Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Smokin' J's Real Texas BBQ

My other perennial sandwich obsession besides the Philly Cheesesteak is the Pulled Pork Sandwich, and though I don't have much nice to say about Gulfport's dining options, a notable exception is Smokin' J's. Even now, typing these words, I find my tummy grumbling, crying out for more of their fine products.

They have plenty of dining-in space, and a cute little patio with picnic tables, but they were so close to where I lived that I mostly chose to use their walk-up window and pack these little piggies home to my porch.

In fact, I daresay the only places in Gulfport even worth your time to eat would be Smokin' J's, O'Maddy's, and Siri's Gourmet Burgers. Tell 'em I sent you by!

Bleu Cellar

Their website calls it Bleu Provence, but their sign says "Bleu Cellar". Whatever. It's a fantastic little bistro and enoteca right by the water's edge in Olde Naples.

Their wine selection is so deep, they not only had everything I tried to play "stump the sommelier" with, they had scores of stuff I'm far too lowbrow to have heard of. One could spend a lifetime here going through their holy archives... and I probably will.

(They serve food too, so I hear. I dunno. I came for the wine, and stayed for the wine.)

Tin City

And then there's Tin City, one of my favorite places in all of Naples. It's a dimly-lit decrepit old complex of buildings that look like they've been (barely) standing since the 19th century, and decorated in all manner of kitschy bric-a-brac. It's a maze of little shops and restaurants, each more delightful than the last, and though I'm not sure how they manage to stay in business, let us pray they continue to do so.

Trackside Donuts

I haven't actually been in Trackside Donuts in Bonita Springs yet; I'm just fascinated by their A-frame architecture.

According to this article, the location has been through a string of occupants over the years, including a Mexican restaurant and a place called Three Sisters (referring, perhaps, to the play by Chekhov? Or the traditional Squash/corn/beans agricultural combo? Or maybe the three graces, the daughters of Zeus and Eurynome?)

But what was the building originally built for? I must know.

Telecrylic Manor

Having spent the last year and a half bopping from place to place, from beach cottage to hotel room to Airbnb hosting, it's nice to finally settle down a bit into a lovely house in Naples where I will put down a few roots for the foreseeable. On the other hand, this means I have to pay the utility bills myself and go out and find some damn furniture. (Good thing I don't really need much except for a place to lay my head and lay my computers, kinda like John Lennon's huge bedroom at the Dakota which contained nothing but a mattress, a pack of cigarettes, and a guitar.)

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Marco Island

Just past Naples, you take a short drive south through the outer edges of the Everglades, and suddenly find an oasis of civilization amid the swamps - Marco Island. Though it's much-ballyhooed for its shopping experience, I don't find it to be nearly as special as the over-the-top shopping island St. Armand's Key off the coast of Sarasota. Marco's pretty much, as far as I gleaned, just another bunch of high-rise condos and pizza joints with retirees shuffling around carrying towels and pool noodles as they walk their terriers.

What I like best about the island is Caxambas Park at the very bottom, where you finally reach the end of the line unless you have a boat in tow and I didn't.

Here, you overlook the beginnings of the Ten Thousand Islands, a seemingly endless labyrinth of isles (there aren't quite ten thousand of them, but it seems that way sometimes!) where innumerable adventures of piracy and exploration took place in distant points on the track of time.

Naples Soap Company

When you want fancy soaps in Naples, there's only once place to go and it shouldn't surprise you to learn that place is called.... Naples Soap Company.

Since when do I care so much about fine soaps? Since I discovered their "Port Royal", which smells like... tobacco!

Room 206

There have been rumblings and rumors over the years about ghosts in room 206 in the Super 8 motel, International Drive, Orlando. I'd love to investigate, but you know, that would entail actually staying in a Super 8 motel, and that just ain't gonna happen.

Supposedly the shape of a human figure can be seen imprinted on the bed as if an invisible person is laying there. Other versions of the story are less specific, and just mention the usual apparitions and 'cold spots'. There's a hotel called The Peabody, also on International Drive, said (in places like here) to have an unusually high quotient of suicides take place on the premises, and that the ghosts of the deceased wander the halls.

I have a real love-hate thing about Orlando (mostly hate) so I can certainly swallow the statistic about suicide - hitting ten toll booths in ten minutes is enough to drive anybody over the deep end. But if anything's really haunting Orlando, it's probably Walt Disney himself, royally pissed off at what a mess they've made of his original intentions for EPCOT!

Grouper and Chips

So far, one of my favorite restaurants in Naples is a little joint called Grouper and Chips. Though their menu offers all kinds of cool stuff, I keep coming back again and again for - what else? - grouper and chips.

Wynn's Market

Speaking as an Appalachian fat boy who likes to eat, there's not as many fine high-end gourmet foods stores in Florida as I'd prefer. Lucklily, though, I've managed to find one in nearly port I've berthed. In Gulfport/St. Pete I had Mazzaro's Market, in Clearwater there was Nature's Food Patch, and in Sarasota there was Morton's Gourmet Market.

And now, in Naples, there is Wynn's.

I find myself, after struggling in other cities to search endlessly for the good eats, now faced with more choices than I can keep up with. There's a Whole Foods and a Trader Joe's, but it's Wynn's that keeps me coming back again and again to stock up on snacks.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Rocky Patel's BURN

It's no secret I'm a huge fan of Rocky Patel. Not just his delicious boxpressed wonders, but the man himself, his style, his balls, his moxie, his chutzpah. Unlike some cigar company guys who put on a false pose of being a down-to-Earth "simple man of the soil", Rocky puts on the pose of being a cigar-world rock star. And you know what? He is. What I said about Gene Simmons three years ago applies to Rocky as well:

Gene Simmons gets a lot of flak for being an egomaniac. You can easily find online whiners who complain that he shouldn't talk so much about the things he does. Still others even go so far to say that he shouldn't even be doing the things he does. As if he should just do nothing because some slacker on the internet thinks it's "not cool" to have your own clothing line and your own perfume line and your own TV show and your own coffee company and to get to ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange. I'd much rather be like Gene Simmons than be like his online detractors and haters, broadcasting live from mommy's basement.

And so it is that moving to Naples is for me, something akin to a Catholic moving to Vatican City or a Muslim moving to Mecca. For it's here that Rocky is headquartered, and it's here where his outstanding cigar bar, BURN, is located. Some of my upcoming novel The Tract of Blood has been written here, propping up the bar, tossin' 'em back, and enjoying those fine XEN torpedos and old-recipe Royales. It's a very luxurious place that inspires all who enter - at least this is my fondest hope - to feel a newfound sense of "dammit, I am worthy" when they sit here and partake of the tobacco sacrament inside these leather-seated, marble-clad walls.

I still haven't seen Rocky there though. (Call me, Rocky, let's do lunch...)

Dairy Inn

Right across the street from where Kerouac liked to drink stands one of my all-time favorite ice cream stands - Dairy Inn. Much has been made of Kerouac's frequenting of the Flamingo Bar, but since we also know that Jack also was an aficionado of cones, I'm absolutely certain he stumbled over here once in a while to get a banana split.

They have so much goodness on the menu - including beignets, Philly Cheesesteaks, and scrambled eggs - that my mind just shuts down trying to absorb it all. Therefore, I tend to just grab a butterscotch-dipped soft-serve cone and be on my merry way.... across the street.

The Citrus Place

The "Old Florida" don't get no older than this here Old Florida: you'll find The Citrus Place on Terra Ceia Island, at an intersection that is your last chance to stop and turn around before crossing the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

They're been there for almost 40 years, carrying on the noble tradition of mom-n-pop fruit vending into the era of drones and smartphones. And is their stuff any good? Man, I can't even tell you how special their fresh-squeezed orange juice is; there's nothing like it. You think you've had "genuine Florida orange juice" before but you haven't, and I hadn't. Now I have, and I'm hooked.

Fortunately, according to their business card, they will ship their wares. Woo-hoo!

Me and a Friend

I was recently traipsing around the DeSoto National Memorial Park in Bradenton, and posed for a photo with my good gal Inez.

Okay, actually, she's just a cardboard stand-up. But she's lifelike, ain't she?

Red Kid Graffiti

You see graffiti in Naples so infrequently, I'm always pleasantly surprised when I do. This specimen was spotted on a dumpster in Olde Naples. What is it exactly? Not sure. A kid bundled up in a hood like South Park's Kenny?

The Wandering Madman

He's out there somewhere on the road in Florida at any given moment, waiting to strike again and perform for you - The Wandering Madman lives in a repurposed food truck that he sits inside, performing songs on his keyboard for anyone who happens to walk by.

He's not only a first-class nut in the greatest American individualist tradition (and I mean that as a compliment), he's also a fantastic singer and pianist; I mean like mega-professional quality. And, like your humble chronicler here, he seems to have an encyclopedic appetite for songs of all styles and eras. I think he just might be my new personal piano hero.

And he's also a profoundly nice guy: he regularly donates his proceeds to local non-profit no-kill animal shelters. According to his website, he recently raised $768 for them, despite having his truck burglarized and his bike stolen. He's a class act.

His bio, according to his website:

He is simply a man who can no longer ignore how precious life is and how important it is to set your sights on something extraordinary. He traded in a life of comforts for the confines of a box truck that he now calls home.

He travels the country, spending his days creating music and the nights learning from the people, places and sounds of this magnificent planet. There is no physical destination in mind but rather a state of awareness that he hopes to one day achieve.

His site is also loaded with goodies, like a Google Map that shows you his exact location at any given time, a live webcam, and an offer to put on personal concerts for you via webcam. He also has his own YouTube channel, wherein he covers everything from Todd Rundgren to Trent Reznor.