The Boondocks is one of those “off the beaten path” kind of places, a few miles away from Smyrna on Lighthouse Road, where the smell of marshland fills the air. The building started out as Counsil’s, named after then-owner Ernie Counsil, and was used as a lodge for goose hunters. Over time, it has become a restaurant loved and frequented by locals. Today, the name has changed, but the good food and camaraderie have remained, thanks to owner Pat Keeler, who credits Boondocks’ success to its lively atmosphere and delicious seafood.
“I’ve had Boondocks for over 35 years,” Keeler said. Pat’s husband bought the restaurant after Ernie and his wife, “split the dishes, so to speak,” and a few other buyers failed to make a go of the business. But, Keeler said she wasn’t exactly thrilled with the idea starting out. Her husband used to lease land for deer hunting from Counsil, and one day the topic came up in conversation.
“Ernie said, ‘Do you want to buy the place?’ And so my husband came home and he told me, ‘Well, I bought Counsil’s.’ And I said, ‘You did what? If you think I’m cooking crabs, I’m not doing it.’” She eventually changed her mind and told her husband to go ahead with the deal, and the rest is history. Starting out wasn’t easy.
“I had no idea what I was doing,” Keeler said. The morning Boondocks opened for the first time, she put a sign down at the end of the road that read, “Opening at 11 o’clock,” and when the doors did open, the restaurant was flooded with eager customers. “I had one waitress, who had never done it before, and so we just muddled through the day and from then on, we just learned as we went,” Keeler said.
What makes Boondocks so unique is its atmosphere. The main dining room of the restaurant is covered in amusing signs and memorabilia. According to Keeler, visiting her restaurant is an experience rather than just a meal, and that’s what keeps people coming back. In a fast-food world, Keeler said places like Boondocks give people a place they can actually spend their time, not just their money.
“What a lot of people don’t understand is there aren’t very many Boondocks and Sambo’s and Lemon Leafs. There aren’t many restaurants like that. Everything is a chain,” Keeler said. “And so when people find somewhere comfortable and they like it,
they come back.
“I don’t consider this going out to dinner,” Keeler said. “Here, they come and sit for two or three hours and they pick crabs. Crabs are a very sociable food. And, they pick and they pick and they talk and they drink a little beer and pick some more. They spend a lot of time here when they come. So I think it’s more than just going-out-to-dinner to people.”
Boondocks serves just about every type of seafood you can imagine. Friendly waitresses will bring you clams, shrimp, softshell crabs, flounder, scallops, wings, steaks and so much more. Locals know Boondocks is the place to come when they are craving crabs and the restaurant’s signature cocktail “Swamp Water,” which Keeler has been making since the 1980s.“If I told you what’s in it, I’d have to kill you,” she said. What she can tell readers is that the famous drink is green and served in a quart-sized Mason jar with a cattail added for garnish. Needless to say, over the years “Swamp Water” has become wildly popular.
“I have people who, when we open for the season, they wait at the door to get the first ‘Swamp Water’ of the season. I’ve got a bunch of guys who’ve made that their tradition,” Keeler said.
When asked what her favorite part of owning and operating Boondocks over the past three decades has been, Keeler said it is the people — being able to provide them with good food and an even better time. “I like people. It’s nice when you ask people ‘How was everything’ and they say, ‘Great, I had the best
time,’ ” Keeler said. “I like to see people have a good time and enjoy themselves,” Keeler said. “You spend your money — I mean we don’t have that much of it — you spend your money and go out, you want to at least enjoy yourself. To me, it’s an enjoyable business.”
Boondocks is open Wednesday & Thursday 4 p.m. – 9 p.m.; Friday, Saturday and Sunday 12 p.m. – 9 p.m. For more information, check them out
on Facebook or call
For an inside look at The Boondocks, check out the video below.