Gator Bait in Destin

the-swampThis crimson-blooded Alabama native has seen enough Gators after a football weekend trip to The Swamp, in Gainesville, Fla. The raucousness of the University of Florida crowd after a triple overtime win over the University of Kentucky Wildcats looked much like the scene at another reptilian retreat I visited a few weeks ago.

The scene: Destin’s Fudpucker’s restaurant at alligator feeding time.


Just like the diners at this popular eatery, real, live alligators come hungry. Trained staff and regular restaurant-goers alike have a chance to feed these gators, which reside in a manmade swamp just outside the front door at Fudpucker’s.



I ate at this restaurant years ago, but I don’t think they had alligators on the premises back then. (Fudpucker’s opened in 1982.) Just as I remembered, guests can (and do) leave their autographs on the walls, tables and just about any other writeable surface inside this colorful establishment.

Fudpucker’s hadn’t been on my short list of places to go in Destin for quite a while, but it’s funny how having children leads you to all sorts of places you might not otherwise go. Surprisingly, some of them are not so bad. Fudpucker’s, in fact, may be brilliant because what I remember as an area to wait for a table is now a semi-educational attraction, thanks to the alligators.


For $3, you can purchase a bag of alligator food. Your four pellets of food are presented to you with a fishing pole-like contraption that you use to lower the bait down to the surface of the water below. Then, watch the gators swarm and CHOMP!


The pellet snacks are an appetizer to the raw chicken pieces a staff member feeds them during a narrated demonstration. “The alligators here are young gators,” he explains. “Once they reach five or six feet in length, they are moved to other habitats as they’d become too aggressive for this environment.”


A rare albino alligator named Pearl also resides at Fudpucker’s. She is older and has her own tank that is shielded from the sun to protect her skin.


My children loved seeing Pearl, feeding the other alligators and asking questions about them. It was certainly a unique experience, and it would be an easy way to pass the time with young children if you in fact were waiting for a table.

On this visit, we didn’t have to wait. We were having a late lunch on Labor Day, when most of the summer vacationers had packed up and gone home. Service was good and the food was better than I expected at a big, popular tourist stop.


Our entrees were around $10-12 each. The fish sandwich I ordered was seasoned well. My mom enjoyed a fresh salad with chicken, fruit and nuts. The kids’ menu included the usual fare and portions were good.

If you don’t go to Fudpucker’s for the food, go for the gators (even if, like me, you don’t usually “go for” Gators).


Fudpucker’s has locations in Destin and Ft. Walton Beach. Somewhere on the restaraunt’s walls is written “Roll Tide Roll!”

Gainesville: 43rd Street Deli

I know what you are thinking… Gainesville, Florida is not on the Gulf Coast.

Occasionally the Minivan veers away from our usual stomping grounds to explore other nearby locales. Last week, we made a stop in Gainesville on our way to Orlando.

Gainesville is the home of the University of Florida. This college town is one of the hottest places I’ve ever been, especially within the confines of The Swamp, the nickname for the Florida Gators football stadium. Gainesville is also one of the prettiest inland cities in the state. Its lush green trees and plants made for pleasant scenery as I drove through the area.

On Sunday, we enjoyed brunch at a family favorite in Northwest Gainesville, the 43rd Street Deli. This popular breakfast spot draws a crowd so plan to arrive early or be prepared to wait if necessary. The wait is always worth it. The all-breakfast Sunday menu offers several good options, including seven-grain vegan pancakes, sweet potato pancakes and this beautiful strawberry, coconut and cream cheese-topped waffle. The waffle is typically served with eggs, but I opted for the home fries, and I chose bacon instead of sausage.


If you like eggs, there are omelets. (I don’t, so there is not much I can say about them but I’ve never heard any complaints). The 43rd Street Deli menu also lists several scrambles, which are combinations of ingredients scrambled together and served in a small skillet. Scrambles include such ingredients as spinach and mushrooms. The one I hope to try on our next visit features black beans and veggies.



The kids menu is fairly simple. Mickey Mouse Pancakes are the only dish my kids have tried. Served with a sprinkling of chocolate chips and whipped cream on the side, Mickey never disappoints. In our experience, neither does the 43rd Street Deli.