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Aloha From The Edge (Cedar Key Again)

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I know. I have been here before, but Cedar Key needs another run, This is Key West 30 years ago...As the locals say... Welcome to our island, a place where time stands still and allows you to enjoy the unique qualities of our coastal environment. What a place. If someone asked you where to get the best New England clam chowder, you might be inclined to say, "Duh, New England." You'd be wrong—by over 1,000 miles. For the past three years, the Great Chowder Cook-Off in Newport, R.I., has been won by Tony's Seafood Restaurant of Cedar Key (597 2nd St.,, cup $4.65). In fact, the town is America's second-largest producer of farmed clams, one of many surprises in this two-square-mile hamlet 130 miles north of Tampa. Despite its prime location on the Gulf of Mexico, Cedar Key has escaped the pull of developers-its spit of beach isn't long enough to attract large-scale building projects. Instead, it still feels like a ramshackle, old fishing village straight out of Hemingway.

What to Do
The wrap-around balconies of The Island Hotel & Restaurant (352/543-5111) have been packed during past July 4th Clamerica Parades, when tourists flock to the clam capital with buckets and rolled-up pants. Take a kayak tour with Wild Florida Adventures (352/226-2251) to nearby Atsena Otie Key for a little history.

Where to Eat
The Island Hotel's restaurant serves from-scratch shrimp and grits with bacon gravy and Key lime pie that'd make Hemingway weep. Order the steamed clams at Seabreeze on the Dock (352/543-5738).

Where to Stay
Lodging is limited, but Island Hotel's tabby walls and rustic authenticity make it a relic of "Old Florida" (from $90).

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