Little-known watering hole near Key Largo is full of fun, good food and crocodiles, too.
Story by Petti Fong, Vacay.ca Editor
HOMESTEAD, FLORIDA — The crocodiles and manatees, depending on their moods, may or may not show up. The music gets loud every weekend afternoon and stick around long enough and someone is definitely going to get up and dance.
For more than 50 years, Alabama Jack’s has been a stop between Miami and the Florida Keys, and for anyone willing to go a bit out of the way to get an experience like no other.
The first sign that this is an establishment with a sense of humour is the sign out front heralding you’ve arrived in Downtown Cardsound. It’s actually the only establishment in the area.
Scoring a table at the edge of the mangrove swamp will net the best view for all the happenings along the waterway, including the infrequent crocodiles and the more sociable manatees and fishes.
From the outside, Alabama Jack’s looks like a run-down shack and if you’re expecting the inside to be much different, you’ll be disappointed. Licence plates decorate every corner of the space from the walls to the ceiling and red rubber buoys hang like giant Christmas ornaments at the swamp side tables. Stickers are stuck randomly along posts and anywhere else where a sticky surface is reason enough to put something on.
Australian visitors Annette and Kevin Bainbridge and their two kids Lucas and Caitlin were in the beginning of six-week road trip in Florida and Alabama Jack’s was one of their first meals in the Keys.
“It’s definitely like no where else we’ve ever been,” says Annette Bainbridge. “We drove by and knew we had to stop because it’s so colourful.”
“It’s also loud and fun,” says Caitlin Bainbridge. “Very loud here.”
The restaurant is a popular lunch stop for bikers on their way from Miami to the Florida Keys. It’s also made an appearance in the opening episode of the Netflix show “Bloodline,” when Danny Rayburn, the black-sheep brother returns to the Florida Keys after time away in self-imposed exile.
Sitting at the bar of Alabama Jack’s, Danny Rayburn protests. “You said the grouper was fresh.” Then, after spitting out the food, he grumbles: “And the slaw is soggy.”
There’s no worry about that if you’re a real customer. The restaurant’s conch fritters are touted as being the best in the state and a sampler plate will get you a filling share of crab cakes, fried fish and shrimp, and mac and cheese.
“Some of our regulars have been coming for years, decades even,” says “Dawg” Arnold, the manager of the place. “Patty, our dancing lady, has been coming here for 50 years. When there’s dancing, the floors here would bounce up and down.”
The place opens at 11 am and closes by 6:30 pm — early by Florida standards. “Dawg” says the reason why they close early is because the place is so out of the way for visitors a before-dark closure ensures everyone gets home safe while it is still light out.
“People here have enough fun already. They don’t have to wait for this place to get dark,” he says.
MORE ABOUT VISITING ALABAMA JACK’S
Address: 58000 Card Sound Road, Homestead, Florida
Getting There: From Miami, the drive to Alabama Jack’s takes about one hour. Being by heading south on highway US1 (also called Interstate 95). Take the Card Sound Road exit (Route 905A) and drive about 15 minutes to the restaurant on the east side of the road.