Galley Grill – Review

One of the mysteries we faced when we first came here was where to have breakfast if we wanted to go out. In the past, we would make elaborate breakfasts at home because we were on vacation so why not? And then we could slip into the pool and digest. No need to wander out. Except for Little Palm brunch (this transcendent experience to be described very near future!). But we were pleased to discover the existence of this little joint Galley Grill right on our own small island! How many times have I driven by this place? Its lot is always full in the mornings, but empty at night, and we learned this is the case because they only serve breakfast and lunch. I like to imagine that they clean up from lunch, hang a sign on the door, and spend the late afternoon/evening fishing.

Biscuits and Gravy
(Btw it is VERY hard to make
this dish look appetizing in a photo)

A friend took us here when my family was visiting because he swears by the place and especially by the biscuits and gravy. Now I am a lover of biscuits and gravy. Everywhere we’ve been on our wild summer of travel so far, I’ve stopped to taste the B&G to see if they know the way to my heart or not. This place definitely does. The biscuits are light, buttery, and the perfect consistency – not crumbly, but flaky. The gravy was the best damned gravy I’ve ever tasted. Not a hint of flour taste which so often creeps in even the best made gravies. The perfect balance of salt, pepper, and sausage. It was creamy without being lumpy or watery. At the risk of sounding like Goldie Locks, it was just right. I ate every bit of that large plate (which only sets you back $6 – also one of the most affordable places I’ve found down here to eat).

Mr. Foodie shares his parfait w/ me

In an effort to be healthy, Mr. Foodie ordered the parfait which was a spectacular display of fruit and granola. It was also quite tasty. The yogurt tasted homemade although I cannot confirm if it was. We of course swapped dishes, so he could try the heavenly gravy also.

The place itself was bright, clean, and decorated with adorable fish and ocean items. The wait staff was prompt, attentive, and friendly. Even the mimosas were tasty (and plentiful). If you happen to be passing through Summerland Key one morning or afternoon (around mile marker 27), look for this happening local favorite and do yourself a favor by stopping in.

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Check out my Grill! :)

Grilling is an understandably popular choice in the keys because it is always warm out, you want to cook outside whenever possible to prevent heating the house, and it paves the way for poolside meals (which who wouldn’t want those whenever possible?). Luckily for me Mr. FL Keys Foodie is a grill master, having benefited from a firm education in grilling by his father. I know how to turn on the grill, how to grill certain things like kebabs, lobster tail, and shrimp (mostly due to my desire for culinary experiments), but I am not a grilling expert. I like watching grill shows on the Food Network and reading about the methods in cookbooks, but ultimately I like outsourcing it. It works perfectly since our grill is downstairs on the patio, so we can divide and conquer.

Last night we kept things very simple on account of a busy day for all of us (and still having to feed three hungry teenagers): cheeseburgers, fries, and grilled pineapple spears.

Mr. Foodie always makes a great burger. He knows just how to shape them, how to move them on the grill, when they are cooked perfectly. All his burgers are great, but by far my favorite one he’s ever made is the roasted red pepper burger. This happened one night while at my parents’ house which typically lacks fresh ingredients because they rarely cook for themselves. We had burger meat and a tiny container of leftover roasted red peppers from our local grocery olive bar. Inspired, Mr. Foodie diced them, put them in the burger meat and started to grill. They took a bit longer because of the peppers, but they were so damned juicy and flavorful and good. While he was cooking, I was scrounging for buns and cheese – nothing but processed kraft (which I haven’t been able to stomach in 10 years) and then I saw a hunk of cheese leftover from some cheese plate my mom made (we both love cheese). So I sliced it up and used it – the fontina took that delicious burger right over the edge. My mother and I were mooning about how delicious it was the whole time we were eating. I’ll make it for you from scratch some time (with pics) so you can enjoy it also. Suffice it to say, the kids were happy.

Grilled Pineapple Spears – Photo Credit:
(yes I don’t have a photo of ours because we ate them too quickly)

Now the pineapple spears were introduced to me by one of my bridesmaids who used to frequent my parents’ house on the weekends for grilling out since we lived close by and her partner was away serving our country. I cannot remember what else we made for dinner that day, but she suggested we grill pieces of pineapple since we were grilling anyway and we had picked up a fresh pineapple. So we tried it. OMG was it delicious. Our guests, my parents, and we just loved the warmth and smoky taste on the pineapple pieces. I don’t think I should have been so surprised because we cook fruit all the time and it’s great, but I was surprised at how much I liked it. This time I cut the pineapple into spears to make it easier to grab and we enjoyed them immensely.

The fries were bagged frozen little things because, as I said, busy day and because I am saving our real potatoes for an amazing dish that I’ll post later in the week, so stay tuned!

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Custard is King

Photo credit: Florida Keys Treasures

Custard is king down in the lower keys where the Key Lime Pie reigns supreme. It is perhaps obvious why a key lime dessert might be so popular down here where key limes are grown (although many are now imported), but why custard is so popular is another matter all together. Perhaps it is because it is cool and light in a place where it is daily hot and heavy with humidity. Everyone knows baking cakes in humid weather is more than a little challenging. According to the incomparable Victoria Shearer (more on her to come), key lime pie was born out of necessity for the early keys inhabitants who had limited access to fresh dairy. The first key lime pies were made with eggs, condensed milk, and key lime juice. They were even made without the benefit of an oven (another boon in this climate) as the pie was “actually cooked by the high acidic content of the key lime juice.” Now, of course, we bake key lime pies for health and safety reasons. Whatever the case, you can find key lime pie anywhere in the keys as well as a number of other tasty custard-based desserts. On one of our recent trips to the Wharf Bar and Grill, we ate this salted caramel cheesecake and it was incredibly good. Just the perfect balance of salt and sweet with an excellent buttery crust.

At some point I hope to make my own key lime pie with key limes from my own tree, so stay tuned for that adventure. For now we buy our pie from a little bakery down the street that I will definitely write about soon since you won’t want to miss a trip there on your way to and/or from Key West.

Salted Caramel Cheesecake – Wharf

Fish Tacos – Recipe

Fish Tacos are hardly unique to the Florida keys, but you can be sure that they are a frequent player in the diet down here. I love to make fish tacos because it is an easy, artful way to feed a crowd – which is exactly what I’m doing here this week. My mother is still in town and so are a gaggle of teenagers keeping my sister company. Then there is Mr. FL Keys Foodie who has a substantial appetite. So last night I decided to do my tilapia again, but this time in the oven. It is similar to the foil packets on the grill, but easier because it is all one dish. I covered it with the usual suspects: chopped garlic, onion rings, pats of butter, salt and pepper, and fresh lemon juice. Sometimes I substitute white wine for the lemon juice especially if I have one on hand and not the other. The basic rule is you want some kind of acid (lemon juice or wine), some kind of fat (butter or olive oil – both are great on this fish), seasoning, and (if you have it) the fresh onion/garlic to make the fish as tasty as it is aromatic.

I made stovetop rice, spiced pinto beans, and some other options for the taco fixings. I also wanted to use the rest of the fresh salad items in the fridge, so I made a cucumber, tomato, feta salad and used the rest of the Greek salad dressing. If I don’t have a store-bought dressing (and sometimes even if I do), I make my own. The recipe for this is similar to flavoring the fish – you need your fat (oil), your acid (lemon/lime juice or vinegar), seasoning, and something fresh like chopped garlic or red onion. I have a handy plastic cup with a lid and handle that I use to shake it up (emulsify as the chefs say) and I always get compliments for it.

We also had fresh cut and chilled watermelon slices. It was the perfect, light, but satisfying dinner after a long day of boating, floating, and sunshine.

Snacks by the Pool

We are lucky to live in a home with a pool in the backyard – kind of a luxury in the keys whose coral is more than difficult to drill down into. Often people who want to have pools go for an above ground pool which is then surrounded by a concrete platform to give the appearance that it is “below ground” – again because of the difficulty of drilling into coral. Our pool is one of the rare gunnite pools in the lower keys, installed by previous owners at what I can only imagine is great expense.

Pools have a resonance with the keys partly because the only way to enjoy the heat, humidity here is to be wet as often as possible. Also because of the famous Hemingway pool (the first one built on Key West and the largest privately owned pool to date) which his second wife Pauline built without his permission (and while he was off philandering).

A gift from my maid of honor for my birthday -aren’t they cute?

For us we like to exercise in it, but also just float and watch boats go by in the canal. We always wave and they almost always wave back. It has also become a gathering place of sorts to have meals. We have a foldout table we use, and there are plenty of seating options including two mesmerizing hammock swings.

If not a whole meal, we definitely have snacks by the pool because you can find yourself in there for hours and hours without feeling like any time has passed at all. Our favorite pool side snacks? Chips and Salsa (of course), grapes, and hummus with veggies and/or chips.

My fiance’s parents were just here and they make the most delicious hummus you will ever have. Being of middle-eastern origin, they know some amazing dishes that I hope to learn and replicate this year. Here is their recipe for hummus (not super specific because they eyeball a lot) and theirs comes out a lot chunkier than the store-bought kind.

Famous Azar Hummus Recipe
Can of Chickpeas
Tahini (1-2 spoonfuls)
Sprig of Parsley (chopped)
Garlic according to taste
Olive Oil

Combine in a food processor and blend until desired smoothness (we like it a bit chunky!)

Wharf Bar and Grill – Review

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.

Conch Fritters

Beef Sliders

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!

Lobster BLT

The Wharf is everything that is peculiar to the Keys, but it has stolen my heart.