Where to Eat in the Upper Keys, Florida: Burdines, Islamorada Fish Company, Lorelei’s, The Green Turtle Inn, and Shipwreck’s Bar and Grill

My friend Dan Kenney of Coach4aDay fame and godfather of the Annual Beer Snob Pig Picking in Lumberton, NC, will be driving down to Key West soon.  It’s a beautiful drive down the Overseas Highway from Miami and points north.  Well, most of it is beautiful, and the rest should be again soon.  Hurricane Irma did a lot of damage between Islamorada and Key West, but then that’s captivating, too, in a car wreck sort of way.

UPDATE:   I’m happy to report that Marathon is back up and running.  We recently stopped for lunch at Burdine’s there.  The food was good, the service was friendly, and the view and setting are great.  It’s a good place to break your trip

It’s a pretty long drive and Dan will have to eat.  But where?  We flew down as far as Ft. Lauderdale for Christmas, and drove from there.  We got the word from both Sue Boyd, Ella’s other grandmother, and our friends the Breuls (Islamorada regulars) that the place to stop is the Islamorada Fish Company.

What a good choice!  It’s right on the water on the Gulf side, with covered seating built out over the water so that fish can swim underneath.  And indeed they do, including a bunch of big old Tarpons and a Hammerhead Shark.  It’s a wonderful view, and seeing close at hand such large fish outside an aquarium is fascinating.

The food is good, too.  I opted for the World Famous Islamorada Sandwich.  I had never heard of it, but then I guess I should get out more.  It includes the Catch of the Day with grilled onions and American cheese.  The catch of the day was a dolphin.

Hah hah hah!  Gotcha!  Not Flipper, the cute and highly intelligent mammal that rescues humans in distress, but dolphin the fish.  It’s usually sold as mahi-mahi to avoid confusion among the squeamish.  But in Key West, where confusion sometimes seems be a lifestyle choice, they call it dolphin, as they did all over when I was growing up, and I was getting into a Key West frame of mind.  Here it is:

islamor j

Nancy got a salad topped with Mahi-Mahi

islamor n

Nancy made the better choice.  I was skeptical about the idea of fish topped with cheese, properly so as it turned out.  The cheese didn’t add much in the way of flavor, and the creamy texture sort of smothered the otherwise well-cooked, flaky fish.   The fish itself was very good, and overall the sandwich certainly wasn’t at all bad.  It just would have been better without the cheese.  Maybe you could ask for the cheese on the side, with some crackers.  Nancy’s salad avoided the cheese issue, of course, and she really liked hers.  Her salad was fresh and crisp, as were my fries and cole slaw.  All in all, a very good lunch in a great setting.

So go to the Islamorada Fish Company and order the catch of the day, regardless of what they call it.

On the way back from Key West, we spent a couple of nights in Islamorada at the Drop Anchor Resort and Marina.  The Breuls traditionally stay there.  Islamorada is a great place to fish, and you can catch fish right off the dock at the Drop Anchor, assuming that you actually fish.  It’s a funky, very retro place, with large rooms and comfortable beds, a small kitchen, and a washer-dryer in the room.

We ate once at the Crab Shack, which was pretty good.  I think it was highlighted on Guy Fieri’s show.  The next night, we had a drink and watched the sunset at the fun and very crowded Lorelei Restaurant and Cabana Bar.  They have good live music and cold drinks, and they’re on the water.  Nancy made friends with a guy who was relaxing after the Christmas rush.


We ended up having dinner at the Green Turtle Inn.  It was a very nice place, nice enough that it would have been better for me to wear long pants, and nice enough that I didn’t take pictures.  I had a good Caesar salad and Today’s Catch (Grouper!) Meuniere.  Grouper Meuniere is right up there with Grouper grilled over Mesquite, and the Green Turtle Inn does a good job on it.  It was just delicious.  If you are in Islamorada for dinner, go there and have the Grouper Meuniere.

On the way back, we drove up to the John Pennecamp Coral Reef State Park and had a great walk, and then went to Shipwreck’s Bar and Grill in Key Largo.

When you hear the name, Shipwreck’s Bar and Grill — moreso than if it’s merely the Shipwreck Bar and Grill — you may have certain preconceptions.  You don’t expect white tablecloths and a leather-bound menu.  You expect lots of nautical stuff, and dollar bills, hats, and license plates decorating the walls.  You’d be right.  It’s all there, along with some regulars enjoying a cold beverage or three.

The approach to Shipwreck’s is, well, unattractive, in a semi-industrial, construction in  progress sort of way.  It’s as if people actually do constructive work there.  Don’t be put off.  Once you’re inside, though, it’s very pleasant.

shipwreck view

Shipwreck’s is on a canal with a nice view of houses opposite.  There’s some outdoor seating, but a group of guys were in the shaded area, so we ate in a screened deck.

I had some nice fresh oysters — just a half dozen

shipwreck o

and a piece of, I think mahi mahi (I was easing out of my Key West frame of mind) and some cole slaw.

shipwreck j

Nancy went with the fish and scallops combination, with sweet potato fries.

shiwreck n

I think it’s the only time in 43 years of marriage that Nancy has ordered more food than I.  Weird.

We both really enjoyed our food.  The fish was fresh and well prepared, the slaw was okay, the oysters were good, and Nancy liked the sweet potato fries.  Shipwreck’s is a very pleasant place, and worth a stop if you get hungry in Key Largo.

Oh, and they’re known for their coconut onion rings, which I encourage you to try and report back.


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