Chokoloskee, Florida:  Havana Cafe – Review

Everglades City is a small town about 20 minutes from Naples, FL and is known for their yearly Seafood Festival and fishing. But what it’s really known for is being the place that you head towards  for an airboat ride. What’s an airboat?  Oh, c’mon, don’t play coy with me: you know that you always wanted to be David Caruso on that propeller boat/swamp boat thingy on the opening credits of CSI: Miami! That propellor boat, my friends, is really called an airboat. (Look at me, showing off my redneck knowledge!).  And they’re a hell of a lot of fun to ride on, as the captain takes you zooming around the Everglades wetlands and mangroves. These airboat rides are everywhere, especially on the road just behind this sign: 

  
 Now, if you keep on driving through Everglades City,  you will hit a tiny little island where you can’t go any further down the road. It’s Chokoloskee Island, 

  
and it too is known for fishing, a fancy little motor home park geared to fishing fanatics…and gluttonous, entitled pelicans that hang out on the piers near the fish-cleaning hut, patiently waiting for a free lunch. 
     
 But for those of us that actually have to pay for their lunch, there’s a hidden gem on the main road that’s incredibly popular with any visitor that’s ever ventured waaaay past their airboat ride. 

  
The Havana Cafe is a Chokoloskee oasis set on a sliver of land that serves Cuban cuisine with a seafood lean. (Hey!  That rhymes!) It’s known for fairly clean-eating, healthy, delicious food in a beautiful, whimsical garden setting.  

  

   

The serves are low-key and pleasant, and while not well-versed on Celiac disease, will go the extra mile to make sure that you don’t get glutened. I was really impressed by their willingness to ask exactly what a Celiac needed to avoid, and patiently, willingly go back and check with the kitchen, and share the ingredients with me, whether it is cooked in a clean frying pan, the deep fryer, or the grill, and if other glutinous things were cooked in each space. (Grill cooks no glutinous items. Deep fryer is cross-contaminated with gluten.  Frying pans are thoroughly washed between uses). Here is their menu as of this posting:

     
While the rather spectacular-looking home-pulled fries are cooked separately, glutinous ingredients are used in their coating, so they’re a no for us…sadly. 

My husband and I shared an order of their warm peel’n’eat shrimp, and I ordered the pan-fried Mahi Mahi. 

  
  
As the Havana Cafe has their own fishing boat, everything is extremely fresh and locally-caught!

The huge peel’n’eat shrimps are unbelievably juicy and tender, boiled and tossed in Carlos, secret blend of olive oil and gluten-free seasonings (Old Bay–gf–is one of them). The Mahi Mahi was delicious, with soupy black beans and a little garden salad with homemade Italian dressing (gf; the vinegar is just white vinegar).  The portion was a two-meal size for me, so I took the rest to go. 

   My husband thoughtfully offered it to take it to the car for me as I photographed for my post. Unfortunately, we forgot to put it in the fridge afterwards, so the next day I fished a take out box of bacterial overgrowth from under his truck seat. Ah well. As you can see from my takeout box, value for money is definitely there! 

I’ve eaten here three times, and not been glutened due to the servers and the chef taking my gluten-free requirement very seriously each and every time. I appreciate the Havana Cafe, and you will too…if you find yourself on Chokoloskee Island!

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