We’d decided to take a more scenic route from Miami to the keys and having heard about Alabama Jack’s from some fellow riders I suggested we drop in for lunch before crossing to the keys.
Now any place that looks like an open air market on the side of the road with a large number of bikes and cars in the lots is going to attract my attention. It just happens that Nancy found it interesting as well, so the chances that we’d drive by were exactly ZERO. The odds were sealed by the sign that stated they had the best Conch Fritters in the Keys (more on this later). It was even better to walk in and be warmly greeted by both staff and at least one pleasantly glowing patron. Although I tend to think the fellow would have warmly greeted just about anything that moved near him.
The place was rustic and had a great feel about it with a little country music charm. I’m not a fan of cheap “bought-at-Walmart” plastic chairs but since they are open air in a place that gets a fair amount of rain and where the humidity is always high I guess they can be forgiven. There are several tables and a bar with one side of the place open to the Everglades. The decor was interesting and eclectic in the way some chain places try to replicate (Montanas for example) but with an actual non-theme park/corporate attitude that I found relaxing.
‘Bama Jack’s is built over the water on the estuary from the Everglades to the Gulf of Mexico and we chose to sit right next to the rail over-looking the very clear and slow-moving water where boats were tied up so their owners could enjoy a cold one.. There were birds gliding past just above the surface and we could see large fish hanging around. We discovered why both were there soon enough.
We ordered a couple of drinks. I had to try a local brew so the Key West ale was a given. Being so close to the Keys we felt compelled to order Conch and since we both have a favorite version of this tasty shellfish and both were on the menu we got them. Nancy asked for the Conch Salad and as for me… Anyone who’s been reading here for a while will know that on this trip I discovered a new addiction…Conch Fritters. Now, I’ve loved fritters since I was a kid and my Grandmother made us the corn variety. Since her passing though I’ve never been able to find any that were that good in any restaurant this however hasn’t kept me from sampling almost every one I see on any menu just in case. The ones I had in Nassau were amazingly good and started a quest to taste every Conch fritter I could locate while in Florida. Of course if you are indeed a regular reader you’ll know that this particular quest caused me no end of mental agony and on occasion a certain degree of intestinal distress. It seems that most Conch fritters in Florida are just boring and oily, with some being just plain nasty. I’m guessing that is due to them being over-sold as a “must-have” for tourists. My quest had only just begun when we stopped at Alabama Jack’s that day and the honeymoon was in full swing. I’d had some poor examples of fritters since The Bahamas but just chalked it up to bad luck.
On this day I was to sample a conch fritter that would solidify the above thought and galvanize my will as I pushed forward in my search. They arrived with my beer and looked great. These were truly what I’d been searching for. They were crispy and light, full of flavour and were not oily. Served with a dipping sauce that I quite liked and a key lime wedge these are very good and may well deserve the title they claim.
Nancy’s Conch salad was small, it came served like a salsa in a bowl with tortillas. We both liked it and found that the ingredients were fresh and the flavours worked well together. I’m not sure about the chips but did not know if this was common or not so I’ll just say it was interesting as a choice.
While dining we noticed that both the large fish and the birds were tending to pay a good deal of attention to us and were both now quite close to us and in ever-increasing numbers. Just for fun I flicked a piece of tortilla in the air and to my surprise it was snatched immediately by a swooping bird in mid-flight. I crumbled some more up in my hand and dropped it over the side of the rail… the fish went nuts. This was without a doubt why they hung around near the place. I’m not one to generally feed wildlife and stopped quickly but it was something else to see the birds aerobatics and the fish swarm in.
All told we had a very nice snack at Alabama Jack’s and would strongly suggest that anyone driving to the Keys avoid the super-slab and take the back roads (for more reasons than this) on the way in order to drop in.