It’s hard not to love fried food. In this day and age, throwing just about anything from pickles to steak into a deep fryer ought to be considered a Southern tradition. One deep fried delicacy, the Fried Green Tomato, has always been on my radar. Popularized in the late eighties and early nineties by the book and then the film, it’s recognized as a quintessential Southern side dish. While its true origins might not be known, the least I can do is seek out the best fried green goodness Florida has to offer.

Kelley’s Courtyard is right off of 3rd Street in Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island. True to its name, much of the seating is outdoors in their beautiful courtyard. They offer tables in niches secluded by fragrant flowers and greenery. One of the blossoming plants near us was abuzz with honey bees, while green and brown anoles basked in the noonday sun. The weather was spectacular; no doubt a sign of good things to come.

Learn to perfect your fried green tomatoes

Once our waiter came and took our order, it was time to sit back and relax. The breeze whispered softly through the branches, creating a pleasant susurrus that drowned out the conversations from other tables and helped create a more intimate atmosphere. Soft jazzy notes spilled from the kitchen, heralding ambrosial smells of sizzling food. The fragrance of well-seasoned meat and fried greens commingled with the garden smells of blossoming flowers and the barest scent of salt from the nearby shore. In the garden in Kelley’s Courtyard, you can find true aromatic bliss.

When the fried green tomatoes arrived, my eyes were as intrigued as my nose. Three slices of tomato lay before me, deep fried and topped with a tropical fruit salsa. A roasted red pepper remoulade was splattered artfully around it, enough to dip and pile on to each slice but arranged so that you could enjoy them plain if you so desired. At first bite I knew I had found fried perfection as the savory taste of the batter joined with the sweet fruity salsa. Chunks of marinated, juicy pineapple toned down the almost overwhelmingly rich and creamy zest of the remoulade. Further bites had to be carefully coordinated to balance salsa, fried tomato and the delicious sauce. Other versions of the dish have used different frying methods; Kelley’s tomatoes were fried in a well-seasoned batter, which brought structure to the texture and introduced a nice pleasant crunch.

Amelia Island has many great places to eat, and once you walk into Kelley’s Courtyard, you’ll know you’ve found one of them. Those tomatoes were easily some of the best I’d ever tasted, which only goes to show that tossing something into the deep fryer is only half of the battle. Even with its delicious seasoning, without that chunky salsa and mouth-watering remoulade it wouldn’t have been half as tasty. But all together it made a magnificent dish, served in a beautiful garden, on a wonderful day.

Kelley’s Courtyard Café
19 S. 3rd St., Fernandina Beach, FL 32034
Hours: Mon-Sat 11 a.m.-3 p.m., 5 p.m.-9 p.m.,
Closed Sunday