Snook Haven: Real Old Florida Charm

Snook Haven has been on our list of places to visit for years. It's right here in Venice, but a little bit off the beaten path. We finally made it there for dinner.

It was a Saturday night, but there was no live music. When I checked the website, I saw live music scheduled for Friday night and Sunday afternoon, so next time we'll plan accordingly. Maybe the place would have been packed if there had been a band playing, but there were plenty of empty tables when we arrived at 5pm. (Yes, I'm one of those old people who like to eat dinner EARLY!) By the time our food arrived, every table outside was filled. We were one of the lucky groups sitting inside the screened porch. We had the best of both worlds: great view of the river and no bugs! There is also a fully air-conditioned dining room and outdoor seating around the stage.

As soon as you drive down the long dirt road leading up to Snook Haven, you know this place is going to be unique. Now owned by Sarasota County, it has a shady past as a bootleggers' hidden spot. Several old cabins still sit on the riverbank, as well as a boarded up house. During the day, canoes and kayaks are available to rent by the hour. Riverboats tours are also offered.

Local beers are available on tap. I selected a Hawaiian Lion, a porter with coffee and coconut flavors, brewed by Big Top in Sarasota. It was rich and foamy, darkly delicious. There were so many tasty-sounding brews, it was very difficult to choose!

We started off with a plate of gator bites. They're the signature appetizer and a must-try! I've had alligator bites before, and wasn't thrilled with the flavor or texture. But these deep-fried morsels were much lighter, not at all tough or chewy, and quite tasty. They come with a remoulade sauce which is creamy and thick, not overly spicy.

The entrees include po' boys, burgers, fish, and BBQ. Everything sounded so good, it was very hard to choose. I selected the Rueben sandwich made with house-smoked pastrami. The sandwiches come with chips, which didn't initially excite me because I pictured a bag of Lays. But no, the chips are also house made and excellent. I chose the coleslaw, which I am almost always disappointed by in restaurants. This slaw was traditional, extremely fresh, chunky, crunchy, and good. And my sandwich just might have been the best Rueben I've ever eaten. The meat was cut thick, smoky, with plenty of cheese and not too much sauerkraut, gooey and messy and salty. So rich, I could only eat half. (I heated up the leftover half in a frying pan the next day, and it was still delicious!)

My hubby enjoyed his burger and loved his chips. He also told me his iced tea was fantastic--and this is very unusual. Mostly we get watery, tasteless iced tea when we eat out. Our friend ordered a BBQ platter with ribs cooked in sauce and he was in heaven.

For dessert, we all shared a Butterfinger Brownie. It was large enough for 4 people to split, and so decadent you wouldn't want more than a few bites.

Snook Haven is open every day except Monday, 11:30am to 8pm. They serve beer and wine, but no hard liquor. The wait staff is very friendly, the view of the river is picturesque, and the food is absolutely the tops. If you're looking for an experience of old Florida, this is the place!