Bert’s Bar & Grill in Matlacha, FL, is the kind of joint you would hope to stumble onto assuming you were lucky enough to stumble onto a real, old-time, authentic Florida fishing village. No high-rise condos. No gated, palm-lined communities with names like “Waiting for Heaven” or “Sunstroke Paradise.” No incredibly manicured golf course with greens fees approaching an editor’s weekly take-home.
I was in luck this week as, driving with my son and his wife to a popular seafood restaurant on Pine Islan, in Lee County in SW Florida, we passed Bert’s and seeing cars lined up and town the main village street, figured this must be the place to stop after dinner.Turns out it was.
The place, built sometime in the 1930s as a "sweet shoppe", when the tiny village of Matlacha (prounounced ˆmat-la-shay) was little more than a row or two of shanties and small houses (which is still is with little more than 700 residents), is wonderfully time-beaten and, on most nights, beerily cheerful. This particular evening a 3-piece combo called the Yard Dogs was thumping and plucking away, much to the noisy delight of a the Baby Boomer crowd, the first wave of the Baby Boomer crowd and feeling particularly frisky on a cooler-than-usual April evening.
OK, here’s the hook, as tenuous as it is to the landscape business, which is what this blog is kinda about, right?
On the wall behind the busy pool table at Bert’s is a sign announcing the annual “Manatee Roast.” And, keeping with the theme, you can pick up a Bert’s tee-shirt that reads “I love Manatees . . .They taste like chicken.” (Darn, meant to get one on the way out, but forgot.)
As any Floridian or visitor to the state knows, manatees — those huge, doppy, lovable sea cows — are a protected species. They’re a relatively common sight in the rivers and canals in Florida, but prone to get run over and chewed up by speeding power boats, which is not a good thing, especially for the manatees. Obviously, there is no such thing as a Manatee Roast and it’s not likely they taste like chicken anyway, which brings me to lanscaper Kevin McKeever.
Earlier in April while McKeever was checking out a small drainage ditch near Naples, about an hour and a half drive south of tiny Matlacha, he spotted a baby manatee having a hard time of it. The little fella (165 lbs. and about 5-ft. long) was on his own, and in fact, at a year old, was still nursing. McKeever, realizing the baby was a goner if it didn't get some TLC, called for help.
Wildlife experts arrived and they finally captured the baby, determined it was badly underweight and needed medical attention and trucked it to the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, where it will likely spend a year or so getting nursed back to health before being returned to the wild.
Mr, McKeever, on my next visit to Bert’s (It's now on my short-list of favorite joints, I’m going to tip a glass to you, for sure. — Ron Hall