|Linger Lodge is located just off of S.R. 70 and overlooks the Braden River in Bradenton.|
Recently an out-of-towner asked me to meet them for lunch. They wanted a unique dining experience, but also something close to the highway. I racked my brain trying to think of a place that served good food, but was not a “chain.” Then it hit me, Linger Lodge Restaurant and Campground would be the perfect fit!
Linger Lodge is located just off of S.R. 70 in Bradenton. The dining area overlooks the Braden River.
The Linger Lodge I visited Wednesday, the one Al Roker endorsed as one of the "Top 5 Weirdest Restaurants in America,” is a vastly different from the one I knew in my youth.
Linger Lodge began as a campground in 1945. Frank and Elaine Gamsky came down from Milwaukee, Wisconsin with their family and purchased Linger Lodge in 1968, but it expanded to include a restaurant.
When I was a kid, my grandfather, Bob Bates, used to live at Linger Lodge. He had a great set up; his 20 something feet of camper was all he needed to live the Florida lifestyle, even if he was originally from Indiana. He was always out on his porch whittling something or smoking his pipe. He absolutely loved the outdoors. It seemed that nothing pleased him more than channeling the pioneer within and clearing land, chopping wood and riding on “Big Red”, his 1910 tractor.
|There are many "stuffed" animals spread out in the dining area.|
But the best part about going to see my grandpa is that we got to go to Linger Lodge Restaurant, one of the strangest places I’d ever been to. Back then it was a small, square building, and guests dined in the midst of all kinds of stuffed animals watching as they ate. These animals weren’t the cuddly, plush sort that line a child’s bed. These were animals that had once roamed the Linger Lodge Campground. According to the waitresses, all of the rattlesnakes, alligators, foxes, deer, bears and one mountain lion had been hunted and killed in the area surrounding the place. (With the exception of Jackalope, Blue Billed Ortholock and the Alaskan Fur Fish; the waitresses and Grandpa swore those were rare interspecies breeds that had been the result of an experiment gone wrong).
While the restaurant was waterfront, not many people ventured outside to eat under the oak trees and gaze upon the river. There were an abnormally large number of alligators that “hung out” near the dock. My guess is that they were being fed a good amount of leftovers. Sometimes we would arrive via pontoon boat. My aunt lived nearby, just up the river.
We loved how the alligators would scatter when we approached the dock.
|The display case containing fish is referred to as "the aquarium."|
Today, the restaurant has expanded a grand porch were guests can sit without getting eaten up by mosquitoes and look down at the beautiful Braden River while they dine on their choice of fried anything. I mean it! The menu offers an array of southern favorites from gator to pulled pork and gumbo. One of my favorite dishes is the "River Platter" which has fried chunks of alligator, fried frog legs and fried green tomatoes.
While it still holds that Florida flavor I adored as a child, I was a little disappointed to see the animals had been removed from the dining room and placed in a glass showcase, but it was still a wonderful experience.
Linger Lodge is a breath of fresh air in a world of chains and corporations. It is a little piece of history; an authentically Florida experience that travelers from anywhere can appreciate.