Where’s the Butter? Key West Lobsterfest 2016

Mr. Foodie has only ever had lobster once in his life. He explained this while walking with me through the quaint Key West streets toward Duval for Lobsterfest 2016. “It had been part of a surf n turf dinner at a cousin’s wedding,” he said, and when I asked him if he liked it, he said “it tasted sweet.” For many of us, lobster is a once-in-a-lifetime dish thanks in part to its price, but also its sometimes awkward preparation. It is arguably one of the only foods a contemporary grocery shopper has to kill before eating it. Of course you can get prepped tails instead of whole live lobsters, but then there’s that whole price factor again – live lobster is less expensive, and when it comes to these bottom-feeders, every dollar counts.




When I was young, my mother and father would take the boat out through the keys to look for lobster. My mom sat on the bow, her legs dangling off the boat, signaling my dad when she saw either good hiding places or unmarked traps. My dad would pull around, dive in, and catch these clawless keys lobsters with his bare hands. One of my earliest memories is leaning over the side of our boat and seeing my dad with his outstretched hands moving toward a lobster through the crystal clear waters. I can’t remember the first time I tried lobster, but I grew up liking shellfish of all kinds (especially Alaskan King crab legs). So I was more than a little excited about participating in my first Key West Lobsterfest this year.











This year marks the 20th year of the official lobsterfest, although the catching and eating of this crustacean has been a part of the Keys culture for much longer than that. According to fellow keys foodie Victoria Shearer, prior to World War II, lobsters were used only for fish bait! We just had mini-lobster season during which the keys are invaded by an army of enthusiastic amateurs who want to get their catch in before the commercial trapping starts. Then follows the annual Lobsterfest featuring pub crawls, concerts, craft vendors, and, of course, the beloved spiny lobster. According to this article, they were expecting 20,000 people to show for the street fair. Mr. Foodie and I came as soon as it began in hopes of beating out some of the crowds. Without knowing how crowded it got later, all I can say is it was packed. After our hustle from the parking garage, Mr. Foodie and I were thirsty, so we grabbed a soda and decided to wander up and down Duval to check out the options before diving into the various lines we saw. That was mistake number one.

By the time we went up and down the five blocks of vendors, every lobster line was at least 10 people deep with the more affordable lines at least 20 people deep. It ebbed and flowed, so we got lucky with an ‘ebb’ and walked right up to one lobster table only to be told they would not accept credit or debit cards. I was unprepared for this. I expected some of the tables to be cash only, but we quickly discovered that no vendors were accepting credit/debit cards. I haven’t been to a street fair since I was kid that didn’t accept them, but this is the keys and I should have known better. One guy said that since the chips came out, they are having trouble using their old equipment. I don’t know if that’s true, but what was true is that we were now hungry, sweating through our clothes, and a little tired of dodging drunk frat boys and sticky baby hands. But mostly we were just hungry and hot.

Hindsight being what it is, we should have ducked into one of the restaurants many of which were serving keys lobster in various dishes, but as we stared affronted at one vendor’s sign asking for $25 for one tail (really? Maybe at a surf n turf restaurant on the seaside, but here on this hot, crowded side walk?), we caved and ducked into one of our tried-and-true Mexican joints. Not a lobster dish in sight. At this point we had secured some cash from an ATM, but we were so tired, hot, and hungry, that we still went in for burrito bowls instead of standing in the now 20-30 people deep lines. I used our cash to buy a lobster hat instead.

We reasoned that we’d stop off at a grocery store on the way home and grill lobster ourselves. Which we did. Only it was Canadian lobster because they were out of every other kind. We drove home soaked through (it had also started raining on our walk back) with our unamerican lobster tails tucked between our feet feeling a bit cheated, angry mostly with ourselves for botching our first chance to enjoy fresh keys lobster since we moved here.


That all faded away once we got home, prepped the lobster tails, and began sipping white wine by the pool while the tails cooked in a mixture of butter, garlic, red pepper flakes, and lemon zest. We only had frozen corn, so we steamed it and melted the same kind of butter mixture over it – though my preference would have been to have grilled ears of corn as well. In any case, we enjoyed the simple meal immensely. The lobster was perhaps a little tougher than I’m used to because they were mini sized (and probably not the freshest things coming all the way from Canada), but the butter mixture complimented the sweet flesh as well as the sweet corn. The charred edges of the pink flesh imparted the smokey flavor we all love of grilled food. And this sweet, buttery, and smokey dish soon worked its magic on an otherwise disappointing day.

Planning a trip to the keys for lobsterfest? Learn from our mistakes and bring on the butter!

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I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts

Over the years, I’ve had a complicated relationship with coconut. When I was young, my first experience with it was in an almond joy candy bar. I was immediately turned off by the chewy shreds of coconut and chalked it up to just not liking coconut. As I grew older and realized that most of my objections to food related more to texture than flavor, I circled back around to coconut and determined that while I love the flavor, I am still not thrilled with the texture of it. So I enjoy coconut milk in green curry, for example, but still turn away from almond joys.

That didn’t stop me from picking up a coconut that had rolled into the street on my run the other day and bringing it home with me. As I cradled the smooth round nut in my arms and listened to the pleasant sloshing sound of coconut water inside it, I conjured up an image of myself presenting Mr. Foodie (who absolutely loves coconut in all its glory) a series of dishes showcasing the water and flesh of this natural beauty.

Not knowing a thing about how to prepare a coconut, I set about researching methods to crack and drain one, only to discover that unlike the coconuts you buy from a store and that appeared in almost every youtube video I found on coconut prep, mine still had its husk on. I’d have to remove the husk before I could proceed with the steps for draining, cracking, and accessing the flesh. I contemplated imitating this Samoan chief who husks coconuts with his teeth:

But eventually I just followed the advice of this nice woman who husks her coconuts with a butter knife:

Even so it took me nearly half an hour and an incredibly amount of upper body strength to completely husk the coconut. But man did I feel like a million bucks when my cute little coconut stood free of its husk and ready for draining! The draining part was by far the easiest part – tap a screwdriver into the “eyes” until it pops through, hold over a bowl to drain. We strained our water because bits of the coconut shell kept dropping in during the draining process. The cracking open of the nut was also fairly easy – just tap the nut around its circumference and you’ll see a crack form, then split it open.






Mr. Foodie was more than a little impressed with my prep thus far and enjoyed a cool glass of fresh coconut water while I proceeded to spend entirely too much time and effort trying to release the flesh from the shells. This is where it fell apart for me. I watched dozens of videos with different methods. Some suggested putting the nut halves in the oven for a bit and some didn’t. One asked you to freeze the nut for 12 hours before easily removing the shell. I opted for neither of these and went for one of the knife-work videos in which you crack the shell into half-moons and, using a dull knife, “pop” the flesh away from the shell. what remains is a thin light brown “coat” which you then remove with a sharp knife like peeling an apple. I am making it sound relatively easy right now, but I can assure you it was not. Even in the videos, these so-called experts take a lot of time and appear as though they will end up cutting themselves or the countertop or both before the video ends. I broke the nut apart many times, was relatively successful in popping the flesh out, but by then (it was almost 7pm by this time), I was in a hurry to get dinner on the table which was supposed to involve the said coconut flesh. So I grabbed the flesh pieces (with their brown coats still on) and proceeded to grate them on the grater so I could “dry” the pieces in the oven for 15 minutes. They went in and came out looking the same to me, but I threw half of the grated pieces into my panko bread crumbs mixture which I used to make coconut pork chops (recipe below).

By the end of the process, there wasn’t much flesh on the baking sheet, but partly because in my hurry I grated the little coated pieces by hand and so ended up wasting quite a bit of flesh still attached to their coats. I ended up using seven pieces of kitchen equipment (and 2 pieces of hardware), taking 2 hours total prep time, and making a huge mess in my kitchen (I’m still finding little pieces of coconut husk everywhere) to get a cup of grated coconut. Mr. Foodie and I both agreed that it was probably not worth it; however, it is likely that were I to try again, knowing what I know now, it would go more quickly and would produce more product. While I consider this adventure a partial failure, I’m not disappointed – if you aren’t failing at all, then you aren’t pushing yourself.

We still ended up with a delicious dinner that night despite my anxiety about this new experience which I had assumed (god knows why) would be easier than it was. The coconut adds a subtle sweetness to the pork chops’ breading, and we also made Pineapple Salsa to go with it. I LOVE pineapple as with most fruits (save coconut lol), and this recipe is incredibly easy. Just take your favorite salsa recipe and add chopped pineapple for a tangy, sweet/tart note to balance out the spice of your peppers and/or acid of your tomatoes. I chopped one small onion, one jalapeno without seeds (although jalapenos vary in heat, so you may want to add seeds to kick it up), diced tomatoes, and the pineapple pieces. I wanted to add cilantro, but our grocery store is renovating and their produce department is severely limited as a result, so no cilantro (and don’t even get me started on my futile attempts to start up my herb garden – more to come on that).

With that, I’ll jot down my pork chop recipe and ask you if you’ve ever prepped a fresh coconut, and if so, if you have any tips for making it an easier process.

Coconut Panko Pork Chops Recipe

2 Eggs
1/2 C Flour
1/2 C Panko Bread Crumbs (better than normal bread crumbs when pairing w/ coconut)
1/2 C Dried Coconut Shreds
Salt and Pepper
Olive or Coconut Oil
2-4 Pork Chops (depending on size)

Put the two eggs, mixed with a fork, in a small bowl or plate, put the flour on a different small plate, and put the coconut flesh and panko crumbs on yet another small plate or bowl. Season each pork chop with salt and pepper, dredge in the flour and shake off excess, dip into the egg wash, and finally coat all sides with the panko/coconut mixture. Get some olive oil (or coconut oil if you have it) hot in the skillet and cook the chops 3-5 minutes per side depending on the thickness of the chop (145 degrees internal temp is recommended; you will rest the meat after cooking so it will cook a little longer). Note: if your chops are not tender, consider letting them marinate in pineapple juice for an hour before cooking – the acid in the juice softens the meat and pork + pineapple is generally a good flavor combo.

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The Hurricane Grill – Restaurant Review

Photo Credit: tripadvisor.com

I stumbled onto The Hurricane in Marathon because I decided to join Mr. Foodie one morning when he went to work. While I usually enjoy the quietness of the house for working while he’s gone, I also fall into non-writing ruts sometimes and need to switch it up. So we looked up a coffee place to hold me over until the library opened where I could spend all day. We found Keys News and Coffee on google maps and attempted to locate it off of US-1. No luck. As it often happens while driving through the keys, we couldn’t “see” it from the road even though the map app said we had arrived. If you’re ever driving through the keys, you’ll notice the non-uniform look of many businesses with their tiny signs and cluttered front drives – no shiny strip malls dotting every corner here. So he dropped me at the library which wasn’t open, and I made my way on foot to see if I could find it on the ground. I did. And it was wonderful. Jeff is the owner’s name and he makes an excellent cup of coffee. There is a pleasant area surrounded by magazines and books to set up one’s laptop and get work done. I asked Jeff if it would be okay if I perched there for most of the day and he said yes – many of his customers even ran their businesses out of there for want of  a proper office. And sure enough, I saw exactly that as phone calls were made and orders were recorded. I was having a bit of trouble getting stared on the dissertation when a man struck up a conversation with me which would turn out to be one of many unique encounters I’ve had with people living down here. We began with politics, always tricky, but ended with his life story which was rather incredible. He and his whole family lived on boat, and he performed in a band most nights at different restaurants around the keys. He and his family decided to sell everything and make this change after he survived cancer. His conversation was intriguing, pleasant, and just the break I needed to get my head in the game. Jeff tried to intervene thinking the man was interrupting my work, but I let him continue until he had to go because he was so unusual.


In any case, eventually I got hungry for something other than coffee (and buttered bagel crisps that Jeff made by hand and handed out to all his patrons at one point), so I began the longish hike along US-1 to a restaurant that was supposed to have a good, inexpensive lunch – The Hurricane Grill. What I stumbled upon was a local favorite. When I sat down to the horseshoe bar, my hopes weren’t terribly high for a great meal – it seemed like the kind of place that served a good drink, perhaps, and maybe okay pub food, but I ordered the salad/sandwich combo and realized immediately why this was a local favorite. Even this simple fare was elevated by the care that went into it, and I was hooked. The daytime bartender is a sweet, chatty woman who reminds me so much of Kristin Chenoweth that it’s uncanny. One of the locals welcomed me to the island by buying me a glass of wine! This was my kind of place. So I didn’t hesitate to bring Mr. Foodie here one day when we were both looking for a bite during our brief hotel stay. We were tired after a long day of boating and sun, so we opted for a simple pizza. We chose the sundried tomato, artichoke, meatball, and spinach pie and it was very good. Mr. Foodie noted that they could have pulled back on the amount of sundried tomatoes because a little of that goes a long way – which was true, but I loved them. What really sold this pizza was the crust. It was a perfect crust – thin, crusty, good flavor – with non of the bitter by-product that can happen with some home-made crusts. The Hurricane Grill is well-known for its $5 lunches and $10 dinner, but even more so for their satisfying fare. The next time you’re passing through Marathon, pop in to this nondescript, divey looking bar/restaurant and enjoy!

Want to follow along with my keys foodie adventures? Use the follow field on the right or check me out on instagram @flkeysfoodie and Pinterest

Canal Life and Tacos

Mr. Foodie and I are lucky enough to live on a canal that flows through to the open ocean. Many homes in the keys are perched on canals instead of on open water because waterfront property is scarce and hella expensive (the insurance alone – yowza!). It surprises some visitors who picture island life as either waterfront or inland. Here in the keys, however, water access is a big deal. There is not an overabundance of ramps that exist to put your boat in the ocean, and the convenience of jumping into your boat from your backyard can’t be beat. Before the EPA decided differently, most habitable keys suffered blasting to create these man made canals and as such many of these islands look like thin strips separated by water and joined by bridges.

Now I’ve come to learn that living on a canal is a unique experience. Whereas most folks have privacy in their backyards, our backyard has minimal privacy. We can see across the canal into our neighbors’ yards and sometimes into their houses. We do have tropical plans growing large on either side, so there is some buffer between us and our left/right neighbors, but I can still see them when they’re out. The other thing I’ve learned is that water carries sound. I can hear an awful lot of what is happening up to two or three houses down thanks to the water. Because our canal has a gas station on it, we get a lot of boat traffic coming by once and going back again – we always wave if we’re out because that is what you do down here.

My favorite part of canal living is riding the 15-20 minutes it takes to boat out to open water. You have to go slow because it is a no wake zone in the canal (meaning your boat motor should not be creating too many waves as it passes by). I love this time because I get to peek into the backyards of all my neighbors. There are some spectacular sights to be seen – a giant pink beach chair in one, a yard full of iguanas in another, and my mother’s “dream boat” perched on brand new davits in yet another. Sometimes it is clear which house has permanent residents and which have vacationers. Often I like to speculate about the people that live in each home and what their lifestyles look like. For some the priority is apparent in the construction of their yard: fishing, diving, partying, relaxing. Most have limited grass and the usual suspects: palm trees, hibiscus, and aloe. I sit on the bow (that’s the tip of the boat), dangling my legs off the edge, my toes barely skimming the water, and look out and into my canal neighbors’ yards.

Ms. Manatee! 

My other favorite part of living on a canal is peering into it from our dock throughout the day. Canals vary in depth from street to street and from key to key. Our canal happens to be quite shallow, but deepens toward the middle of it. We’ve been lucky over the years to see amazing marine life swim through – our most exciting encounter being a family of manatees. Manatees fascinate me because of their gentle natures, gigantic bodies, and their history as responsible for delusional sailor sightings of mermaids. Manatees crave fresh water despite living in the sea which is why they eat vegetation and are frequent canal visitors. This also results in harm to the poor creatures – irresponsible boaters going to quickly through the canal and not paying attention run over them. The family that visited us had many a prop mark on their backs. Manatees will swim right up to you if you put a hose in the water – remember they crave fresh water. We also pop out around dusk to look in at a large family of parrot fish because they are very pretty.

After returning home we had some leftover items to use up, so I cooked some rice and added sauteed onions, peppers, garlic, and tomatoes with some seasonings to it, stuffed it into bell pepper halves and baked it at 350 for 30 minutes, threw some cheese on top of each one and let it melt. Stuffed peppers are really wonderful. There are so many different recipes for them and it is a relatively healthy, tasty way to use up ingredients (and leftover rice). I ended up having still more leftover rice even after stuffing peppers, so I added black beans, some seasoning, and used it for part of the filling for taco night! Mr. Foodie got home late, jumped in the pool, had a beer with me and then we munched happily on tacos before passing out at 9pm like children lol

In fairness to us, Mr. Foodie has to work this weekend 😦 and I got up at 6am with him to do my run/walk. I had an excellent run/walk this morning exploring parts of the neighborhood I’ve never seen and then I exhausted myself clipping the unruly thorn bush in our front lawn. I seriously felt like I was trying to release sleeping beauty or something. Luckily the wasps left me alone and I only got freaked out once by a spider. Have a great weekend all!

Want to follow along with my keys foodie adventures? Use the follow field on the right or check me out on instagram @flkeysfoodie and Pinterest

FL Keys Foodie on Pinterest

As a foodie, lover of entertaining, and soon-to-be-bride, I LOVE Pinterest. I created an account years ago to dabble in a potential teaching application (as someone who also loves all things pedagogy + digital) and quickly realized that I wanted to utilize it more as a way to plan parties than as a way to teach students about literature. Slowly but surely I’ve built up my favorite boards and find myself returning to them often to use them, share them, or just plain look at them. It occurred to me that since I love using Pinterest to find recipes, I should use it to share my favorites with you as well! So I’m copying the link here, and I created a special board FL Keys Foodie just for us.

At first I was a little nervous to share my Pinterest boards with you because for some reason they feel more personal than even this blog does. Maybe it is because Pinterest is about aspirations – what we wish we had, what we’re working on, what we’re anxious about. Sometimes I see my friends pinning and I empathize with them (yeah girl, I feel you on that stuck-in-the-mud career funk; hmmm, you seem troubled about whether your relationships are genuine; good on you for exploring what kind of parent you want to be). Pinterest has caught a lot of flack for perpetuating certain types of lifestyles that are privileged, exclusionary, and which depend on narrowly defined definitions (for example of womanhood or motherhood), but I’m lucky in my choice of pinterest friends to see pins not only related to making zoo-animal themed cupcakes, but also #blacklivesmatter and preserving the environment. With the exception of my “future family” and “Style” boards, my boards are purely self-serving, practical spaces for me to explore what I want to serve at a given event.

What might you learn from trolling my boards? Well it may seem as though my party planning is rather ambitious – but don’t let the boards fool you. I rarely make ALL of the items I pin to a particular board and usually make easier, cheaper versions of the recipes I do choose to make. I know all too well how easy it is to fall into a “this is super easy diy” Pinterest trap. While much of what I’ve replicated from this site has worked just fine, a few things have not (like this lovely-in-theory-but-disaster-in-practice pumpkin beer keg). Luckily, I’m a fast learner and now avoid the following actions:

1) Trying a new pinterest idea the day of the event
2) Trying to do ALL the crafts that look fun and cute for a particular event
3) Spending more time and money than it’s worth (seriously, at what point does DIY become DYI: Don’t You Idiot)

Luckily for me, the pumpkin keg debacle taught me to try out my Pinterest stuff ahead of time – especially if it involves fresh fruit, hardware, and gallons of beer lol. So give yourself ample time to play around with your diy stuff to make sure it will stay glued, stapled, bolted, etc. before you have guests streaming in. I learned #2 the hard way after my engagement party. I did ALL the crafts. And I was angry at myself because I had hosted so many parties before where I did just the right amount – enough to wow my guests, but not so much that I was burning the candle at both ends and stressing the whole time. Choose 1-2 cute details for your event and leave it at that – believe me you’ll thank yourself. I always have a conversation with myself about #3 because as much as I love spending money and time on food and parties, I am a frugal person by nature. I will NOT spend 3 hours and $60 making decorations that I can order online for $30 in three minutes. Nope. That being said, I have spent 1 hour making fun signs to hang over my dessert tables because they are personalized, funny, and make a big impact suspended over scrumptious desserts and in front of my old water-heater closet doors. I usually make my own goodie bag tags because that is fairly simple: print, cut, hole punch, tie. It is a small detail that will make guests smile while munching on goodies in the car after a fun night out. The bottom line is figure out where you’ll get the most bang for your buck and what will bring you genuine pleasure to do yourself in preparation for your party.

I plan on posting my own recipes to the new board, but also fun ones that I hope to try. Do you have pins for me? Feel free to shoot them my way!

Want to follow along with my keys foodie adventures? Use the follow field on the right or check me out on instagram @flkeysfoodie and Pinterest

Surf n Turf in Marathon

Photo Credit: tripadvisor.com

 

In an effort to take my visiting friends to a nice place to eat, we ended up at the Florida Keys Steak and Lobster House in Marathon. I wanted to take them to the Square Grouper because it is the best, but they were closed on Monday, so we looked elsewhere for a “nice” place to eat and quickly ran across a problem that I’m sure many tourists face: a lack of options. While there are many good places to grab a bite (and I’ve written about more than a few here), there are not many “nice” places open for dinner on a Monday night between Key West and Marathon. There just aren’t. So even though it was out of their way, they trekked to Marathon with us to locate some good seafood.

I had passed by the Florida Keys Steak and Lobster House many times, noting it for its bright turquoise exterior and porthole windows. Because it’s right up the street from Marathon’s Turtle Hospital and because of it’s colorful paint job, I dismissed it as a tourist trap. It has, however, great reviews, and so we decided to give it a shot. So glad we did! They sat our party (of seven) right away and in a cozy alcove with a few other tables. The wait staff was attentive and friendly. The menu is extensive with many options including a sushi menu and specials menu.

Mr. Foodie spotted the Shrimp Diablo and, of course, ordered it. The red sauce was not quite as good as it was at the Ale House, but it was satisfying. I ordered the Shrimp Scampi because love seafood with garlic, wine, and butter – it is my favorite way to eat any kind of ocean fare. The shrimp was perfectly cooked in both of our dishes – succulent with just the right bite. Though the portions were generous, we ate every last bite. One of our friends ordered a surf and turf platter that looked amazing.

I wish I could have taken them to Square Grouper since it is a family (and local) favorite, but this was a good substitute. More basic than SG, but still well-executed with a cozy atmosphere. If you’re passing by and see the bright aquamarine surf and turf restaurant, consider stopping in for dinner one night.

Mr. Foodie and I are back home today, but I still have a few more Marathon eats to share and a work BBQ menu to plan for Mr. Foodie’s work buddies this weekend, so stay tuned!

Want to follow along with my keys foodie adventures? Use the follow field on the right or check me out on instagram @flkeysfoodie

Sunday Funday w/ Breakfast at the Wooden Spoon

On Sunday Mr. Foodie and I stumbled down to the hotel lobby after a sleepless night because a high-pitch screaming noise had issued from our bathroom all night. The maintenance man had come and said there was nothing he could do that night, and since the entire hotel was booked, they could not move us to a new room. Needless to say I had a few choice words in mind that morning. On top of that, the entire hotel breakfast area was teeming with tourists – so many I couldn’t even reach the coffee. Luckily we were helped by a very sweet woman at the front desk who told us where to grab the best breakfast in Marathon while she sorted out our room transfer to an upgraded suite for our troubles.

The Wooden Spoon in Marathon was definitely hopping when we arrived with nearly every square inch of the small dining room packed with people. We found a small round table in the corner near the bar and scoped out the interesting wooden spoons that hung on nearly every inch of the dining room’s walls. You could tell that the spoons came from all over the world. Some were inscribed with a name and a date – gifts from loyal patrons from over the years.

Their menu was comprehensive, but also basic for a breakfast diner. Mr. Foodie and I were so hungry by that point that we could have eaten everything in sight, but we ordered moderate plates that were basically breakfast samplers – a couple of eggs, bacon or sausage, and a bit of french toast. We did have to wait a while for service, but such is life in the keys. We didn’t mind – it gave us time to check out all the cool spoons. The breakfast was excellent. Unfussy scrambled eggs, crisp bacon, and a basic french toast that was taken over the top with whatever amazing butter they had melting over it when it reached the table. It was incredibly satisfying. Behind us were two tiny girls in water-sports gear chattering about their dreams and their food when one of the bartenders handed them a ketchup bottle for their eggs. The little girl on the left squeezed hard and out came the longest red string of “ketchup” she had ever seen – turns out it was a prank bottle with a red rubber “ketchup” string. The girls giggled so hard over the prank and we all laughed with them.

Bahia Honda – the old railroad

Later, we joined our friends for some beaching at Bahia Honda – the nicest beach in the lower keys. Many vacationers are surprised to come to the keys and not find many beaches. They are picturing the rest of Florida or the Bahamas – well sorry to say, the keys are coral, rocky, and rarely produce what most people would recognize as a “beach.” The “beaches” in Key West for example are largely made up of imported sand. But Bahia Honda is natural sand and a state park, so it is kept fairly pristine. There is a per-head charge to enter the park, and there are two beaches – one with a cove, snack bar, kayak rentals, and a historic path to see the old railroad and the other with just one long stretch of beach. Both have picnic tables and restrooms. We typically go to the long stretch because fewer people are there usually. Sunday we were blessed with sunny, breezy weather and only a smattering of other tourists on our beach. We brought more of Dion’s fried chicken and bobbed in the waves for a couple hours chatting and enjoying the sunshine. The kids found starfish and conchs – the areas around Bahia Honda are teeming with sea creatures. But don’t think about removing a thing from these beaches or the rangers will have it out for you. While we were there, one guy tried to fish off shore. One guy tried to pull his boat right onto the shore from the ocean. These are big no-nos and the locals let them have it. I myself have called the rangers to come handle a case where a boy was removing piles of conch shells from the ocean and stacking them on the beach.

That evening we returned to our quiet, roomy suite tanned and sandy and tired from a fun day of wave jumping. Only one more night and we’ll be back home!

Want to follow along with my keys foodie adventures? Use the follow field on the right or check me out on instagram @flkeysfoodie

Picnic Island & the Best Fried Chicken in the Keys

So Mr. Foodie and I decided to take some vacationing friends out on the boat to picnic island – a couple of tiny uninhabited islands joined together by a low sandbar. My parents used to take my brother and I there to play on the sandbar when we were young. Back then, my mom tells me, no one really knew about it and only locals would drop anchor there on the weekends. Now, it is well known and often packed with boats on any given weekend. Yesterday it was relatively sparse with just a few boats and, of course, Captain Jack’s house boat which is always there.

Picnic Island

This is the first time I’ve met Captain Jack, although he has had his residence floating there for a couple years now. We don’t always see him when we visit the island, but yesterday he was sitting on his porch, tanned and white-bearded, holding court, if you will, while strangers and friends climbed up his slippery wooden steps to say hello. He told us that people often come by on the weekends with tons of food and they cook it up right there on the house boat. He likes the company, he said, and the rest of the week is usually pretty quiet. We asked what happens during storms and he said that is boat weighs 100,000 lbs, so the most that happens is the fans on his porch lose their blades. He has a fascinating history which you should ask him yourself when you come to visit.

Just be careful – the path to picnic island is challenging because of the shallows – I’ve been there plenty, but even I had a couple dicey moments driving out there yesterday. Our friends enjoyed the heck out of it, though. We floated in the shallow water and had a few cold beers. John and I also brought the best fried chicken in the keys – Dion’s friend chicken. Apparently there is a debate about the best friend chicken (Dion’s or Publix), but my vote is with Dion’s. The breading is perfectly seasoned and crisp. The meat is tender and juicy – it’s everything you want fried chicken to be. If you like to boat, bring good fried chicken with you – it is the perfect entree for boating since you don’t have to worry about soggy bread sandwiches and you can always dump the bones in the ocean without harming the ecosystem.

On the way back to shore, we ran across a gorgeous pod of dolphins jumping the waves. I slowed down and circled of course for our friends to take photos. I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that this was Mr. Foodie’s first dolphin sighting! He thought they were just beautiful. You never know what delights the oceans of the keys have in store for you. All in all an awesome day of fun, sun, and fried chicken.

Want to follow along with my keys foodie adventures? Use the follow field on the right or check me out on instagram @flkeysfoodie

Marathon Grill and Ale House – Review

I wish I had a beautiful header picture of this place, but whereas I have gotten better about snapping pictures of my food before I eat it, I have yet to master taking pictures of the exterior before driving away. I also assume there will be a photo online, but I have yet to find a decent looking one of the Marathon Grill and Ale House – probably because it is tucked away in the corner of a strip mall (!). Yes, I was warned by Cory who recommended this place that I will ask myself, “am I in the right place?” when I went to look for it and that is exactly what I did as I passed nail salons and pet stores. But Cory, who plays with his band up and down the lower keys in restaurants (live music being a huge feature of key life), told us that they had BOGO entrees and ridiculously good drink deals between 4 and 6 pm.

I hesitated to order their happy hour white wine (although it is always encouraging when the menu lists the different types of wine instead of “house white”), but the bartender talked me into it and soon enough I was sipping a delicious white chardonnay for $3! Mr. Foodie tried three beers and loved them all, but his favorite was a Bells Amber. I ordered the chicken marsala which came with mashed potatoes and creamy carrots. Mr. Foodie ordered the seafood fa diavolo because he loves the mussels version at the Wharf on Summerland. This one had clams, lobster, mussels, shrimp, and scallops – all on a bed of perfectly cooked pasta. It was the show-stopper dish of the night. The sauce was incredibly addicting. I kept reaching over to taste it again and again. Mr. Foodie indulged my love of lobsters and mussels by putting morsels on our bread plate for me to try. With all this mini-lobstering going on, I have been craving lobster like a son of a gun, but Lobsterfest (which takes place in Key West) doesn’t happen until August.

My dish was good for the wrong reasons – namely the sides were the best part. The carrots were so creamy and rich that I only ate half and the mashed potatoes were freaking delicious. I was more than happy to polish those off. My chicken, on the other hand, was rubbery and the sauce was just too thick – not being an expert on marsala, I couldn’t tell you what it lacked or had too much of, just that it tasted like eating drapes on a rubber ball. Whereas the sauce flavor wasn’t bad, the texture was problematic. Still, the other dishes made up for that and our stuffed-mouthed exclamations of pleasure drew the attention of our bar seat-mates with whom we struck up a conversation about the food there (they were locals) and a myriad of other things like comparing the weather in the mid-Atlantic to here. Throughout the whole experience our bartender was attentive and pleasant. My seatmate told us that the place becomes a disco at night.

All in all it was another fun Marathon key foodie adventure. We’re off to taste the best fried chicken in the keys and for another boating adventure, so stay tuned!

Want to follow along with my keys foodie adventures? Use the follow field on the right or check me out on instagram @flkeysfoodie

Marathon Key Staycation

Morning! So Mr. Foodie and I are on a staycation of sorts for a long weekend in Marathon Key just up US-1 from home. We are staying a chain hotel which is not my preference (especially in the keys where you can often find quaint little “resorts” and b&bs), but we had points so free nights = awesome. Plus, look at our view!

We got here late last night because of work, so all we really did was crawl to the Tiki hut restaurant near the hotel property, have dinner, read, and then pass out. We did not have terribly high hopes for the restaurant Tarpon Creek Bar and Grill because it looks like giant tourist trap and it is right next to a bunch of hotels, but we were pleasantly surprised by some things.

We ordered an appetizer of Cuban rice balls which were probably the best thing we had – the rice-bean mixture inside was spicy and creamy, the fried outer shell was perfectly crisp and the sauce was tangy and delicious. It was altogether a great pairing with our pale ales and the ocean breeze.

Mr. Foodie ordered fried catch of the day (mahi mahi) and fries. He reported that the fries were good (I can confirm), but that the fried breading on the fish tasted burnt – someone needs to change out their fryer oil. The mahi itself was cooked well. I ordered the pulled pork sandwich and plantain chips mostly because of the promised key lime sauce that the menu mentioned. The sandwich was indeed good and so was the sauce. The chips were also good if a little bland. We decided that it was a little steeply priced for what amounted to pub food, but the water view was pleasing, our waitress was attentive but mellow (perfect for two exhausted diners), and the beer was cold. All in all, a good evening.

Luckily Marathon is teeming with restaurants – I believe a bartender I was talking to a few days ago said 72 restaurants in total on the island, so we will have no shortage of good eats while staying here. We already raved about the cuban sandwhich shop down the road, so I have high hopes for this place.

Want to follow along with my keys foodie adventures? Use the follow field on the right or check me out on instagram @flkeysfoodie