I’ve Seen Fire and I’ve Seen Rain

Our roof is still leaking. The contractor thought he’d found the problem with the leak in the dining room and said it was an easy fix, until… it kept raining, kept leaking and it’s actually not fixed at all. We were worried it might have happened when we got a deck installed over the roof last year, so were relieved to find it was an “easy fix”. But now it seems that the deck may have been the problem, so we’ll probably have to pull it up to fix the roof, an expensive and time-consuming prospect, and then re-install the deck. So, back to square one.

And it seems Florida, particularly Miami, is back to square one in controlling the Coronavirus Pandemic, which is rushing through our state like a wildfire, with no end in sight. It’s hit a bit too close to home for me, so I’ve decided to quarantine in Key Largo, for the time being. Even though COVID cases in the Keys rose exponentially since they opened to non-residents, it’s still a lot less cases than Miami, where the positivity rate last week was 28%! We’re currently the epicenter of the United States for coronavirus cases. Also, hospital ICU’s in Miami are getting filled to capacity and coronavirus deaths are reaching an all time high in our state. Unbearably sad, especially if it was preventable.

At the (now closed) movie theatre in Key West.

Remember in the beginning when everything shut down, it seemed so scary and weird and unbelievable? We all wandered around like zombies in a bad B movie, wondering what was true, what was false and, most importantly, how long it would last. And now, four months later, everything seems worse than ever; it feels like those months of hunkering down, quarantining and sacrifice were for naught. Like, why did we do all that then, if we’re back here now? Getting tested is a Herculean effort and test results take from 5 to 7 business days, making contact tracing a joke. It’s depressing, that’s for sure.

Zeke and I went to Key West to celebrate his birthday and ate most of our meals out. This didn’t really feel too dangerous, since we mostly ate outside, but about half the people walking down Duval didn’t have masks, even though they were mandated. Mandating mask-wearing without enforcement seems a futile effort. In Steamboat Springs, where my Mom has a condo, they slap you with a $5000 fine for not wearing a mask. I think if they have police officers stationed at the beginning and end of Duval, handing out $1000 fines to non-maskers, most people would re-think their constitutional rights to be mask-less.

The first place we hit in Key West was Pepe’s for Happy Hour. We’d heard they had great deals on drinks and raw oysters (1/2 off), so we got a dozen each. The large, briny oysters came with Pepe’s sauce in oyster shells, that was more chunky salsa than cocktail sauce, with saltines, horseradish and lime wedges. I liked the sauce (they also had 4 hot sauces on the table), the oysters were delicious and Pepe’s atmosphere is funky and fun with good service. My margarita with fresh lime juice was fine, but I’ve yet to find a great margarita in the Florida Keys. The best one I ever had was at Bumby’s, now closed. I could write a book on my quest for a decent margarita in the Keys, but I digress.

Pepe’s Cafe Happy Hour 4-6 p.m. Fresh Margaritas Baked and Raw oysters on the 1/2 shell 806 Caroline Street

From there we made the short walk to A & B Lobster House in the Historic Seaport section. We’d made reservations to sit outside, but it was so bloody hot, we requested to sit inside and were accommodated. A & B reminds me kind of Joe’s Stone Crab, with white table cloths, dark wood paneling, terrazzo floors and seasoned waiters. If you sit by the window, or outside, there’s a lovely view of the water (try to go at sunset) and they have a cool, retro bar (Berlin’s) that was empty. Our waiter made some recommendations for appetizers and entrees, as well giving us his opinion on shutting down the Keys to tourists (he was against it). We got one appetizer and entree, split them both with a bottle of wine and some of their excellent warm, sourdough bread. We got the Lobster and Escargot appetizer and the Grouper Oscar, which has been on the menu since they opened in 1947. They split the entree in the kitchen for us ($6 extra), so it looked pretty and came with extra crabmeat. We loved our meal here.

A & B Lobster House Recommended Dishes: Maine Lobster and Escargot with Puff Pastry, Grouper Oscar 700 Front Street

I skipped breakfast the next day (Zeke got an almond croissant) to leave room for our Key West Food Company Seafood Lover’s Tour, which I will write about later because we made 6 stops! For appetizers, we considered going to Pepe’s again, but decided to try Alonzos Oyster Bar, located underneath A & B Lobster House, on the seaport. We walked in (with masks), sat outside, by the water and incoming boats.

Alonzo’s Oyster Bar is a perfect place to people watch- families walking around the seaport, water sports boats coming in and going out with passengers, and luxurious mega yachts docking with their guests and staff. We ordered a dozen Bluepoint oysters, one of my favorites, which were $2 each on Happy Hour. They were smaller than the oysters at Pepe’s, with a briny, satiny and mild flavor and came with cocktail and mignonette sauce. Their motto is “Fresh as Shuck” and they feature fresh oysters every day. Our waitress was excellent; I highly recommend Alonzo’s Oyster Bar, located on the A & B Marina.

Alonzo’s Oyster Bar Happy Hour 4 – 6:30 p.m. 1/2 off Well Drinks, Beer and Wine by the Glass Tapas Style Appetizers 700 Front Street

We wanted to leave room for dinner, because we were going to 915, a place Zeke had been dying to try for dinner. I’d eaten there before, last year, and while I’d enjoyed the food, the server had been pushy and a bit rude. This time, however, we couldn’t have asked for a more accommodating server (I think he was Australian), who was more than happy to offer recommendations. “I’ll tell you what my favorites are and then, what our most popular dishes are,” he said as we perused the menu with our white wine in hand. As we paused to reflect on what to get with puzzled faces, our waiter said “It’s hard, isn’t it?” Sitting on Duval street, on the porch of a restaurant housed in a quaint house, drinking cold Pinot Gris- not so hard, actually.

Zeke wanted to try the Whole fried Snapper with Thai sauce, that had been recommended by our Seafood Tour Guide that day. I got Mama’s Seafood Soup, a spicy Thai green curry broth, filled with seafood and complex flavors. We split the Ahi Tuna Gravlax appetizer, which is their best selling appetizer. It was thinly sliced tuna in a soy vinaigrette with saffron aioli, sliced jalapeños, radishes and micro greens. It was light, refreshing, full of flavor and texture. We both agreed we loved our meal at 915, wouldn’t have changed at thing and if I went back tomorrow, I’d order the same thing again.

915 Recommended Dishes: Carmelized Brussel Sprouts, Ahi Tuna Gravlax, Homemade Pastas Whole Yellowtail Snapper with Thai sauce, Soul Mama Seafood Soup 915 Duval Street

For breakfast the next morning, we tried Banana Cafe, which was super close to our hotel. I’d eaten there for dinner before, at the Key West Literary Festival Seminar (theme was Food), but they were overwhelmed that night and our food took forever, so it wasn’t a great first impression. I love the French, retro vibe of this place (think Josephine Baker in the 20’s), the lime green walls and staircase with words painted on it, leading upstairs.

We sat at a table near an open screened window and checked out the menu. Our French waitress recommended any of the crepes, since the owner is French, which is exactly what I got. The Inside Out Crepe had eggs, ham, Swiss cheese, carmelized onions and a Key lime hollandaise. It was folded into a rectangle, topped with hollandaise and sprinkled with parsley; the crepe had layers of flavor, with the sweet carmelized onions, salty ham, fluffy crepe and tart hollandaise. It was really good. Zeke got the Belgian Waffle with Bananas, and liked it. The crepes come sweet or savory, the coffee in heavy mugs, the atmosphere relaxed and fun; I loved this spot for breakfast.

Banana Cafe Recommended Dishes: Crepes, Quiches, Belgian Waffle with Bananas 1215 Duval Street

We’d done a bike ride around Key West that morning (a great way to see the island) but I almost passed out from the heat, so when we were in the middle of Duval Street at lunchtime, we went to First Flight instead of original plan of Louie’s Backyard for lunch. First Flight is a cute airline-themed restaurant that’s part of a restaurant group that includes 915 (where we’d eaten the night before) and Bagatelle. It’s located in the old Pan American Airlines headquarters (hence the theme) and used to be Kelly’s restaurant, owned by actress Kelly McGillis, who was married to the mayor of Key West, back in the ’90’s.

It’s now a Brewery and restaurant, piloted by executive chef Brendan Orr, who’s also the chef at 915 and was a sous chef at Louies’s Backyard. They brew the beer, with names like Maverick IPA, Havana Red and Main Squeeze, right on sight. We sat out in an open courtyard and I ordered a flight of beers, which came with three little beers and some oyster crackers. Zeke got his normal order of “the lightest beer you have” and we enjoyed escaping the heat in the garden setting. My Ahi Tuna Poke was very good (although I would’ve like some seaweed salad) and came with crispy won ton chips. Zeke got the Fish Bites Platter, which was tempura battered (tasted like a beer batter) Grouper Cheeks that came a lemon caper tater sauce and red beans and rice. They were golden brown and crunchy on the outside, white and flaky fish on the inside.

First Flight Recommended Dishes: Ahi Tuna Poke, Fish Bites Platter, Beer Happy Hour 4 -6 Deals on Beer, Wine and Food 301 Whitehead Street

We went to Louie’s Backyard for dinner that night, but had to sit inside due to making the reservation so late. I really prefer eating there for lunch outside where you get the beautiful water view, but c’est la vie. Usually, when we try new places on vacation, there are a couple clunkers in the bunch, but not on this trip. Next time, however, I would do the bike ride early (like 7 am) and have breakfast after. I feel the blood rushing to my stomach to digest my crepe, and extreme heat caused me to get light headed and almost eat it in the middle of Key West. Also, June is probably not the best time to visit Key West, FYI. We were just so desperate to get away…

No Name Pub

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention No Name Pub, located in Big Pine Key. We’ve talked about stopping here for a while, but it’s definitely off the beaten path. When you arrive, there’s actually a sign saying “You Found It”. We stopped on the way to Key West for a drink and on the way out for a drink and pizza. The inside is super funky, with neon signs, colored lights and dollar bills stapled to everything, but we opted to sit outside, under a huge chickee hut, built after Hurricane Irma. I had a Red Stripe, Zeke something on draft and we got the Shrimp and Ricotta Pizza, which the waiter recommended. It was delicious- lots of pink Key West Shrimp, creamy ricotta, sliced tomato and spinach smothered in Mozzarella cheese; we had enough leftover to take home. My only complaint is they need to carry our favorite beers from the Florida Keys Brewing Company– Iguana Bait (Zeke) and Spearfish Amber (me). It’s definitely worth a trip out of the way to No Name Pub and you might see some Key deer on the way.

No Name Pub Recommended Dishes: Shrimp and Ricotta Pizza 30813 Watson Boulevard, Big Pine Key

Good News! Niven Patel of Miami’s funky, fresh, Indian restaurant Ghee was named one of Food and Wines Best New Chefs. Unfortunately his restaurant isn’t open for dine-in now (thanks, coronavirus!) but you can get take-out and delivery by Uber Eats. July is National Ice Cream Month, first started in 1984 by Ronald Reagan and some Ice Cream Shops are offering deals. Carvel has buy one get one free Sundaes on Wednesdays in July and Carvel has $1 off any size dipped cones.

Bad News: Starbucks is closing 400 locations over the next 18 months and Dunkin’ Donuts is closing 450 locations by the end of 2020. Neither one of these affects me much, as I don’t go to Starbucks very often and even less to Dunkin’. Plus, the Dunkin’ Donuts being closed are in Speedway Gas Stations and, as a normal rule, I try to avoid eating in gas stations. Fumes and food don’t mix.

Well, toilet paper and flour are back on the shelves, but now it’s impossible to find Clorox wipes, 409 and Fantastic. “I guess people realized it’s not toilet paper we need, but cleaning supplies!” Zeke noted. Yep, now that we can venture out, we need to spray the hell out of surfaces when we return from Germ-City (aka Miami). Although, the way it’s going, we might be forced back into our holes in the near future, so you may want to stock up on TP.

As for me, I’ve been on an egg kick lately. Every day for breakfast I’ve been eating eggs. I think it’s important to listen to what our bodies tell us and lately it’s been telling me it wants protein, protein, protein! It’s also telling me it wants pasta and noodles, greens, healthy fats like avocado and nuts, along with the occasional bowl of Tahitian Vanilla gelato, so there’s a lot going on in my old bod. To keep it in check, I’m walking every day, but now in the Keys. Besides the obvious exercise and mental health benefits, I think the fresh air and sunlight does a body good. Vitamin D people!

And watching the sunset over the tranquil bay in Key Largo is not a bad way to quarantine. But Miami! I feel so bad, but I am planning a couple road trips to get the heck out of Magic City. These days, we’re light on the magic, heavy on the “you know what”. Stay safe out there and keep eating good food (even if you have to make it yourself!)

Up Next: Key West Food Tour and Mango Mania.

Published by gleeguilford

Born and raised in Miami, the daughter of a pilot and stay-at-home Mom, I love food in all forms. My great grandfather opened the first Italian restaurant in Miami in the 20's, The Boathouse on the Miami river. I love exploring my heritage and linking food and recipes to personal stories. I've been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Food and Love and wrote restaurant reviews and news as the Miami Dining Examiner for three years. I love exploring Miami's latest hot spots, hole in the walls and institutions. I'm always looking for innovative ways to use the plethora of tropical fruits and vegetables South Florida offers, especially from my own garden.

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