On a recent Sunday in July, I decided to take my son Tyler out for his birthday, with the goal to surprise him with lunch at a restaurant he’d never been to before. After much consideration, I knew Snook Haven in Venice would be perfect! After all, Snook Haven is perfectly casual, like Tyler, the original home for smuggler’s seeking to unload moonshine and other contraband during Prohibition in the late 1920’s and 1930’s. Located down a long, unpaved road along the unspoiled banks of the “wild and scenic” Myakka River, Snook Haven is known as a destination restaurant, not someplace my son would “just happen” to drive by.
Now I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking nothing says Old Florida like sipping a cold beverage in a picturesque setting under the shade of an old oak tree on a balmy summer afternoon. Throw in some tasty vittles and Southern/blues/rock music from a fun-loving live band and. . . Yep, no doubt about it . . . Snook Haven will be the perfect surprise for Tyler.
So how was it the surprise ended up being on me? As we’re pulling off the highway, less than a mile away, Tyler looked out the car window and asked, “Are we going to Snook Haven? I ate there for the first time just two days ago.” Are you kidding me?
As you could guess, Snook Haven is unique to our area, and well worth the trip from Sarasota. It’s what most would call an authentic fish camp. There is indoor and outdoor seating — both along the river front and also by the sound stage. There are five small cabins and camping facilities for folks staying overnight, and if you’re sitting outside, you place your order at the counter, and relax while your food is delivered by their friendly staff. Since we were there on a Sunday, we saw several motorcycles pull up for the afternoon, as well as pickups, SUVs and German luxury sedans. It seems that all types of folks are drawn to the laid-back vibe of Snook Haven.
Tyler is a musician at heart, so I’m pleased to grab a picnic table near the band, and Jill starts us out with an order of Frog’s Legs. Now, for anyone who has never tried frog’s legs before, don’t be turned off by the concept of eating an amphibian. Frog’s legs really are delicious and so lean — not the least bit fatty, so jump in and give them a try. (Some say they taste like chicken.) At Snook Haven the frog’s legs are deep fried with a side of a really delicious dipping sauce that has just a ‘bite’ of spice to it.
Tyler chose the Shrimp Po Boy for his entrée. The shrimp arrives in all their plump-juicy-cooked-and-sauced glory on a fresh hoagie roll, nestled next to some crisp lettuce, chopped onions and tomatoes. Snook Haven’s remoulade and blackening spice dress up the shrimp to almost a cult status, and the homemade potato chips were the perfect accompaniment to the P0 Boy.
Jill stays with the fish theme, but picks the southern staple of Broiled Catfish, served with garlic toast and two sides – she went with the homemade coleslaw and corn on the cob, which I am happy to take off her hands! Tasty and filling, does comfort food get any folksier than this? I think not!
Just to break with the trend of seafood choices, I go for the Smoked, Pulled Pork Tacos with pico de gallo and shredded cheddar cheese, which were de-lish with my icy cold beer! (Hmmm, now that I think about it, I’m curious . . . are frog’s legs considered seafood, or are they a one-dish surf ‘n’ turf? I’m just sayin’.)
Of course, everything was served in baskets lined with paper as befits the style of this “flip-flop fave” of a restaurant. A few hours into the afternoon, and Snook Haven is feeling like a staycation at this point! We can’t help notice that no one else seems to be jumping up to leave either. Seems like everyone is happy to sit back, listen to music and rest a spell. Ahh! Summer satisfaction! There’s even a little line dancing going on.
Since there were no alligator sightings as yet on the river, I went ahead and ordered some Fried Gator Bites, kind of an alternative to dessert. These crunchy bites of goodness hit the table and were gone in an instant. Don’t you like taking a bite of a gator instead of a gator taking a bite out of you? Come to think of it, maybe that’s why there weren’t any live gators swimming around. Alligators aren’t all that stupid, y’know.
While I wasn’t able to surprise my son on his birthday, we still had a nice afternoon, enjoying the food, the music and each other’s company — something we would like to do more often. Snook Haven is definitely one of those places most everyone, natives, naturalized Floridians, and tourists alike, are bound to be charmed by.
No hurry. No worry. No surprise.