Cedar Key — A remote seafood sanctuary
This island city, a two-hour drive north from Tampa, juts 3 miles into the Gulf of Mexico. With just 800 residents, Cedar Key exemplifies a laid-back coastal destination — small crowds, good food, friendly folks. Don’t be surprised to see people puttering by in golf carts.
“Hey, do you know what kind of fish this is?” a young man on the pier asks as we examine his catch. Heck, I wouldn’t know a carp from a catfish. But I am pleased that I seem to fit in at this casual fishing outpost.
In addition to great pier fishing, Cedar Key is known for fresh seafood and world-class clam chowder. With the latter in mind, I drive straight to Tony’s Seafood Restaurant. The three-time winner of the national Great Chowder Cook-off — held each year in Newport, Rhode Island — is serving lunch, and I want to sample the “King of Chowder.”
A spoonful of the creamy, surprisingly spicy, chowder immediately hits the spot. Dan DeWitt, a longtime journalist at the Tampa Bay Times, declares this is the best bowl of clam chowder he’s ever dipped a spoon into. “The aroma told me that adding even a few grains of pepper would be defacing a masterpiece,” DeWitt writes.
Bars, restaurants and lodging options line busy Dock Street, the main thoroughfare along the water. I spend an hour perusing the souvenir shops and strolling along the pier, and then check in at the Island Hotel and Restaurant, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. In the hotel’s cozy Neptune Lounge and Bar, a mural of King Neptune, painted in 1948, hangs over the bar, keeping a watchful eye while I have dinner and enjoy the best Key lime pie I’ve had in years. Maybe the Roman god of the sea is hoping for leftovers. No such luck.