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Tony Capecchi

Woodbury, Minn.

Dining on Paradise Island

“There is a difference between dining and eating. Dining is an art.” – Yuan Mei

The owners of Little Palm Island Resort & Spa have clearly taken this quote to heart, and have perfected the art of fine dining at one of the most unique settings in North America.

The tropical resort, isolated on a 5.5-acre island off the Florida Keys and accessible only by boat or sea plane, is routinely named one of the world’s best luxury resorts. Little Palm’s unique dining experiences contribute to that distinction. 

It’s true that at Little Palm Island you get the rare, Robinson Crusoe-like experience of waking up in the morning to dolphins and manatees swimming around you and falling asleep at night to the sound of ocean waves against the sandy shores of your remote island. But during the day, you’re not exactly searching for fallen coconuts to eat or trying to spear fish to survive. 

In fact, the resort’s dining room on the beach, created by distinguished executive Chef Luis Pous, was named “Best Hotel Dining Experience” in Florida and third best in the entire U.S. by Zagat Survey. Pous’ Cuban heritage and love of the Caribbean have inspired him to create unique dishes such as Foie Gras Cuban sandwiches and Key West lobster with apple, truffle, tarragon and Key Lime risotto.

The cuisine at Little Palm received Zagat’s highest possible scores with an “extraordinary to perfection” distinction. As my wife and I discovered during our visit this May, the food at Little Palm compares favorably to that offered at high-end restaurants in the heart of “foody” cities such as Vancouver and New Orleans, but the incredible setting is what takes it to another level.

To demonstrate the point, allow me to use photos and videos to walk you through a typical dining day at paradise island.

Breakfast

"All happiness depends on a leisurely breakfast." 
– John Gunther

Suffice it to say John Gunther would be the happiest man on earth if he lived at Little Palm Island. Why? Well, see for yourself.

Lunch

No, you're not really hungry three hours after eating a gourmet breakfast at Little Palm, but that doesn't mean you can't force down some chips, salsa and guac at the pool-side bar, or, perhaps, a platter of cheese and crackers aboard the Lilyana during a private afternoon sailboat ride. 



From shore or from boat, it's a pretty spectacular setting for an afternoon snack.

Dinner

Dinner at Little Palm Island is an experience unto itself. They have indoor and outdoor seating at the award-winning Dining Room, but clearly a table on the beach is the way to go.

My wife and I enjoyed many dishes that would have delighted anywhere, but the setting certainly added to the flavor as the attentive wait-staff kept bringing out course after course.

To borrow one more dining quote, Art Buchwald could well have been speaking about Little Palm Island when he said, “Dinner is not what you do in the evening before something else. Dinner is the evening.”

Rest assured, you definitely go to bed nice and full after a day at Little Palm Island Resort & Spa ... only to wake up the next day and do it all over again. Life is good at paradise island. And the dining, well, it doesn't get much better than this.  

The website for Little Palm Island Resort & Spa is www.littlepalmisland.com. For more information, call 800.343.8567 or email getlost@littlepalmisland.com.

For tons of information on other fun things to do in Florida, including great spots to stop along the Keys as you drive to Little Palm Island's base camp on Little Torch Key, go to VisitFlorida.com or Fla-keys.com.

Father’s Day in the Canadian Wild

There is no finer fishing partner than one’s father. In my case, Dad has been not only my lifelong fishing partner but also one of my best friends. I am grateful for this blessing today, yet I also sense that decades from now the time I spent in a boat with Dad will take on even greater meaning.

Much of that time has been in Canada. In fact, my first Canadian fishing trip was a high school graduation gift from my old man: a week-long, father-son trip. We bunked in a rundown resort in the woods of Ontario. Wind and rain besieged the camp, and daily thunderstorms forced us off the lake back into our knotty pine cabin, which housed a pair of field mice. In the black of night, a wind gust blew open the cabin door and in our semi-awake state we shoved a dresser in front of the door to prevent it from blowing open again and letting even more rainwater pour in. 

We loved every minute of it. 

Since that stormy initiation, the Canadian wilderness has beckoned us back annually, and my dad and I discovered a new resort we escape to every Father’s Day: Fireside Lodge. Fireside is special in many ways, from the owners (Alan and Audrey Brandys) to the fellow guests to the wilderness that surrounds the 111-year-old main lodge



There’s also the beautiful cabins, delicious food and impeccable service––not to mention word-class fishing––but increasingly I realize it’s the unexpected experiences and funny moments throughout the week Dad and I share that make our annual trip matter. To both of us.

In that vein, I thought I’d share one highlight from each day of this year’s Father’s Day voyage to Fireside Lodge.

Day of Arrival: “We’re Home!”

“Audrey, we’re home!” Dad proclaimed as we arrived at the lodge after an 8-hour drive from St. Paul, Minnesota to Fireside Lodge, just south of Sioux Lookout, Ontario. It’s become his customary greeting at the lodge, and on cue Audrey came running out of the kitchen to give us hugs.

It’s such a great feeling, a combination of excitement and familiarity as we stand in that old lodge and look down at Little Vermillion Lake for the first time since last year. We’ve been anticipating this day for the past 365. And while the individual cabins themselves are immaculate and new, the main lodge––consisting of the dining room, tackle shop, fireplace and lounge area––is neither.



The historic building carries decades-old fish and animal mounts, antique tools and a distinct, musky, wonderful odor. 

On a side note, there are two other noteworthy items about our arrival I should briefly mention. First, is that Dad caught a big muskie literally 15 minutes into fishing our first afternoon of arrival. 

Second, is that Audrey and Alan asked us about our family back home, by name, within minutes of greeting us. That’s just how they are. The couple is very genuine in the friendships they form with their guests, and you can sense how much they want you to enjoy your time at what has been their home for the past 26 years. 

In their previous life they sold watches and managed a hair salon back in Chicago, but I think it’s fair to say Alan and Audrey found their true vocation here in the Canadian wilderness. 

Day 1: Father’s Day––Lucky Seven

What better way to celebrate Father’s Day than by fishing with your dad? And what better way to start your celebration than by catching a muskie on your very first cast of the entire day––which is exactly what happened to Dad.

Little did we know when we left the dock in darkness at 3:55 A.M. that we’d have our best day muskie fishing of all time. We spent the day on Closs Lake, a small portage lake where Alan has a boat cached you can reserve for a day to be the only ones on the lake. There are three other similar portage lakes that complement the four larger, connected lakes in the Little Vermillion Lake system on which Fireside sits as the only lodge.



We always have Closs Lake reserved for Father’s Day, and this year we kicked off our Fireside trip by catching seven muskies on Day 1, eclipsing our previous single-day record by one. 

Day 2: Go For a Swim  

“Is that some type of bird?” I asked. I noticed a brown dot in the distance as we motored across Muskie Lake, a sanctuary lake that had been closed to fishing since the 1930s but opened up on a limited basis some two decades ago. 

The dot looked out of place, so we motored over to check it out and quickly realized it was a young bull moose swimming across the lake! I had spotted its head from over a hundred yards away, and we were about to get an up-close-and-personal look. 

Dad and I love seeing moose at Fireside and often get very close, but this bull swimming across the lake gave us an opportunity for our closest moose encounter to date. We got to watch the moose for about 15 minutes; it’s amazing how fast they can swim.



Throughout the day we caught 165 pike, but watching the bull moose go for a swim was our unexpected highlight of the day. 

Day 3: Eat Like a King 

Fish fry for lunch, prime rib for dinner. Guess you could say we ate OK today. Better yet, we did it in style, with excellent service in the dining room and outstanding company for lunch on the lakeshore.  

Twelve years ago we knew no one at Fireside nor anyone who’d been to Fireside. We’ve met many fellow guests over the years, however, who we’ve become friends with to the point of staying in touch throughout the year. On Day 3, we did a shore lunch with our Fireside-friends Don Landbo and Dan Szkola from Illinois, two buddies who fish the same week as us each year. 

Fireside Lodge is purely catch-and-release, with trophy bass, pike and muskie the primary targets, so Alan buys whitefish from a commercial fisherman on Eagle Lake and supplies fillets for anyone who wants to make a shore lunch. The beer-batter fish tasted delicious on a gorgeous day on the lake, and the incredible part is that the feast was followed up by a first-rate prime rib dinner in the lodge that night, with apple pie ala mode for dessert (yes, we forced it down).



Life at Fireside is good.

Day 4: Sight-Fishing

I burned the spinnerbait across the surface of the water; suddenly a jaw-full of teeth appeared and smashed the lure. I saw the splash a second before I felt the strike, and set the hook. Fish on!

That pike started a topwater flurry, in which I caught 27 pike on 30 casts – each one with an exciting eruption on the surface.

Throughout the week, we experienced incredible sight-fishing. Never before have I seen so many fish, not only as they hit but also as they cruised shallow water. My new pair of Costa Del Mar sunglasses played a huge role in that. Their ability to light up the lake and allow you to see fish, rocks, humps and other structure under the water is amazing. By comparison, my dad was wearing a different brand of polaroid sunglasses, and with my Costas I spotted four fish to every one he spotted. 

Here’s a video of our sight-fishing action this same morning. In the afternoon the topwater bite turned on, but in the morning the key was spotting fish sunning in the shallows and pitching plastics to them.

Day 5: Birds of a Feather

The cry of a loon is a signature sound of the North woods. On Day 5, we were treated to a front row seat as a pair of loons serenaded each other around our boat. The encounter was exception, but was hardly an isolated experience––every day we listened to and saw at close range loons, eagles, herons and a variety of waterfowl.





Day 6: The Fish of One Last Cast

A conspiracy theory exists among Fireside regulars that Alan has a secret War Room behind his tackle shop in which he pulls levers that trigger giant fish to strike and moose to appear. A startling amount of evidence supports the conspiracy, including the case of the Spahr family from Ohio. Each night of their trip, some years ago, they’d buy a new lure that Alan recommended. The next day, like clockwork, they’d catch a muskie while testing out the new lure––often at a big fish spot Alan suggested they fish. 

On our last day, we had one of those experiences that make you wonder if Alan is in fact related to the man behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz. We motored through a short creek to fish Cedarbough Lake, a muskie-or-bust lake. Our plan was to swing for the fences and go for a muskie for a few hours in the morning, then head over to one of the sanctuary lakes in the afternoon to end our final day by catching a ton of pike. 

Temps rose quickly on this calm, sunny day, so after several hours with no action we decided to cut muskie fishing short. While Dad was putting away his pole, turning off the depth finder and starting up the motor to head out, I figured I might as well throw one last cast. I cranked the reel three times and––BOOM!––a big muskie struck. 

“Get the net!” I exclaimed, and a minute later we had caught the fish of 10,000 casts on literally our last cast.

Magical moments like that just happen at Fireside. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized those moments are less about the exact size of the fish we caught, and more about sharing the adventure with Dad. 

Dad and I spend a lot of time talking about a lot of things in that little boat in the Canadian wilderness. This year, our primary topic of conversation centered on sharing our boat with someone new in the years ahead: my son, Joseph. 

The precious little guy turns 1-year-old today. I love him so much, and I’m excited to take him with and include him in these special moments on our Father’s Day trip.

I only hope that someday he agrees that there is no finer fishing partner than one’s father. 

The website for Fireside Lodge is FiresideLodge.com. For more information, call (800)-545-0815 or email fireside@xplornet.com. 


 

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