a plate of food on a table with a bowl of dipping sauce
Morada Bay Beach Cafés whole fried yellowtail snapper. SAMANTHA DELLILO/Keys Weekly

The iconic Morada Bay located at MM 81 has always been more known for their breath-taking views than they have been for their food. I’ll tell you: after a recent visit, that is all about to change. 

Stuart Dove was recently appointed as executive chef, and this isn’t his first rodeo, with previous stints as executive chef in places like Spain, Argentina and England. His world travels come through in so many of the dishes on the new bill of fare at the Beach Café at Morada Bay. 

I started my menu tasting off with an Island Vibes martini and I was in love. Since then, I’ve gone back twice just to sip that cocktail and watch the sunset. It dons a gorgeous periwinkle purple hue with equal parts tart and sweet accompanying a hibiscus gin. Next up we tried the Caribbean conch salad and the lobster fritters. The conch salad was the most tender conch I’ve had outside of the Bahamas in quite some time. There was no chew and it had such a simple bright palate. The lobster fritters were like traditional conch fritters but on steroids: the most delicate thin crust on the outside with a flavor-packed, almost doughy middle. 

I tried a few entrees and the two that will have me coming back were surprisingly the whole fried yellowtail snapper and their fresh catch of the day entrée. The whole fried yellowtail snapper had Mark and I looking like cavemen. I mean, we completely stripped this fish of any and all meat, leaving nothing but an impressively intact skeleton. The outside had a thick crunchy skin with the ideal amount of seasoning. It was accompanied by coconut rice, black beans and caramelized maduros, better known as plantains. The fresh catch entrée was a show-stopper, with many patrons coming up to our table to ask the name so they could order the same thing. This filet sat tall atop the best fingerling potatoes I’ve ever had. Blanketed over the fish was a moist crab cake that had a quick meeting with a torch, crisping up all the right spots. At the bottom was a tartar sauce-aioli hybrid that went so well with this dish. To finish off, a drizzle of chimichurri. 

I have always felt the food at the Morada Bay Beach Café never did the spectacular location any justice and it thrills me to see this turnaround happening. The sand on your toes, the front and center sunset, the palm tree swaying and an actual martini glass as opposed to a plastic cup are just the beginning of any memorable night. You can go there with the whole family or a romantic date for two and the setting just works. 

Something about Morada Bay’s “backyard” gives kids enough room to run around and never even be in the peripheral vision of a canoodling couple. There’s a freedom at Morada Bay Beach Café and Pierre’s I’ve always loved; no one really bugs you. You can wander in, grab a drink and any seat of your choice near a fire pit or the shoreline and just mind your own business.  I’m excited to see all the things Cheeca Lodge has in store for Morada Bay’s Beach Café and Pierre’s.

Samantha Dellilo
Samantha Dellilo has been in the Keys since she was 1 day old, so definitely consider her a Conch. Holding a passion for food since she can remember, while most kids were watching Barney, she was watching Emeril. "Being half Cuban and half Italian, food in those cultures is considered a love language. It's a total experience whether eating out or cooking." She's been with her other half, Marky, going on 17 years. The two met when they were 9 years old at Key Largo School. Samantha owns Florida Keys Eats, which is a blog of "must eat, must see, and must dos" from Key Largo to Key West.