Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Dining with Miss Bernice, The Gizzard Queen, at the Ft. Myers' Marathon Gas Station

 "I'm the Gypsy - The Gizzard Queen-  I'll tear your soul apart....
 I'm the Gypsy - I'm guaranteed, to break your little heart." - apologies to the Who

Crouch's is one restaurant you're NOT gonna find on your own. Not in a year of Sundays. BTW, Crouch's Restaurant has but one seat, and that's reserved for one regular customer, so, bless your heart, don't get any bright ideas--you're barking up the wrong tree.

We read about Crouch's in Annabelle Tometich's News-Press article, and knew we were called there, on a Holy Mission... to partake of their legendary fried gizzards. 

Chef Bernice Loggins, lovingly known as Miss Bernice,  has cooked and fed much of Fort Myers from the back of this Gas-n-Fry takeout restaurant over the past couple decades.
Miss Bernice
Hidden in the back of the Marathon gas station, much like an ICBM nestled deep in its Nebraska subterranean silo, Crouch's sits a couple hundred yards West of Farmers Market Restaurant on Edison Avenue. This garden of earthly delights opened almost 25 years ago (and that's over 25 years after Farmers Market opened.)  That's Southern culinary stability.

My fellow diners and I  pulled up at 11:30 am. The parking lot was full. Still, we were not sure if this 7-11 -type spot was the right gas station. We sent the youngest, tallest and bravest  in, first.  He emerged with two "thumbs up" and a wide grin.  We walked in and grinned, too. Straight ahead was a fried-food oasis; a veritable Southern Valhalla of  plucked delights. 
Local stands at the front of the entire restaurant.
Miss Bernice presides over the biggest darn fryer I've ever seen. Two fryers, actually, sized like twin marching drums. We could barely see her and her assistant through the 135 degree glass display case.
Fresh gizzards, with huge fry baskets in background
Every so often during the busy day, a fresh batch of flour, salt, pepper and cayenne- breaded fried gizzards, breasts and wings, fish, and other treats arrives. Every few minutes, another knowing customer places an order with a verbal short hand that's but a secret code to our ears. 
Step off to the left side of the glass display case, to place your order, and choose your drinks.

Choose one to 7 pieces of chicken leg, thigh, or breast, or splurge for the 8 piece fried chicken box. There's a smothered chicken box, and sides of mac & cheese, mac & beef, and lima beans with ham hock. The small gizzard box ($3.99) is enough for several people, or splurge for the large  $6.99 box. There's two large crock pots simmering with jumbo boiled peanuts. You won't go hungry with the order sizes, either. 

After reluctantly eyeing the only seat in the house,  we set off with our stack of styrofoam-packed boxes of take out fried goodness and sides, fixin' to sit  a spell on a bench by  downtown Fort Myers' meandering Caloosahatchee River. 
But first, we were stopped in our tracks by the Seminole Gulf train next to the restaurant.

We were again stopped, with mouths agape, - by this too tall man, um,  watering the lamp post.  He ain't got the sense God gave a goose, bless his heart.
Egads, that's Public Art!  Bring it on, Ft. Myers!  Art's best that gets a reaction from its viewers.                                                                                    
View from our lunch spot
So, how was it?

The gizzards are delicious!  Tender and crisp, just start eating them as soon as you leave the restaurant for optimal crispness. These plump bad boys, dressed with a splash of hot sauce, are Crouch's raison d'etre (translated- they're finger-lickin good, make ya wanna slap yo mama" good!) Recommended!

The fried chicken is spot on, with the crisp crust concealing a welcoming cayenne warmth.

The fish is ok, coming between two flavorful slices of bread. I'm just not a fan of fried fish.

The surprise favorite of our sampling?   
The lima beans, smothering a large and largely hidden luscious ham hock- Southern ambrosia!  So creamy, so smoky flavorful! They are to be savored like a fine French daube, a Brunswick stew, or any fine work of comfort food. Highly Recommended.

Competition?  Nah. Just a few gizzard tosses away is Farmers Market, which has similarly good fried chicken, just a little different style. Farmers' prices are higher, ambiance is quite different,  and they definitely have more than one seat for customers!  The best thing to get at Farmers Market is dessert...their pies are legendary!

Crouch's,  inside Marathon gas station,  2612 Edison Ave., Fort Myers.  332-8122. 

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