They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, so I’m going to do Cabbage Key a favor by sharing my opinion of its totally mediocre cheeseburger, which the wait staff pushes as something quite special.
But first, the place. Yes, it is paradise! The Cabbage Key Inn and Restaurant off the coast of Pineland, Fla., and near Boca Grande was built in the 1930s as the main house for the family of novelist Mary Roberts Rinehart. The building sits atop a Calusa Indian shell mound (a 30-foot-tall Florida “mountain”) and the view of water in every direction is extraordinary, especially if you climb up the vintage wooden water tower for a look-see.
Now about that grub. I rarely order cheeseburgers, but when the waitress sang out, “we’re famous for our cheeseburgers!” I was suckered in. She wasn’t lying, but that’s because Cabbage Key is one of the 73,538 places Jimmy Buffett has cited as his inspiration for the cheesy tune “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” Perhaps he was wasted away in you-know-where if he indeed found a muse in a Cabbage Key burger.
When lunch arrived, I was aghast! The bun was standard fare, not even toasted, and the slice o’ American single cheese was maybe a quarter melted. The fixins’ on the side were equally uninspiring. At least the view from the patio seating took away some of my pain. And, hey, I’m not the only one who feels this way. Or maybe it’s just a Boston Globe thing. In 2006, my colleague Ellen Albanese wrote, when mentioning the Buffett connection there, “judging by the burger we had on our visit, we’d guess the singer was referring to the view and not the sandwich.”
So I called general manager Rob Wells (he and his family own the joint, as well as the Tarpon Lodge on Pine Island) to get his side of the story.
“We have 100s of people on a daily basis who come in for cheeseburgers,” he said.
“But do they really think they taste good?” I asked.
“Absolutely, yeah,” he said. “Our overall experience by hundreds of people a day is that they love it.”
OK, Rob, if you say so. Don’t you think the appeal could be more about the scenery, or the famed 60,000 or so $1 bills stuck to the walls and ceiling of the adjacent bar? But you were such a good sport about the whole thing that I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. I’m coming back some day, Rob. But when I do, I’m ordering the Reuben.