James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

Everything You Ever Needed to Know About Sea Grapes

Everything You Ever Needed to Know About Sea Grapes

Tangerine IPA in Fort Lauderdale

It was a very good idea to put a bar inside this Florida park. I’d spent the afternoon wandering coastal hardwood trails in Fort Lauderdale’s Birch State Park, wading through sticky heat and growing tan lines. On my way out, I noticed a sign for “Concessions”.

I followed the sign down a gravel path and found myself in an outdoor bar. A man with a long, white ponytail and guitar sang songs like “Free Fallin’” and “Desperado” for an audience that was happy to sing along. I asked for a tangerine IPA because it felt like the right thing to drink on a weekend in southern Florida, and just when it seemed things couldn’t possibly be more idyllic, I located the seating at the other side of the bar: picnic tables in a grove of sea grapes.

Named for their grape-like clusters of fruit, sea-grape trees fill the landscape in Fort Lauderdale, lining the city’s streets, beaches, and front yards. Their friendly, rounded leaves—which can grow up to 10 inches across and are shaped like chubby kidneys—were the first thing I noticed in the city; they bob cheerfully in the wind as if to say, “You’re in a tropical place now.” A Florida native, sea grapes anchor the coast, defending beaches and dunes from erosion and heavy storms, so well that state law protects them from rampant trimming and removal.

[Read: A very comprehensive guide to getting drunk at Disney World]

Like actual grapes, sea grapes are edible, and in the summer, harvested for jams and jellies. (I tried a handful of them while I was hiking, but it was too early in the year. They tasted starchy and bitter.) Depending on how much space they have, sea grapes can grow as trees or shrubs. I admire that roll-with-the-punches sensibility.

At the bar, called Park and Ocean—the park lies on one side of the bar, the ocean across the street on the other—the sea grapes, in tree form, grow in a small circle, their ruddy branches dressed in twinkle lights and meandering overhead. I drank my beer quickly because I was thirsty and tired, and it was rapidly warming in the heat. 

Millenia ago, I’d learned from some signs in the park, the land here was submerged coral reef. Over time, the seas receded, leaving behind these fingers of limestone islands, which the winds—lucky for us—sprinkled with sea grapes.

A light tap on my shoulder interrupted my thoughts. When I turned, no one was there—and instead, a sea grape leaf fluttered to the ground.

Park and Ocean
3109 E. Sunrise Blvd.
Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Open till 8 p.m. on Sun.-Thurs.; 11 p.m. on Fri., Sat.

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