I took this past week off work to meet my parents in Florida and go to Key West! I knew very little about Key West before my trip, other than what I gathered from an episode of HGTV's Beachfront Bargain Hunt where an adorable gay couple bought an amazing little pastel-colored house that I immediately started to obsess over. I'm assuming you're in the same boat, so here are some fun facts:
- Key West is only 90 miles from Havana, Cuba.
- One of the Keys is called Knockemdown Key and is privately owned. Life. Goals.
- It was part of the Union during the Civil War even after Florida joined the Confederacy.
- There are chickens running free everywhere because cock fighting used to be a major pastime in Key West. When the cock fighting rings were shut down the government made it illegal to own chickens in Key West, so all the residents turned their birds loose. As one does.
There are a lot of insanely touristy areas of the island and you can definitely get trapped in a Senor Frogs-type atmosphere, but if you do it right it's wonderful.
My restaurant picks for Key West are the following:
- For dinner: Off the Hook is a teeny tiny house with a bar and a few tables just off the main strip that serves amazing fresh seafood. Their mango key lime pie may have been my favorite dessert of the entire weekend. Price-wise it wasn't cheap (entrees in the $20-30 range) but well worth it.
- For dinner: Seven Fish is another seafood restaurant that came highly recommended by every local I encountered during my entire trip (also, Chef Michelle Bernstein who is brilliant and has restaurants in Miami recommended it to my boss). It's also a small house near the center of town and somehow manages to be sparse, modern, and charming at the same time. We had lots fantastic wine, shrimp salsa and chips to start and I tried their staple curry fish dish served over rice. We ended the meal with the chocolate strawberry pie of my dreams (I had already had a key lime dessert that day so the quota was filled). Approximately the same price range as Off the Hook.
- For lunch/pie: Blue Heaven is a little more touristy than most of the places I'd choose to dine but it's pretty darn charming with a big backyard with live bluegrass music, roaming chickens and a key lime pie with a 6" tall meringue on top (see above).
- For key lime doughnuts: Glazed Donuts has a key lime flavor for when you're sick of pie. A picture is worth a thousand words so here it is:
- For lunch: Bad Boy Burrito should be self explanatory. Get the shrimp or fish.
- To drink: Other than lots of amazing seafood and key lime pie, Key West is also known for its most famous inhabitant and his favorite cocktail, the Hemingway Daiquiri. It's not the frozen strawberry concoction you've had on the beach (although I love the image of Ernest Hemingway at a bar drinking one of those). This one is made with rum and fresh lime juice and if you can't make it to the Keys you can still make yourself a drink and pretend you're there! Try Jim Meehan's recipe over on foodandwine.com.
If you have any other Key West recommendations leave them in the comments!