There are very few “chains” here on this island. No Starbucks. No Burger King. No Marriott. Most of the stores, restaurants, coffee shops, and hotels are individually owned places. For this city girl who has become alarmingly comfortable with known names (and known food), this was disconcerting. Thank goodness for the Trevor, the front desk supervisor at the Sundial, who knew the area.
That’s how we ended up, on Thursday, at the Island Cow for “linner” and Sanibel Bean for coffee.
The Island Cow is a cute establishment. When we got there, the large smiling cut-out of a cow greeted us. Outside, wooden beach chairs in pastels – blue, lavender, pink, yellow – decorated the entrance to the restaurant. An empty parrot cage stood near the door, and I briefly wondered where the parrot was. The food was tasty. I had the Beer Battered Fish and Chips with New England cod and home-made chips. My husband had the Dream Burger, and it was, in the words of my son, “kind of good.”
The Sanibel Bean embodies the appeal of local coffee shops, at least, the appeal they hold with me. According to our “guide,” the Sanibel Bean is family owned. When I walked in, pictures of customers holding an “I Love Sanibel Bean” sign decorated the walls, and the more I looked, the more pictures I found. Behind the register, there were a variety of coffee beans in plastic canisters, labeled by flavor: French Vanilla, Sumatra, Cinnamon, Colombian. I ordered a Latte Caramel, which was not quite my Caramel Macchiato, but was sweet and satiated that need for coffee dessert. It was, though, a little to sweet, so every subsequent visit I ordered a Vanilla Latte, which was perfect: sweet, milky, and enough caffeine to keep me awake and alert. On one of my breaks during the conference, I sat in the adjacent, screened-in section. This was the sit-down area, in a perfect blend of indoors and outdoors, and it was decorated with small, constant lights.
From there we explored the Blue Giraffe, where we ate two days in a row. Their Blue Giraffe Bistro Salad – which had lettuce, mandarine oranges, strawberries, walnuts, blue cheese (I opted not to have the blue cheese) and raspberry vinaigrette – with walnut crusted tilapia was fabulous. The combination of sweet, sour and salty comforted me. I’ve normally had this version of a salad with chicken but was won over with the tilapia. The other day I tried their lobster bisque and turkey/bacon wrap, but I was somewhat disappointed. Two spoonfuls into the bisque and I pushed it back, not able to take one more sip. To compensate, the waiter didn’t charge us for the key lime pie – a home made delicacy that had just the right amount of tartness. We appreciated the gesture.
We also visited Jerry’s Supermarket. It was clean, smaller than a usual Publix, but replete with that familiarity that only comes from a small, island establishment. The actual supermarket sat on the second floor of a building on stilts; the first floor was the designated parking and a conveyer belt, which we later learned was to bring down the groceries which an employee would then place in our car. I didn’t feel in Florida. Jerry’s Supermarket shares the building with several other boutiques and stores, as well as with five or six parrots, each of a different species. I can’t remember them all now, but one of them (it was either Mia or Babe) like to say “What?” as we passed by while another (again, either Mia or Babe) croaked out “Hello” – my son scurried up and down the benches, leaning in to the plastic railings that separated the birds to the rest of us, and saying, “Mami, look!” He had fun.
One thing that I couldn’t get over, even at the end, was how nice everyone was. Drivers actually respected the pedestrian crosswalks, and gave the right-of-ways. No one honked, yelled, or saluted with middle fingers. Everyone, all strangers, said “Hello” or “Good morning” or any other form of salutation, the good kinds. My husband rented a bike with a trailer, and both he and my son toured the island, from the wetlands and reserve to the playground to the barber shop. And all he could say was, “Wow, everyone’s so nice! No one tried to run me off the road while I was on the bike!” That says a lot; try doing the same in the streets of South Florida, and you’ll be lucky to get to your destination in one piece.