Key West Food Trip!

Posted on April 19, 2011

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Sunset in Key West

It was another twelve degree evening in New York City.  After the 4 big snow storms we have had and yet another record-breaking year with 27 inches of snow in 6 weeks, I decided it was time to go south.  I’m telling you, the birds know what’s up dude.

Key West has been one of those places I’ve been wanting to go to for a while, but with its typically expensive airfare, indirect flights and a 4 hour-long drive from Miami, I’ve just never mustered up the determination to make my way down there.   Sure, people say it is nice to take a week off and make the drive down slowly and see all the other Keys along the way… but seriously?  One whole week in Florida?  Seems a little bit of a waste… if I were to sacrifice a week-long vacation, why not Europe?  Hell, you could even do South America or Asia in a week!  For me, a long weekend would suffice.  I mean, it is FL after all.

One good (and bad) thing about Key West is there is a huge ex-NYC population, people who were ambitious, worked hard, made some money and got sick of the weather move to Miami and as they get closer to retirement age, eventually move to Key West to open a restaurant or B&B.  Which means there is good food, or at least that’s what I learned from researching on the Inter-Web.

We stayed at Paradise Inn, a pleasant B&B in the heart of Key West. It is a lovely little property that manages to be walking distance to everything (including Duval) but still manages to be quiet and quaint.  We opted for the King Suite, and the room was very, very large.  We had a separate sitting room that could easily sleep another 2 people comfortably, along with 2 sinks, one in the bathroom, one outside of the bathroom.   Our corner suite was on the 2nd floor overlooking a nice heated pool and jacuzzi.   Free Parking and Free Internet were also great, although the breakfast consisted of boxed cereal and a banana.   I was missing me some eggs… which brings me to my first food adventure in Key West:

The Flaming Buoy Filet Co

This place got written up in NY Times in January and since then it has been bombarded with phone calls and reservation requests.  Oh the power of media!  We managed to get a seat by the bar and brought our own bottle of wine for a $20 surcharge.  The food was overall very good, even for NYC standards, but the one disappointing dish was the fish of the day. It was a fresh white fish that was simply grilled, and it tasted relatively bland and uninspired.   The highlights were the Lobster Mac N Cheese and the caramelized bacon-wrapped scallops.   Both were very, VERY tasty.

BAD BOY BURRITO

This no-nonsense burritos joint with organic and freshly sourced ingredients was the perfect morning-after cure to Key West.  One fantastic breakfast burrito and organic mixed salad later, I was a happy camper.  They are also known for their Kobe beef burrito as well.

SARABETH’S

This place has also been written up for their brunch menu, fresh sandwiches and salads and it’s cute Key West-ish setup, with a nice outdoor patio area.   We got a seat outside and ordered a fantastic Grilled Mozzarella and Avocado Sandwich on a 7-grain bread.  It’s basically their take on a Grilled Cheese sandwich and boy, was it good.  The balance between the crunchiness of the bread, the perfect amount of cheese and the addition of the fresh avocado really combined to delight my senses.   The pineapple slaw was also one of the better slaws I’ve had in a while.

We also ordered an Omelette, which was so-so, and an interesting house-made Key Lime Pie.  Different from other Key Lime Pies, this one was more moussy than solid.  It was almost like a light cheese cake.  It was different and good, I am just not that big a fan of Key Lime pies in general though.

NINE ONE FIVE (915)

This well-known restaurant on Duval Street wears its James Beard Award proudly and serves up Nouveau American with a hint of Asian influence, with sauces like Soy Citrus,  Ahi Tuna with Sesame Dressing and Chinese Cabbage.   With its high-brow reputation, we couldn’t help comparing it to some of the NYC institutions, while trying some of their signature dishes.   The dinner overall was mediocre at best and there weren’t any dishes that particularly stood out, it left me unmoved and the only thing I really recall from the meal was that everything was a little too salty.  Disappointing.

CAFE MARQUESA

This sophisticated little enclave is the restaurant for Marquesa Hotel, one of the island’s more elegant and expensive inns. Here, its Caribbean-New World cuisine is critically acclaimed and Gayot.com rated it one of the 15 best restaurants in Florida.  Apparently, chef Susan Ferry draws connoisseurs from all over the globe.

The menu changes daily and indicates the subtle changes of the season (morel mushrooms will be available one day, then gone the next). Her specialties often incorporate Asian influences (as in seafood pot stickers with peanut sauce and seaweed, or duck spring roll with kimchi, sesame noodles) as well as Latin (conch and blue crab cake with jícama slaw, for example, or saffron-spiced risotto).  What is the deal with the Asian-influence cuisine in Key West?? Random.

The ONE dish that really shined was the Fresh Grilled Fish of the day. It was an oily blue fish that was so smooth, so oily, so rich (but all in a good way) that it tasted and felt like you were eating something much more decadent, like pork belly.   If you see it on the menu order it, sans the disgusting sesame lo mein accompaniment.

ISLAMORADA FISH COMPANY

Yes, this is a chain. But this was the original location and it came recommend more for the view and atmosphere. It was about 75 degrees out and sunny, so how can you go wrong with a view of the gorgeous light blue water surrounding you as you sip on a nice draft beer and fried seafood?  Yes, the food was nothing to write home about,  even though the Islamorada grilled fish sandwich was unexpectedly good.  It’s a good half way point on our drive back up to Miami.  Go for the view.

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