Salt-Crusted Crayton Cove

Naples’ historic community a local secret

Where boat docks constitute the heart of a community, you are bound to find three qualities that conspire in creating a destination of depth and specific energy: seafood, artists, and storytellers.

The story told of Crayton Cove in Naples begins in the early 1900s as intrepid boatmen and pioneers discovered and settled this final Florida outpost.

Reaching from beach to bay, 12th Avenue South, back then known as Pier Street, was the town’s main thoroughfare connecting the Naples Pier with the docks at Back Bay.

Later renamed for early developer E.W. “Ed” Crayton, the Back Bay community attracted a lively mix of commercial fishermen, workers building the Tamiami Trail, and business folk who started an inn, a grocery store, and Naples’ first pharmacy.

Today, despite Crayton Cove’s deep roots and home to City Dock, the neighborhood has retreated into something of a hidden Naples secret.

“No one knows we’re here,” Nora Butler, a design artist formerly from the Sanibel Island-Fort Myers area, told me. “Even the people who live in Naples don’t know about Crayton Cove.”

Although that’s how John and Joann, snowbirds from Illinois we met at the Cove Inn chickee bar, like it, the dozen or so galleries, restaurants, and shops that today make up the tight little community have banded together in a Discover Crayton Cove movement to heighten awareness of “the original Old Naples.” 

The Naples City Dock anchors the village to the sea and the past. Eighteen fishing, sailing, and sightseeing boat charters – the largest concentration anywhere in Collier County — tie up in the 84-slip harbor.

Visitors by car as well as boat love to walk along the docks, sit for a spell in the shade of the tin-roofed deck, and visit with the transient slip occupants and permanent charter captains.

If you’re lucky, you’ll run into Capt. Marlena Brackebusch, whose claim-to-fame extends beyond her prowess aboard her 33-foot Island Dreams sailboat.

Bravely enough, she has penned a sailing adventure novel titled Nightmare Voyage, part of which is set at the City Docks and its long-standing Cove Inn and Dock at Crayton Cove restaurant.

The Cove Inn replaced the Bayview Inn destroyed in 1960 by Hurricane Donna and stands as an example of “Neapolynesian style” popularized in that era.

One of Florida’s first condo-hotels, its 102 units sport the individual character of its owners.

A step back into yesteryear resorting, it feels totally in-place here at time-stilled Crayton Cove.

Its well-loved Coffee Shoppe serves corned been hash, SOS (Sailors on Shore, the menu says, but of course it’s that chipped beef and toast dish that sailors know by the same letters, different meaning), and thin, plate-size pancakes crisped at the edge.

Don’t expect latte, brioche, or service with a smile. This is Crayton Cove at its finest, so black coffee, white toast, and a few smart remarks are more likely.

The Inn’s two other restaurants thrive along similar old Naples character.

Most famously, The Dock at Crayton Cove has been around since the mid-70s.

Key Lime Grouper, The Dock at Crayton Cove

My husband and I went on one of our first dates to the tiny waterside restaurant cooled by sea breezes.

Not much has changed. There’s still fried seafood specials, raw oysters, and a lively bar scene.

The menu has progressed through the years to inject exotic Caribbean flavor into the menu. Think blackened grouper on Cuban bread, key lime grouper with citrus butter sauce, Jamaican Red Stripe ribs with guava BBQ sauce, and paella.

Rivaling its reputation for food and casual fun, the Dock hosts its annual Great Dock Canoe Race, a wacky parade of decorated paddle craft the second Saturday in May.

Started in 1976, it today draws thousands to cheer and jeer. We in fact met some snowbirds who stayed or returned specifically for the event.

The Chickee Bar at Cove Inn happens to be headquarters central for the local community of winter visitors who have found their hedge on happiness in this off-the-moneyed-path of Naples.

Beauty of Crayton Cove is, however, that it’s only minutes away from both the Fifth Avenue South and Third Street South hoity dining and shopping districts and beaches.

Jump on a bike rental from the Naples Ships Store and you’ll be there in minutes.

But before or after, make sure to take some time to shop the ships store.

As close to a department store as you’re going to get in these parts, it layers its appeal in room after room devoted to everything from T-shirts, pirates booty, and fun souvenirs to nautical antiques, fishing tackle, and boating hardware.

It lies within the hub of storefronts along the 12th Avenue roundabout, planted prettily with seasonal flowers and historical markers.

On the same main drag, you will find Butler’s gallery next to the Phil Fisher Gallery & Studio, which relocated in recent years from Fifth Avenue South.

“I love it here,” was the only explanation realistic, plein-air artist Fisher could offer.

They are in good company with 10 galleries where the artists themselves are often on hand creating and selling their works.

The second Saturday of each month November through May, they welcome after-hours browsers and art-lovers to Art After Dark.

With three of the local restaurants, some of the artists have packaged Palette to Palate progressive dinners interspersed with artist visits during special times of the year.

In addition to The Dock, the Cove’s two fine-dining restaurants participate.

Oddly enough, these are both French in orientation and face each other across the street. Bamboo Café bills its fare as “French home cooking,” while Bleu Provence’s style stems from its owners’ roots in France’s southern region.

At Bamboo, I’m a big fan of the lamb tagine, a Moroccan import, and the multi-dimensional Napoleon dessert.

Tagine at Bamboo Cafe

“Our biggest challenge is that as a mom-and-pop, small-scale restaurant located in a tucked- away, even, some would say ‘hard-to-find,’ location, potential guests have a hard time locating us,” said co-owner Lisa Boet.

“Crayton Cove is a lovely village that is definitely on the map, yet it still needs to be discovered by many residents of Naples…., [but] the location lends an intimate feel to our restaurant.”

Bleu Provence’s menu is more extensive, as is the dining area. I can highly recommend the ahi tuna with spicy sauce and apricot risotto, but most of its dishes I’ve tried do classic French with an interesting twist.

The other dining options consist of The Boathouse at Cove Inn, where the view is as filling as its seafood specialties; tiny Napoli Pizza; and a little old home now known as the Neighborhood Café.

The latter is the kind of place where locals come in to help themselves to coffee and sit on the front porch to watch the world go by.

A couple of blocks away, they can carry their pastries and pick a quiet bench overlooking the bay and the passage of boats and time, a time that reverts to a gentle era still lurking in Crayton Cove’s genes.

Bamboo Café, 239-643-6177, www.bamboocafefrenchhomecooking.com

Bleu Provence, 239-261-8239, www.bleuprovencenaples.com

Boathouse, 239-643-2235, www.naplesboathouse.com

Chickee Bar, 239-262-5994

Crayton Cove, www.discovercraytoncove.com

Cove Inn on Naples Bay, 800-255-4365, www.coveinnnaples.com

Dock at Crayton Cove, 239-263-9940, www.dockcraytoncove.com

Island Dreams, Island Sailing, 239-248-0834, www.sailnaples.com

Naples City Dock, 239-213-3070

Naples Ships Store, 239-649-0899, www.naplesshipsstore.com

Nora Butler Designs, 239-403-8287, www.norabutler.com

Phil Fisher Gallery & Studio, 239-403-8393, www.philfisherfineart.com

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One Response to Salt-Crusted Crayton Cove

  1. Lucy says:

    Appcreiation for this information is over 9000-thank you!

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