Captiva Island is where pirate captain Jose Gaspar held his female prisoners for ransom or as his personal concubines. Although legends say that traces of pirate treasure still remain along Florida’s shoreline and coastal waters, most visitors arrive for the beaches and seashell hunting. Both Sanibel and Captiva Islands, just across the toll bridge from Fort Meyers, attract tourists from near and far. We didn’t find any remarkable shells, but we also didn’t wander the shallows trying to sense them under the early morning tide.
I could just as well have titled this C is for Covid. It was time to try a Covid getaway after 8 months to see if life could go on in any form similar to what we had known. I had always wanted to see the beaches and shells of Sanibel and Captiva Islands outside of that area’s hot, humid, and buggy summer months and before their onslaught of snowbirds. The last week in October ticked off all the boxes. We didn’t fly, we drove. We stayed in a suites hotel. We only ate at outdoor restaurants. We were up early and among the first on the beaches, bike trails, and the Edison and Ford museum. We always wore masks and happily nearly everyone we saw did, too. Now that you know “the how” let’s get on with what we saw, did, and some of what we ate that inspired this month’s recipe.
The truth is, I was also doing a little business research with regard to Real Estate. I have been telling my buyers for years that the west coast of Florida properties cost about $100,000 more per unit than similar homes in Palm Coast. I also said, “you will be able to make a decision quickly about which coast you prefer as the west coast has a lot more going on versus the quieter, laid-back life of Palm Coast, The Hammock, and Flagler Beach”. Of course, what I meant in a non-offensive way, based on trips to Tampa/St Pete was that there are a lot more people, traffic, businesses, driving time, and distance to the beach. After our 3 day visit to Fort Meyers, Sanibel and Captiva Islands, and Naples. I will concur with myself that all of the above is still true. Additionally, parking at their beaches is not free like it is at all Flagler County beaches.
If you really want to live the water/boating life in a big way you will find it there. Palm Coast and Flagler County have waterfront properties on the salt-water canals, Intracoastal Waterway, and Ocean Front but to a much smaller scale than Lee and Collier Counties, home to Fort Meyers, Sanibel and Captiva Islands and Naples, Florida.
Putting business behind me, our first stop was to check out a couple of breweries. We both love IPAs so my online research took us first to Point Ybel Brewing Company within a mile of our hotel. Disappointment. We didn’t try the beer as the setup was very much an indoor bar with not a mask in sight. I got back online and specified outdoor seating. 15 miles and 28 minutes later we arrived at Fort Myers Brewing Company. From a safe Covid perspective it was perfect. Check out the massive amount of outside seating, masks on employees behind plexiglass screens, and the IPA wasn’t bad either. Of course, we arrived at the opening hour so we missed possible evening crowds.
The next morning we crossed the $6 toll bridge to Sanibel Island and paid $10 for 2 hours of parking. We thought we were early at 7:30 but others were there before us. Whether they had already found the best shells or there weren’t any we weren’t sure what all the fuss was about.
We did have a great 8-mile bike ride on the shady western side of Sanibel Island. It reminded us ever so slightly of the Hammock with tree-lined roads leading to the beach and some really lovely homes with tropical plants. It struck me that everyone we passed whether walking on the beach or riding on the bike path was exceptionally friendly. Perhaps they were all on their own Covid getaway and couldn’t quite stop smiling about it.
Time for Captiva Island reached by a short causeway without toll from the eastern side of Sanibel. Beautiful homes set back from the road beyond enormous Royal Palms. A short drive to the northern end of the island brought us to the beach I liked the best. Fortunately, it was also right next to one of the Doc Ford’s restaurants with that outdoor seating we desired.
We had to wait for it to open at 11 am but enjoyed a read under more of those Royal Palm trees. We weren’t reading any of Randy’s Wayne White’s books (Doc Ford is the main character if you are unfamiliar) as I’m pretty sure that I had already read them all!
We enjoyed our oysters and crabcakes with jicama slaw before heading back to check out Fort Meyers Beach. It was relatively busy and parts reminded me of Key West but smaller.
We are such busy bees when we travel that we decided to head down to Naples that same afternoon. We took the slow but direct Edisto Island route. There were million-dollar homes all along the way and even more once you reach Naples. We stretched our legs at the kitschy Tin City after driving through the downtown area of expensive homes and expensive shops and a quick peek at the beach.
On our last day, we spent the morning in downtown Fort Meyers. In hindsight, it was probably our favorite part of our Captiva/Covid getaway. We were the first of the day for tickets to Edison and Ford’s Winter Estates and museum. The self-guided tour was perfect as we had the place to ourselves and could replay the details on the Edison and
Ford Winter Estates downloaded app.
Each of the lights in Edison’s home was unique. He also had a laboratory that he worked at even when vacationing. He had a new invention every year for 65 years.
The porches were huge and all of the wicker furniture was original. The Edisons and Fords all enjoyed looking out at their mango trees. Ford’s home was even called “The Mangoes”.
We had lunch at Izzy’s also in Downtown Fort Meyers.
This main street of downtown was reminiscent of Fort Lauderdale with many shops, bars, and restaurants. 11 o’clock found us the perfect table outside to enjoy our Maine lobster grilled cheese sandwich and hushpuppies across from the Sidney and Berne Davis Art Museum. The day we were there they were showing movies downstairs and had yoga upstairs!
The last stop of our trip was back to Fort Meyers Beach, conveniently located near our hotel. We bought a couple pound of the renowned Key West pink shrimp that they bring in to the port where you can catch a 3-hour ferry to Key West. I think the fishing boats bring in the shrimp, not the ferry. Whichever, since Pink Shrimp with Shells is the title of this post, and since we didn’t find shells on the beach, here you have my favorite shrimp in their shells recipe!
Note: You may use any heads on shrimp for this recipe. I have made it from New Orleans bayou shrimp to cigales from the oil rigs of Dubai to North Sea shrimp in England to Tiger shrimp from Thailand at the Buford Farmers’ Market in Atlanta. In Palm Coast, I prefer fresh Mayport shrimp that I buy at the Asian Market if not directly from Safe Harbor in Mayport. Just keep in mind, the secret to the deliciousness of this recipe is to keep the heads and shells on.
I can’t remember where I first tasted a version of this recipe but it was called Barbecued Shrimp. It may have been in New Orleans, or at my sister’s house in Dubai, or from my own River Road cookbook. I have adapted it through the years and this one works a treat. Thank you Pink Shrimp for reminding me that it was time to share it.
The fat in the heads adds flavor and the shells keep the shrimp succulent.