You never know what to expect!

I hesitate to record this particular incident. Not because there’s anything either wrong or strange about the detail. But it is nonetheless mildly embarrassing. Here it is in a nutshell. Immediately following brunch with friends on Anna Maria Island, on our way home through Bradenton Beach we detoured across the bridge at Cortez to Tide Tables for lunch!

Casual seafood eatery overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway, with a marina & outdoor tiki bar.

Tide Tables is an instantly settling place, unpretentious and inviting. The hostess was an older woman comfortably clad with a recognizable mobility issue of one leg – oddly characteristic of a one-legged seafaring dog. Her hearty and welcoming first words arrested the foundation of the place. As I later discovered when going inside to purchase a jersey (to shield me from the moderately cool wind buffeting where we sat outside at the bar) the entire staff excels in kindliness – and even one might be inclined to say, a tolerable degree of mendacity. More than one of them commented how agreeable my new acquisition made me look. I put it down to retail charm, nothing more.

Of less questionable constitution was the gumbo soup. I suspect “gumbo” is the beanery equivalent of the French “gibelotte“, basically a cheap stew of fish and leftovers. Considering the many other ingredients on the menu – ranging from conch fritters to Grouper to hamburgers – this is no small compliment to the chef. The addition of some hot sauce makes for an enterprising starter! While on the subject of the food, I mustn’t overlook the Florida classic Key Lime pie. As a devotee of Key Lime pie I can speak with considerable assurance when I say that this obviously homemade concoction is among the best and most authentic I’ve had – simple but direct upon all the buttons (lime, condensed milk, Graham crackers crumbs and whipped cream).

To me it was impossible to escape the traditional flavour of the atmosphere as well. Over 44 years ago I first visited Key West, flying first from Canada to Miami, then by Air Casablanca from Miami to Key West where we landed within fifty feet of the terminal. Everything about Key West at that time was quaint and infinitely tropical (by which I mean immediately tranquillizing and soothing). Though Pier House and the Waldorf-Astoria hotels in those days would certainly have promoted a semi-elegant atmosphere, the predominance of places we visited (and could then afford) were indisputably of a more Bohemian character. This in no way diminished the experience; and in fact propelled it beyond expectation.

Though there was naturally Key Lime pie even forty years ago – and I had enough of it to recall – the salient feature as with any other adventure was the people. To a less generous degree today at Tide Tables the salient features of the Key West experience were repeated. I am perhaps more greatly aware of the episode because by comparison we spend most of our time on Longboat Key which is manifestly more structured and polished than Tide Tables. It was therefore invigorating to return so immediately to the ambience of Key West. Here on Longboat Key we obviously share the allure of the “Keys” or what I suspect was formerly called the “Cays”.

A cay ( or ), also spelled caye or key, is a small, low-elevation, sandy island on the surface of a coral reef. … An island or isle is any piece of sub-continental land that is surrounded by water. Very small islands such as emergent land features on atolls can be called islets, skerries, cays or keys.

The main difference between Cay and Island is that the Cay is a small island formed on the surface of a coral reef and Island is a sub-continental land that is surrounded by water.

I have heard people here refer to Key Largo for example as part of the “southern Keys” which I interpret as a deliberate extension of the term “Keys” to embrace what I call the barrier islands along the northern coast of Gulf of Mexico. Normally the Florida Keys include only Key Largo, Tavernier, Plantation Key, Islamorada, Layton, Duck Key, Marathon, Big Pine Key, Cudjoe Key, Sugarloaf Key and Key West. I am especially reluctant to accept the denomination of southern Keys because next year when we winter on Key Largo I have every intention of augmenting the singularity of our resort! Though we here have the emerald water for which the Gulf of Mexico is notorious, once one descends below the Everglades the water transforms to an unmistakeable turquoise. As well there is the price to pay of the evaporation of beaches coincident with the percolation of the adjoining coral reef but it is an incident with which at my age I am totally comfortable.