Written by Eric Taubert Friday, 26 September 2008 00:00
According to popular consensus, breakfast on Sanibel Island is a locked topic. The jury is in. You've got three options to choose from, a trio of Cafe's. The Lighthouse Cafe, the Sanibel Cafe, and the Over Easy Cafe.
Today I'm going to buck the trend, defy convention, shock my readers, and head to a breakfast spot on Sanibel which exists outside the holy trinity of bacon and eggs. Today I drive to Santiva, the small community where Sanibel meets Captiva, and take my sunrise chances at the Sunset Grill.
It's a blue-sky midmorning on a Sanibel Saturday in doldrum September. The causeway is bustling with unseasonable activity as I make my way towards the Island. Sailboats glide across the water. Fishing poles are held expectantly. And all along the shoreline are the omnipresent shell collectors canvassing the area for some of the treasures brought in by our recent tropical storms.
The ride to Santiva is one of my favorite wastes of time, slow-going and desolately scenic. Car wheels spin at around thirty-five miles per hour as Periwinkle Way becomes Tarpon Bay Road, which in turn becomes San-Cap Road. There's always some rental-car-driving tourist tailgating me and itching to pass. I pay them no mind. They'll do what they do, and they'll never understand how we live here anyway. There's way too much to see, you miss it all if you drive too fast. Hell, I wish I could get out and bike to my destination, or even walk...slow it down as much as possible. Sea grapes. Flowering sea grasses. Railroad vines. Slash pines. Mop-topped cabbage palms and peeling-skin gumbo limbo trees. They all gently scent the air and rustle in the ocean air.
The good thing about breakfast joints on Sanibel Island, is that I can drive as slow as I want, almost all of them serve breakfast until three pm. Unlike the out-of-towners, these restaurant owners do understand how we live here. Thank god someone does. Late to bed and late to rise, unless we decide otherwise.
I navigate a bend in the road, and all at once I'm back in civilization. Santiva emerges from the tropical vegetation and sand-strewn road like a mirage, right before you get there you'll know you've arrived. It's something unspoken and precognitive. A shimmer in the air. It happens at special places. Santiva and Blind Pass are one of those special places.
It is right here, somewhere between the Lazy Flamingo and the Castaways beach cottages, where you'll find the Sunset Grill.
The building is colorful, but modest. The parking lot is empty. The front porch, with an obstructed view of the ocean, is empty. The inside of the restaurant, comfortable with a recently renovated wine and wood interior, is also empty. No taking a number and waiting for an open table like at the other breakfast hotspots. Granted, it's a strange late morning hour, somewhere between breakfast and lunch...but still, I'm more than pleased to have this little corner of paradise to myself for the time being.
My dining guest and I choose the best table on the rustic covered porch and a server appears within a minute. We're offered breakfast and lunch menus, and our drink order is taken.
Although the sun is hot, the porch is shaded, and the Gulf of Mexico breeze flirts through our hair and keeps us cool as we peruse the menus. Eggs, check. Bacon, check. Sausage, check. Buttermilk pancakes, check. All the standard breakfast items are present and accounted for. In addition, there are a slew of Sunset Grill Specialties. Eggs Blind Pass. Eggs Santiva. Eggs Captiva. Biscuits and Gravy. Bagel and Smoked Salmon. Sunset Egg Sandwich. And a delicious sounding Banana Nut French Toast.
My guest opts for the Eggs Blind Pass, while I commit to the Eggs Captiva.
We sit at a table, on an alfresco porch, on a barrier island jutting out into the salty Gulf, sipping spicy bloody marys, completely draped in just another perfect South Florida crystal morning, waiting for our breakfast plates to arrive, as waves crash in the audible distance. Life is good. If it gets any better than this, I don't even want to know about it. Let me be content.
Then the server places our meals before us, and my morning gets even better. Two beautiful breakfasts now grace our tabletop, along with a side of crispy bacon. Sun. Sand. Surf. Drinks. Food. Priceless.
The Eggs Blind Pass my guest is enjoying consists of a toasted English muffin with Canadian Bacon, tomatoes, and two poached eggs topped with Sunset Grill's signature Keylime Sauce. My Eggs Captiva are two homemade crab cakes and two poached eggs served on a toasted English muffin also with the Keylime Sauce. When you're on the islands, you've always got to go with the keylime.
Both breakfast entrees are served with a side of shredded hash brown potatoes.
Let's be honest...for the most part, a poached egg is pretty much a poached egg. An English muffin is an English muffin. And Canadian bacon is Canadian bacon. The two crabcakes on my Eggs Captiva held their own, and definitely paired nicely in their flavor profile with the rest of the dish. What I'm trying to say here is: Breakfast is Breakfast. I suppose that's why you don't often read many breakfast reviews. But the Keylime sauce they topped our two Sunset Grill Breakfast Specialties with made this meal more than just an average breakfast. The tasteful, subtle, gently acidic, creamy and tropical sauce did the work and turned what might have been a breakfast-breakfast into an Island-breakfast that was unique and unforgettable.
As we ate our meals a spattering of other smiling customers began to arrive and occupy the porch with us. Everyone was quiet. Everyone was happy.
After paying our check, we leave our car parked where it is, and cross the road to the sandy beach. We leave our shoes by the beach entrance and walk barefoot down to the shell-strewn shoreline. The warm ocean waves lap at our feet as birds soar overhead. Out on the sandbar several women search in vain for an elusive junonia. Up by Blind Pass the huge shell piles have recently reappeared, and adults and children alike while away vacation hours, future memories, digging and sorting and comparing, looking for something wonderful to bring back home with them.
I've already found mine in the moments of this perfect breakfast outing at Santiva's Sunset Grill.
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