What’s better than two joints? Three.

With Square Grouper Bar & Grill and My New Joint 420 Lounge on Cudjoe Key, Owner Lynn Bell opened the popular Square Grouper restaurant at the Islamorada Marina, MM 80.4 bayside, on March 1. Converting an old boathouse into an elegant, waterfront dining destination, Square Grouper is all about fresh, local seafood, some of the finest craft cocktails, a fantastic wine selection and top-notch service.

Running the restaurant alongside Lynn are son and daughter, Joe and Sarah. Both grew up in the business, having worked at Square Grouper Bar & Grill at MM 22.5, Oceanside, on Cudjoe Key since Joe was 9 years old and Sarah was 8. Now, at 24 and 23, Joe and Sarah are bringing a lot of knowledge and experience to the new Islamorada joint.

“It’s probably the biggest compliment that I could ever have,” Lynn said. “Having them working with me, even though they’ve gone away and done their college, and open a restaurant with me is like a dream. They bring a lot of knowledge and they know what’s expected of them. It’s great to have them bring that experience to this staff.”

From busing tables to hosting and serving, Joe worked every position in the business before leaving for college in New York. He initially went for real estate, and he did an internship in New York City. But he wasn’t one to work behind a desk. He got back into the restaurant business, spending time at an establishment outside Chicago and later as general manager for a Fort Lauderdale restaurant.

Joe now serves as general manager of Square Grouper in Islamorada. He said he’s working to ensure the experience is similar to the Cudjoe joint that’s had a great track record.

“It’s one of the most successful restaurants in the Keys for the past 16 years,” he said. “Making sure it’s very similar is important to me. If a guest goes down to Cudjoe and is coming to have dinner here, making sure, for instance, that the seafood stew tastes the same is important.”

Sarah decided to attend massage therapy school where she became a massage therapist. She returned to the family business at Square Grouper when the Islamorada venue was ready to open its doors.

Today, Sarah is hard at work doing a little bit of everything at the restaurant, including welcoming and seating guests as they come through the doors. Working alongside her mom and brother, Sarah says she enjoys the atmosphere.

“We have a really good work environment,” she said. “We have great co-workers and it’s nice to be able to work with my family, versus working with strangers.” 

Panko and parmesan encrusted local yellowtail that’s sautéed with asparagus. and wild rice. DOUG FINGER/ Keys Weekly

THE MENU

Joe says guests will see a few new menu items, like the oysters Rockefeller.

‘That sells great,” he said. “It’s fresh oysters using our homemade Key lime butter sauce.”

You won’t go wrong by starting out with the delicious seafood stew. Or, try the yellowfin tuna and avocado egg rolls with Asian dipping sauce.

For the main entrée, go for the almond encrusted grouper that comes with a warm Caribbean cranberry-pineapple relish. It’s served over house-made sweet potato mash.

“She (my mom) likes to classify it as a tropical Thanksgiving of sorts,” Joe said.

As for a drink, do yourself a favor and go for the house signature cocktail Key lime martini.

Square Grouper is a lunch destination Thursday through Monday from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Appetizers, soups, salads, tacos and seafood platters are among the afternoon menu items. There are also house specialties like the Square Grouper sandwich, pan sautéed and topped with house onion rings and Key lime tarter, as well as the chicken sandwich, Philly cheesesteak and B.L.T., just to name a few.

Dinner goes from 5-10 p.m. More information is at squaregrouperislamorada.com or Square Grouper — Islamorada’s Facebook page.

If you’re in the lower Keys, check out Square Grouper in Cudjoe Key and My New Joint 420 Lounge upstairs.

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