TASTE the Florida Keys…
It’s hard to imagine any other place in the country with fresher and more delicious food options. While visiting you can feast on fresh fish cooked by world-renowned chefs or roadside casual dining. Your whim is your wish while dining in the Florida Keys! For my “tasty” recommendations this week, see below:
The Upper Keys:
In Key Largo and Islamorada, where KeysCaribbean Luxury Resorts & Marinas has two exclusive locations, Mariners Resort Villas & Marina and the Historic Tavernier Inn
For Jennifer Hammer, owner of Snook’s Bayside in Key Largo, the restaurant business is both a longstanding passion and a family affair. Her more than 25 years’ experience dates back to her college days, when she alternated bartending and working in a French fine dining spot to put herself through school in her native Philadelphia.
She and her mother, Roni Harkins, also were silent partners in a restaurant in Philly. Today, continuing in the field with her mother as co-owner of Snook’s, she couldn’t be happier.
The island lifestyle was always an attraction for Hammer, who used to vacation in the Keys in the 1970s. When she decided to become a full-time islander and went shopping for a restaurant, the Florida Keys were an obvious choice of locale.
“Fifteen years ago, we chose to do a long expedition from Key West to Naples looking for a restaurant,” Hammer said. “The moment we walked on the grounds of Snook’s and could feel her history, we were hooked.”
In fact, she says, Snook’s had a sordid past with many owners and as many tall tales. According to the Keys’ “coconut telegraph” or rumor mill, at one point the place had a second story that housed a brothel and was a favorite hangout for the rumrunners that roamed the Keys during Prohibition.
When Hammer and her mother first took over Snook’s, the place had been closed for several years and needed some tender loving care. To bring it back to life, they worked all day, then relaxed watching Key Largo’s Technicolor sunsets. “We thought to ourselves, what a lifetime opportunity to have Snook’s,” Hammer said.
The result of their labors is an inviting restaurant on the water’s edge with outdoor dining under swaying palm trees, a grand tiki bar complete with tiki torches and a nightly happy hour with live entertainment. Indoors is a romantic dining room filled with black-and-white photos of the Keys’ historic Overseas Railway and picturesque local scenes.
The atmosphere lends itself to private parties, weddings and rehearsal dinners, which are a big part of Snook’s business.
Creative offerings like a Thursday night pig roast party and Friday night all-you-can-eat buffet are very popular with diners. The menu incorporates as much local food as possible, such as fresh Keys fish and produce grown in nearby Homestead.
“We try to keep it down-home Keys and local,” Hammer said, “and not get caught up in the commercial atmosphere by keeping that Keys classic style.”
Helping out the local community also is important to Hammer, who hosts the Upper Keys’ Relay for Life fundraiser each year at Snook’s. The first time she hosted the event, she helped out by decapitating champagne bottles during a live auction and even spitting fire — tricks she learned during her bartending days.
“I found myself getting caught up in it and so did the crowd,” said Hammer. “The paddles kept going and the bidding was hot, and we raised some good money.”
Whether starring at her restaurant or enjoying Keys pastimes, it’s safe to say that Jennifer Hammer is comfortably ensconced in her island home — much to the delight of the diners who frequent Snook’s.
The Middle Keys:
In the Middle Keys, KeysCaribbean Luxury Resorts & Marinas has the Village at Hawks Cay Villas on Duck Key, Indigo Reef Resort Villas & Marina and the Coral Lagoon Resort Villas & Marina vacation rentals in Marathon
MARATHON, Florida Keys — Visitors to and through Marathon can delight in a whopping five new eateries, stacking the selections for a Middle Keys munch-a-thon to suit taste buds and budgets. Sunset Grille & Raw Bar, aptly named for its horizon-gazing location at the foot of the Seven Mile Bridge, boasts a full-service restaurant, tiki bar and pool for outdoor and oceanfront dining. Highlights include a Caribbean atmosphere, largely seafood lunch and dinner menus, raw and steam bar replete with crab, clams and oysters, and opportunities for diners to grill their own catch each Wednesday. Popular “Sunday Funday” shrimp boils, clam bakes and barbecue parties with live nightly entertainment keep the pace hopping. Seating is first-come, first-served. Located at 7 Knights Key Blvd. at mile marker (MM) 47, the restaurant is open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. for lunch and 5-10 p.m. for dinner.
The Lower Keys:
In the Lower Keys, KeysCaribbean Luxury Resorts & Marina has the Coral Hammock Resort Villas and Kings Point Marina & Condominiums vacation rentals
FLORIDA KEYS — Attention, crustacean fans: today (Aug. 6) is the start of the eagerly anticipated Florida Keys lobster season.
Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, the Keys are a paradise for lovers of fish and seafood. Diners can savor plump pink steamed shrimp, fish and chips made with mahi-mahi so fresh it’s practically still swimming, and chilled stone crab claws with creamy mustard sauce.
Topping the list of enticing Keys seafood is the native lobster, often called spiny lobster.
As well as delectable dining, these lobsters make a lucrative harvest for the area’s commercial fishermen. According to the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association, more than 80 percent of the spiny lobster harvested in Florida is caught in the Keys area.
Unlike the northern variety, Keys lobsters are clawless. But unless diners are clueless, once they bite into the sweet and tender meat of the tail, they won’t pine for the pincers.
For maximum enjoyment, lobster should be savored in one of the Florida Keys’ waterside seafood shacks or gourmet emporiums while watching an orange-red sunset.
The most popular way to serve the sensational crustacean is grilled with melted butter or, like its Maine cousin, steamed or boiled. While traditional northern trimmings might include boiled potatoes and corn on the cob, it’s not unusual to find Keys lobster paired with Cuban black beans and yellow rice.
Some area chefs prepare lobster stuffed and broiled, while others blend lobster meat with exotic sauces incorporating tropical fruits such as mango. It’s possible to start the day with a luscious Lobster Benedict at some creative local eateries — and few people can resist the Lobster Reuben at Keys Fisheries in Marathon.
The annual Keys lobster season is celebrated with diverse land- and water-based events. They include a Lobster Rodeo competition for divers in the Middle Keys and a three-day Key West Lobsterfest highlighted by a street party and feast on the island’s Duval Street.
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