These people don’t talk about ducks, they talk about Merganzers and Koots, and the rarely seen such-and-such, and I just listen and keep my mouth shut while my head spins.
For me, it’s enough to see these wonderful creatures, free of fear, safe in their migrations. It’s enough to have a cool day, a great day for walking, and NO mosquitos. It’s a great day for my kind of birding, which is very non-serious to be sure.
At Wakulla Springs, everything is separate. Like the entrance fee goes to the State. The Wakulla Lodge is run by some corporation with a state contract, I am guessing, and the Wakulla Boat Rides are another separately run concession. If you are staying at the Lodge, or booked for the lunch buffet at the Lodge, you get into the Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park for free, instead of paying the $6/vehicle entrance fee.
The boat trip is half the fun. On hot days in the park, you can swim right in the same spring as the manatees, but on chilly winter days – take the boat trip. We took the boat trip twice, it is so much fun, and because we love the late afternoon light. I will share my photos of some of what we saw on the hour long trip below; warning you that trying to get a shot of an underwater manatee is not such an easy thing to do. You may have to use a little imagination to see the manatee but I swear, it is there.
OK, there it is, the Manatee, otherwise known as a sea cow, a siren, and a sea slug – about the size of a small whale or a very large shark:
So we’ve arrived in Wakulla, to be received rudely at the hotel, turned away until the 3:00 pm check-in, the restaurant closed as we were trying to check in, and there is a part of every human being that wonders if this is going to be the story of our trip.
And then, to save the day, we find The Black Bean.
We drove to the nearby crossroads, where I saw a sign to a restaurant to which we did not go, but we turned left, up 363 and saw an all-day breakfast buffet place with a sign saying “Pork Fat is Where It’s At” (no, no, it’s true, how could I make that up?) and I am praying “Please Lord, find us someplace else, please Lord” and we keep going. AdventureMan says “should I turn around?” and I see a sign just a little up and say “let’s go up there and turn around if it’s nothing.”
As we get closer, we see a big sign for Jerry’s Bait Shop and my heart sinks. But as we turn in to turn around, we see the sign for The Black Bean Cuban Food, and my prayer is answered. Yes!
As it turns out, this is not the REAL Black Bean, which is in Tallahassee, but this is the Black Bean Express, their outpost, for people on the run, going down to St. Marks to go birding, heading out in their boats, etc. The menu is almost the same, just a few things less.
We both ordered the same thing, which we never do, but the Habanero Pork BBQ just sounded so good, and oh, man, it was. It was SO good. We didn’t know how much sandwich there was going to be, we could have shared one, but no, we didn’t know, and we ordered the fabulous black bean soup, too, and we couldn’t eat it all.
This is one of the owners, who fixed these fabulous sandwiches. He told us about their breakfasts, so we decided to come back the next day, but when we came back the next day, they were not open and we saw on the sign that the breakfast is only Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Black Bean Express.
We went back around lunch and had their grilled chicken wrap, which – smarter now – we split, and we also split a red beans. You can read more about them HERE. We met the other owner (the are married to one another) and as we ate, we decided that rather than enjoy another perfectly uninteresting dinner at the Lodge, we would bet another sandwich, and split it for dinner along with some trail mix and water we already had with us.
The Black Bean saved the day. The food was so good; we even stopped for breakfast on our way out toward Tallahassee, having the biscuit sandwiches. I never knew Cuban food could be SO good, so tasty. It was fast, convenient, close to the Lodge, and very tasty. Let’s see, pay a lot more money for uninspired food at Wakulla Lodge, or pick up something at The Black Bean . . . . ? I don’t have to give it two seconds thought! Life is too short! It’s a Wakulla Red R! (Michelin Red R’s are given for good local foods at reasonable prices)
In the adjoining bait shop; a huge box full of live crickets, eeeeeeek!
Here is how to get to The Black Bean Express, in Wakulla Springs. There is another, larger Black Bean in Tallahassee:
My sister Sparkle posted this site – and she is right, it is amazing. Just look at how the hugeness of Isaac is still drawing wind and power from the Gulf states, well into the heartland of the US:
When you go to the website, Wind Map, it is actually animated, and you can watch the winds flow over the nation. Wow. Thanks, Sparkle.
Just another little shift, but the cone of probability now excludes Pensacola!
I am sharing this scam with you today because it makes me smile. When we had our embassy assignments, one of the Department of State people told me that you had to behave, or you would be sent to Ougadoudu Don’t you love that name?