Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Must food “do’s” in Key West and a few you can skip

Fresh off my week long trip to Key West, I figured I would provide a list of my annual must “do’s” and those you can skip once you’ve done them once. So if you find yourself with some time in Key West I strongly suggest you do:

1 – Kelly’s Caribbean on Whitehead St for the best happy hour on the island running 4-7 nightly. Home of the original Pan Am building and now the Southernmost Brewery, here you’ll find locals, tourists and the occasional pooch, sitting elbow to elbow noshing on some of the tastiest wings you’ll ever find along with Kelly’s microbrews, brewed and served on site only. When in KW, you’ll find me sitting at the bar every day around 4:00PM with wings (1 lb/$3.99/hh) and either a Super Margarita ($3/hh) or microbeer ($2/hh). Get the wings with sauce on the side, the wings are so flavorful, it’s like eating a mini fried chicken. The Tuna Sliders are also delicious and Doug, Erica and Chris will take very good care of you and make sure you don’t go thirsty.

2 – Schooner Wharf for breakfast at the end of William St and the Harbor district. The bar has 3 happy hours and the first starts at seven AM so get that spiked coffee and Bloody Mary to get your day started. Try the breakfast sandwiches and the many versions of Eggs Benedict. My favorite Benedict is the Crab which is a crab cake atop your classic Eggs Benedict. My only tip would be, ask for the Hollandaise on the side. The quality can be iffy, this is an island dog bar after all. Also, be careful how much you drink, the bar is in the marina and only portions are roped off. It’s not unusual to see a scooter submerged in the shallow waters.

3 - Have a drink at the bar at Grand Cafe located at 314 Duval St. The pizza is inconsistent, we ordered one last year and it was good, this year the crust was soggy and under cooked. For $17 I expect a much better pizza than what we were served. The Norwegian Smoked Salmon was nice and light and very refreshing on those hot evenings. The bar looks like it stepped out of a Tommy Bahama ad but it really is nice and relaxing. It’s the type of home bar I would like if I had a place in the Keys.

4 – Have dinner at the new Taku located at 613 1/2 Duval St. Open just two months, the Kurobuta pork belly with sautéed Foie Gras is pure sex on a plate. If you don’t do any of the others, be sure to check this restaurant out, it’s pure Foodie heaven. The chef and owner recommended the next location and it was a great find.

5 – Indulge in the Hearty Breakfast at Azur located at 425 Grinnell St. The dish is a hash consisting of beef rib and Yukon potatoes, topped with two poached eggs and truffle Hollandaise sauce, this was to die for. The Carbonara Breakfast with its angel hair pasta, crispy pancetta, cream and topped with two poached eggs, is different and tasty but a little too rich and heavy for morning fare for my tastes. I ended up taking most of it home and eventually tossing before we came home.

6 – Blackfin Bistro located at 918 Duval St, the end of the street where the food takes on a little more of an original flavor and not just fried touristy crap. The Mediterranean Mussels were as big as my palm and so flavorful. The entire restaurant can’t seat more than 30 and the small but adequate bar (beer and wine only) serves as a locals hang out. If you’re staying towards the Mallory Square side, you get to pass all the drag queens promoting their various shows, always good for a laugh.

6 - Order the Rev Joe’s Burger from Carolines at 620 Duval St. I admit, I did avoid this place for years but heard from a fellow traveler they had great burgers. I have to admit, it was tasty. More of a family atmosphere so a lot more children dining, just a warning.

7 – Checkout the ambiance at B.O.’s Fish Wagon, no folks, it’s not Bo’s, there is punctuation and the initials stand for Buddy Owen,the owner. Drives me nuts when people who go to KW year after year can’t figure out these are letters not a name. Their big draw are the fish sandwiches offered fried or grilled. The fish is fresh but I must warn you, you’re eating in a shack, there are no real walls and the food is very pricey. However, you are in KW and it is an experience.

8 – Capt. Tony’s Saloon, the original Sloppy Joe’s, located 428 Greene St. This is dive bar at its best! The tree in which the bar was built around was the official “hanging tree” from which pirates and other law breakers were hung. The bar was also the first ice house and first morgue. The coroner buried his daughter in the floor and she’s still there, in the pool room. Also notable, my husband and I got engaged at Capt. Tony’s, yep right there at the bar. I was sitting on Clint Eastwood’s bar stool, my husband on John Goodman’s. That same night, I hoisted a coin in the fish’s mouth hanging outside the saloon on the first try. It’s suppose to bring good luck and I think it did!

The majority with the exception of B.O’s, Schooner Wharf and Capt. Tony’s, had extensive wine menu’s. To be honest, I didn’t even look at a wine list at Caroline’s as I had an open bottle of sparkling wine to return to after dinner.

If it’s your first time to Key West, I understand you have to do all the touristy things, get them out of your system so the next visit you can skip. Here are a few of my, do them once and move on:
- Sloppy Joe’s – great for live bands, terrible food
- Margarittaville, honestly the worst burger I’ve ever had in the Keys. We went a few years ago and had to send both burgers back, they and the fries were cold.
- Hogs Breath, one word, yuck!
- One Fish, Two Fish, if you like fried crap on a plate, this is the place for you. Otherwise, skip it and go elsewhere.
- Rick’s Blue Heaven, kitschy with the outdoor seating amongst free roaming chickens, roosters, baby chicks and cats all living in harmony but the food is pricy and hasn’t been updated in years.

So there you have it, my Key West haunts. Remember to check out all the local history and most of all, relax. Sometimes when on vacation it seems you’re trying to pack so much in to such a short time. It’s nice to know Key West has survived hurricanes, pirate invasions and invasions of the cruise ship kind and still has not lost all of its charm although with all the national retail chains, it’s getting harder to stay on “Island Time”. That being said, the Keys will endure and be there for me to return to in another year. Who knows, maybe some day we’ll have a winter home on one of the Keys.

2010© Kellie Stargaard. All Rights Reserved.

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