Jennifer Hammer Dishes Up Island Style at Snook’s

 

Jennifer pours wine for diners at Snook’s. 

 

 

Snook's is an inviting restaurant on the water’s edge with outdoor dining under swaying palm trees, a grand tiki bar complete with tiki torches and a nightly happy hour with live entertainment.
Snook’s is an inviting restaurant on the water’s edge with outdoor dining under swaying palm trees, a grand tiki bar complete with tiki torches and a nightly happy hour with live entertainment. 

 

 

For Jennifer Hammer, owner of Snook’s Bayside in Key Largo, the restaurant business is both a longstanding passion and a family affair. Her more than 25 years’ experience dates back to her college days, when she alternated bartending and working in a French fine dining spot to put herself through school in her native Philadelphia.

She and her mother, Roni Harkins, also were silent partners in a restaurant in Philly. Today, continuing in the field with her mother as co-owner of Snook’s, she couldn’t be happier.

The island lifestyle was always an attraction for Hammer, who used to vacation in the Keys in the 1970s. When she decided to become a full-time islander and went shopping for a restaurant, the Florida Keys were an obvious choice of locale.

“Fifteen years ago, we chose to do a long expedition from Key West to Naples looking for a restaurant,” Hammer said. “The moment we walked on the grounds of Snook’s and could feel her history, we were hooked.”

In fact, she says, Snook’s had a sordid past with many owners and as many tall tales. According to the Keys’ “coconut telegraph” or rumor mill, at one point the place had a second story that housed a brothel and was a favorite hangout for the rumrunners that roamed the Keys during Prohibition.

When Hammer and her mother first took over Snook’s, the place had been closed for several years and needed some tender loving care. To bring it back to life, they worked all day, then relaxed watching Key Largo’s Technicolor sunsets. “We thought to ourselves, what a lifetime opportunity to have Snook’s,” Hammer said.

The result of their labors is an inviting restaurant on the water’s edge with outdoor dining under swaying palm trees, a grand tiki bar complete with tiki torches and a nightly happy hour with live entertainment. Indoors is a romantic dining room filled with black-and-white photos of the Keys’ historic Overseas Railway and picturesque local scenes.

The atmosphere lends itself to private parties, weddings and rehearsal dinners, which are a big part of Snook’s business.

Creative offerings like a Thursday night pig roast party and Friday night all-you-can-eat buffet are very popular with diners. The menu incorporates as much local food as possible, such as fresh Keys fish and produce grown in nearby Homestead.

“We try to keep it down-home Keys and local,” Hammer said, “and not get caught up in the commercial atmosphere by keeping that Keys classic style.”

Helping out the local community also is important to Hammer, who hosts the Upper Keys’ Relay for Life fundraiser each year at Snook’s. The first time she hosted the event, she helped out by decapitating champagne bottles during a live auction and even spitting fire — tricks she learned during her bartending days.

“I found myself getting caught up in it and so did the crowd,” said Hammer. “The paddles kept going and the bidding was hot, and we raised some good money.”

Whether starring at her restaurant or enjoying Keys pastimes, it’s safe to say that Jennifer Hammer is comfortably ensconced in her island home — much to the delight of the diners who frequent Snook’s.

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