|The Wharf Bar and Grill – Summerland Key off US-1|
This little gem has been one of our favorite places to eat as on-again-off-again locals for years. In the past seven years or so there have been a few changes to the property as it navigated how to stand out on the route to Key West. What drew us initially to the place was the fact that it is one of the only places to eat on our little island and because a local told us they had a good happy hour. Back then, it consisted of the small building pictured above with obvious plans for the outdoors in the works (at one point there was a gas pump designed for boats, but our waitress assured us that it hadn’t worked in years). Inside were many round tables, a small bar, and a huge cooler case filled with fresh fish for sale (as well as wine, liquor, and a selection of chilled vegetables) like a small grocery. This appealed to me right away. I was even more pleased when I heard that they caught much of their own stock themselves on a weekly basis. The happy hour was indeed nice. I remember a fun bartender, sun-tanned and salty locals leaning on the bar, and a deliciously tart citrus margarita (possibly tangerine or ruby grapefruit?). The highlight for me was the stone crab claw appetizer which was just a platter of claws ripe for the taking. They were cool, meaty, and just what I wanted on that hot afternoon.
Since then, they’ve grown to include a huge outdoor bar with a massive tiki-roof over it. They nixed the cooler filled with fish, but they still sell bottles of wine. They also added live music which I had the pleasure of hearing the other night. As you can see from their yelp reviews, this place has had its ups and downs, but you might also note that nearly all the bad reviews are posted by tourists passing through. I’m going to put it out there right now that not everyone “gets” the Keys at first blush. They don’t understand why the traffic moves so slow on US-1. They don’t realize that if something breaks down like a fan or toilet, there are really only a handful of guys who can fix it in the entire lower keys, so it might be broken for a while. They don’t realize that many businesses are short-staffed half the time because their “labor” often takes the first weeks’ pay, pisses it away at a bar over the weekend and ends up in jail by Monday morning. They find out that the Keys are not the Bahamas and instead are too hot, have too many bugs, and the beaches are covered in seaweed. So they stay at their hotels, float in the pool, and eat only at places that look like Disney attractions. A local facing down a surly bartender who hands them a drink with a fruit fly in it would simply fish it out (or knock it back – hey, more protein) and tell the bartender that he/she should take a break and cool off in the A/C with a devilish grin.
I’ll share some of the recent dishes I’ve had in the past few days. For appetizers we had the ever-famous conch fritters and beef sliders. While the fritters were not as good as my *favorite* ones (more to come on that), they were flavorful and well-fried. The cocktail sauce served with them was a good accompaniment. The beef sliders were excellent. The crisp little pile of onion rings on top and the perfectly-cooked slider amounted to the perfect bite. I highly recommend them.
The entree I chose was the Lobster BLT. As you can see from the yelp reviews, I’m not the only one who loved this sandwich. The sizable chunk of lobster is fried with a light breading and tastes amazing with the bacon, lettuce, and tomato. It is also a huge sandwich and very filling. It made me want to try to replicate it myself some day. Perhaps I’ll get lucky during mini-lobster season this year!
The Wharf is everything that is peculiar to the Keys, but it has stolen my heart.