Kicking it Old School – Green Turtle Inn | milemarker 81.2
An Islamorada original, the Green Turtle Inn has been serving crusty local conchs and traveling fisherman since 1947, when it opened as a roadside inn and restaurant famous for its turtle steaks and soup. After a complete head-to-toe makeover in 2007, the restaurant may have been modernized—but the more things change, the more they stay the same. As much a restaurant and lounge as a monument to the Village of Islands, the walls are lined with the past of the area, almost archival in decor, complete with all the local characters that made the area such a charming and memorable place.
The Green Turtle is a must-stop dining spot. Not just a shining example of Keys dining—fresh catches with Caribbean flavors are standards—it also holds true to old Florida style, with deep southern, cracker roots throughout the menu. Items like maple-glazed pork belly and country-fried pork on the flat iron touch on the country flavors that have influenced original Florida cuisine, while specialties like cracked conch or grouper topped with pineapple and mango chutney speak to the tropical influences in the Keys. The menu touches on a little bit of everything: a hearty offering of landlubber options, fresh catches, inventive specials and some standards that have become part of the lore of the restaurant (turtle is still available). For those with dietary conditions, many of the menu items are or can be prepared gluten-free.
For starters, go with the conch chowder—it's done the way Keys chowder should be. If sharing is in you future, try the Cedar Key clams, which are steamed with chorizo and saffron tomato fennel. Always be on the lookout for the specials and fresh catches; they change daily and are always interesting. Ingredients are sourced locally as much as possible, so there are always some serious Keys’ flavor in the specials. On a recent visit, mahi tacos were on the board as well as tripletail—order it whenever available. Not a commercial catch, this fish is truly a localized fish. Mild in flavor and delicate, tripletail resembles grouper or speckled trout and, in our opinion, is best sautéed in butter or lightly blackened.
While the food is top-notch, the bar is worth a trip alone. A little moody with lots of dark wood and eclectic, the Turtle has the feel of an old-timey lounge that is only matched by the company. A quick drink quickly turns into an all-night affair, where chatty barflies, both locals and tourists alike, are quick to share and swap stories well into the wee hours.