58000 Card Sound Road
This might come as a shock, considering this is a blog about delicious food, but I will admit that there have been times that I’m drawn to a restaurant merely for its atmosphere – even if I’ve heard the food isn’t that great. It might have a killer view, or live bands that perform nightly, or boast a laid-back attitude, which can certainly peak my interest and allow me to look beyond its less-than-stellar dishes.
And so when we made our way along Card Sound Road, the two-lane, mangrove-lined thoroughfare that connects Homestead to Key Largo, en route to the popular Alabama Jack’s, I kept an open mind. The open-air seafood joint is known as somewhat of a biker bar that’s situated along quiet canals, where you can watch manatees swim slowly in brown waters while listening to live country and blues bands perform near the crowded bar.
We were coming back from a dynamic day of kayaking in Key Largo and were mainly looking to whet our whistles with a couple cold ones and perhaps a snack. I quickly understood why this gem, albeit of the hole-in-the-wall variety, graces the pages of many South Florida travel books, with its kitschy wall décor and cheap beer specials. The line stemming out the door also signified its place as a popular weekend spot for locals, passing motorists and Miami residents looking to escape the city (guilty as charged!).
We nestled into a tiny two-top along the restaurant’s covered back patio area, sipping on Red Stripes and Kalik Golds, with a great view of passing boats and swimming manatees. The server notified us that if we ordered any hot menu items we’d have to wait 20-30 minutes, so we immediately placed our order. We started with the smoked fish spread ($7.75, plus $.25 for jalapenos), a creamy concoction with a great smoky flavor and plenty of plump fish meat. The nice-sized portion came with saltines, though I would have preferred Captain’s Wafers.
Our conch fritters ($7.75), which, according to the sign at the restaurant’s entrance, were “voted best conch fritters in the Keys”, were a bit different than others I’ve had. Now I’m not claiming to be a conch fritter expert, however, I grew up in the Keys and spent 16 years of my life eating conch fritters (they happen to be one of my favorite appetizers). I can’t say these were the best I’ve ever had, mainly because instead of round plump fried balls, they came to the table as one big fried mass of dough, and a bit overly crispy at that. I was even more disappointed to see and taste the blackened dolphin sandwich ($8.25), with its sorry excuse for a fish fillet on what tasted like a stale store-bought bun.
But as I said before, we weren’t after Alabama Jack’s gourmet cuisine when we stopped by that Sunday afternoon. Our ice-cold bottled beers offered a rejuvenating sip after a long afternoon in the hot sun on the water. And the live band served up more than enough lively Jimmy Buffett tunes that we could have wasted away late into the evening.