Our last full day at Manatee Springs was sunny and warm and we decided to take a road trip to a place called Cedar Key. One of the volunteers at Manatee Springs recommended it for a restaurant known for its clam chowder. Really? Clam chowder in Florida? Had to check it out.
Cedar Key is about 25 miles southwest from the Springs, right on the Gulf. As I wrote earlier, a key is an island and this one sits among several that are clustered in the area commonly referred to as “Big Bend”, the place where the peninsula merges into the panhandle. The first railroad in Florida was built in 1861, connecting Jacksonville with Cedar Key, creating an overland connection between the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. The monopoly lasted until the early 1880s. Then Cedar Key went into a sleepy phase. An enterprising dentist from Indiana moved to town in 1905 and established a company, one of only three in the world, to develop fiber from Sabal palm trees to make whisk brushes but that closed in 1952 when a hurricane wiped out the factory. Later in the 1950s, bridges were built to more permanently connect the islands and the town managed to stay vital.
Now, Cedar Key is known for its remote and beautiful location, for its hard-shell clams and oysters and as the home of Tony’s, the three-time international winner in the Newport, RI, Great Chowder Cook-off. The local story is that the recipe has been retired since it has dominated the competition for over 30 years. So we went and I’m telling you, this is the BEST and most amazing clam chowder ever (as you can tell from the look on Peter’s face). I’m not going on TripAdvisor, just telling you our friends that if you are near here, get in! You can also order the condensed version online at www.TonysChowder.com.