There are lots of great places to enjoy fresh seafood in Palm Beach and Broward counties. But if you are headed to the Keys or the Everglades, you may want to stop at one of these spots. They are my favorite funky and fun seafood restaurants:
Jimbo's, Duck Lake Road, Virginia Key, 305-361-7026. Follow the signs to the waste treatment plant on Virginia Key and you'll find this South Florida landmark. You can also arrive by kayak, but the owner doesn't like motorcraft such as water scooters so don't try to land them. The menu is limited: smoked marlin, beer and soda. And the atmosphere is funky. Is that garbage I smell burning to keep the mosquitos away? There are four or five Keys-style shacks on the property that fall down and burn periodically. Grab a chair on one of the dilapidated front porches, but don't get too comfortable because here you have to help yourself. Step into the main shack that houses a refrigerator and old fish scale illuminated by a dangling light bulb and order your hunk of smoked fish (you pay by weight) and libations. If you wish, you can play a game of bocce. And on some days watch one of the fashion photo shoots that regularly takes place at this scenic spot. See for yourself at www.jimbosplace.com.
Joe's Seafood Restaurant & Market, 400-404 NW North River Drive, Miami, 305-381-9329. Take a seat on the porch along the Miami River and you can watch the tug boats lead freighters filled with junker cars and bicycles heading to Haiti. The menu features lots of fresh seafood including Spanish specialties such as calamari and rice in its natural ink (arroz con calamares en su tinta), seafood in green sauce (mariscadas en salsa verde) or broiled or fried grouper throats (ventrechas de cherna al horno o fritas). And after that, don't miss the tres leches cake. The portions are generous, the prices reasonable, the food tasty and it won't hurt to be able to speak Spanish, though it's not a necessity. Oh, and a guard in the parking lot will be sure your car is still there after you eat. The owners are currently redoing the dining room and I just hope they don't do away with any of this place's funky charm. For information, visit www.realpages.com/joesseafood.
Redfish Grill, 9610 Old Cutler Road, Coral Gables, 305-668-8788. Tucked away in Matheson Hammock Park is this coral rock edifice built in the 1930s. Today it houses a trendy restaurant where the menu features a variety of foods including seafood. Some of the most popular dishes are the marinated 2-pound snapper grilled and finished in the oven. It's served with roasted tomatoes, pine nuts and brown butter. There's also the grilled Florida spiny lobster served with paprika-spiked drawn butter. But even better than the food is the atmosphere. Get a patio table on a night illuminated by a full moon and you are in paradise watching the palm trees outlined against the sky and Biscayne Bay. Only open for dinner. For more info, visit www.redfishgrill.net.
Alabama Jack's, 58000 Card Sound Road, Key Largo, 305-248-8741. A destination for many boaters, bikers and their babes, this typical Keys spot is a must see-and-eat. The open-air seafood restaurant was built on two barges in the 1950s. Overlooking the water and mangroves, you can order great smoked blue marlin chunks or fish dip. Be sure to pay the extra few cents to get the jalapeno pepper slices with your smoked fish -- it's a real treat. On our last visit, the sassy waiter added to our enjoyment, as did the live country music on a lazy Saturday afternoon. Sunset is a great time to visit as it's cool and you can watch the sky change color.
The Oyster House, Highway 29 S., Everglades City, 941-695-2073; www.oysterhouserestaurant.com. If you are on the west coast enjoying the Ten Thousand Islands and Everglades National Park, stop here for fresh, fresh, fresh seafood with a view. It's an easy day trip across Alligator Alley from the east coast. This homey place with wood paneling and stuffed nature hanging on the walls, has been under the same family ownership since 1992. Everglades City being the stone crab capital of Florida, this is the place for some claws in season. The ones here are probably fresh off the fisherman's boat. They come chilled, cracked and ready to dip in melted butter or mustard sauce. They also have fresh Everglades frog legs (OK, so it's not seafood and not my first choice).
And don't miss a visit to the Rod and Gun Club, 200 Riverside Drive, Everglades City, 239-695-2101, which is on the Barron River. Built in the 1800s, it will remind you of an Adirondacks hunting lodge complete with stuffed animals and dark wood paneling. You can enjoy a seafood meal on the screened porch (those screens help keep Everglades mosquitos away) or, do as we did, just visit for a drink.
It was a haunt for the Eisenhowers as well as former presidents Hoover, Roosevelt, Truman and Nixon. John Wayne and Ernest Hemingway paid a call in 1942. Burl Ives and Gypsy Rose Lee were guests in the 1950s while shooting Winds Across the Everglades. For a look at this historic spot, visit www.floridasecrets.com/Bed&Breakfast/SWBeds/Rod.htm.
If you want the freshest stone crabs possible, visit the fishing dock behind the Rod and Gun Club. Here, the stone crab fishermen just may sell you some "lights" or "floaters." These are the crab claws that float to the top of the pot when they are cooked because they are empty or nearly empty, according to Brian Frasco of Fish Peddler East in Fort Lauderdale. He says their store never sells them. But if you find them on the docks, they'll be cheap.
My thanks to David Seeley of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea who, with the help of his kayak, introduced me to these special places.
Insider's guide to seafood in fun and funky South Florida settings
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