Chokoloskee, Florida ~ Shadow Country
Read Peter Matthiessen’s book Shadow Country, an apparently historically faithful rendering, from a number of different perspectives, of the E.J. Watson killing back at the turn of the century outside of Smallwood’s store on Chokoloksee Island. Then visit Chokoloksee Island and the Evergaldes gulf coast side. One will come away impressed with Mathiessen’s research and story telling as well as being impressed with the south Florida pioneers in the days after the Civil War. Go visit Smallwood’s store, it is still standing.
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Looking for a place to eat before leaving Chokoloskee Island the colors of the local post office building caught our eye. In the same building is the Havana Cafe (191 Smallwood Drive, Chokoloskee). We were greeted by a silver haired bearded barrel chested gent seated and relaxing near the door. From one that has, this guy looked like he had led a colorful life. We seated ourselves at his and the waitresses urging. He came to our table, greeted us and described the meals he was intent on fixing us. His manner and presentation were comfortable yet assured. Not a big fish person I went with the shrimp basket; next time I am back I will experiment (for me) and have the blackened Mahi Mahi prepared as the chef described. I also missed out on having a slice of Key Lime Pie; this next time as well. Our host, Carlos Valde’s, had a waitress come and take our order. Everyone was upbeat and cheerful obviously enjoying where they work and the people they work with and for. The background music was fifties ballads and maybe some Havanna-styled Cuban music as well. It truly had an Havana ambiance, which the owner, his wife Dulce Valde’s and the extended family and local wait staff complemented. The food was plentiful and good, subtle flavors. Afterwords, Carlos and Dulce Valde’s shared with us tales of Chokoloskee past, stories of the working fisherman and the toil involved, along with the toll taken on family. Ultimatums and choices resulted in staying ashore and becoming chef/owner as opposed to captain/owner. All seemed to be enjoying the choice as made.
I for one will return to the Havana Cafe for the food, which was very good and for the people, who were very friendly and hospitable. Thank you Carlos and Dulce (yes, as pretty as the name).