Ageless St. Augustine Bonus
The Kessler calamari at 95 Cordova in the Casa Monica Hotel is so popular that the restaurant plans to sell it in go-cups for travelers wandering the streets. Even nonsquid lovers fall for this semolina-crusted version, served with a Moroccan pesto of sweet olives, tomatoes, and asiago cheese. “We haven’t convinced them to let us walk and drink here like you can in New Orleans and Key West,” said Casa Monica’s Joni Dooley Barkley, “but we can walk and eat.”
For dessert, there’s Key Lime Pie in every possible permutation, but for my calories, I’ll take Claude’s Chocolate. Former New Yorkers Claude Franques and his wife, Nicole, have gotten into the Southern groove, making little white chocolate mimosas, flavored with orange and champagne, and pandering to University of Florida fans with dark chocolate gators.
However, there are scarier things than gators in St. Augustine. All you need to feel a chill up your spine is to eavesdrop on the locals. The Casa Monica Hotel and adjoining condos were built on an old Indian burial ground, they say, and were so haunted that the new owners called in ghostbusters from England.
Henry Flagler, the Standard Oil magnate who transformed Florida with grandiose hotels and railroads, died in 1913 and was lying in state in the rotunda of the building that is now his namesake college. Local legend holds that during the service, the casket lid slammed down, a puff of smoke flew up to the top of the dome, flashed down like lightning and seared a portrait of the man himself in one of the inch-square floor tiles. Just ask a local where to look in this sea of mosaics.
The St. Augustine Lighthouse, recently restored, has its own tales to tell. It’s a huff-and-puff climb up 219 stairs. (Just imagine being a keeper carrying 30-pound buckets of hot pig lard up to fuel the flame.)
Tragically, three little girls were killed during the lighthouse construction when they hopped into a railroad car for a ride and couldn’t stop it before it dumped them into the waves.
In the 136 years since, ghosts seem to have stacked up upon themselves at the lighthouse. When the SciFi Channel’s Ghost Hunters came to tape, they saw faces leaning over the stair landings and tracked plenty of psychic activity.
But you can hardly blame spirits for haunting St. Augustine. I didn’t want to leave either.