Monday, September 01, 2008

No Pizza in Franklin County

The Eastpointer

No Pizza in Franklin County

By Richard E. Noble

When we first arrived here you could not buy a pizza in the entire Franklin County - no pizza house, east or west. The first Pizza Parlor to open up here was Risa's Pizza in Apalachicola. It was opened by a nice fellow and his wife from St. Joe. He had worked for one of the mills in St. Joe for a number of years and was laid off. He eventually sold out and went back to St. Joe when they called him back to his old job - he couldn't give up all the benefits he had accrued at the mill.

Not too long after Risa's opened, BJ's opened up out on the Island. They both sold a good pizza but most of us Eastpointers went over to Risa's because it cost two dollars to get over the St. George Island Toll Bridge. Two dollars, man! Can you believe it?

Carol and I went out to the Island maybe once a month as a kind of adventure. There wasn't really all that much out there. The biggest attraction for us was a place called the Dingy. It had a real Island atmosphere. All that you had to do was sit down at the little bar and you were in the middle of a conversation. The Dingy was mostly working people while Harry A's had a more sophisticated reputation. Of course, sophisticated in Franklin County was a rather tenuous thing.

Other than some construction jobs and some fancy homes, the Island had very little to offer. There was a parking lot at the east end and you could walk or drive down to the cut on the west end, if you chose to.

Apalachicola was worse - it was a ghost town. The main street on both sides of highway 98 looked like it was permanently ready for the next hurricane – many of the windows were boarded up. Everything was closed down and empty.
If you wanted a hamburger you could go east or west from the Hub of Eastpoint. We almost always went to Johnny's over in Carrabelle.

Johnny's was on the water side of 98 in Carrabelle in a modest building. Everybody was friendly over there - unlike the Grill over in Apalach. The Grill before the new folks took it over was a rather strange experience for "foreigners" like us.

When you walked into the place there was a big round table to the rear on the left side if your back was to 98. At this table “lived” a community of ten or so older looking men. They were always there. I really don't know what they were doing there. We figured that they were the homeless relatives of the owner.

They never seemed to be eating anything. They all drank coffee. On one occasion I was rather surprised to overhear one of them request an order of toast. They had to wake the cook up to make it.

No matter who walked in the door, this whole table turned around and stared at them. As a potential customer one couldn't help but have the feeling that you were under suspicion. We felt so icky going in there that we avoided the opportunity whenever possible.

Today's Grill is one of the busiest restaurants in Franklin County. And the new owners are very friendly – in fact, I once worked there. They boast serving the largest fish sandwich in the world – and I was there when they devised that idea.

There was no place to eat in Eastpoint until Mom opened up. Mom's was unique. It was located where the pawn shop is now. If there were more than two cars parked out front, you might just as well skip breakfast.

Mom had a problem with organization. First you would get your eggs - but now your coffee cup was empty. As Mom put down your eggs, she apologized for the toast and would promise you another cup of coffee as soon as it was ready. She would then go and get it ready. Then came the grits. Mom would, of course, have to run and get you some butter. The butter would sit on top of the grits like a polar bear on an ice burg. When the toast came, Mom would agree to put your grits in the microwave. Mom would remember your grits at just about the time you were standing at the cash register to pay your bill. Breakfast was always an experience at Mom's. Everybody loved her - she tried so hard.

On that rare occasion that we went out to eat and bought something more expensive than a hamburger and French fries or a breakfast of grits toast and eggs for 99 cents, we went out to the lodge - not the prosperous Bay City Lodge that is owned by Jimmy Mosconis (which is great!) but the Breakaway Lodge that is now gone as far as I know.
I never bumped into a fellow oysterman at a restaurant until Sharon's opened up in Eastpoint a few years back. It is now gone also. Despite rumors to the contrary most oystermen didn't make enough money to be eating dinner out at a sit-down restaurant.

The Gibson Inn was condemned when we first arrived. They were going to tear it down. I understand that is the reason Mr. Ben Watkins bought the old hotel. He then found some investors who, with the help of a State historical grant, turned the abandoned building into a tourist destination. I actually feel the remodeling of the Gibson Hotel was the turning point towards prosperity here in Franklin County.

The Gibson attracted a whole new group of investors and entrepreneurs who started buying and remodeling all of Apalachicola - and from there things seemed to snowball into the thriving Goliath that we enjoy today.