I was starting to feel really uncomfortable about tailless alligators. Alligators are ubiquitous in Florida, and alligator farming is a rising industry. But, as I reminisced about the fried alligator tail with ethereal citrus sauce that I used to get at Beachcombers Restaurant in St. Augustine, a nagging thought occurred to me. What do they do with the rest of the alligator once the tails have been harvested for meat?
It turns out that you can eat other parts of the alligator too. Linton’s Seafood says that “Alligator has a mild flavor and a tender texture, similar to that of chicken or pork. Choice cuts of the alligator are the tail and the jaw, which work best in baked or cutlet recipes as well as in fried foods. If prepared properly (marinated or tenderized), body and leg meat can also be used in special recipes such as burgers, casseroles, ground meat, soups and stews.” Gatorama advertises “the best Gator Tail in the World,” though it also sells gator ribs and a charmingly named Swamp Sampler, “a Gatorama signature since 1996!” There is a chic market for alligator skin, and let’s not forget the heads, feet, and teeth, which are preserved through taxidermy and sold at virtually every roadside citrus and gasoline vendor along Florida’s I-95. All of this made me feel much less guilty about my fondness for gator tail, leaving me with a profound (and profoundly unsatisfiable) craving for the gator tail at Beachcombers.
Beachcombers is situated directly on the beach. For most of the year, you can sit indoors or outdoors, surrounded by scantily clad beach bums and early drinkers, and feel the ocean breeze gently threaten to carry away your paper napkin. The dunes crackle, the sea beckons. After dinner, you just exit to the restaurant’s deck, slip off your flip-flops, and saunter towards the tidal pools to search for hermit crabs and colorful shells. After an ice cold beer and a serving of gator tail, it’s hard not to feel as if you’re in commune with the blueness of the sky on your skin.
Unfortunately for me, Beachcombers is about 2300 miles and 6000 feet in elevation away from where I currently live. There are no alligators in these here hills. When I lived in St. Augustine, eating gator tail was an easy way to practice locavorism; in the heart of Utah’s high desert, not so much. How far am I willing to go to recapture “the taste of Mahi-Mahi and catfish with a sweet hint of clams”? Does it make me a terrible person if I am seriously considering purchasing gator tail as a present to myself?
The other thing I loved about Beachcombers was that on Tuesdays, they sold mammoth, deep-fried, gloriously crunchy, sinfully overstuffed chimichangas. They served them on a bed of wispy iceberg lettuce, with salsa, sour cream, olives, jalapenos, and onions on the side. (Any one of these accoutrements is ambrosial to me… Put them all together on one plate and I become a woman rapturously entranced.) Their chimichangas were freakin’ awesome, so meaty and cheesy on the inside that they practically mandated drinking a Corona with lime, even though it was only nine in the morning. I may be surrounded by deer and elk now, but I can do chimis.
Now if I could only do away with this lingering hunger for gator tail. A trip to Florida is out of the financial question. I have no insider pull in the gator industry. Damn it, I’ve been a good girl this year. Wouldn’t Santa want to give me the gift of a Swamp Sampler? Christmas is right around the corner, right?