FM24 – Tarpon Lodge

Tarpon Lodge


Written By: Bill F. LaPlante II

When more than 600 travelers—a notoriously picky lot—say a “destination location” offers THE BEST of something, it’s time to take notice.

Cleary the case of Tarpon Lodge—built in 1926, it’s been on the National Register of Historic Places for nearly a decade—in Pineland, Florida.

This truly iconic spot people head for JUST TO BE THERE defines “destination location” in my book. It’s a place people seek out to visit and stay because of its attractive features, not its proximity to other places. Let’s add up some unique features of Pineland and environs:

  • • Fabulous fishing for a dozen-plus saltwater species,
    including tarpon in Pine Island Sound.
  • A four-star restaurant featuring freshly caught seafood
    expertly prepared; they’ll even cook YOUR FILLETED
    CATCH, given a little advance notice.
    • Stunning sunsets viewable from the pool.
    • NO PETS or SMOKING; FREE WIFI though!
    • Boat dockage (wet or dry)

Add several thousand magazine readers voting it “BEST KEPT SECRET” & “BEST SUNSET VIEW” and you’ve got a must visit place—for a meal, an overnight respite, or just a drink in the bar. A custom-built lodge features second-story views of the marina and Pine Island Sound, just yards from the main building. Your room will likely have a king bed, granite bathroom and private balcony, most overlooking the pool and Tarpon Lodge Restaurant.

Rob Wells III remembers the day he agreed to “come home,” where he left his finance career in New York City and commit his future- “I was all-in” he tells Florida Country & Coast magazine–to the family businesses. The main building housing guests for stays of a night, a week, or more was rebuilt under Rob’s watchful eye. He wanted it to be perfect and to fit in harmoniously with the main dining/bar built more than 100 years ago. He was careful to make design choices which “fit” well with the coastal vibe of the adjacent buildings replete with pool, screened porch view of fabulous sunsets, just beyond the marina.

Early morning hours find Rob visiting with several charter captains who run their vessels from dedicated docks at the lodge, awaiting arrival of their crews and clients for another day of successful fishing in Pine Island Sound. Tripletail, spotted seatrout, snook, mangrove snapper and redfish are
among the wide variety of species targeted by the charter fleet.

May to October brings focus on the nearby Boca Grande Pass, a bit further northwest, just this side of Gasparilla Island—home to several media celebrities who shall remain nameless for privacy reasons. This is one of the BEST tarpon hunting grounds in the world, bar none—Silver sides are
King in these waters. Don’t take my word for it, come out some early morning and count the boats all hunting a “tarpon hook-up.” 

Or, if shelling is your favorite seaside venture head over to Cayo Costa or Captiva for a few hours of beachcombing. The lodge front desk can help you secure a boat ride—arrangements best made in advance of your arrival to ensure a spot.

I recently stayed in room six, with savory aromas from the main kitchen wafting their way to my balcony making it easy to find the food, after making a dinner reservation in advance, as the main restaurant fills up with lodge guests and folks just visiting for the fine evening meal, as well.

Chef Craig Panneton, a longtime fixture in Southwest Florida resorts, beachfront and now bayside, gives Florida Country & Coast the inside scoop on his “Burger in Paradise.” “It’s a full eight-ounce beauty of 80 percent ground short rib beef and 20 percent ground chuck,” he confides—all custom grilled and garnished to your request. This is truly having it your way—as the burger chain used to say. The house bun is, of course, toasted brioche with
smoked gouda melted atop the beef.

That said, you’ve got to start with seafood when dining seaside on an island—right! The lightly blackened fresh catch of the day—Chris Beretta, assistant manager, said the tripletail (some of the BEST-TASTING in any ocean) “looked especially good off the boat this morning,” was served topped roasted tomato salsa with frisee (type of chicory) as the bed. 

This iconic destination, a place people seek out for its unique charm rather than its proximity to other attractions, epitomizes a true 'destination location.'

After dinner, watching the sunset from the balcony is a serene experience, the perfect precursor to a restful night in the luxurious king bed.

At Tarpon Lodge, the sunsets paint the sky with an array of colors, offering a breathtaking spectacle over Pine Island Sound.

Signature cocktails magically appear, served with the meal as requested, as I enjoy a Tito’s Summer Lemonade, while my companion sips a crisp, cool pinot grigio with the fish.

So, having completed the seafood component of the evening, time to graduate to the dinner entrees. Filet mignon— medium please—can’t be beaten as the apex protein in my diet. Chef Craig showed me moments before we were seated how he could get most of the pink out of my steak, while not sacrificing the savor—so “medium it is, please.” Kindly top with his beautiful béarnaise sauce and sides of potato of the day and vegetable—fresh broccoli I seem to remember. My companion selected the “beef brochette”—skewered tenderloin, fresh peppers, sweet onion, tomatoes with house
rice blend and truffled mushroom demi-glace.

So stuffed we could merely share a caramelized crème brûlée for dessert expertly toasted by Carol, a fine host for the evening.

That king bed is sure going to hit the spot, after viewing that BEST SUNSET SHOW now on display from the bedroom balcony—try to catch the “green flash.”

Best get some rest as it’s off to Cabbage Key with the morning boat (after complimentary continental breakfast) and a tour of Pine Island Sound.

Can I just get a room for the remainder of my days? Please.

As long as Chef Craig and his béarnaise are part of the package! FCM