Last updated on April 27th, 2020 at 12:11 pm
For many, it’s the traditional way to start a Florida Keys experience: take lonely, wild Card Sound Road from Homestead to Key Largo and stop at Alabama Jacks for conch fritters on the way.
Alabama Jacks has been an outpost in this mosquito-filled crocodile habitat since 1947.
It’s the sort of dive bar and restaurant that would get mentioned in a Jimmy Buffett song. Alabama Jacks is long on atmosphere and short on pretense. We’re talking plastic utensils and a roll of paper towels on the table.
But the view overlooking a canal and the mangroves is beautiful and the prettiest red-wing blackbirds flit around the railing looking for a fallen French fry. In the water, hundreds of fish are visible circling with similar ambitions. It’s decorated with license plates and it looks like the next hurricane will blow this shack away. Of course, it has survived dozens.
We stopped here recently in order to update the Florida Rambler story about Alabama Jacks.
If you’ve been around as long as Alabama Jacks, half the world says “it’s not what it used to be.”
I can’t vouch for what it was like in the 1950s, but if you stopped at the restaurant/bar a decade ago, I can assure you: it hasn’t changed much. And that’s a good thing.
Don’t stop at Alabama Jacks because of the food. My conch fritters (for which Alabama Jacks is famous) were OK; the sweet potato fries were good. My husband really liked his mahi reuben.
No, stop here just because it’s authentic, and the world is full of places on the side of busy suburban highways that are trying to capture instantly the 70-year-old patina and ambiance that Alabama Jacks comes by naturally.
You can’t compete with the real deal, which is what Alabama Jacks is. It’s shabby and it’s proud.
Alabama Jacks is located in what used to be the fishing community of Card Sound. It’s right next to the toll booth for Card Sound Road, which is now your ordinary Sun Pass station. Until 2017, there was a human being stationed there, a retro touch that is now a thing of the past. The toll is $1.50.
The best time to experience Alabama Jacks is on the weekends when a live honky tonk band “The Card Sound Machine” plays from 2 to 5 p.m. and the place fills up with cloggers and dancers and day trippers from Miami. (The band has been playing weekends for about 30 years.) Motorcycles line up out front and you may have to wait for a table and/or food.
The restaurant is completely open air, and thus closes at dusk, when the mosquitos would drive you away anyway. (Also, there are no lights on Card Sound Road.)
Alabama Jacks was named one of the manliest restaurants in America by the Travel Channel – but I don’t hold that against it.
Favorites include the conch chowder, conch fritters, smoked fish spread, shrimp-and-crab spring rolls, a variety of sandwiches and seafood platters.
58000 Card Sound Road
Resources for planning a Florida Keys vacation:
- Mile marker guide with dozens of stops to help make the most of your drive south.
- Florida Keys wildlife: Places to see animals
- Tiki bars: Soak up the Keys atmosphere
- 12 great kayak outings in the Keys
- Top 10 pit stops on Overseas Highway
- Free beaches in the Florida Keys
Things to do in Key Largo and the Upper Keys:
- Key Largo is a half-hour away, with great snorkeling possibilities at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.
- An interesting stop in Key Largo is the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center.
- Original African Queen boat in Key Largo