Black Hammock — Big Gators, Big Water, Big Fun
Down a long curvy road just outside Oviedo is the entrance to Black Hammock. It’s at the end of a dirt road on Lake Jesup and offers airboat rides, a full service restaurant, a sometimes rowdy bar, a picnic area, a marina and a more than a few gators. There’s a handful of small cabins next door but they don’t seem to be attached to the Hammock.
This place has been around a while and used to be known as a fish camp but its history is hard to come by these days. Currently it’s owned by an expat Frenchman named Joel Martin who fell in love with the place because it reminded him of growing up in Africa and he bought it. It’s less of a fish camp now though there is still a boat launch and some covered slips you can rent. Now Black Hammock calls itself an attraction and offers frequent airboat rides. The original restaurant is still there and a new bar down by the lake has been added. Regardless of that, it still has plenty of Old Florida charm.
Alligators are the thing here. I mean, Lake Jesup with its 9,000 gators and 10,000 acres of water is reputed to be the most gator-infested lake in the U.S. I don’t doubt that and there are a few captive ones in the compound including Hammy who is 12 feet long and guessed to be 35 years old. A sign used to say that for 20 bucks or so you could crawl in and have your picture taken with old Hammy. They may be offering that photo op with a smaller gator these days.
Not far away from Hammy some gator cousins share a shallow tepid pool. And a parrot screeches in a cage nearby hanging up side down and daring you to stick a little bit of finger through the bars of the cage.
The Black Hammock restaurant has remained largely unchanged for many years and is well known for its gator bites and gator tacos but there are plenty of other country dishes on the menu including baby back ribs, fried catfish and frog legs.
Behind the restaurant is a small parking lot and beyond that is the marina and boat launch to the right and the Lazy Gator Bar and gift shop to the left.
Both the gift shop and bar are newer additions to the mix. The gift shop offers the usual expected wares and the bar has a definite Keys feel. Country rock and reggae vie for airtime along with some current dance music to blend and create a kind of democratic sound machine — a little something for everyone but not too much for anybody.
Clearly the bar is a local favorite and every night of the week there’s drink specials, live music on weekends and you can always snag a Heineken bucket for $14.99 just don’t wander into Hammy’s pen by mistake.
A patio is set out on a finger of land poking into Lake Jesup and people hang out at tables drinking beer, eating gator bites and listening to music and the wind in the cabbage palms. Beyond the patio is a picnic area and more covered boatslips.
Lake Jesup stretches out into the distance and airboats are tethered to the bank like restless ponies hopping on small swells. “I’ve got room for two more,” the airboat driver says hoping to cajole me onto the lake. Not today I tell him but surely I will come back and take him up on his fine offer to show me lots of really big gators up-close and personal.
Could I have another beer and some extra sauce for my gator bites, please.
© Copyright 2013: text Sue Harrison; photos Sue Harrison & Lee Brock for MyOldFlorida.com.