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St. Johns River (rte 17,19), rte 1 toward key west

We are planning a trip way south, starting at Fruit Cove along the St. Johns River, along 19 or 17, then the Florida Turnpike to Rte 1 in the keys. Looking for great, local spots (nothing fancy) along the way. My husband is from New Orleans and we are craving some really good cooking from folks who get it fresh and like it homemade. Thanks!! keehir

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  1. Well, 19's definitely the more rustic route -- it'll take you through the forest (especially Salt Springs, our favorite place on earth) but not much in the way of civilization.

    17 would have lots more choices -- you'll still drive through a lot of green, like the ferneries in Seville and Pierson, but it'll also take you right through downtown DeLand, with lots of fun dining options -- but also downtown Orlando, where the options are as limitless as the traffic jams. Not sure that's the scene you're looking for.

    If you take 19, once you hit State Road 40 turn left (east) and go about 5-10 miles to Astor. On the west side of the bridge is a 2-story place called Blackwater Inn, a great locals seafood place (get the frog legs). It is definitely casual, but more casual upstairs in the lounge.

    Other than that, you can go west to Leesburg on 441 right before you hit the Turnpike -- not sure what's there but a search of this board might turn something up.

    Way down where the Turnpike ends in Florida City, make a left (follow blue hurricane evac signs) east onto Card Sound Road instead of continuing on U.S. 1. Go several miles through mangroves and you'll come to a toll booth where Alabama Jack's is -- a gin-u-wine Florida seafood shack. (Continue down on Card Sound and it will dump you back on U.S. 1 around Key Largo.)

    Hope that helps a little. :-)

    1. Thanks, that's a great start. This is an exploratory trip and Orlando will definitely be skipped on this one. Shall be sure we go through Salt Springs. Keehir

      1. for the northern end of the trip -- you'll be going through palatka.....

        could try corky bell's
        131 Crystal Cove Dr
        Palatka, FL 32177
        (386) 325-1094

        or musselwhites
        125 S Us Highway 17
        East Palatka, FL 32131
        (386) 326-9111

        you'd have to call to verify they're still around.

        i second the blackwater inn in astor, i like that place. cause of the laid back river vibe and cause my middle name is fried. ;)

        (google these for info)

        crazy gator in eustis.

        paradise harbor marina in howey-in-the-hills.

        1. Geez, Keehir! You are a glutton for punishment. That's the whole dadgum state! Having said that, I'd stay on SR 19 to the turnpike. Particularly the stretch just before you get to the Turnpike, which is incredible, but it's pretty much open country. Your other option from the turnpike, is to go down US 27 to Lake Okechobee, then east to WPB. Haven't made that run much so I'm unfamiliar with watering holes. In the northern stretch, Cracker's BarBQ in the Mandarin/Fruit Cove area has super ribs and 'cue. Blackwater is a good thought. You'll be close to Lake Weir as you are east of Ocala, and Gator Joe's is a fish camp cum hamburger joint suspended over the water where the locals eat. Ma Barker had a shoot-out there. Don't know much about Howie-in-the Hills. There is a winery (Lakeridge) just as you hit the Turnpike that's kind of fun. We make the Turnpike run back to the Keys when we go to see the kids at UF, and it's a long stretch of road. All the stuff it passes in Orlando is chain stuff. The Tiki Hut at the airport in Ft. Pierce is worth a side trip -- one of the best burgers in the state. In Jenson Beach, Conchy Joe's is right on the ICW and has good food in a funky shack on the water. Ask for the corner table over the water, and you can feed the saltwater catfish by tossing crackers over the railing. In Stuart, Black Marlin (in the old town) was a regular night time hang out for us when we kept the boat there. Mates, captains, boat owners milling, telling lies, and a great bar. Fish came off the boat that day. From there, its WPB, Boca and Lauderdale -- none particularly known for down home cookin' -- until the Turnpike dumps into US1 in Florida city. AJ's at the end of Card Sound is OK, kind of a biker place, but OK. If you go there, you'll head into the Keys via CR905. Now you're in our world, the Upper Keys. Right as you come back onto US1, to your left on Garden Cove, is Buzzards Roost. Best Yellowtail ceviche in the world, and great fish sandwiches. Back on US1 heading south, in Key Largo, is Mrs. Mac's, an institution. Beyond that, in Islamorada from north to south, is Morada Bay Beach Cafe (outrageous sunsets) on the Bayside, adjacent to World Wide Sportsman, then Lazy Days, oceanside, just before you leave Upper Matecumbe. Finally, as you come onto Lower Matecumbe, is the Hungry Tarpon at Robbie's Marina. Another favorite. Tell Holly we sent you, then hand feed the tarpon at the marina. From there, there are a few places in Marathon and finally on to Cayo Hueso. Take some snacks and a cooler! You'll need them!

          2 Replies
          1. re: drjimdolan

            Yeh, I know it's a lot to cover, but we got to start somewhere, and the Keys are this year's destination for us. We are might as well plan the trip with some good food in our sights. It certainly makes a difference when mediocre roadside fare seems to be the norm. Many thanks!

            1. re: keehir

              Keehir, Buzzards Roost has new management and reports are sketchy. I think its OK, but as is always the case in these transitions, time will tell. Other options in Key Largo are Hobo's and for Cuban, Denny's in "downtown" Key Largo just before the highway splits at the CVS.

          2. So, my girlfriend and I just got back from camping at Juniper Springs. I checked the Florida board before we left and didn't have much luck. Only now do I see this post. Oh well. Anyway, here are some suggestions for the Miami/Homestead/Key West portion of your trip.

            El Puerto de Vallarta, Mexican seafood, great ceviche, soups and micheladas (sort of like a bloody mary, but with beer), 4811 S Dixie Hwy, Homestead
            The Pit, decent barbecue, good mustard sauce and deep fried pillsbury-style biscuits from a tube, 16400 SW 8th St., Miami
            El Palacio de los Jugos, Cuban food and great juices, 14300 SW 8th St., Miami
            Robert is Here, all kinds of seasonal tropical fruit and killer milkshakes, 19200 SW 344th St., Homestead/FL City
            All of the above places are easy to get to from the turnpike and all have been mentioned in other posts here, so searching for them should yield more info on each. As for what to eat in KW, there are lots of options. My suggestions would be:

            5 Brothers Grocery for great Cuban sandwiches, bollos and coffee
            915 for very a diverse menu of small plates and a few entrees--probably one of the more progressive menus in town.
            Antonia's for Italian.
            Ambrosia for sushi.
            Waterfront Market for sandwiches and all manner of produce, juices, seafood and groceries.