Monday, February 27, 2017

Fine Dining at the Owl Café!

I’m sure that everyone is familiar with the old and somewhat depressing if true statement that “You can’t ever go back because it’s never the same”.  It can apply to your school, hometown, restaurant, a favorite vacation spot, etc. 

The good news is that we all can think of one or two fond exceptions to the rule… In this case, Laurie and I returned to a restaurant that we had visited about 17 years earlier…

This is the Owl Café in downtown/old town Apalachicola Florida.  Laurie and last dined here back in 2000…and we loved it!

The current iteration of The Owl Café was founded in 1997.  The town was a bit sleepy and business was a little slow when we last dined here.  Some things do change!  The Owl Café now brings in something over $1.3 million in revenue each year and the operation employs a staff of roughly 32 associates…

Our dining destination apparently wasn’t the first Owl Café in Apalachicola though.  This undated photo shows a much earlier version which also served as an inn or hotel.  FYI…my first photo doesn’t show the building from the front like this one does.  The front of today’s Owl Café looks fairly identical to this photo...complete with the owl at the top. 

This is an evening view of the Apalachicola Sponge Company Building from the second floor balcony of the Owl Café.  As mentioned previously, the Sponge Company structure was built back in 1840. 

Although a specific reference to the building occupied by the Owl Café could not be located, I’m sure that it is part of Apalachicola’s Historic District as listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  This massive historic district encompasses about 4,600 acres and it contains 652 historic buildings!

This is the 3rd floor dining room and wine bar at the Owl Café.  We were the only couple seated in this room.  The hostess had promised a window seat when we made the reservations and since the 2nd floor dining area was fully occupied, she seated us upstairs.  Another couple was seated in the room about halfway through our meal…

This is part of the second floor dining area.  I took this photo after we had our meal and were departing for our hotel…

Some things had definitely changed since our last dining adventure at the Owl Café.  For one thing, the only dining room was on the first floor and to the best of our knowledge, not much was happening on the other floors of the building. The first floor is now in the process of being converted to retail space.

The other big change since our last visit was the addition of that huge bar in the third photo above.  The full name of the Owl Café has also changed slightly as well.  It is now called the Owl Café and Wine Room.  Check out the stock of wine in the controlled climate wine ‘cellar’.  It is on the third floor near the end of that big bar…

So the real question was…can the food and dining experience we enjoyed 17 years earlier be repeated despite the success and growth of this restaurant?

Following Laurie’s luscious Pomegranate Martini (preceding photo), we ordered the same appetizer that we’d ordered during our visit in 2000.  This is the Blue Crab Dip with Tortillas. ($9.00) The crab dip (really a spread) was as we remembered…fabulous!  The tortilla chips may well have been flash-fried which made them the perfect accompaniment for the dip.  There was so much crab dip that we ended up asking for a few extra chips.  Nothing went to waste!

Entrees include homemade bread, a starch, vegetable and a house salad.  For $2.50 more, I decided to substitute a side Caesar Salad instead of the house salad.  This salad was very nice indeed as was that lovely brown bread with dipping oil…

Laurie opted to have the House Salad with her entrée.  Her salad dressing was a very tasty green garlic ranch.  The mix of greens was very fresh and she really liked this salad.

Laurie chose the Mahi Mahi Special for her entrée. ($32.00) It was topped with an abundance of fresh crab meat and a terrific sauce.  Her sides of fresh vegetables and whipped garlic potatoes complemented her entrée nicely.  She loved her meal!

When it was my turn to order, I think that I ordered the same thing that I did 17 years earlier…although the preparation may have been slightly different.  This was the Black Grouper Sautéed with roasted garlic, capers and artichoke hearts. ($24.00) My side dishes were identical to Laurie’s.  This entrée took me back to our first visit…and it was every bit as enjoyable as it was then!

By the time we’d finished our heap of crab dip with chips, salads, bread and entrees, dessert was almost out of the question.  We asked if they had crème brulee…the dessert that we’d enjoyed so many years ago.  Our very accomplished waitress told us that they had discontinued it some time ago.  With the original unavailable, we chose to split this pretty little caramel custard. ($6.50) It was a fine ending to an evening of fine dining!

Note: At the Owl Café all breads, dressings, sauces and desserts are made in-house. 

Our experience demonstrated that just once in a while you can go back and recapture the past… The Owl Café’s cuisine was and is top notch!  This restaurant is located at 15 Avenue D in Apalachicola Florida.  Phone: 850-653-9888.  Website:

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for dinner!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Friday, February 24, 2017

Apalachicola Views…

Our first goal for this trip had been to reach Apalachicola Florida.  We had visited this old time Florida coastal town about 17 years earlier and we had nothing but positive memories about it.

Here are a few photos in and around town…

This is the US Hwy. 98/US Hwy. 319 bridge over a portion of Apalachicola Bay and the mouth of the Apalachicola River.  The John Gorrie Bridge connects Apalachicola Florida with Eastpoint Florida.  The original John Gorrie Bridge was built in 1935, replacing a ferry service between the two towns.  The current 8 mile long bridge and causeway was built in 1988.


·       My question was “Who in the heck was John Gorrie?”  It turns out that he was focused on a critical health and comfort issue.   He was born on the Island of Nevis in the Caribbean to Scottish parents.  He received his medical education at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Fairfield, New York.  He moved to Apalachicola in 1933.  He was the resident physician in 2 hospitals, a city council member, the Postmaster, President of a local bank, Secretary of the Masonic Lodge and one of the founding vestrymen of Trinity Episcopal Church. 

His medical research involved the study of tropical diseases.  He experimented with cooling the sickrooms.  He used ice in a basin suspended from the ceiling to achieve this goal.  Cool air, being heavier, flowed down across the patient and through an opening near the floor.  He went on to patent an ice making/air conditioning system but he never profited from his invention and died penniless.  

This is where the Apalachicola River enters Apalachicola Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.  The Apalachicola River is about 112 mi long.  This river's large watershed drains an area of approximately 19,500 square miles.  The distance to its farthest headstream on the Chattahoochee River in northeast Georgia is approximately 500 miles.  Its name comes from the Apalachicola Indian tribe, which used to live along the river.

·       The towboat in the photo is the “Inland Cardinal”.  She is 80 feet long and 26 feet wide.  This towboat was built in 1977 in Pine Bluff Arkansas and she was originally named “Forest Queen”.  She is now owned by the Inland Dredging Company in Dyersburg Tennessee.

The Inland Cardinal wasn’t the only towboat at work on the Apalachicola River while we were there… This smaller craft is “Mr. Gus”.  It is 45 feet long and 16 feet wide.  Mr. Gus was built in 1967 by Settoon Marine Inc. in Belle River Louisiana.  


·       Where the Apalachicola River enters the Gulf of Mexico it creates a rich series of wetlands.  They include tidal marshes and seagrass meadows.  Over 200,000 acres of this diverse delta complex are included within the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve.  In addition, there are also dunes with grassy swales as well as coastal grasslands.

Yes indeed…one more tow boat, in this case a tiny one.  This is the “Inland Tiger”.  I couldn’t find any information on this tow boat… In this photo, all 3 tow boats were moving a huge dredging apparatus upriver from where it was being used just offshore. 


·       America’s Intracoastal Waterway follows a path up the Apalachicola River and then veers west though Lake Wimico and a series of canals to Panama City and beyond…all the way along the Texas coast.  I’m sure that dredging operations are critical to this commercial and recreational water route.

This is one view of ‘downtown’ Apalachicola.  Other than the remote town of Cedar Key Florida, this is about as close to ‘old’ Florida as one can find.  This area used to be called ‘the lost coast’.  As the bartender in our hotel told us, the area is no long ‘lost’!

Locals recognize just how valuable maintaining the ‘old Florida’ image is to their business.  There is only 1 fast food outlet and 1 brand name motel in the area and both located on the edge of town.  A structure height limit has also been imposed.  While there is much more going on than there was when we last visited Apalachicola, it’s still quite laid back.  We were warned that the area is kind of crazy busy in season however…

Apalachicola is loaded with historic structures.  This is the former Sponge Exchange building.  It was built in 1840 and it was one of two buildings that were used to house sponges.  By 1895, between 80 and 120 men, led by Greek immigrants, were employed in the sponge trade in town… It now houses specialty gift shops.

While most sponges used today are manufactured, historically sponge fishing has been an important industry, with yearly catches from 1913 to 1938 regularly exceeding 181 tons. 

Although Apalachicola seems to mostly be known for its oyster fishery, it is also a fishing port with 56 vessels registered at the port.  The “Rodney and Candy” shown above was built in 1980 by Marine Builders Inc. on the Ohio River in Jeffersonville Indiana.  She weighs in at 142 tons and she’s 77 feet long.  Many of the fishing vessels based in Apalachicola are shrimp boats…

This old time oyster harvesting boat is on display but slowly falling apart on one of downtown Apalachicola’s main streets.  If you’re interested, there is a for sale sign posted next to this boat. 


·       Apalachicola is the County Seat for Franklin County Florida.  Roughly 2,300 people call it home.  Before the founding of the town, a British trading post called "Cottonton" was founded at this site.  After the acquisition of Florida by the US Government, more permanent European-American residents settled here.  In 1827, the town was incorporated as "West Point".  By an act of the Legislative Council of the Territory of Florida, Apalachicola received its current name in 1831. 

Happy seagulls, that’s for sure!  As we drove along Apalachicola’s waterfront toward the bridge, we came across this frantic scene!  This was outside an oyster processing plant.  As the oyster shells with scraps were dumped on the ground via a conveyor belt from inside, the gulls were waiting outside for their feast…

Like in Key West and Cedar Key, cats seem to be a permanent feature in Apalachicola, both indoors and outside.  We came across this sweet little cat as we walked through one of the neighborhoods.


·       More than 90% of Florida's oyster production is harvested from Apalachicola Bay.

·       In 1979, Exxon relocated their experimental subsea production system from offshore Louisiana to a permitted artificial reef site off Apalachicola. This was the first effort to turn an oil platform into an artificial reef.

These 2 photos are of the front view and rear (courtyard) view of the Grady Building.  Originally built in the late 1880s and rebuilt after the 1900 fire, it served as a ship’s chandlery and general store.  In addition, the French government maintained a consulate on the second floor to oversee its citizen’s interests re: the shipment of timber and other goods.  Today, the building is occupied by The Consulate Luxury Suites and The Grady Market.  FYI…Grady Market is a quality stop for those inclined to do a little shopping. 

This is an early evening view of downtown Apalachicola.  Note the lack of crowds!  Hooray!  So peaceful and relaxing…

It’s hard to believe that at one point in its history before the development of railways throughout the Gulf States, Apalachicola was the third busiest port on the Gulf of Mexico, following only New Orleans Louisiana and Mobile Alabama!

That’s all for now… Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them.

Thanks for stopping by for a tour and a little history! 

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Gibson Inn

So where does one stay when visiting Apalachicola?  There is only 1 chain motel/hotel, a Best Western on the edge of town.  The choices are limited to a group of B and B’s, rental houseboats, a couple of inns, rental cottages, the Rancho Inn (motel) or the Water Street Hotel and Marina. 

We decided to stay at an historic Inn…

That large 3-story building in the center of the photo with the cupola/widow’s walk on top is the Gibson Inn.  It was built as a hotel in 1907 and it was renovated in 1985.  It was the cornerstone of the sweeping renovation efforts that has made Apalachicola special in Florida…a state that is packed with tourist destinations.

Laurie is standing in the lobby of the Gibson Inn.  This is one of the few inns on the National Register of Historic Places that is still operating as a full service hotel. 

The Gibson Inn was originally named The Franklin Hotel.  For a time it was the only hotel between Jacksonville and Panama City Florida with steam heat.  The original owner and builder used native heart pine and black cypress for the structure, topping it off with a tin roof. 

As mentioned before, like in many coastal towns, cats rule!  This is Salem, the Gibson Inn’s ‘house cat’.  He ‘owns the place’ and he sleeps pretty much wherever he wants. 

The Hotel’s name was changed to The Gibson Inn in 1923 when 2 former managers of the property, Annie and Mary Ella Gibson, bought the property.  They operated the Inn until 1942 at the onset of WWII when it was commandeered by the US Army for an officer’s club and billets/sleeping quarters for officers stationed in town. 

Gormley’s at the Gibson provides a well-regarded upscale dining experience.   This unique old world style dining room is quite elegant with a menu that offers both classic French and modern cuisine.  Chef Brett Gormley has been featured with Emeril Lagasse, Food Arts Magazine and New York Times.  At the time that I wrote this posting, in, Gormley’s had 115 excellent/very good reviews vs. only 5 poor/terrible ones, a very positive ratio indeed.

To learn more about this restaurant, go to

Of course the Gibson Inn also has a bar… There are happy hour bargains to be had and you can also order some food in the bar.  The food of course comes from Gormley’s…the aforementioned restaurant.  We had a couple of drinks in the bar but as we had fond memories of another restaurant in town, we never partook of Gormley’s fare.  Maybe next time...

After World War II several owners ran this building as a hotel, a boarding house and a saloon.  All of the original antique furniture was sold off right on the front lawn of the hotel.  The upper floors were leased to local businesses. 

This is the landing on the second floor of the Inn.  That armoire at the end of the hall is the only piece of the original furniture that has been returned to the Gibson Inn. 

Our room was on the 3rd floor.  There are no elevators in the building and we don’t travel light!  I can tell you that going downstairs with our luggage was a lot easier than going upstairs…and we had some help going upstairs!

This was our room at the Gibson Inn, complete with our very own 4-poster bed.  It was fairly comfortable too.  Our large ensuite bathroom is at the left of the photo. 

Three new owners bought The Gibson Inn in 1983 and they spent $2,000,000 on an extensive renovation.  They reopened the Inn in 1985.  There are 30 rooms with a porch all around the building on the 1st and 2nd floors.  All rooms are furnished with a wrought iron or 4-poster bed as well as other antique furniture.  The building is air conditioned and it has cable TV and free Wi-Fi.

This was one of our views from our room at the Inn.  The bay and the river can be seen in the distance.  From this photo you can see just how laid back this town can be in the off season! 

I really like this night-time photo of the Gibson Inn.  It shows an old time romantic feeling.  Despite its age, the Inn was quite comfortable.  We did enjoy our stay and would recommend it to other travelers.  There are a couple other well regarded historic inns or bed and breakfast operations in Apalachicola that are also worth considering.

The Gibson Inn is located at 51 Avenue C in Apalachicola Florida.  Phone: 850-653-2191.  Website:

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for a visit!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Up the Creek!

Well, when one is staying in a fishing port on the Gulf of Mexico, you would hope to be a seafood lover or be crazy not to dine somewhere that offered a variety of seafood options.  We arrived in Apalachicola Florida just in time for lunch…

I’d done some research and “Up the Creek Raw Bar” had some superior ratings on  The restaurant is located on the upper deck of this building…away from any hurricane storm surges.

This is a view of the ‘creek’ looking north from the upper deck.

This view is looking south from the deck with the bridge over the Apalachicola River in the distance.  FYI…the houseboats in the foreground can be rented by tourists, an interesting concept.  To learn more go to

There wasn’t too much waterborne traffic on the creek in front of Up the Creek Raw Bar but then again it was in late January, not exactly the height of the tourist season.

We decided to eat on the enclosed deck so we could watch the birds and boats on the creek and beyond that on the Apalachicola River.  There is also an outdoor dining area on the deck but it was a little cool when we arrived.

This is the inside dining area at Up the Creek Raw Bar.  It was well decorated and it included a full service bar.  Customers order their meals at the counter and the food is delivered to wherever you’re sitting.  There is a big menu board as well as some paper menus that you can peruse in order to determine what you’d like to order…

We both started out with a cup of Crab and Lobster Bisque. ($6.99) It came with a piece of crusty bread.  It was a bit pricy but it was excellent!

For her entry, Laurie ordered a Half Dozen Parmesan Oysters. ($7.99) These oysters were cooked lightly with parmesan cheese, butter and some light seasoning.  She thought that they were great!

Apalachicola Bay Oysters are very well regarded.  Several generations of Apalachicola residents have made their living working the bay's famed oyster beds.  Many lovers of oysters will tell you that Apalachicola Bay Oysters are the finest in the world.  In 2002 the New York Times reported that Apalachicola Bay oysters were "among the finest in the world, if not the finest."  The article went on to say that some of the best known chefs in the country prized these oysters above all others.

For my lunch I ordered a Shrimp Po-Boy “Appalach Style”. ($16.99) I decided to have my shrimp ‘blackened’ instead grilled or fried.  They were served on a toasted bun with house made Remoulade sauce along with a side of decent French fries.  The 6 shrimp were large and properly cooked.  It was an excellent if pricy sandwich!

Up the Creek Raw Bar lived up to its on-line reviews and reputation.  The seafood was fresh and well prepared.  This was a very nice start to our short stay in Apalachicola!

Up the Creek Raw Bar is located at 313 Water Street in Apalachicola Florida.  Phone: 850-653-2525.  They are open daily from Noon to 9 PM. This restaurant’s website is at:

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for some fresh seafood!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Friday, February 17, 2017

Florida Panhandle – Blountstown and Port St. Joe

Continuing south from Mariana down through the center of Florida’s panhandle to the coast on the Gulf of Mexico, we quickly passed through a couple additional towns on our way to our next overnight stop.

This beautiful structure is the old Calhoun County Courthouse in Blountstown Florida.  This is 1 of only 2 Romanesque Revival courthouses still standing in the state.  From what I can determine, the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Department now occupies the first floor of this building.  It used to serve as the county jail.  It is allegedly haunted.  A former sheriff reported that staff would continuously hear moans and screams emanating from a series of cells during the night shift.

Following the Civil War, a growing number of steamboats plied the waters of the Apalachicola River, busily transporting passengers, agricultural products and manufactured goods between the Gulf of Mexico and upstream locations in Florida, Alabama and Georgia. A river port had been established and a 26-block area was mapped out for the new community of Blountstown, named for the Seminole chief who had ruled much of the nearby territory during the early 19th Century.


·       Blountstown is named for John Blount, a Creek Indian Chief who served as a guide for General Andrew Jackson during his invasion of Spanish Florida in 1818.  This invasion resulted in the United States’ purchase of Florida from Spain in 1821. 

While old photos lead me to believe that the original main entrance to the old courthouse was featured in the first photo, my better half pointed out that this side of the building appears to be the current entry. 


·       Apalachicola Creek Indians permanently settled Calhoun County in 1815.  Wars had forced them out of Alabama.  A new Tribal Town was built by Chief Tuskie Hajo Corakko (Horse) between Old River and Noble Lake.  The 1823 Treaty of Moultrie Creek recognized Cochranetown with its 100 families as part of the Blunt-Tuskie Hajo Reservation.  It is now called Blountstown.

The St. Joseph Catholic Mission Church, built in 1925, is the oldest remaining church in Port St. Joe Florida.  Before this church was built a visiting priest from Apalachicola would drive over in a Cadillac automobile mounted onto the railroad and hold religious services in a home.  In 1918, lots were purchased for a church, but there wasn’t enough money to build the structure.  Until this church was built visiting priests held religious services in the local Old Port Inn, a large log building Community House used by both the Woman's Club and the Methodist denomination.

The church remained in use until 1959, when a new church was built.  The pine pews and a white marble altar were moved to the new church.  The building was vacant for 9 years until the Port St. Joe Garden Club purchased it. 

In 1836, town promoters built Florida's first steam railroad connecting St. Joseph with the Apalachicola River.  This provided transportation for cotton growers in Georgia and Alabama and set them in competition with the town of Apalachicola.  The population of St. Joseph grew to somewhere between 5,000 - 10,000 by 1838!  St. Joseph was selected as the site for the state's first Constitutional Convention, a crucial step in the process of gaining statehood.

However, a series of disasters put an end to this prosperous community, pretty much rendering it a ghost town.  In 1840-1841, yellow fever killed approximately 2,500 of the residents.  Then a hurricane hit the community in September 1844.  What little remained was left virtually uninhabited until the early 20th century.

The Port Theatre in scenic downtown Port St. Joe was built in the Art Deco Style in 1938.  The theatre was severely damaged by hurricanes in 1985 and again in 1995.  Reportedly, the acoustics in the 3-story auditorium space is exceptional.  A spoken voice at the south or stage end of the auditorium can be clearly heard at the north end at the rear.  Between 1938 and 1953 the theatre hosted movies, plays, concerts, traveling vaudeville, and other events.  The first and only theatre in the city, the Port has in many ways served as a community center.

On June 20, 1938, the Port Theatre opened at 3 p.m. for its first movie. Admission was 10 cents and 25 cents for the lower floor, and 10 cents and 15 cents for balcony seats. The first movie shown starred Rudy Vallee and Rosemary Lane in "Gold Diggers in Paris."  The theater closed in 1967 with the last movie shown being James Bond in “Thunderball”.  From what I was able to learn on-line, the community has dedicated itself to refurbishing and reopening this landmark.

That’s all for now… Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them.

Thanks for stopping by to check out what we’ve been doing!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave