Enjoying al fresco dining in North and Central County
Ready to hit the highway for a morning or afternoon out, with a refreshing drink and meal as the reward for a road epicure? We have some points north for you to try. The scenery is all SoFla: blue/turquoise/green ocean with windsurfers or parasurfers, some appetite-inducing salt air and a guaranteed change of scenery.
Our guidelines for choosing restaurants: An outdoor patio was a must, with social distancing and mask-wearing, too. We traveled at off-hours, stopping for lunch between 10:30 and 11:30 a.m.; dinner between 3:30 and 4:30 p.m. No crowds and our choice of tables was the reward. Here are our top two choices.
THE MALTED BARLEY
Starting way up in Juno Beach, you’ll find easy beach access and free oceanside parking. The waves may be full of parasurfers, and they are relaxing to watch. Then head over to a relatively new venue on the northwest corner of U.S. 1 and Donald Ross Road, the Malted Barley.
The outside patio is small, so it helps to get there early for seating, although the indoor seating is nicely spread out, too. The metal and barnwood décor is casual, with TVs in case any sports games are playing.
It boasts about the craft beers and gourmet pretzels, and it’s truth in advertising. The made-to-order pretzels are all crusty, and then salted or made with various ingredients (garlic & parsley, everything, asiago & Parmesan, bacon & cheddar, jalapeño & cheddar-stuffed, chipotle & smoked gouda-stuffed, tomato & mozzarella-stuffed). Regular salted are $3.75; others rise to $6.50. There are 14 dips to choose from, too.
All the sandwiches ($9-$14) are served on fresh pretzel buns, and gluten-free vegan pretzels are available. The meatball and burger sandwiches are stuffed with food, and are a bit messy to eat, but that makes them taste better. Especially with the ocean air just a couple of blocks away. Salads and soups are also on the menu, as is a sugar and cinnamon pretzel with frosting for dessert.
The craft beers are plentiful and the selection is vast, but do not neglect the Sprecher’s root beer on draft! There are 32-ounce crawlers and 64-ounce growlers available to go.
14121 U.S. Highway 1, Juno Beach, 561/264-6258; https://www.themaltedbarley.com/
OLD KEY LIME HOUSE
If you want something a bit closer to central county, stop at an old favorite in Lantana, the Old Key Lime House. The best seats are out on the dock by the tiki bar. There’s only social distancing seating available, and masks are mandatory until you start eating the great crab cake sandwich ($16) or conch fritters ($12) and drinking the margaritas or pina coladas. All the while, you get to gaze at the Intracoastal and boaters.
We’ve always had a great breeze there, so sitting outside (under umbrellas or canvas covering) while watching the waves and sipping sangria is, well, the next best thing to being on a boat. Try the shrimp and lobster roll ($14) or the mahi sandwich ($16).
300 E. Ocean Ave., Lantana, 561/582-1889; http://www.oldkeylimehouse.com/