Monday, July 30, 2012

Cheese Burger in Paradise

My view for the afternoon has been one of gazing upon an expanse of silver water and grey sky which are briefly interrupted by a thin slip of green way off in the distance, separating the two beings. Two massive thunderstorms coming in off the coast of the Florida and Alabama coastal area have set the stage and provided the entertainment of watching nature release it powerful energy and it has set both sky and water in an unsettled swirl of motion. It has melded them into a mercurial wash of pale blues, gunmetal grays, and polished silvers with touches of a warm purple in the deepest hues of the heaviest clouds. Massive lightening bolts have sliced the sky from top to bottom and rolling thunder echoed with reverb under the canopy of these dark clouds.
Its a good setting for contemplating drifting off into an afternoon nap after a lunch time fill of the world famous and impossibly messy hamburgers, fries and onion rings from Pirates Cove all washed down with a few chilly Heinikens.  The lapping waves and rolling distant thunder combine as steady and gentle lullabies and there is nothing better to do than repose for a while.
Before I nod into that nap, justice must be made to this place and fare of which I speak, Pirate’s Cove, if that is remotely possible. I can only describe what I have known about the place and what I have heard. It is a unique establishment, but probably not unlike thousands just like it all around the world, tiny joints set in gorgeous lagoons under a huge sky surrounded by warm gulf water, and hot white sand. Its the place that all of the “locals” know and go to, and its the place where folks can go to feel like they really are a “local” even if they only visit there occasionally. Flip flops, sandals, and bare feet are accepted, bathing suits are the basic, shirts optional. It’s a happy place, a place to leave it all behind and be a wanna be beach bum for a few deliriously happy moments. Whether one rides in on a yacht or drives in in a beat up pick up, all are equal here and are afforded the same chance at both gastronomical pleasure and to be in the moment of that child like place of discovery and wonder and open for surprise.
There is a sign posted at the door that says clearly “If you don’t like dogs, go away!” This is telling because there is always an amazing pack of mutts that roam freely around the patrons who perch where ever they can, usually on a shared picnic table or on the railing of the deck. These dogs some how manage to get along, as fighting is not allowed, but begging is, and these dogs are the best in the world at it. 

There is a monstrously huge Mastiff who holds court there now, a buckskin with black points, almost as large a good sized pony. Mostly he lays on the deck floor and lets the servers and guests walk over him as he snoozes, until hunger awakens him and he slowly ambles through the crowd to assess who is nearly done with their meal and who might be good for a hand out. Crowd navigated and stomach satisfied, its back to sleep. Little kids take turns using this beast as a sofa and climb all over him with no problem. I’m just thinking that maybe he has reached his highest enlightened stage in his life’s journey and path. Life in the moment, pure and simple and just another day in paradise.
There is also a brindle Boxer with pretty white paws who works the crowd and who has learned to lay its head on the bench next to your leg and look you straight in the eyes with its large liquid brown orbs, beseeching you for just a mere morsel. French fries are politely declined but burgers are gratefully accepted. There are few real recognizable breeds here and those two are the exception. Most are the blending of the diversity of the canine gene pool, their origins unknown, and ownership is not known or questioned. 
The burgers of course must be mentioned as well. They are famous, for both their quality and uniqueness. Legend has it that the singer Jimmy Buffet was singing about them in his song “Cheese burger in Paradise”, and if not he should have been. I have been told that the origin was from a Mrs. Meulher who was the owner and cook back years ago. It was her recipe for the sauce that remains the lure for the continuing generations of folks who still come to dine here. The secret lies somewhere in the combination of vodka, mustard, and lots of black pepper slathered on top of a good beef burger and topped with onion, lettuce, and tomato. The fries and the golden onion rings are always crispy and hot. I think they might serve other stuff but in my years going there I have never wavered from my standard order, and don’t plan to. 
To order, one passes through two ancient squeeky wooden screened doors into the dark of the bar/restaurant. If you look down, you can see the sand below the decking floor boards. A few pinball machines grace the wall to the right and a bank of t-shirts and hats emblazoned with the logo for the place are next to them. (I would love to know roughly how many of these memorabilia items have been sold over the years, probably thousands and thousands.)
Anyway one bellys up to the bar on the left, orders, pays and gives a name, then armed with a consoling beverage, the trick is to find a seat, hopefully in the shade and in the breeze, outside on the deck overlooking the water, and waits. And, waits. As the now passed on former owner Paul, once said to an impatient customer, “If you want fast service, go to McDonalds”, and he meant it literally. Some things are worth it, and the burgers and the whole experience here is worth it, and then some.
The building itself is a rough wooden structure that time is amazingly holding together, under the silver metal hipped roof that is a visible landmark from miles away across Perdido Bay. It sits on a sandy point, the front roped off for swimmers, a dock for tied up boats, and in back is a place to refuel your boat. It has stood the test of many a hurricane and has shown little change in the decades I have visited here, a new deck addition here or there, but it is a place where time stands still and the certainty of having a shoulder dropping, endorphin releasing, smile inducing, stomach and psych satisfaction, is guaranteed. 
When my parents’ lake place was no more, my father was searching for the next place for a vacation/family compound thinking mountains as possible, or another lake cabin. Somewhere there was another mecca. Having been introduced to this place by a friend, we suggested the beach area and took my dad to Pirate’s Cove for his first time there.  He was totally hooked by its chaotic charm, found the new cabin close by, and he quickly became a regular at the place. There are few times I remember him as happy as him smiling into the breezes on the front porch of that place, waiting on that slow burger to be brought out by some kid hollering out his name “Folmar!”.  We raised a toast to him and wished he was there, and, I think he was.

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