With the everyday hustle and bustle of life in Lake County, sometimes it’s nice to just get away from it all. Hidden away on the quiet shores of Little Lake Harris in Howey-in-the-Hills, JB Boondocks Bar and Grill is the perfect location to enjoy good food and appreciate surroundings that harken back to the days of Old Florida. “Howey is beautiful,” says Mary Sue Ortiz, who runs the restaurant with her brother, Frank Carillo. “It’s close to the way it was 20 years ago when I first moved here.”
Celebrating five years since its massive renovation in 2008, this casual dining and relaxation spot has easily become a favorite with locals and out-of-towners alike. “We’re more like a destination,” Mary Sue says. “During the week, we do get a lot of the local workers in the area for lunch, but on the weekends, we get people from all over who are out boating and doing other recreational things.”
Inside, JB Boondocks has a spacious dining area that offers a spectacular view of the lake. There is also a full indoor bar and an outdoor tiki bar on the shaded lakeside patio. However, what makes JB Boondocks unique is its ability to be accessed by car, motorcycle, seaplane, and boat. There are also covered boat slips available for rent, as well as a number of efficiencies that can be leased for a weeklong or monthlong getaway.
After being greeted by the restaurant’s gracious staff and chatting with Mary Sue, I sat back and enjoyed a glass of sweet tea before savoring my first entrée, the Howey Burger. A local favorite, this half-pound burger is topped with melted cheddar cheese, applewood-smoked bacon, and baked beans, all assembled on a toasted Kaiser roll.
Though I wasn’t sure I would enjoy baked beans on my burger, I soon discovered the combination of the sweet, savory beans with the salty bacon is an unusual recipe for culinary perfection. It tastes so good I could not help but finish it. Also, the sweet potato fries are equally delicious and the coleslaw is a cool and creamy side that thoroughly balances out the meal.
Next, I tried the Chicken Juliette, which is a hearty pasta dish with sautéed chicken breast, garlic, Italian sausage, sun-dried tomatoes, broccoli, mushrooms, penne pasta, Romano cheese, and a touch of cream. From the moment the bowl was placed in front of me, the aromas from the sausage, garlic, and tomatoes piqued my interest.
The flavors of this particular dish meld well together. The broccoli is fresh and crisp; the pasta is cooked al dente; and the Italian sausage has the right amount of spiciness to give it a bit of a kick. This entrée also comes with warm garlic knots, which are incredible.
For dessert, Mary Sue insisted I try the White Chocolate Bread Pudding. I agreed, though typically I’m not a fan of bread pudding. However, keeping an open mind and stomach, I did find I could actually like bread pudding. This bread pudding wasn’t too sweet and the white chocolate and dark chocolate sauce wasn’t too overwhelming. It was certainly a great way to finish off an overall satisfying lunch.
In addition to the great food I tried during my brief visit, JB Boondocks has an impressive menu featuring great seafood and traditional Southern cuisine like po’ boy sandwiches, homemade chowders, and gator tail. Friday night features a fantastic fish fry starting at 4p.m., and Wednesday night is prime rib night. Furthermore, every Thursday at the bar is Ladies Night.
704 S. Lakeshore Blvd., Howey-in-the-Hills, FL 34737 • 352.324.3600
Hours of operation: Monday, 11a.m.–4p.m.; Tuesday–Thursday, 11a.m.–9p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11a.m.–10p.m.; Sunday, noon–8p.m.
Popular appetizers: Fried Calamari: $10.99 • Stuffed Mushrooms: $8.99 • Crab and Corn Chowder: $7.99
Popular entrées: Howey Burger: $10.99 • Chicken Juliette: $18.99 • Crab Cakes: $19.99
Popular desserts: Key Lime Pie: $5.99 • Bourbon St. Pecan Pie: $5.99 • White Chocolate Bread Pudding: $5.99
Written by Shemir Wiles Photo by Caleb Wayne Jensen