Lake County is oddly shaped—kind of tall for its size, with a few weird angles here and there, especially around the Ocala National Forest. The top portion is particularly interesting, narrowing to a point that includes the sometimes-forgotten city of Astor, “forgotten” in the sense that many don’t remember or realize that this area is indeed part of Lake County.
But just a part. Astor is actually a tale of two counties—Lake on the east side of the St. Johns River and Volusia on the west.
So what am I getting to? After all, this column isn’t meant to be a geography lesson. No, I’m getting to the food—of course!—especially the four restaurants on either side of the river that are well worth the drive.
On the east side, in Lake County, the most well-known is Black Water Inn and Williams Landing. Seating offers a picturesque view of the St. Johns River through floor-to-ceiling glass panels that span from one end of the restaurant to the other. Owner Bill Nordle has worked there since the ‘80s and bought it in 1994.
Blackwater Inn is also known for its fine dining, casual atmosphere, awesome salad bar, fresh seafood, and USDA Choice beef. A fun time can be had with its many events including Biketoberfest and the Christmas Boat Parade. Upstairs, William’s Landing is very casual with a lighter menu that offers hardy sandwiches, wings, and a full bar. Visit blackwaterinn.com or call (352) 759-2802 for events, holiday dates, and dining hours.
Sterling Restaurant & Lounge is about a mile east of the bridge. The menu is too big to completely review here, but know that it offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Whew! Dishes include country-style, Mexican, Italian, steaks, and seafood. You name it, they’ve got it—from fried cabbage to Mahi Mahi.
Ms. Roberta has been running Sterling for 20 years. A private room is available for parties or meetings and they also have a full bar. Their newest addition is an ice cream store next door. Call (352) 759-3833 for more information.
Sparky’s Place is the newest restaurant, also on the east side of the bridge and close to United Southern Bank. Robert Sparks, who has been in the food industry for 35 years, owns the restaurant with his wife, Shawn.
“This is the best thing I’ve ever done,” he proudly says of his eatery.
Sparky’s offers a full breakfast menu as well as lunch and dinner, including pizzas, calzones, and strombolis. All-you-can-eat specials include wings on Monday nights for the reasonable price of only $7.99 and Fingerling Catfish on Wednesday nights for $9.95.
Enjoy salads, burgers, subs, soup, steak, seafood, and Italian dishes as well as beer and wine. Call (352) 759-3551 for hours.
On the west side of the bridge is the well-known Essex Seafood. Owners Mary and Daniel Lane, originally from Essex, Massachusetts, take pride in their lightly battered seafood that is known for miles around.
“We have patrons drive here from towns far away,” says Mary.
Hard-to-find Ipswich clams are offered, either deep fried or steamed. See why many restaurant critics rave about their food. Call (386) 749-1557 for more about their menu and hours.
Close by, O’Brien’s Café is owned and operated by Linda Amazeen who was once the food and beverage manager of the LPGA International Golf Course. And across from the Blackwater Inn and William’s Landing, is Castaways, also on the river. More on these two restaurants in the next issue of Lake & Sumter Style, including several more new and exciting restaurant openings.