|By Michael E. Abrams
Take a whole fresh flounder.
Scale it and fry it in fresh oil and cross-cut it to a delicate
perfection, salt and pepper to tease the tongue, fix it so that like a
tender, simmering, edible picture puzzle, so you look at it and it is
almost a sacrilege to take it apart by fork, or even squeeze a lemon or
drop a dollop of tartar sauce. Add some hush puppies cooked to such a peak of soft and mellow tang that
one might envy the old watchdogs who were tossed these cornbread treats
by Confederate soldiers to hush them down.
For many, the discovery of this inconspicuous restaurant in Sumatra,
Florida, is like discovering a Rembrandt in a flea market. It shouldn't
exist, but there it is, in Liberty County, not too far from what's
called Tate's Hell, which defines being lost in the wilderness in
Florida. Sumatra, elevation 26 feet, is truly "in the middle of
Redline gas and grocery store and a bridge over a creek are signals you
have arrived, unless you are a hunter, a botanist, a wildlife officer,
or someone else with a fishing rod and a GPS.
The good part is, Sumatra is on the way to St. George Island for
beachgoers or sightseers who want to avoid the traffic on U.S. 98.
Statistics for Sumatra come up blank on the computer. The Apalachicola
nearby is 25,000 cubic feet per second. It's the western boundary of
Liberty County. Sumatra, amid the pines and oaks, is home to enough
people to support two churches, a voter precinct and a post office.
This place is familiar to those who know about restaurants in the
middle of nowhere – customers who drive the miles to a Liberty County
town called Sumatra. For them, there's no place quite like it. If you
know about Sumatra (pronounced soo-matt-tra by those who live here) -
you know about the unpretentious building known as Family Coastal
Liberty County is home to about 8,000 residents, mostly in the Hosford
area and Bristol, the only incorporated city. Two thirds of the county's
536,320 acres are in the Apalachicola National Forest. You can easily
find your way into the wilds if you try one of the many forest dirt
Across from us at another table at the restaurant sat a man and his
wife, here from Apalachicola, some 40 miles away, celebrating their 43rd
wedding anniversary. "We chose here because I have been here before," said the gentleman from
Apalach. "We know what the food tastes like, and it's delicious. A lot
of people know about it." The food, he added, "gives you that 'want to
Drive the county, know the restaurant. There are people who go back and
forth to St. George or Apalach, or who comes to explore the trails and
savannas, hunt bear, deer hogs or turkey, botanize, scope out frogs and
lizards, toss a lure, scoop up crawfish, ecologize, or just get lost in
the way Florida used to look.
Owners Roger and Kim Mckenzie took over two-and-a-half years ago from
Robert and Diane Tucker, who had established Family Coastal as place
where the whole family participated in operations. It's the same for the
Mckenzies. Their son Zach, for instance, is the chef who knew what to
do with the flounder and anything else, including the stuffed grouper,
which is a best-seller on the menu. Catfish is also popular.
Like the Tuckers, the Mckenzies clean their own fish and peel their own shrimp.
Improvements include a salad bar, the availability of beer, a cellular
phone service that provides "a little hot spot" so that people out in
iffy Liberty County who use Verizon service can get a strong signal in
the restaurant, wi-fi, and an expanded menu. The restaurant can seat as
many as 85 to 100 people if the occasion calls for it.
Beer is something new. The restaurant, open Wednesdays through Sunday,
does serve beer as a convenience to customers who want it, said
Mckenzie. By agreement with the community, however, beer is not sold on
Sundays. The restaurant has strong community support, said the owner.
"One customer said how do you get steaks so good?" said Mckenzie.
"Well, we buy choice angus. We don't cut the steak until you order it."
That way, as the steak sits on the loin, it maintains its quality and
The family has been fishing, shrimping and oystering for generations back, native to Franklin, Wakulla and Liberty counties. What's the secret to the reservoir of flavor that percolates through this restaurant?
"The secret is to have good seafood. There really is no secret except
having good grease," Mckenzie said modestly. "Everyone (other
restaurants) want to run the same grease day after day."
The restaurant on Hwy. 65 south of the filling station-food store is
reachable through 850-670-8441 and at
firstname.lastname@example.org. It is open from 11 a.m. Wednesday
'One customer said
'how do you get steaks so good?'
'Well, we buy choice angus. We don't cut the steak until you order it.'