Updated: Feb 3
Earlier this fall, we loaded up the inflatable paddle board and inflatable kayak and headed out on a road trip to the Florida Keys. It had been 30 years since we visited the Keys and we were not sure what we would find. We were in search of "Old Florida," outdoor activities, and minimal crowds. What we found wowed and amazed us. We left planning our return trip. For information on where we stayed and what we did. Check out my post, Explore the Natural Beauty of the Florida Keys.
Many of the places we visited were in the NetFlix show Bloodline or in the Jesse McDermitt books by Wayne Stinnett. We started at Alabama Jacks on the north side of Key Largo. It is an open air, surrounded by mangroves, Old Florida, rustic place with great food. Exactly what we were looking for. My sense is that it can get very crowded, but on a Monday afternoon in October it was not crowded. Jesse McDermitt talks about their fish sandwich in almost every book. I had mine blackened and it was delicious. It was topped with melted cheese and grilled onions on a toasted bun. We also tried their conch fritter. It was the biggest conch fritter I have ever eaten. It truly was the size of a cat's head! Alabama Jack's makes a great first stop in the Keys.
Key Largo Fisheries Backyard Cafe
Just down the road from our AirBnB and in a commercial marina is the Key Largo Fisheries Backyard Cafe. Everything is freshly caught and served in an open air area directly on the dock. We feasted on Conch Chowder, Peel n Eat Shrimp and freshly caught Snapper. It as a beautiful evening to sit outside, enjoy some very fresh seafood and listen to the halyards clanging on the sailboats.
Robbie's is a complete Old Florida entertainment center. You can rent kayaks and power boats. You can go on snorkel tours. There are gift shops, food trucks, bars, a full service restaurant and tarpon feeding. While it may look a bit rustic, it is great fun for the whole family. What surprised me the most was how good the food is. The Bloody Mary's are a spicy, tomatoey concoction, garnished with olives, celery, citrus slices, a jumbo boiled shrimp and a beef jerky straw. I am a huge Bloody Mary fan and their's was one of the best I have ever had.
While we were in the Keys, I was on a quest to find the best conch chowder. This tomato based soup is made with finely diced conch, potatoes, celery and carrots. The secret to great conch chowder is in the spice. There needs to be enough herbs and spice to compliment the flavor, but not over power it. Robbie's conch chowder tastefully delivered that balance. If you are a conch chowder fan don't miss the chowder are Robbie's.
Sundowners is one of those Florida Keys places where both the sunset and the food are spectacular. Fresh caught seafood, steaks and sandwiches are on the menu. Do not miss the "Shrimpcargot," A Florida Keys rendition of Escargot, with pink shrimp swimming in herb infused garlic butter with melted parmesan cheese on top. The toasted baguettes slices are perfect for sopping up the sauce.
No Name Pub
On the east side of Big Pine Key is No Name Pub. It opened in 1931 as a bait shop and general store. In 1936 a small room was added to the building and the No Name Pub began its evolution to a bar and restaurant. This is a beer drinking, pool playing, old Florida establishment that also has great pizza, Bloody Mary's, and pulled pork sandwiches. If you like your conch chowder on the mild side, this is the place to get it! If you love a place with a history, dollar bills taped to the walls, serving a draft beer bearing it's name, you will love the No Name Pub.
Mrs. Mac's Kitchen
When asked where you get the best Key Lime Pie in the middle Keys, Mrs. Mac's Kitchen is at the top of everyone's list. Many of the Bloodline coffee shop scenes were filmed here, so it was a double win for us. Founded in 1976 by Jeff MacFarland in honor of his mother and her recipes, it is owned today by two sisters, Angie and Paula who still cook from Mrs. Mac's recipes. We went for breakfast and after a a large plate of Eggs Benedict, we shared a piece of tangy, sweet Key Lime Pie.
We kept our dining adventures to the middle and upper Keys. We are planning a return trip that allows us to eat our way through the lower Keys. At the top of my "must eat list" is Latitudes on Sunset Key, Blue Heaven Restaurant, Matt's Stock Island Kitchen and Bar and Kermits’s Key Lime Shoppe. If you have any suggestions or recommendations of places that have outstanding food in the Keys please leave a comment so we can try them. Ready to book your trip, Booking.com.