Linger Lodge Restaurant
7205 85th Street Court East, Bradenton, FL 34202, (941) 755-2757
Cuisine: Old Florida-Style/Southern American
Price Rating: $10-$15 per entree
Review Date: March 4, 2012
I had the good fortune of getting to meet Florida State Senator Mike Bennett at an event for the Sarasota Orchestra a couple weeks back. We got to talking a bit, and he tells me that he owns this restaurant in Bradenton (adjacent city to Sarasota) called the Linger Lodge Restaurant, which is part of a larger RV park. But when he told me that it was named among the “Top 5 Weirdest Restaurants in America” by Al Roker and one of the “Top 10 Most Unusual Restaurants in the World” by Forbes.com, well then, you know I had to review this one to see for myself.
I scouted the menu the week before to find out what their specialties are so I can decide beforehand what I will order. One look at this menu, and I knew I had to bring my Dad as backup, because this was going to be an adventure! I brought my husband Tamas as well to give me an idea of the more “normal” fare, as Dad and I would have our hands (read: mouths) full with the unusual specialties.
The location is sort of strange; it’s on this completely unknown road. I would have never known it was there except for one small sign on State Road 70, and even after turning we were unsure we were going the right way. There is a large Wal-Mart currently being built (what’s new) right where you’re supposed to turn, and as long as you follow the map or directions perfectly (also well-written directions found on the Linger Lodge website), you’ll be fine. Other reviews for this restaurant date mostly from 2009 and all claim that it’s impossible to find, but things must have been updated since.
So we showed up around 12:30 pm yesterday, which was a Sunday. I thought this would give a good idea of the weekend lunchtime rush, and we were pleased to see that the place was pretty empty when we arrived, but that by the time we were done eating, almost the entire place was full, so we know this place gets some good traffic. When you get there, you’ll get memories of prior camping trips, if you’ve had any. This is truly “Old Florida style” and if you don’t know what that means, Tourist, you will once you’ve left this place. Most of the patrons were like us, mostly local Floridians I’m guessing, or RV owners and campers. There were a few bikers as well, and I’m told that the place has a biker night with live Bluegrass music plus two karaoke nights as well, which I’m sure makes for some good entertainment. You’d have to hear about this place from somewhere else, because if it lacks anything, it’s outside marketing. I’m sure the “How’d You Hear About Us?” question almost always gets answered with “Oh, So-and-So told me about it.”
We walked in the main entrance and received a super warm welcome from the bright and bubbly hostess. She led us to our table and let us wander the place. We decided to eat inside since it is where most of the “weird” is. It was a beautiful day for sitting on the porch section, but we wanted the true Linger Lodge experience. We spent about 5-10 minutes when we arrived just walking around looking at things. The place reminds me of a nature preserve museum, with tons of stuffed, taxidermy animals lining the walls. The menu tells you that the place has been around for at least 50 years, and the first owners were avid Florida animal lovers. You’ll get a real taste of Florida wildlife if you don’t know much about it – all kinds of fish, alligators, snakes, wildcats, etc., literally line the walls.
After we’d gotten our fill of the ambiance, we took our seats. The waitress greeted us. She was a little rougher around the edges at first, but once she warmed up, she felt like our best friend. Finding out it was our first time here, she left to grab us the “Roadkill Menu.” We’re good sports and looking it over could see how a newcomer might get a little worried at this point, especially if they’re not from Florida.
So after we’d had a good chuckle about the “Rigor Mortis Tortoise” and the “Shake n Bake Snake”, we put in our real orders off the real Linger Lodge menu. Dad and I ordered the River Sampler Platter specialty, which is a combo of Fried Green Tomatoes, Fried Frog Legs and Fried Alligator Bites – real Old Florida “delicacies”! Yep, you read that right. Tamas just sat there and did his best to not turn green. I have to say that the Fried Green Tomatoes were absolutely delicious. The breading was great, just what you’d hope for. Not super greasy and it didn’t overpower the flavor of the tomato. I’d never tried frog legs before, and they were also really, really good. And it’s true, they do taste exactly like chicken. The only off-putting thing might be the shape they are in, because you can actually picture the frog’s entire body, all 8th-grade science dissection style. Once you get past that though, it’s all good eatin’! Considering this is the first time we’ve had alligator, we have to be honest and say this wasn’t our favorite. Even though it was fried, we just couldn’t get used to the consistency. It’s somewhere between chicken and chewing gum, so we each dutifully tried a few pieces, but didn’t finish the basket.
To drink, I ordered what I always order down here – an Arnold Palmer. This is a typical Florida drink, made of a mixture of half lemonade, half tea (I always order ‘unsweet tea’ with mine). For the main course, I ordered the crab cakes, one of their specialties, Dad ordered the blackened “Senator’s Fish Sandwich” because blackened fish is a typical Florida meal, and Tamas ordered the lasagna because he can be sort of a wimp about trying new foods. And between the three of us and our tastes, I think we got a pretty good representation of the food. Tamas’ lasagna was spectacular. Ricotta cheese, sausage, and perfectly seasoned tomato sauce; he was very pleased with his order. My crab cakes were decent, but I have to say that there wasn’t a particular oomph, if you will, to them. No real particular taste at all. The mashed potatoes as a side were off-the-charts good, real potatoes with some lumps! and the green beans side was good too – I could tell they were fresh, not canned. Sadly, Dad’s blackened grouper sandwich was less than inspiring. He’s a real aficionado of blackening spice, which is a traditional Southern type of spice used mainly on fish, made from a mixture including salt, pepper, paprika, cayenne, oregano, garlic powder, onion powder and thyme. However, this time, Dad says the only thing he could really taste on the fish was whatever oil they used to cook it in. I took a taste and agreed, I didn’t taste any particular spice, so they must have gone too light on the mix. The fish was cooked really well though, perfectly moist, so that was a plus, but as far as blackening goes, not up to par. The highlight of the meal however, was the potato chips that came with his fish. They were homemade, not too oily and by far, the best I’ve ever had. For dessert, I ordered my favorite – Key Lime Pie. It was a really good slice of pie, however, not made here but ordered in from a local bakery.
Cheri and the Homemade Chips
All-in-all, I have to say that we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, even if the food wasn’t the best it could have been. It was “pretty good” but the location, staff friendliness and ambiance more than made up for that, and as far as this being an unusual restaurant, it certainly is. It’s worth the trip. Come take a look for yourself, the Linger Lodge is a place you have to check out at least once in your life.
Great restaurant, decent food, great staff, beautiful location: a “must-do” experience.