Newport, Rhode Island
Some notable highlights for good Rhody food include a hidden delight, Belle’s Cafe, at the Newport Shipyard with really good lobster rolls and an interesting setting featuring many of the yachts and sailboats in the area. Relax and enjoy all the activity around you.
Flo’s Clam Shack (in Middletown), is a local favorite for fresh fried clams and fried everything else! Best fried clams I’ve ever had. Bring your appetite.
Bodega Bay, Northern California
The Russian River flows into the Pacific on the Sonoma Coast and much of the coast is part of the Sonoma Coast State Beach. Highway 101 runs along this dramatic, protected area. We drove the stretch between Bodega Bay and Jenner. It was uncrowded and seemed so remote, with wild, uncorrupted beauty. There was no cell service.
All this scenery and wine tasting made us hungry and we headed back towards Bodega Bay (where Alfred Hitchcock filmed The Birds) and the Spud Point Crab Company. You don’t come here for a luxury setting, comfortable chairs (picnic tables outside), bathrooms (across the street at the marina), or heat (it was cold and windy); what you will get is terrific crab, shrimp and clam chowder. They have won awards for the best clam chowder on the Pacific coast and I can taste why, it was wonderful. Service was fast and friendly and we were soon on our way to San Francisco.
Key Largo, Florida
Alabama Jacks has the best conch fritters ever. We can’t even remember how long we’ve been coming to this great South Florida spot – at least 25 years, and it is always consistently fun. First, let me say, the food is great. The Conch Fritters are incredible, actually one large mound, not wimpy, little bite-size croquettes like most places. Other favs include the smoked fish pieces, fish spread, and peel & eat shrimp.
The setting? Well, it’s special too: all the way down deserted-looking Card Sound Road, right where Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties meet, on a permanently anchored barge, with a water view on the Gulf side.
It’s casual, very casual; a weekend-bikers destination that attracts boaters who dock, as well as a mix of locals, tourists, kids, Coast Guardsmen, red hat ladies, and every type of person you can imagine. From tattoos and designer shorts to sunburns and square-dancing costumes, nothing is out of place. On Saturday and Sunday afternoons they play host to a country music band, and patrons will be even more entertained by the friendly local clogging crowd.
Alabama Jacks is the way Florida used to be and has a vibe far too few get to experience these days. So, when you’re in Miami/South Beach for a visit, keep driving south and see what Florida is really about.
Pensacola is pleasant, walkable and friendly. We were visiting on a Monday and the historic tours weren’t operating, but on the plus side, Monday is 25 cent oyster night at Atlas Oyster House. So, that’s $3 for a dozen terrific, plump Louisiana Gulf oysters! I think we ate about three dozen.
Rhode Island is such a state of contrasts from the elegance of Newport to the quaintness of Narragansett and fine dining to the best of seafood from beach-side shacks. Most importantly for us, Rhode Island also means spending time with good friends, seeing long-time college buddies and of course, a visit to a URI football game.
The exploring is fun since you never have to go too far (or you are in another state) to find that great antique treasure, a beautiful coastal scene or the next great lobster roll. Some notable highlights for good Rhody food include, the well-known Black Pearl on the wharf; hidden delight, Belle’s Cafe, at the Newport shipyard; Castle Hill for a killer alfresco brunch with a view; Blue Rocks Market to supply everything needed for a tasty tailgate party; and Flo’s Clam Shack (in Middletown), for fresh fried clams and everything else!
Oh yeah, and for a unique Mexican experience, try Perro Salado (Salty Dog) for some kick-ass margaritas and unusual items like fried avocado and sticky ribs. Located in a restored 18th century Naval officer’s home, they describe themselves as a “boisterous gathering space” and I can attest to the truth behind that statement. Just one caveat, watch out for who might be sitting at the next table!
Then, of course, there are the famous Newport mansions. It would take an entire summer to really explore them thoroughly. Properties run by The Preservation Society of Newport County offer reasonably priced self-guided audio tours. Allow at least an hour per mansion, but you could spend many more if you have time to take advantage of the wealth of extra information that goes beyond the basic tour and offers glimpses into the people, activities, and drama of the Gilded Age era. The Elms also features a “Servant Life Tour” which is very similar to the “Behind the Scenes” tour at Asheville’s Biltmore Estate. A $15 bargain ($12 for Preservation Society members). You can buy tickets on-line or at the door for all the tours, but the guided “Servant Life Tour” runs hourly and does book up during peak times. Single mansion tickets run under $15 and a variety of packages are available including five properties for under $35. Check out the website: www.NewportMansions.org
We never tire of the Ten Mile Ocean Drive and if time and weather permit, be sure to check out the Cliff Walk. It’s also fun to just walk around the shops and galleries in town, enjoy the restaurants and bars in the lively wharf area, shop the unique boutiques on Bellevue Ave., or relax in one of the many parks. Every time we visit I discover more wonderful Rhode Island surprises; the state is an often overlooked gem.