Written by R D Lang Tuesday, 26 August 2008 00:00
At the heart of Captiva Island lies a bustling town square of sorts called Captiva Village. Home to quaint boutiques, colorful art galleries, al fresco dining, and a picturesque chapel...this is where the true community character of the island shines. This is where quirky meets chic. Where cheap tourists with sunburnt children bump up against the insane wealth of Captiva homeowners.
Smack dab in the middle of Captiva Village runs Andy Rosse Lane. This road runs the full width of Captiva Island, from the bay to the Gulf of Mexico, and acts as the epicenter of activity in the Village. It's laid-back. It's vibrant. It's tropical. It smells like fresh air, and salt water, and suntan lotion. This is the type of place vacation fantasies are made of.
Our focus today is the Mucky Duck, a destination restaurant located at the sunset end of Andy Rosse Lane.
As I pull into the parking lot at the Mucky Duck, I glimpse the vast stretch of ocean behind the restaurant. While Sanibel and Captiva have lots of restaurants, very few of them have a water view. Even less have a Gulf of Mexico view. The Mucky Duck is one of the few, proud restaurants on these beautiful islands with a bona fide Gulf of Mexico sunset view. If you're lucky enough to visit this restaurant around sunset, you'll usually be greeted by live tropical music on the back patio. The sound of crashing waves underlies all the songs. Strategically placed misters spray cooling water vapor into the ocean air. And, as the sun inches towards the horizon, a crowd of revelers head down toward the shoreline for a sunset celebration reminiscent of Mallory Square. I love places where people gather to applaud the rhythms of nature.
But I visit the Mucky Duck for lunch today. It's off-season and the skies are overcast. An almost-Caribbean feel hangs heavy in the humid air. Rich green palm fronds pop against the light gray sky. And the parking lot is almost full. During the slow season, while most restaurants are barely keeping their heads above water, you know you've stumbled upon something good when there's a waiting line out the door.
We put our name onto the waiting list and order a couple beers from the bartender.
The bar at the Mucky Duck is ornate and British. The walls are covered in wooden signs with satiric statements. "Everybody should believe in something...I believe I'll have another drink." Merchandise with the Mucky Duck Logo is on the wall behind the bar and hanging from the ceiling.
The Mucky Duck has a beer and wine license only. No hard liquor. But this is a beer place anyway. This is one of the few establishments in the area that knows a true pint of Guinness Stout takes a few minutes to pour.
The Mucky Duck has a storied history. In the early 1930's it was a tea house known as the Gulf View Inn. The small inn was flanked by a few cottages, and had a wonderful oceanfront view where you could be served beer or wine in addition to the tea. Time and tides passed, and with them significant beach erosion occurred. The Gulf View Inn eventually had to be moved 300 feet away from the beach to avert imminent destruction from the seething gulf waters. Eventually the Inn was closed. The property was sold and transformed into a private three bedroom beach house. It stayed that way until 1975, when two entrepreneurs bought it for use as a rental property. The Mayerons and the Webbs were down at the Fort Myers Courthouse, doing their due diligence on the property, when fate stepped in and they discovered an expired beer and wine license from the Gulf View Inn which could be reactivated for the minimal fee of one-hundred dollars. Excited at the idea of opening a restaurant, they began brainstorming what form it would take. The Webb's imagined an English pub. London had once been home to Mr. and Mrs Webb. While they lived there they used to frequent a well-known drinking establishment in the community of Stratford-Upon-Avon. This particular pub had two entrances. The entrance on the church side of the building had a sign over the door reading, "The Black Swan". The entrance on the theater side of the building had a sign over the door reading, "The Dirty Duck". Both entrances lead to the same place, a celebrated bar known to its devoted patrons as "the Mucky Duck".
They borrowed the name and renovated the property. The Mucky Duck on Captiva Island opened it's doors to the public on January 29, 1976. It was a success from the beginning. It's not hard to see why. If the most important factor when opening a restaurant is "location", they've got their competition beat hands down.
This is one of the places I visit when I need to remind myself why I live in Southwest Florida. This is where I bring my out-of-town guests when I want them to be jealous about my Margaritaville lifestyle. This is where I come when I want great food, relaxing music, and cold beer by the sea.
About halfway through the Guinness, my dining guest and I are paged and promptly brought to our window table. These are the seats to wait for at the Mucky Duck. From a window table you can look out over an idyllic oceanfront setting, just a few steps away from the palm tree and crushed shell beaches of Captiva Island. Everyone's vacationing. They aren't realizing it just yet, but these are the moments they'll reminisce on when they get back to wherever they came from. This is the place they'll wish they still were.
A friendly and experienced female server approaches our table and guides us through the menu. Todays mission is a few drinks, a light lunch, and a walk along the ocean. We re-up on drinks and spend the few minutes it takes to pour the new Guinness refining our entree choices.
The Lunch menu at the Mucky Duck is beyond reasonable in terms of pricing. It's not gourmet food by anyone's definition, but it is exactly the type of food my memories of childhood beach vacations make me crave. Salads. Sandwiches. Burgers. Fried seafood. Boiled shrimp. Comfort food for the sandcastle-set, done nicely, and at a price that can't be beat. Most restaurants on prime pieces of real estate seem to jack up their prices as if you're eating the view. And, in most cases, those high prices hold no guarantee of a commensurate meal. I defy any of my readers to point me towards another ocean-front restaurant in our community with the charm, atmosphere, variety, quality of food, and low prices the Mucky Duck offers consistently.
The server returns with our drinks, and we place our order. My guest takes the Lunch Salad with Mesquite Grilled Chicken Breast. I opt for the Oyster Po Boy.
While we wait for our lunches to cook, the quirky parade of tom-foolery and trickery the Mucky Duck is known for unfolds at the tables around us. Guests finishing their meals are asked if they would care for some coffee by a server carrying a coffee cup. In a display of ineptitude the server topples the cup into their customers' laps. After the initial fear and shock subside, it is revealed that the coffee cup was rigged and empty. Laughter prevails.
Guests sitting at a corner table towards the back of the low-ceilinged dining room are entertained when their server rolls over a window on wheels and informs them they now have window seats.
Golden duck prints on the floor lead the way to the restrooms.
Our meals are brought swiftly.
The Lunch Salad my guest ordered is comprised of mixed garden greens, red and green bell pepper, mushrooms, and sliced tomatoes. It is topped with mesquite grilled chicken breast slices and is served with a side of fat-free vinaigrette dressing and a warm dinner roll. The vegetables are crisp and fresh. The dressing is healthy and flavorful. The perfect light lunch for a hot day at the beach.
My Oyster Po Boy is a handful of breaded select oysters fried golden brown and served on a toasted bun with lettuce, tomato, onion, fries, and cole slaw. The oysters are crisp, but not greasy. The tidal taste of the salt marsh. Briny. Satisfying. The cool crunch of the lettuce and tomato are refreshing. The fries and cole slaw are old school. Nothing fancy. Dependable. Enjoyable.
The service was excellent throughout. Our needs were anticipated. A few bites into my sandwich, the server appears with a plastic ketchup bottle and asks if I need any with my fries. Before I can answer, she's trying to squirt some on my plate. She's having trouble getting the ketchup to come out. She squeezes harder, until it pops and ketchup sprays all over my face. I'm bewildered and angry...until I realize the ketchup is actually red yarn, and she's gotten me good with her prank. Even with all the other high-jinks occurring around us, I just didn't see it coming. My guest, and some neighboring diners, got a good laugh out of it.
We finish lunch with a suggested piece of Key Lime Pie. When it comes to the Key Lime Pie, I'm a connoisseur, and this one was notable. Almost white in color, and ridiculously light and creamy with an appropriate measure of tart acidity...I wish I had the recipe.
The server offered us plastic "go-cups" so we could take our drinks outside. We settled into the most relaxing set of double Adirondack chairs in the world, and watched time fly on the beach before us. Waverunners. Parasailing. Roped off sea turtle nests. Frisbee games. Swimming. Birds. Sea oats. Rainbow umbrellas. And dolphins breaking the surface of a glistening ocean.
Those of us who reside in Southwest Florida are beyond blessed to have destinations like the Mucky Duck just miles away from us at all time. Strange, how so few of my neighbors and acquaintances ever take the time to get out and appreciate the treasures of the place they call home. It's good to play tourist on a regular basis, even when you're not.
Get out and do something!
-- writing and photography by R. D. Lang
R.D. Lang is the nom de plume of a regular joe who dines on his own dime.
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