The Dark Side of Cedar Key

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A wise man once said roughing it for him was spending the night in a cheap hotel. I wasn't going to sacrifice that much.

While some Weekly Planet coworkers swatted mosquitoes and rubbed sticks for a campfire to bring you this Summer Guide, I hoped to kick back at a homey bed and breakfast on Cedar Key.

I ended up roughing it, too, after my own fashion. Smack in the heart of a Cedar Key Saturday night, the lights went out.

Rough, let me tell you.

For those who didn't matriculate at the University of Florida, Cedar Key is an old Levy County timber mill town at the western end of State Road 24, a three-hour drive north from Tampa. It is one of the best stops along what chambers of commerce up there have taken to calling the Nature Coast.

The mills are history. But the village of 700 still possesses a commercial fishing fleet. Local restaurants serve fresh clams, crabs and oysters. That and a tiny arts community have turned Cedar Key into an unassuming, low-dough resort that is usually and blessedly overlooked by marauding tourists on their way to see the Mouse and other Florida irritations. But Cedar Key is only about 60 miles from Gainesville. So, speaking of marauders, there can be a frat element to put up with. The Gators, though, seem to congregate in a section of the hamlet called Cedar Cove, where upscale-for-Cedar-Key digs pamper the young scholars while they recover from their academic rigors.

Our B 'n' B was at the other end of the docks and the downtown district of boutiques, galleries and eateries. Bicycles and golf carts are the preferred mode of transportation, though the Cedar Key Beacon reported while we were there that some dim bulbs at City Hall want to ban the latter. We decided to forsake both the bikes and the carts, and hoof it.

The antique-hunting pace was too much for me, even with benches outside the shops on Second Street. So while my wife carried on without me, I assumed a stool at the L&M Bar and ordered an Anchor Steam. Pennants, decals and posters with the entire season's racing schedule festoon the walls. On the day of my visit, the bar television was turned to stock-car races and driver interviews.

Two full-size pool tables take up much of the interior. Few antique-hunters venture into the smoky L&M during the day. The locals pump quarters into the tables. One group of shooters monopolized a table but didn't have much of a game. Maybe they got better after a few rounds. Out back, a stage levitates a thumping rock band above a yard full of beer guzzlers after the sun goes down. I skipped that night's show after Cedar Key lost power. An acoustic set at the L&M didn't seem quite right.

I thought nothing of a single sentence in the welcome book at the Cedar Key Bed & Breakfast — "We do occasionally lose power" — until we got to dinner. Our backsides had no more touched down on our chairs when somebody turned out all of the lights in Cedar Key. It quickly became evident that the Island Room Restaurant at Cedar Cove doesn't feature candlelight dining only to attract romantics.

The waitstaff urged us not to sweat the blackout, which wasn't easy without the air-conditioning. Our servers opened a few windows and lit extra candles. In the kitchen, the chef fired up first his lanterns, then his gas stove. If we could read the menu, we could eat.

The sparkling wine arrived still chilled, with a bucket of ice to keep it that way. So we decided to stick it out. What choice did we have? The whole town was pitch-black.

To our amazement, the Island Room delivered luscious entrees of crab cakes and soft-shell crab, every bite worthy of its standing as one of Florida Trend magazine's top 250 restaurants in the Sunshine State.

One waiter kept tripping over a chair. But he made sure he wasn't carrying any food when encountering that thing that goes bump in the night. In fact, the attentive staff brought out the goodies on rolling trays to limit potential catastrophe between kitchen and dinner table.

We got the idea that working in the dark is as natural in Cedar Key as wading in the Gulf. This outage occurred on a postcard-perfect spring evening. It was a dark but not stormy night. What do you think summer lightning does to the Cedar Key power grid?

We gingerly felt our way back to the unilluminated lodging, with a little aid from starlight. Just when we were about to dismiss the possibility of uncorking another bottle on the porch outside of our room, the electric company lit up the night again.

Suddenly, Cedar Key wasn't so rough.

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