The main dining room of the Rustic Inn in Fort Lauderdale erupts with the sound of wooden mallets pounding tables in unison (sort of in unison) as diners celebrate a birthday or anniversary.
For the most part, these diners have no idea whose birthday they are celebrating, but this cacophony is such a tradition at the Rustic Inn, you gleefully go along with the mayhem.
The mallets, of course, are for cracking crabs, another tradition at the Rustic Inn that dates back to the 1950s, when this was a little crab shack on a canal at the outskirts of a fledgling Fort Lauderdale.
The Rustic Inn retains much of its original charm while expanding over the years to a porch and then again for dockside dining. They have a barge with a bar anchored at the dock for private parties.
Back in the day, newspapers covered the tables, but now the tablecloth is a sheet of sturdy coated paper to catch your droppings. Don’t know if that has anything to do with the decline of newspapers, but I suspect that’s part of it.
A bowl of the restaurant’s “World Famous Garlic Crabs” — now $70 — is still billed as the most popular item on the menu. And that brings us back to the mallets.
Editors note: Menu prices have been updated as of July 2022.
These wooden weapons of destruction are used to crack open crab shells, one by one, so you can dig out the meat. The result is fragments of shells flying from table to table, but nobody seems to mind because you have no idea if the shells came from your table or the next one.
The “World Famous Garlic Crabs” are blue crabs most often found eastern coastal bays, the kind that made Maryland famous. The inn also serves garlic Golden Crabs, caught off Florida’s east coast, and Dungeness garlic crabs from the Pacific.
The portions are generous and the garlic is not spared, roasted whole and tenderly emerging, peel-by-peel from the secret recipe that sets these crabs apart, bringing patrons back week after week, year after year.
Stone crabs are served here in season (Oct. 15-May 15). A friend who dined with us ordered three jumbos as an appetizer. A full dinner is also available, including five claws and parsley buttered potatoes. My friend said five claws would have been plenty for dinner, and he’s a big guy.
I’m not one to find a lot of reward pounding and picking through crabs for tiny morsels, so I considered ordering either mahi-mahi filet or filet of grouper before choosing the “Both feet in the water” House specialty of a half-split cold-water lobster (Maine or Canada) with clam stuffing with two clusters of meaty garlic Golden crabs for $37. You can alternately choose Alaskan queens, Dungeness or blue crabs. For $47, you can order “one foot in – one foot out”, which includes a New York strip steak.
I enjoyed the clam stuffing, flavored slightly with bacon, and though it a perfect complement to the sweetness of the lobster, which included half the tail and half the claw, making the meat easy to peel out.
For an appetizer, I loved the spicy Islamorada conch chowder ($6.50 per cup), and my wife enjoyed the New England clam chowder, although she dipped into my thick-with-conch soup to spice up her own.
Linguini is the pasta of choice here, and it is served with red crab sauce, white clam sauce or a mixed sauce as an entree for $17.95 (or $10.95 for a half portion).
Like most classic fish houses in Florida, there is a selection of fried entrees, including fried clam strips, fried fish of the day, fried scallops, fried oysters, Maryland crab cakes and fried soft-shell crabs.
Few leave the Rustic Inn without a slice of their homemade Key Lime Pie .
If you find the prices a bit lofty, I felt the same way. When you consider the cost of nickel-and-diming your way through appetizers at any Florida fish shack, as we often do, the final tab was manageable.
So if you are looking for a traditional crab house with traditional fixin’s and the fun of getting messy with crabs, you won’t be disappointed at the Rustic Inn.
Reservations are not accepted
Get there early (before 6) and you can usually be seated in the indoors dining rooms right away, although there may be a slight wait for a dockside table on weekends. Keep in mind that the later you arrive, the longer you’ll wait for a table. It will also be more difficult after 6 to find a decent parking place in their sandy parking lot.
If you are meeting friends here, you won’t be seated until your entire party arrives. Put their names in with the hostess, and they will seat when you’re ready. There’s a bar inside where you can enjoy a beer, a glass of wine or a cocktail while you wait.
It seems like a maze when you’re inside, but don’t despair. There are signs everywhere telling you where to go, and the busy wait staff will pause to give you directions.
Rustic Inn, 4331 Ravenswood Road (Anglers Avenue), Fort Lauderdale, FL 33312. (954) 584-1637. Web site: http://www.rusticinn.com
Things To Do Nearby: Sportsman’s Park
International Game Fish Association Hall of Fame and Museum. It’s here where they keep track of record catches worldwide with a treasure trove of fishing memorabilia and historical exhibits, including the largest fishing library in the world. 300 Gulf Stream Way Dania Beach, FL 33004. (954) 927-2618. Web site: http://www.igfa.org/
Bass Pro Shops. My friends call it the “temple of fishing” because it has such a huge selection of fresh and saltwater fishing gear, outdoor gear and outdoor wear. Outside, they sell Mako fishing boats and Bass Pro’s full line of freshwater Tracker bass boats. There’s a dive shop next door. 200 Gulf Stream Way, Dania Beach, FL 33304. (954) 929-7710 Web site: https://www.basspro.com
Islamorada Fish Company. Another great restaurant that gets its fish fresh from its own fleet in the Florida Keys. This is the same outfit that has a tiki bar at the Wide World of Fishing in Islamorada (also owned by Bass Pro). 220 Gulf Stream Way, Dania Beach, FL 33304. (954) 927-7737. Web site: www.fishcompany.com
TY Park. Although you really don’t get a sense of being in the woods at this Broward County park, it is a really nice campground designed for RVs and has all the amenities, including full hookups, and it’s close to the popular resort areas of Hollywood and Fort Lauderdale. There are 61 paved RV sites, a restroom with hot showers and a laundry. Campsites are $50 (Nov 1-Apr 30) and $40 (May 1-Oct 30) as of July 2022. There’s a two-mile paved, multi-use trail for biking, hiking and skating, and the campground is across the lake from a water park popular with kids. Pets are no longer allowed in the park except for special canine events.
Directions to the Rustic Inn
The Rustic Inn and Sportsman’s Park are located on the west side of Fort Lauderdale Airport. Exit Interstate 95 at Griffin Road and go west to the first intersection, which is Angler’s Avenue (historically known as Ravenswood Road).
Turn right and go about a half-mile to the Rustic Inn.
Turn left and go about a quarter-mile to Sportsman’s Park. A mile or so past Sportsman’s Park is TY Park.
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Bob Rountree is a beach bum, angler and camper who has explored Florida for decades. No adventure is complete without a scenic paddle trail or unpaved road to nowhere. Bob co-founded FloridaRambler.com with fellow journalist Bonnie Gross 14 years ago.