Cabbage Key in southwest Florida is a long way to go for a cheeseburger, but this isn’t just any cheeseburger — it’s a “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” Legend has it that musician Jimmy Buffett wrote his classic hit at the historic Cabbage Key Inn and Restaurant, practically the only evidence of human life on this roadless, 100-acre island that is accessible only by boat.
With just eight rental cottages at the inn, the island is usually a tranquil oasis, but at lunch time, it teems with hungry day-trippers, like me.
I had come to the area in search of Old Florida, somewhere far removed from the theme park mayhem, kitschy mermaid shows and towering Lego figures in other parts of the state. Was it possible to return to a time when the Sunshine State was a blissful, unspoiled paradise?
I was starting to think so.
I took a bite of the juicy burger and decided it was worth the long ride over the waves from Sanibel Island to get to this quirky eatery. I ordered fries but had to settle for a side of potato salad. When the inn was established in the 1940s, a deep fryer was considered a fire hazard, and the tradition of burgers sans the fries has remained.
Adding to the weird-but-cool factor, every inch of the restaurant is wallpapered in dollar bills signed by the customers that tape them there. They even flutter from the ceiling like streamers at a birthday party. Thousands of dollars drift to the floor each year and are donated to charity.
The tradition was started by fishermen decades ago. The idea was that they would always have a dollar with their name on it to put toward a bar tab, even on a day when the catch wasn’t good and they were short on cash. Tourists started following suit, just for fun.
After lunch, I climbed to the top of an old, wooden water tower (a hurricane survivor), careful not to disturb a gargantuan nest of osprey that had made it their home. I took in the sweeping view of Pine Island Sound and liked the idea that generations before me have enjoyed the same panorama.
This article by Tracey Teo originally appeared on tennessean.com