Monday, December 28, 2015

New England on a tropical Island? Yep, Sanibel has it!

Tropical , colorful Sanibel would appear at first glance to have no connection to New England.

But the connection is there naturally with the love and natural inclination to enjoy the sea and all it offers.

And several Sanibel restaurants have long boasted the connection with the selections on the menus. 

But now there is one restaurant that draws even more upon that connection in the wonderful offerings it provides for diners.
The Clam Shack opened in September  in the former Greenhouse Grill space on Sanibel, an island better known for grouper and mahi than haddock and Ipswich clams. A sister restaurant to the 10-year-old Clam Bake in south Fort Myers, The Clam Shack completely fills in the New England-seafood leanings  on Sanibel.

Run by Mark Thomas, a classically trained chef, and his wife-slash-front-of-house-manager Laurie, The Clam Shack serves lobster rolls, stuffed quahogs, clam cakes, and two kinds of chowder. There’s the creamy New England-style chowder most are accustomed to, and the broth-based Rhode Island chowder Mark grew up eating in West Warwick.   That’s where he first went clamming with his father, where he first learned to stuff fist-sized quahogs with breadcrumbs and chorizo (or chourico as it’s known in Mark’s predominantly Portuguese former hometown), and where he first appreciated the crisp, puffy wonders of a perfectly fried clam cake.

Recently observed, Mark Thomas ducked into The Clam Shack’s tiny kitchen. He pulled open the oven door unleashing a plume of steam.
The pies were ready. “These are strawberry-rhubarb,” he said, smiling and setting the bubbling pastries onto the lone snippet of clear counter. “I don’t know anyone else here doing strawberry-rhubarb pies like this — just us.”Doing things differently is The Clam Shack way.

“This was really going back to our roots,” Mark said of The Clam Shack’s simple menu. “We’re serving those items we loved eating at all the little clam shacks and fry shacks back home.”
The Thomases split their time between the restaurant in south Fort Myers and this one on Sanibel. Their daughter Cara LaSalle has assumed the helm at The Clam Bake. Mark’s brother Paul Thomas drives in from Fort Lauderdale to lend a hand at The Clam Shack from Thursday to Sunday.

“If it weren’t for our amazing family and staff, we’d never be able to do this,” Laurie smiled. “We’ve found a good thing out here, it really feels like home.”


Sunday, December 20, 2015

2015 a Banner Year for Sanibel

Our visitors to Sanibel are demonstrating that the real estate motto, "location, location, location" applies to vacations as well as home purchases.

One measure of the island's appeal is the surge of car traffic onto Sanibel in 2015, a significant increase since 2014.

According to recent traffic data from LeeWay, which operates the toll facility at the Sanibel Causeway. It shows that 255,097 vehicles passed through the tolls this past October. That's ten thousand more than the 245,090 vehicles to the island in October 2014.

Much of this is local traffic, people coming from nearby locations.

With a $6 toll charge for cars, and parking rates at $4 an hour at the island's Gulf beaches, Sanibel is a little pricier to visit than Fort Myers Beach on Estero Island, just to the south of Sanibel. The bridges connecting Estero Island to the mainland are free to cross, and parking there is significantly lower.

So why pay more?

Because you get less on Sanibel.

Less people on the beach.  Less problems in parking. Less challenges in finding a place to eat without the winter crowds.

But you also get more on Sanibel, too.

Those who are enchanted by nature, will find it abundant on the Island.  One does not have to look for it, it will come to you.  Beaches are magnets for dozens of different birds from pelicans to plovers, each with their own charm.

And during winter months particularly, those who are enchanted by culture can get their fill.  Big Arts and other venues offer easy to get to, easy to park entertainment ranging from lectures to concerts.

And those who just want to feel that they have escaped the ordinary and entered the extraordinary tropical island life, things could not be simpler. 

In fact, life on Sanibel is simple by traffic lights, essentially two main roads making it impossible to get lost, and a feeling of  being able to breathe easy.

Nothing in life is perfect, we know, but a day, a week , a month or more on sweet Sanibel is just about as good as it gets.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Recent Bird Sightings on Sanibel: What's here Now and How to See them

Although our small tropical island has an international reputation for being an exceptionally wonderful place for birders, some tourists may come and be disappointed.

They will see the shore birds at the beach in abundance, but they will not see many of the non shore birds unless they look for them.

And sometimes that search must be enhanced.

Yes, like most good things in life, birds are best seen both through binoculars and the eyes of seasoned watchers.

During the winter months, The Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) – in cooperation with the Sanibel-Captiva Audubon Society -- conducts birding tours on Foundation Preserves that are normally not open to the public.

And we can guarantee through experience that on these birding tours, you will see many birds not easily observable with the novice eye.

One of the Island's most interesting birds is the Belted Kingfisher.  This comical looking big headed bird will not be seen along our Gulf Shores and often not near the still waters of our Mangrove Swamps.  The Kingfisher prefers to perch in trees that are adjacent to slow moving, clean water.  But even knowing that, it will not be a no brainer to find one.  An expert can spot a Kingfisher in a flash and effectively point one out for you to see or photograph.  Once you do this a couple of times, you will do much better on your own.

Similarly, Rails, common on Sanibel, are not beach goers but swampy marsh dwellers.  But they are shy and secretive for the most part.  Calls are usually the best clues to their presence, again necessitating research or guidance.  Rails bodies are literally compressed,  hence the expression "think as a rail" allowing them to escape into dense grass or weeds.

Another bird residing on Island currently, is the sweet and lovely White Eyed Vireo.  But you will need to don your good walking shoes and dust off your binoculars for a view. A small secretive vireo, the White Eyed species in most often found in dense brush within or along edges of woods.  And they stay low in the vegetation. 

We encourage everyone to see our shore birds.  They will be waiting for you at the beach during all hours of the day, generally.   And, during the fall, winter and spring, serious Sanibel birders know to visit Lighthouse point in the early morning, when large numbers of migrating birds can be found resting in the trees.

But for the broadest most comprehensive and most satisfying bird watching time, bird tours will give the best results.  Just take our word on that....