Joanie’s Blue Crab Café in Ochopee

CREDITS: Jeane’s Jaunts

-Jeane Brennan

Joanie’s Blue Crab Café in Ochopee on Tamiami Trail hasn’t changed much since Joanie
and her late husband bought the property almost 30 years ago. Traveling east about 40
minutes from Marco lsland, Joanie’s is right around the bend from the smallest post
office in the United States.

My first introduction to Joanie’s, food wise, was the cactus salad. That was many
years ago. Now days, along with good food, cold drinks and great Everglades’s
ambiance, thrilling artists and “back road” talent play at Joanie’s.

Raiford Starke performs regularly, as well as Pete Gallagher, Mark Wesley, and Mike
Martin. Local art grace the walls and the wide expanse of the Everglades surrounds
the perimeter.

One could describe Joanie’s as a road-stop diner, similar to hundreds of other road-
stop diners throughout America. History, color, function, stories galore, love and
life play out at road-side diners and Joanie’s Blue Crab Cafe is no exception.

As one drives out into the wide open space of the Everglades, it is easy to imagine
years not too long ago well worn paths, Indian villages, and Model A Fords on
primitive roads braving holes, ruts, and gators gracing the landscape.

There might not be too. many Model A Fords now and the holes and ruts of Tamiami
Trail are minimal, but Indian villages, gators and paths from wild hog, bear, deer
and other Everglades “residents” high-light the beauty and huge expanse of the

Dark harsh summer skies filled with lightning, wind and rain and, then, heat,
humidity and mosquitoes, for some reason, still lure people to these fur-thest points
of southwest Florida. Even after all these years living and working in the
Everglades, Joanie said, “l still love it.”

Boating into the ten thou-sand islands and being in this beauty is miraculous. I care
and treat my guests and employees as family. Joanie’s is a place where you can come
to, relax and be comfortable.

I am fortunate,” Joanie continued, “that guests who ate here I0, 15 years ago, still
make a point to stop and say ‘hello’ and it is like old home week all over again.”

The day I drove out to see Joanie, Raiford Starke was performing. I am always
thankful of my good fortune. While listening to Raiford belt out one song after an·
other, Chef Jack, formerly of Havana Cafe, brought out a grilled portabella sandwich
draped with roasted red peppers, sundried tomatoes, fried zucchini, olive oil and

I wasn’t surprised when he mentioned that he has added an Italian flavor to the menu
and daily specials. Most always on the menu are fresh fish specials, gator fritters,
calamari, J0anie’s beautiful and colorful salads, sandwich choices and de-licious
fries galore. Chef Kenny is master of the kitchen on weekends.

lt’s difficult to stay seated at Joanie’s place. Looking out the screen door into the
Everglades is too beautiful for words and that sight could easily be one of the many
paintings hanging on her walls. Dozens of pieces of art neatly placed were created by
her sister, Jeanie Ortega.

Dozens of bottle art hanging from the rafters were given to her throughout the years
by a northern gentleman traveling through. Three times a year a German cartoonist
drops in. Sometimes he brings his jazz band, other times friends and family or
sometimes he’s just traveling by himself.

Joanie now has, though, a collection of his cartoons pinned to his very own wall in
the restaurant; cartoon art that he has sent and given her over the years. lt is
always hard to leave Joanie’s Blue Crab Cafe and head back to city life. Joanie told
me as I was leaving,

“You couldn’t get me out of here with dynamite. l am glad l work here every day. l
love it here.” For up to date information call Joanie at 239— 695-2682. Address for
Joanie’s Blue Crab Cafe is 39395 Tamiami Trail East, Ochopee, Florida.

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