August 29, 2014

Here & Now

A new acquaintance of mine, who collects second homes, just moved into her newly renovated brownstone on New York’s Upper East Side. "Do come up," she says. "We’ll meet for brunch in SoHo, go antiquing in TriBeCa and then sample a divine new restaurant in NoLita."

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of decades, that’s South of Houston Street, The Triangle Below Canal Street—and most recently—North of Little Italy. SoHo, TriBeCa, NoLita. Huh. I should return the invitation: "Do come down," I’ll say. "We’ll meet for lunch at a chic little bistro in SoRitz, peruse the designer labels in BeWaCo and, if the spirit moves you, check out the price tags of some beach cottages for sale in LaWeTra."

That’s South of the Ritz (as in Carlton, Naples), Between Waterside and Coconut Point and—as any high-end realtor knows—Land West of the Trail. Take that, New York! We already matched your Fifth Avenue—if not in length, certainly in resort-chic. And you must admit, we do make your little wine festivals look a bit pedestrian.

Just kidding. But truly, we are becoming a Little New York, in a way. Consider our delightful ethnic enclaves. We’ve got our Little Kentucky, our Little Ohio, and we are, literally, the South Side of Chicago. O, and when they strike up the Naples Concert Band at Cambier Park, they play the American National Anthem first ("O say can you see?" et cetera) followed by O Canada. Why is it, by the way, that national anthem writers are allowed to leave off the "h" in Oh?

But back to our enclaves. You may know that Fort Myers Beach (which is North of the Ritz, making it NoRitz) has an impressive population of authentic 1960s Flower Children. But did you also know it is home to one of Florida’s largest shrimping communities? I thought not. Dozens of shrimp boats head out of the marina under the Matanzas Pass Bridge each month on the waning moon, returning on the full moon with holds full of succulent wild Florida pink shrimp.

Shrimpers are a salty bunch. You would be, too, if you spent 30 to 40 days under the subtropical sun somewhere between here and the Dry Tortugas, with only flocks of screaming seagulls and a gazillion 10-legged crustaceans for company. Yes, the little critters have five pairs of legs, three of which are used for walking.

I know this because this month marks the 50th anniversary of the Fort Myers Beach Lions Club Shrimp Festival and Parade (March 8 and 9 this year), and I thought it prudent to get up to speed on my shrimpology. Laugh if you want, but I know why pink shrimp are named pink shrimp, and it’s not because of their delicate pearly pink hue. Every authentic wild Florida pink shrimp has a telltale pink dot somewhere on its body. According to Vicki Ely of Beach Seafood on Fort Myers Beach, the dot can be anywhere—but no dot means it’s not the real thing.

I also know why shrimpers return home on the full moon. That’s because there’s no sense in shrimping when the sly crustaceans burrow in the sand to avoid getting caught in the light of the moon. Florida pink shrimp are reputed to be the sweetest of all the varieties. Ely also says that because the shrimp are wild and fresh—no additives or preservatives—they can be frozen, thawed, re-frozen and re-thawed with no loss of texture or flavor.

You can learn all this and more on the three-hour waterfront and shrimp industry tour conducted by the Ostego Bay Marine Science Center at 718 Fisherman’s Wharf Drive. The $15 tour includes a visit to the big three: Beach Seafood, Erickson & Jensen Seafood Packers and Trico Shrimp Company. For dates and times, call (239) 765-8101 or visit www.ostegobay.org.

Besides the parade, music, street performances and the crowning of the Shrimp Queen, the local Lions Club hosting the event is boiling up about a thousand pounds of pink shrimp for its "world-famous shrimp dinners." You can also buy it fresh-frozen by the pound to take home. A five-pound box at Beach Seafood ranges from about $45 to $50. To order by phone for overnight or second-day delivery (shipping costs extra), call (800) 771-5050.

New to Fort Myers Beach? The folks there on Estero Island and its neighbor, San Carlos Island, proudly swing in a different hammock. If you doubt that "laid back" is an understatement here, just check the Greater Fort Myers Beach Area Chamber of Commerce Web site: www.fmbchamber.com. Under "climate," it reads—in nice bold letters—Beach Altitude is at Sea Level. What else would you possibly need to know?

Speaking of craziness and good things to eat, March 9 is your last chance this season to experience the hilarious, interactive one-act play, A Teatime Travesty, over traditional English afternoon tea in Naples’ lace-and-china setting of Brambles Tea Room. The farcical comedy was written by Laurie Neinhaus, founder of the local Ladies Tea Guild, and produced by the Pelican Players. You’ll sip champagne—and, says Roger Osbond, the veddy British owner of Brambles Tea Room—the delightfully flavored Blue Lady tea.

While you nibble on dainty finger sandwiches, scones and pastries, Osbond says, you are drawn into a most amusing clash of cultures at teatime. Brambles is a best-kept Naples secret, tucked into a hidden lane at 340 Fifth Avenue South. Tickets for A Teatime Travesty (and the April production of Tea-a-Ria) are $49. Do wear your best tea hat. Gloves optional. Call (239) 262-7894.

O, March! Isn’t it tasty? Enjoy the wild pink shrimp up in NoRitz and the wild tea parties down in SoRitz. And as always, savor the moment.

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