Seafood Depot offers history, cuisine

EVERGLADES CITY, Fla. — While many tourists flock to Everglades National Park each year in order to observe the park’s beauty and wildlife, places like Everglades City still remain where wildlife is a delicacy for tourists and locals alike.

Although Everglades City, the western entrance to the park, only boasts a population of about 500 residents, the few two-way streets that do intersect the town are the location of several local eateries offering an assortment of seafood that ranges from the common favorites of stone crabs, shrimp and oysters all the way to the exotic Everglades specials such as gator nuggets, frog legs and Florida gator tail.

Click on the video at right to view an audio slideshow about the Everglades Seafood Depot and its colorful history narrated and prepared by writer Joe Cervone.

When it comes to longevity, stature and overall quality of food, few, if any, Everglades restaurants can match the Everglades Seafood Depot Restaurant, which has been a popular dining destination for the quaint town all the way back to the 1960s.

With the Everglades National Park Gulf Coast Visitor Center just a short distance from the restaurant, it is a fitting place to begin, or end, a day trip to the park. What makes the depot so unique and curious for tourists is that before housing a restaurant, the large Spanish style stucco building was used as a train station owned by the Atlantic Coast Line when it was first built in 1928.

“The train station was built here in the 1920s while Everglades Airport wasn’t built until the 1960s,” said Billy Potter, owner of the Everglades Seafood Depot with his wife Crystal. “The train came here to Everglades City up until the late 1950s, since there were no roads it was the best way to get supplies here.”

Towards the end of the 1950s, the ACL decided to discontinue its rail service and the depot was sold privately amongst a few buyers. At one point, the depot was transferred to the University of Miami with the aspiration of one day being used as a laboratory for marine science. The depot also served as the setting of a railroad station in the 1958 film “Winds Across the Everglades.”

The Everglades Seafood Depot is housed in a large Spanish style stucco building that previously served as a train depot for the Atlantic Coastal Line during the 1920s (Photos by Joe Cervone).

From the 1960s onward, the former train station has served as a local restaurant, although transferring from several owners over the years. Potter, who has owned and operated the depot since 1997, acquired it from Everglades Mayor Sammy Hamilton, who is also the cousin of his wife.

Since that time Potter, has marketed his restaurant both to tourists and to South Floridians alike, who venture down to Everglades City looking to satisfy their appetite for the local wildlife and seafood.

“Probably between 80 and 90 percent of the customers that come to the depot are tourists,” said Potter. “People come to Everglades National Park and they like to do the boat tours when they come, but after that they come and eat here.”

Offering a large menu of finger foods, sandwiches, seafood and pasta dishes, the depot has a wide variety of courses. But what really stands out on the depot’s menu is their specials found specifically in the Everglades, highlighted by their appetizer, “The Taste of the Everglades,” a platter of gator, frog legs and conch fritters.

“We have gator on our menu year round,” said Potter. “It comes from Louisiana and also from alligator farms throughout Florida too.”

Many of the foods served off of Potter’s menu also come right from within Everglades City from the local fishermen and alligator trappers.

At left, the restaurant offers indoor seating, a banquet hall and an outdoor seating patio that overlooks the frontage of Lake Placid. Below, wildlife such as pelicans roam just a few yards from the tables of patrons.

“All that I can get I get from locals, other times I get my food from our food distributors,” said Potter. “There are quite a few gators we have here, they’re all around us.”

For the depot and other local eateries the busiest time of their year begins right after the holiday seasons in January and through May, when the Everglades experiences an increase in visitors.

“People come down from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Marathon and Naples, they all come in for the weekend to sport fish and to eat,” said Potter. “We’re on the main drag of Everglades City so you have to pass by us, but still most tourists know ahead of time where they’re coming to since there’s only a few places to eat.”

Potter’s dedication to keeping the restaurant alive long after train routes stopped heading to Everglades City, has allowed the former Atlantic Coast Line train depot to continue welcoming and serving visitors in search of the seafood and wildlife that Everglades National Park has to offer.

If You Go

Everglades Seafood Depot Restaurant
102 Collier Ave.
Everglades City, Fla. 34139

Open daily
10:30 a.m. – 9 p.m.

Price Range: appetizers $7 to $16, sandwiches $4 to $9, lunch entrees $8 to $12, dinner entrees $12 to $28, seafood entrees $14 to $20, all you can eat fried chicken buffet $8, all you can eat taco bar $9 (Tuesday), all you can eat seafood (Thursdays starting in October)

Credit Cards: All major credit cards accepted.

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