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Summer Staycation #1: Linger Lodge Campground and Resort

The Braden River provides a picturesque backdrop 

BRADENTON -- Nothing says old Florida like Linger Lodge. They proudly advertise the fact that Al Roker once named them one of the five weirdest restaurants in the U.S. and that's because when it comes to Linger Lodge, you either get it or you don't. Roker apparently didn't, but over the decades, hundreds of thousands have.


Originally opened as a campground in 1945, it eventually became a fishing lodge and is now a full-service restaurant and R.V. Resort. Nestled on the banks of the beautiful Braden River, Linger Lodge is a picturesque slice of old Florida that seems to transport you back in time as soon as you set foot on the property.


The 104 site resort has full-service RV lots, fully-loaded cabins, and even a few tent sites. There's spectacular bass fishing right along the banks of the river, or you can rent a kayak. But the best part about Linger Lodge is the food! Whether you're in the mood for something exotic like gator tail bites, or would rather stay with southern staples like gumbo or campground chicken, you won't be disappointed, because there's not a bad item on the menu.


Come on Friday nights for the all-you-can eat fish fry for just 11.99, or still better the all-you-can eat BBQ on Sundays from 2-7 p.m. They've got

When the going gets weird, the weird go to Linger Lodge

a big smoker out back and a full-service bar with ice cold brews to wash it down, and live music to accompany the serene view of the river. It's truly a slice of heaven.


I've been going to Linger Lodge for years and have even been known to set up office at one of the tables on one of my working weekends. It reminds me of the sort of place that Hunter S. Thompson or even Earnest Hemingway would've appreciated and I'm looking forward to hunkering down in one of their cozy cabin's and enjoying the splendid isolation the next time I get writer's block.


I will however say, that there's been a noticeable change of late. It's hard to improve perfection, but since David LaRusso and Rita Lewis have taken over as the management team, Linger Lodge is more than just comfortable ambiance and good munchies. It's a first rate restaurant.


"We run a restaurant, not a snack stand," said LaRusso. "We take a lot of pride in what we put on the plate."


It shows. The fried green tomatoes are second to none and though I wouldn't think lasagna at a place with a stuffed jack-a-lope on the wall, Rita's family recipe is a top seller and worthy of a spot on any red sauce joint's menu.

Modernized, full-loaded cabins start at $95 per night


The team has taken great effort to build a coherent menu that matches the flavor of the lodge, but still doesn't fail to exceed expectations and their work has added a new depth to Linger Lodge's charm.


As we toured the grounds, I couldn't help but be impressed with the cleanliness and serene beauty of the camp. Sites rest right on the river bank and a kayak can take you seven miles downriver from the damn.


"The point is bass heaven and they pull some catfish out of there too," Rita tells me.

As I eye the tent sites, I ask about close encounters and she assures me that they've never had a gator or even a snake chase someone out of their tent.


My six-year-old son was entranced by the bird pen, which featured live peacocks and it was only the promise of his beloved gator bites that lured him away.


Inside the lodge there's a zoo's worth of wildlife that's benefited from top-notch taxidermy, including a thousand-pound gator, several enormous rattle snakes and a half dozen or so Florida Panthers.


Linger Lodge isn't a resort, it's an institution. If you've never been, go now, like seriously get in the car and head out. If you've been there, but never had the full experience, gas up the R.V., book a cabin, or just grab your tent. You will never drive so little and feel so far away.


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