I did so want to be a good boy this Lent and watch my caloric intake, but I realized that Ash Wednesday would be occurring right in the middle of our trip. I had planned on a spartan eating program this month, and not just because I wanted to do something nice for Lent– I really need to get rid of the anaconda that’s wrapped itself around my waist before it crawls northward and squeezes the life out of my heart. But how does one deny himself his favorite foods when vacationing on an island that contains over 200 restaurants? Simple: one rationalizes and decides to do extra good for Lent rather than just quitting doing something bad. And I really don’t do that many bad things. (And what’s with the guilt?!?! I ask you.)
Luckily, we roomed with John and Chris, our good friends from Massachusetts. John especially is an accomplished cook and likes nothing better than planning and presenting entire huge themed meals for friends and family; his luaus are North Shore legends. They were predisposed toward roaming the Island and finding good places to eat; the guest house we stayed at has a full bar and restaurant, and that’s tempting: like spending a day at Disney, you never feel like you have to leave the place in order to find sustenance. (Typical day at the guest house: awaken; shower; coffee; lay by pool; swim; doze; read; have one or two drinks before happy hour; have many more drinks during happy hour (they are free); doze again; shower; go out to dinner; come back and swim; sleep. Lather, rinse, repeat.)
There are tons of great restaurants in Key West. Some of our favorites…
Sarabeth’s on Simonton Street: breakfasts and brunches. Highly recommended: the lemon ricotta pancakes with a nice serving of wheat berries are perfect. The owner came over to us and told stories, none of which I remember at this point, but they were very informative.
Harpoon Harry’s on Caroline Street: diner-y fare; all tasty and comforting. Very friendly waitresses. The kind of place where you can wear shorts, a tee, flip flops, and absolutely nothing else.
Opera on Duval Street: upscale Italian. John treated us that night for Chris’s birthday. Very, very nice– everything was elegant and professional and the ambiance was sooo soothing: like floating in a pool while having dinner, it seemed. I had their Panzanella Salad (balsamic- and herb-marinated bread, baby spinach and artichoke hearts); Orrecchiette con Broccoli Rabe (ear-shaped pasta with white beans, sausage, toasted garlic, and white wine); a Cannoli; and espresso. I have no idea what anyone else ate because I didn’t lift my face from my plate long enough to find out.
Pepe’s on Caroline Street: it’s been there forever. FABULOUS seafood! They really feed you. Hanging from the ceiling is a giant paddle fan run by a washing machine motor– you’ve got to see it! It’s got a very nice outdoors area, too. And in the front of the restaurant is a phone booth! If those walls could talk (back)…
Flamingo’s on Duval: extremely friendly cafe’– you feel like you’re at home being attended to by loving relatives! Very casual, small-town feel.
Cafe’ Sole’ on Southard Street: I always wanted to try this, and we finally did, with our friend Jim visiting the guest house from North Carolina. I remember the Conch Carpaccio I had as an appetizer– it was a first for me, and very satisfying. My entree was their Salmon Oscar, which was wild salmon topped with crab meat, asparagus, and shrimp with a homemade hollandaise sauce. I ordered it because I wanted to say “Salmon Oscar” out loud in the same cadence that Norma Shearer said “Pancakes Barbara” in The Women. I was fascinated by the other diners in the room: they were all of a certain group– retired gentlemen with their wives, all vaguely resembling one another. I got to wondering: if you sat me and all my friends at a restaurant table twenty years from now, would we all resemble one another? And will people stare?
And I think that covers our repast, though I should mention that the meals at the Island House cafe’ are always good. I am particularly taken with their waffle fries. Sometimes I like to sit in the shade by myself at a table in the shade and have an entire portion all to myself, accompanied by yellow mustard and iced tea. Perfect. And did I gain any weight that week? Not an ounce– we made sure to do plenty of walking and biking.