Friday, January 4, 2013

Eating BIG in Key West

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties

-The Florida Keys for Fresh Fish, More Fresh Fish and Happy Hour

Welcome back readers! So 2012 is came to an end and looking back on some of my posts from here it's been a great year of indulgence for me. I'd like to thank all the loyal readers for their patience as blogger was switched out of nowhere and I'm not computer-literate. The site will go on and it will be right here in the meantime. If there's anywhere in US territory that has that laid back Caribbean vibe going on it's the Florida Keys and Key West to be exact. I had wanted to get this up before Christmas but was too much in that laid back state of mind. Happy new year to all. 2013 is going to be tasty.

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A Key West Christmas

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Another Foodventure for y'all

I recently had a chance to meet quite a few fellow LTH posters and regular readers who dont post but really enjoy what others do. I took joy in the fact so many folks from here love the posts I share so I wanted to get this up on Christmas day as gift to those that are entertained by them. Happy Holidaze y'all. Key West style.

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Enjoy the ride

While it's possible to fly into key West it's most certainly not cheap. If you're staying for a few days or going with family, a car can come in handy though they rent electric cars, bikes and scooters everywhere on the island. Most people just fly into Miami and rent a car and take the wonderful 160 mile drive down A1A which ends in Key West. I was already in Florida on an extended stay and took off for the Keys after spending a couple nights in Miami.

Knaus Berry Farm

There's a  popular exotic fruit stand called Robert's Last Stand in homestead that I really wanted to stop in but failed to en route back. My buddy who lives in Miami told me I must stop at another Homestead farm for their cinnamon buns before heading down. The best "by far" he told me and he wasn't lying. They go thru them like its nothing so they're baking them fresh and served hot all day. Don't miss this place for breakfast.

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Knaus Berry Farm is a popular South Florida Family Stop

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A strawberry shake and the worlds greatest cinnamon buns are a must

As always I went prepared. This wasn't my first rodeo down there as I fell in love with the vibe when we went on a family vaca a few times in my grade school years. I also stopped thru on Spring Break but back then it was all about drinking and seeing, maybe getting. This time around I wanted to see what else was out there for the ride down there and back. I used this wonderful Florida Rambler Website to find some great stops on their Mile Marker guide.

Holiday Isle Tiki Bar

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Where the Rum Runner was born (Islamorada)

Keys Fisheries

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Just off A1A halfway between MIA & KW a sign leads you past truckloads of lobster traps...

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...to some of the freshest fish in the Florida Keys (Marathon)

This was actually a spot we stopped in at on the way back but had I known on the way down how much I was going to enjoy this family run fish business in Marathon. Its about the halfway point, I should have stopped both times. You can walk up to a window to order your seafood and they call you when its ready. Eating options are alongside the water at the tables or upstairs at the bar area which also has a raw bar. This is the way to go.

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Raw Bar Upstairs (21+)

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It doesn't get much better for a local watering hole

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My View from the Bar

We got some lobster bisque and lobster fra diavolo from downstairs but the almost all day special upstairs is where its at. Grab an ice cold beer and kick back on some super fresh seafood while you stare at the blue waters ahead. I've come to learn I'll never have a lobster fra diavolo like that from this place in Providence until I get there again but enjoyed this version which was enough for two. The soup was pretty good and if you're there from 5-8p they cook stone crab hot to order. If not no worries, they offer them up by the 1's and 2's upstairs as well as some super tuna sashimi.

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Lobster Fra Diavolo

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All Day Happy Hour (1-9p) $1.50 Stone Crab Claws and $4 Tuna Sashimi

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There's also a fish market on site, I had them put 3 pounds on ice to take back to South FLA

Bahia Honda State Park

We didn't stop here on the way there or back but drove here one of days I was down there for some rest and relaxation. It's about 40 minutes from Key West and well worth the visit. Easily one of the best state parks I've set foot in. It's the top ranked beach in-state at the reliable Florida Rambler Website. There's two beaches and one has the feel of your typical Florida oceanside beach while the other sits below the bridge in a tropical Caribbean setting with crystal clear waters.

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You can walk up to the end of whats left of one part of the old Bahia Honda Bridge. It was started in 1905 and completed in 1912. Built by oil mogul Henry Flagler it's was also called "Flaglers' Folly" We saw an amazing sea turtle from up above, it must of been at least 300 pounds, it was huge even from far way. There are great views up here and it's not a long walk up at all.

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View of the park from the old bridge

Hogfish Bar & Grill

I take great pleasure in finding the spots the locals like to eat and drink at while on the road. The Hogfish bar is a perfect example why.  This Florida Rambler rec'd bar and restaurant was so good I went there three times. Located on Stock Island which is where the local commercial shrimp boats used to sail out of. Located off the beaten path past some trailer homes, hey if you're going to live in one it might as well be here. Hogfish is near the beginning of town and well worth finding. Not all that hard either, if you have a GPS in your car or phone.

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The Famous Hogfish Bar & Grill on Stock Island

This is a great local watering hole with some stereotypical fitting Key West characters lurking inside, especially during the night. They had a great mom and daughter bartending team and they specialize in hogfish. It's spear-caught and available when they have it so when they do make sure to get some. The house sandwich was sensational. Blackened hogfish smothered with Swiss Cheese, Onions and Mushrooms on fresh Cuban Bread. So good I had it twice.

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Specialty of the House: "KILLER" Hogfish Sandwich

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Fried Hogfish Tacos

Sights from Key West

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Happy Hour

Happy Hour is a big part of the lifestyle down here so you might as well embrace it. Key West always has that chillaxed vibe going for it and there's quite a few places to take advantage of the food and drink deals.

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Alonzo's is my pick for best food and drink Happy Hour in Key West

The best of the bunch is Alonzo's Oyster Bar. The entire appetizer page as well as drinks are half off. I tried them all. Their famous Key Lime Martini isn't a bad way to end a meal of their addictive beer steamed shrimp and mussels in marinara which were my faves. I prefer cold water oysters and their $2 ones from Vancouver and Martha's Vineyard were really good too. get there early to take advantage of the bars seats.

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Happy Hour Eats

Right next door to Alonzo's is a place that serves ice cold bottles of beer for $2/3 and freshly shucked gulf oysters for 50 cents a piece, all day everyday. Just be sure to tip your shucker. We had some great chats about his homeland Jamaica, another favorite Caribbean getaway of mine. Also a popular happy hour stop is Half Shell Raw Bar but I didn't think the food or drink specials were nearly as good as Alonzo's. The coconut fried shrimp were tasty and the rum punch did its job but we ended up back at Alonzo's the next day.

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The Raw Bar next door to Alonzo's - Half Shell Raw Bar and their Coconut Shrimp

B.O's Fish Wagon

This place has long been a popular spot run by a longtime Key West character. It's a no frills open air bar where they make a mean groper sandwich. It comes perfectly fried with a light cornmeal breading served on some really fresh bread. Their handcut fries show you they dont mind taking the little extra time to serve a superior product even though Key West is a place where you can get away with doing half assed things as far as food goes. Though I was told it's getting alot better.

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An amazing little open air fish shack in town

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BO's Famous Fried Grouper Sandwich and their fantastic fresh cut fries

Nightlife

In case you didn't know Key West has a big gay community. But that's just one part of it. It's a partying and drinking town enjoyed by folks from all walks of life. I was really surprised this trip by how international of a destination it is. There were visitors from all over the globe. Asia, Spain, Ireland, England. Families, couples, college kids, you name it. It's a must visit for anyone who likes to travel and explore the different cultures of our country.

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Where Hemingway used to drink

Duval Street is where most of the bars and many restaurants and shops are located at. You can walk with drinks and most places stay open until 4am. Sloppy Joe's is a longtime mainstay and there are drag shows if that's your thing and regular dance shows with girls in no clothes if you swing on that side. Be not afraid single straight guys, it's a very popular bachelorette weekend getaway destination and that just means theres more you know what for you. My GF said she didn't even recognize the rainbow community. Everyone's there for the weather and great times. Be not afraid.

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Chaos erupted at the original on Duval Street when the namesake himself did a pop up show

Sandy's Cafe

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24 hour eats in town

If you find yourself hungry after a few too many rum runners and it's 3 in the morning you need not worry. Sandy's Cafe is attached to a laundry mat and it's a 24 hour walk up window with a few seats outside surrounding it. I had a very tasty Medianoche (Midnight) sandwich that hit the spot in the early wee hours of the morn. A medianoche is a close cousin of the Cuban sandwich with the difference being the bread. It uses a soft sweet egg dough bread not too different from challah.

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Medianoche Sandwich

Kim's Kuban

One morning and early afternoon was spent on my friends yacht whom he had someone take us around in. Instead of getting stuffed before we even set foot on the boat I ran over to Kim's Kuban which isn't far from the harbor. They make a tasty Cuban sandwich and some very good toasted bread with butter. In the pic you can see the pepperoni which isn't all that unusual as in Tampa (where the sandwich was born) they add salami. These were perfect for a snack later on the water.

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Cuban Sandwiches or other options from Kim's Kuban are great for boat trips

Higgs Beach

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"Life's a beach and then you fry"

Quite a few folks I talked to mentioned how they thought Key West has no beaches but that's not the case. Higgs Beach in the southeast corner of town is a great place to catch some rays. They have chairs and umbrellas that can be rented for $25/day. That's a pretty good deal which I found was the case with drinks in KW too. They could hike up the prices but they dont so cheers to them for not doing so. Aside from the chickens you might have to walk around a few Key West beach bums as well, dont worry they dont bite.

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"Jersey Strong"

Freshly Caught Seafood for Sale

If staying at a rented condo or house you can cook up some great locally caught fish while here. Both Fausto's Grocery and Eaton Street Seafood Market as places he gets his fish from. Fausto's is the Keys oldest grocery store and a very good one I'd be happy with here. Started by Fausto himself he came over in 1910 to work the old cigar factory in town and eventually started his market.

Fresh Local Caught Fish

Eaton Street isnt nearly as old but they make a point to buy their fish from only local fisherman. They also sell food to order like fish sandwiches and have cracked stone crab for your consumption on the bench outside. Wahoo, cobia, snapper and so on were a few of the local fish species we ate.

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Fausto's Grocery (Top) and Eaton Street Seafood Market (Bottom) are great for fresh fish

Garbo's Grill

Garbo's Grill is ranked as the top rated place on TripAdvisor to eat at. This is the type of spot you're going to remember eating at in the Key's. Nothing fancy here but the mahi mahi fish tacos with mango and jalapeno were some most amazing fish tacos you'll ever have. This is what Key West is all about as far as food goes. Nothing fancy but oh so fresh and so good.

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Some of the best eats on the island come from this cart

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Mahi Mahi Tacos are almost worth the trip alone

Peppers of Key West

Across the street from Garbo's is Peppers. Its a shop that sells all sorts of different hot sauces and allows you to try whichever ones you want before you buy any. They have a bunch of their offerings across the street for you to use on your fish tacos. I ended up trying Dat'l Do It with my tacos. Its a brew made with Datil peppers in St. Augustine that loved it so much I bought three bottles from Peppers to take home with me.

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Amazing selection of hot sauce and a chip bar for you to try them

More sights in Key West

A walk around the town is a must for anyone who likes to see some amazing old homes and great old Colonial architecture to boot. Key West is as friendly of a place you're ever going to visit and everyone leaves their door open and hangs on the porch at some point during their day. The other not misses are of course Ernest Hemingway's old home, the haunted cemetery where some great stories are told and sunsets at Mallory Square. The Square is where you'll find many of the Key West weirdos doing their freak shows for a few bucks. Some fun stuff to watch.

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Unique architecture seen along the walks & sunsets at Mallory Square are classic Key West

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A Key West Sunset

Seven Fish

I had read and been told by my boss to get to this place located just off the chaos of Duval street. Even though I had just ate an hour before and wasn't all that hungry, I squeezed it in on my last night in town. Its small and reservations are most always required. We didn't make them but were able to get a seat around 9p after putting our name in. The menu focuses on simple fresh good food with an emphasis on fish.

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Just off Duval Street this little stop is a must

The folks running this place from the waitresses to the owners were really friendly and warm welcoming. Me and her were sharing and started with another excellent example of a fish taco, this one made with local cobia fish. The plan was to share a seafood dish made with some homemade pasta but our waitress asked if we were sure we didn't want to try their signature dish. It wasn't hard to convince us especially seeing her enthusiasm for it.

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Cobia Fish Taco Appetizer Special

Holy shit am I glad she did. One of the best dishes I ate all year. The snapper was sauteed with fresh garlic and ginger and served with a creamy curry coconut sauce over sticky rice with fresh local veggies. Fan-flipping-tastic. On top of that she split our plates up for us and I would of been satisfied with the portion I got as a whole. Well worth the few extra bucks in my book. Don't miss this place.

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The Signature Snapper Curry Dish is one of the best plates I ate in 2012

On our last night both before and after the fantastic dinner at Seven I had realized I hadn't even tried two of the signature local eats on the island. So while we waited for our table at dinner I over indulged in some conch fritters from the Conch Shack.

The Conch Shack

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Sitting amidst the bars of Duval Street is some tasty food to get you thru the night

We chatted with one of the owners who started this place up in 2009. He and his partners worked in catering and use the same recipe one of the caterers 90 year old Bahamian grandmother used. The old family recipe is a fantastic rendition and brought me back to the Abaco Islands where we went on a family vacation years ago. These seemed to be the most popular in town and I could taste why. After dinner I grabbed a slice of Key Lime pie at Kermit's because it was open and near. It was a nice treat to have when I got back home and popped open one last cold one in the open warm air.

Kermit's Key Lime Pie Shoppe

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Another popular stop on Duval Street for the islands signature dish

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It's the end of the road...

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...See y'all next time @chibbqking

Knaus Berry Farm
15980 Southwest 248th Street
Homestead, FL 33031
(305) 247-0668

Holiday Isle Tiki Bar
84001 Overseas Highway
Islamorada, FL 33036
(305) 664-2321

Keys Fisheries
3502 Gulfview Avenue
Marathon, FL 33050
(305) 743-4353

Bahia Honda State Park
36850 Overseas Highway
Big Pine Key, FL 33043
(305) 872-2353

Hogfish Bar & Grill
6810 Front Street
Stock Island, FL 33040
(305) 293-4041

Alonzo's Oyster Bar*
700 Front Street
Key West, FL 33040
(305) 294-5880

*Random Raw Bar with .50 oysters all day next door

Half Shell Raw Bar
231 Margaret Street
Key West, FL 33040
(305) 294-7496

BO's Fish Wagon
801 Caroline Street
Key West, FL 33040
(305) 294-9272

Sandy's Cafe
1026 White Street
Key West, FL 33040
(305) 295-0159

Kim's Kuban
2300 North Roosevelt Boulevard
Key West, FL 33040
(305) 296-2878

Fausto's Food Palace
1105 White Street
Key West, FL 33040
(305) 294-5221

Eaton Street Seafood Market
801 Eaton Street
Key West, FL 33040
(305) 295-3474

Garbo's Grill
603 Greene Street
Key West, FL 33040
(305) 304-3004

Peppers of Key West
602 Greene Street
Key West, FL 33040
(305) 295-9333

Seven Fish
632 Olivia Street
Key West, FL 33040
(305) 296-2777

The Conch Shack
118 Duval Street
Key West, FL 33040
(305) 295-2494

Kermit's Key Lime Shoppe*
200 Elizabeth Street
Key West, FL 33040
(305) 296-0806

*2nd location on Duval Street

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