By Nancy Moreland
Seafood lovers, start your engines: the Big Bend Shellfish Trail is the road trip of your gastronomical dreams. The longest shellfish trail in the U.S. and the first in Florida, it highlights northwest Florida destinations where you can eat your fill of fresh clams, crabs, scallops, shrimp and oysters.
Why is the Big Bend so big on shellfish? “The large collection of estuaries, swamps, forests and marshes that define our landscape are the most productive ecosystem in the world,” said Andrew Gude, manager of the Lower Suwannee & Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuges.
Covering four rural counties, the Trail passes through fishing villages where people structure their lives around tides and seasons. Quiet coves reveal edible underwater delicacies. Wild rivers run to the sea. Miles of country landscapes pass by your car window without a single traffic jam.
Traveling on the quiet side of Florida, you’ll find long stretches without gas stations or grocery stores. GPS is not reliable and Wi-Fi not ubiquitous. Keep your tank topped off, pack snacks and a map and free yourself from the clutches of constant connectivity, if only for a few days.
Here’s a taste of what you’ll find:
Cedar Key, a working waterfront community where clams are part of the culture. Try them steamed, atop pasta or in award-winning chowders. “It’s our bragging right to say that the clams on our menu were plucked from the water today,” said Chef Kim Cash of the Island Hotel Restaurant. She also serves locally raised oysters and, if you’re lucky, sunray venus clams. The larger, pink-fleshed sunray is more difficult to raise than hard clams, and therefore, less common.
For a glimpse of the island’s farm-to-table industry, tour Southern Sea Cross Farms Fridays at 1 p.m., May-November. You’ll see clams from larvae to seed stage and finally, after growing to market size in the Gulf, being processed and shipped. An onsite market sells local seafood.
Several boat tours explore the waters surrounding Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge, but none are quite like the Original Cedar Key Clam Tour. Traveling through the Gulf on Captain Bobby Witt’s boat, you observe the craft of clam farming at its source.
On your way out of town, stop at the Shell Mound Archeological Site to better understand how shellfish shaped this coastline’s history. While there, drop a line at the fishing pier and contemplate the ancients who fished here before you.
#cedarkey #florida #gulfofmexico #farawayinn #cknwr #cedarkeynationalwildliferefuge #southerncrossfarms #originalcedarkeyclamtour #islandhotelrestaurant #shellmoundarcheologicalsite #levycounty #smalltown