It’s amazing what you can ignore in your own back yard. Since my move to Florida, I’ve been to Orlando, Miami, South Beach, St. Augustine, Sebring, Tampa, and Key West. Along the way I’ve hit Disney, Universal Studios, Bush Gardens, as well as botanical gardens, music concerts, book fairs, and other places of gathering. And yet, for all this, I almost missed a major landmark and cultural icon. Cabbage Key. Heard of it? No, you’re not sure? Hmm. Ever hear the song “Cheeseburger in paradise” by Jimmy Buffett? Yep! That’s the one. Cabbage Key and The Cabbage Key Inn are the inspiration for that song and have been featured heavily on many travel and food shows up and down the television channels.
So how did I not see this for so long? One reason is that you can’t drive to Cabbage Key. There are no bridges that cross over to the little island and no roads there once you’re on it. That means travel is limited to boats and water planes. (Ok. You could technically swim it, but with hammerheads, blacktips, and lemon sharks swimming the intracoastal, I wouldn’t advise it.) The other reason is that I thought it was much further up the coast. With a week off, it was a perfect time to correct this mistake.
Carol and I enjoyed calm waters as we steamed leisurely up Charlotte Harbor. Passing the Island of Boca Grande, a few dolphins swam up to join us.
The First Mate explained to us that the dolphins were not swimming alongside the ship, but were actually surfing the wake. Cheers and clapping encouraged the finned coupe to jump through the air as they surfed just under the surface. They also enjoyed giving the closets viewers an unexpected shower as the splashed close by the side of the boat.
After stopping at Cayo Costa state park to let off some passengers for the day, we continued south for another twenty minutes before reaching our destination.
I was surprised by my findings. Cabbage Key is small! I was expecting an island three times larger. At only 100 acres, it holds five houses, the inn, a water tower, a maintenance shop and a quick nature trail.
Cabbage Key Inn has wonderful views and the restaurant is covered in the most expensive wall paper I’ve ever seen! Carol counted over four hundred dollars on the pole alone.
The wall paper may be a dull green, but the drinks are vibrantly colored. Carol enjoyed the sweetness of the Chambord Margarita while I indulged in the classic Golden Margarita. It may have only been two in the afternoon, but why not?
When you go to iconic places, you have to try the food they’re known for: Lobster in Maine; Pulled pork bar-b-cue in South Carolina; Paczkis in Hamtramck. Likewise I just had to have a Cheeseburger in Paradise. I was not disappointed. Thick and juicy, this perfectly sized burger featured lettuce, tomato, onion, topped with gooey melted cheese, all on a toasted bun. It doesn’t overload the bun but compliments it.
There is one deterrent to island life though. With such limited space, there are no fries with any meal. In fact, nothing is fried at the restaurant. There is no cost effective way to store the new and used oil as well as shipping it over to the mainland for proper disposal. On the bright side, every ingredient is guaranteed fresh as it is brought over on a daily basis.
After our lunch, Carol and I walked off some calories touring the nature trail. Full and content, we relaxed as we rode the still water home. Cabbage Key and the inn found a place in our hearts just as we left a little of us to mark our visit.