Sometimes our evenings don’t go as planned, and this was one of those times. It’s been raining all day, which no doubt will cancel our plans to meet a group of 4-12 friends on Siesta Beach for a picnic, comraderie and beach bocci ball. It’s something we do most every Friday night in the summer months when the days are longer and things slow down a bit at the real estate brokerage. But this night? Rain, rain and more rain.
Disappointment aside, you’ve gotta eat, so I suggested an old, reliable, good-time stand-by: J.R’s Old Packinghouse Cafe.
While I’ve always enjoyed this place (Jill and I had one of our earliest dates here), on this particular evening we arrive around 6:45, and I surmise that they must be giving something away or the Allman Brothers are in the house. There is a bus boy outside directing traffic and it’s not even 7pm! The joint is so crowded we’re directing to park in a nearby industrial parking lot. (Season? We don’t need no stinkin’ season!)
The atmosphere is beyond the usual lively. We are on a waiting list, and so get a couple of drinks from the bar, and watch as The Florida Mountain Boys are doing their final tune up and sound check. In case you haven’t heard, some of the best local talent plays at the OPC (Old Packing House), and here’s what’s cool . . . they play for tips! No cover charge to hear great music? I’m in, and so are a lot of the locals.
JR’s been packing them in for 20+ years, and no wonder! This is the epitome of a fly-under-the-radar while exceeding any pre-conceived expectation you might have when you first enter kind of place. (Sheesh, I hope I didn’t just blow their M.O.)
In any case, it’s time to order. I can’t resist the blackboard special of a Basa and seafood paella, while Jill goes with a Ropa Vieja. We were tempted by the Bubba Gump Shrimp or the catfish fillet, but it looks like they’ve more Cuban influenced entrees since the last time we visited and we’re up for something different. Besides, their Cuban sandwich is legendary.
The food is terrific, the price is right, and the eclectic mix of people there listening to an obviously seasoned group of musicians are my idea of a fabulous night, but I must say the highlight of the night was that I did put in a special request to hear Johnny Cash’ “Ring of Fire”.
“Hmmm, we don’t have that in our repertoire, but let’s see if we can’t figure something out on our break” comes the reply.
So we wait for the next set, and sure enough, with the first song after the break they nailed it, with at least half of the assembled crowd singing along lustily. When does that happen?
We leave shortly after, but I haven’t been able to get the song out of my head since, let alone the memory of yet another terrific night at J.R.’s OPC.