The Phoenix One Journals Stories from the dawn of RoadTrip America
From Orlando, we headed north up the middle of the Floridian peninsula to Gainesville, home of the University of Florida and Bill MacGowan, who was Mark's choir master in Pasadena, California, way back when he was a wee thing of ten or so.
Bill is an encyclopedia of amazing secret places all over the world. He'd just been on a trip that included a stop in Guam, for example, and he was planning another such adventure. He told us about a hidden bay in Florida where dozens of manatees spend the winter each year. He drew us a little map and made us wish we were heading south. Bill took us to a restaurant near his house for dinner. Everyone should be so lucky to have a place like Ivey's Grill so near home. The food was wonderful, and the atmosphere just as fine.
In the morning, we continued our trek north through Tallahassee and then headed west along the panhandle. We stopped in the little town of Holt, about thirty miles east of Pensacola, where a wooded campground lies on the smooth white-sand banks of the Blackwater River.
Pensacola boasts the whitest beaches in Florida, but its more universally known claim to fame are the Blue Angels, the U.S. Navy's precision flying team that performs in state-of-the-art fighter jets at air shows all over the world. The rest stops along Interstate 10 on both sides of town feature their own Blue Angel jets and invite visitors to stop at the museum of aviation at the Naval Air Station on the west side of town.
One evening, after a long day of NicoVan activities, we decided to stop for a bite to eat on our way back to the campground in Holt. A sign on I-10 announced that the Kookaburra Cafe was coming up at the next exit. "What's the Kookaburra Cafe doing in the land of seafood and grits?" I asked. "Only one way to find out," said Mark, and we turned south off the highway.
The Kookaburra Cafe was a tiny place with lace curtains and inviting lights. It was still early, and the dinner rush hadn't begun. A young man came out of the kitchen, invited us to sit wherever we wanted, and handed us menus.
I don't know what we expected, but the Kookaburra Cafe was a surprise. The menu included Southern dishes, all-American fare, and New Orleans specialties. Mark decided on the red beans and rice with smoked sausage, and I settled on the jambalaya. We didn't really have room, but we topped it all off with a piece of lemon meringue pie.
It turned out that Mick, the young man who served us, was the son of the owners, an American and an Australian. They'd lived in New Orleans for years, where they'd owned and operated a nightclub. "But they wanted a calmer life," said Mick, "And so they came here. I'm in school here, so it works out well."
It works out very well indeed, and if you're ever in the mood for Australian-American food with a New Orleans twist, head for the Florida panhandle. The Kookaburra Cafe is just south of Interstate 10 on Highway 87.
From Pensacola, we headed west once more on I-10. We crossed Mobile Bay after dark and admired the lights on the water. We paused overnight in the Mississippi town of Ocean Springs.
Today, we traversed the Louisiana coastline via the endless causeway that allows a fast look at the bays and bayous and egrets and cypress groves. We've paused in Beaumont, and tomorrow we'll continue our journey southwest along Texas' Gulf Coast..
December 7, 1997