Amigos Tortilla Bar – Key West Restaurant Review

So Sunday Mr. Foodie had the day off and we decided to head down to Key West for a brief jaunt and to pick up a special souvenir item for one of my close friends (but also very far friends because she lives in Germany) who is having her first baby boy. I already sent a onesie that read: Look at My Muscles (her husband loves to work out), but I wanted to send something topical as well. This being Mr. Foodie’s one day off, we took the morning slow, waking up “late” at 8am and having coffee on the patio. I compared running apps for beginners since that is definitely where I’m at and also podcast apps because I’m (finally) getting into those. I find I can run/walk farther if I’m listening to a good podcast because I don’t get bored as quickly.

An example of Key West’s
distinctive picket fence art

By the time we made it to Key West, it was lunch time and I had pretty much sold Mr. Foodie on some good thai food when we arrived and found that it was closed. Remember that thing I wrote about businesses in the keys closing at odd hours? Anyway, we crossed over Duval St. and I remembered this little taco joint cross the way from Captain Tony’s (the original Hemingway hangout) that my maid of honor and I stumbled into after knocking back one of CT’s Pirate Punches which always leave me swaying on my feet. I didn’t recall what she and I ate, only that we liked it. So we lunched at the Amigos Tortilla Bar where Mr. Foodie got a carnitas burrito and I had the carnitas bowl. Most of the restaurant is bar seating where you are elbow to elbow with other guests. It wasn’t terribly crowded when we went despite it being lunch time (in fact, the whole island seemed quiet despite lobster season opening officially). The bowl included bright red and diced tomatoes, onions, perfectly cooked rice, black beans, and, of course, the carnitas or seasoned pork. The carnitas stole the show, shredding easily on my fork and only lightly touched by a bit of green salsa. Unlike some carnitas I’ve had, this one avoided being too salty. The seasoning amplified the natural flavor of the meat and complimented the freshness of the veggies. Mr. Foodie was equally satisfied with his burrito version, washing it down with Mexican coca-cola because he liked that it had sugar cane as a sweetener instead of corn syrup.

Mr. Foodie’s grill work

We had planned on winding our way back past the Key Lime Pie shop to share a pie on a stick dipped in chocolate for dessert, but we were both too full to contemplate it, so we proceeded to “new town” (the non-historic part of the island where there are largely chain stores like Home Depot and Sears) because we wanted to pick up new running shorts for me and some items at the grocery store. Wish I could say we got home, jumped in the pool and watched boats float by int he canal (and planes land/take off on our neighborhood airstrip – more on that for another post), but we ended up spending three hours on the phone regarding a health insurance matter which we really needed resolved asap all while getting disconnected three times and having to explain all over again to three new people what we were trying to accomplish. Finally we got the matter resolved, suited up, cleaned the boat for a half hour because we hadn’t had time to do it after our last outing, jumped in the pool and ended up having leftover grilled chicken legs for dinner. More foodie adventures on the way! I can’t wait to tell you what happened with the coconut I found on my run the other day.

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Stock, Eggs, and Leftover Dinner

T.G.I.F! Yes, even in paradise we can get excited about the weekend. This weekend in particular is a celebration of Ernest Hemingway down in Key West. Yesterday was his birthday! Didn’t know Hemingway was such a fixture down here? Well he is. Writers and artists don’t only flock here for the beauty and light but in hopes that a little of his genius will rub off on them. Touring his former home with one of the knowledgeable docents is a highlight of visiting here. Even if you aren’t a fan of his writing or the man himself, his home gives a unique glimpse into Key West’s history and the impact that man had on its culture. 
While there are many Hemingway-related events planned for the festival, the one that might baffle you the most if you happen to stumble upon it unawares as I did years ago is the Hemingway Look-Alike Contest held down at Sloppy Joe’s. Imagine casually strolling up Duval, rounding a corner, and being surrounded by 50 men in white beards and kakhi shorts. I was take aback to put it mildly. Then I found out that this is a yearly contest and you can see the photos of all the winners hanging on the wall at Sloppy Joe’s all year around. Mr. Foodie and I are determined to spend some time in Key West this weekend, so I might get him a glimpse of that spectacle. 
It might seem silly to end the week with a post about how I usually start the week, but I thought I’d share with you how Mr. Foodie and I usually launch our culinary adventures each week with some routine. I am by no means the first to advocate for doing some food prep on Sunday so you can eat more healthily and save money throughout the week. My prep is not perhaps as comprehensive as some because I have the time each night to do a little prep and cooking (plus I just enjoy it), but if you are strapped for time and/or hate cooking during the week, there are many ideas for prep that will save you time, money, and cooking headache. For us, I like to prepare for the week by hard boiling some eggs and making a chicken stock. 
This might seem silly to most of you who probably love the convenience of picking up a few cans of stock at the grocery store if you are the type to use stock in the first place, but I love making my own. In the first place, having a roast chicken (whether you make it yourself or buy it at the store) to start the week is awesome. You can use the breast meat for soup, salads, and sandwiches. You can munch on the chicken legs anytime or make it part of an informal cheese, bread, chicken leg dinner. You can use the meat to make burritos or casseroles, the list is endless. Then you’re left with this chicken carcass – why let it go to waste? Pop it in a large pasta pot, cover with 8 cups of water, salt and pepper. Peel one medium-large onion and slice in half, put halves in the water. Throw in a handful of baby carrots and the leafy tops and root bottom of a celery bunch. Make sure to toss in any liquid that pooled at the bottom of the chicken roast container (good flavor there). Bring to a boil and then simmer for 40 minutes while you do something else. Use tongs to remove as much of the stuff as possible and a handheld sieve to scoop any other bits from the stock. Et Voila! You have a delicious homemade stock for the week. Upon tasting it you might think it doesn’t taste salty enough because you’re probably used to store-bought, which, like most processed foods, has a lot of salt. Feel free to add more to taste, but know that you will probably be adding it to something or adding something to it that has salt down the road. 
What to do with this stock, then? Sometimes I save it and use it a bit at a time in stir-frys and casseroles (you can also freeze it in bulk or in ice cubes for dashes of flavor that will last you months, but often I go ahead and make a soup for Mr. Foodie and I with the stock. Chicken noodle is, of course, a good choice since you will have leftover carrots and celery from your prep and the chicken breast meat from the roasted chicken. All you need is noodles – this is btw a great way to use up any leftover noodles you have in the pantry, but my favorite noodles to use are whole-wheat spaghetti or egg noodles. The other soup I love making is Kale, bean, turkey soup. Cook up your ground turkey (or mild Italian sausage if you want more flavor) and put it in the stock, add chopped Kale, 1-2 cans of either chickpea or cannellini beans, heat together and serve with fresh pepper and a sprinkle of Parmesan.
While I’m making stock, I always boil eggs using the method my grandma taught me: put eggs in pot, cover with water, bring to a boil, boil for desired amount of time (for hard, 8-10 minutes). Once they are done, drain, add cold water, toss in ice cubes to stop the heating process, pop in egg carton and put in the fridge (or eat! Slightly warm boiled eggs are the best). Since I add mine back to the carton with fresh eggs, I take the onion peel leftover from my stock prep and add it to the water – this dyes the eggs naturally and helps Mr. Foodie distinguish between the boiled and fresh ones in the carton when he goes for a snack.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Leftover Dinner                                                                                                                         Remember those leftover celery and carrots you have? I put them in ziplock bags and we use them for hummus dipping throughout the week! So nothing gets wasted and everything is yummy. This past week I made the Kale soup instead of chicken noodle, so I still had some leftover noodles and meat from the chicken. With that we made a quick angry pasta (saute chopped garlic and red pepper flakes in a little olive oil, add cooked noodles to coat, take off heat and sprinkle with parmesean cheese), microwave-steamed whole green beans (I don’t like microwave veggies usually, but we had them leftover from guests, so I improve them by tossing with hot oil and flavoring like pepper flakes or garlic), and of course chicken breast meat. This dinner took 15 minutes since we were using leftovers. 
Chicken, Angry Pasta, and Green Beans

What do you do to prep for the week? We’ve been thinking about adding prepped salads to the repetoire, but I could use some suggestions for making that work. Feel free to leave comments below. 

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Roostica on Stock Island – Review

Roostica – Photo Credit:

On our way to the airport to drop off the kiddos, we decided to pop into Roostica for a late lunch. We learned about this place years ago from family friends who have lived down here my whole life. Their daughters waitressed here. Their business is right down the street also on Stock Island (a few miles outside of Key West). For some reason (perhaps eating the bounty of the sea gets old after a while?) there is no scarcity of pizza places in the lower keys. In fact, there is one right at the entrance to my neighborhood (but since they changed owners/chefs and decided cardboard was better than crust, I will not recommend them).

If you ever decide to drive down from Miami to Key West (worth the 3.5+ hours it takes, I assure you), you will see for yourself how many pizza joints pop up on all the little islands. That being said, there are few that meet the quality of Roostica’s pies. While they have a rather comprehensive menu, I recommend the Quattro Formaggi (4 Cheeses) pizza. While most white cheese pizzas are cheesy and (sometimes) garlicky, this one was over-the-top delicious. Why, you may ask, was this one so much better than normal? The inclusion of gorgonzola. That little bit of blue cuts through the richness of the four cheeses and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes on top will make you moan with pleasure.

As chance would have it, the owner popped over to say hi right as we were hands deep in the delicious pizza. Bob sidled up to us casually in the standard keys uniform – shorts and a T-shirt with sandals. He and I immediately agreed that the gorgonzola was the best thing about this particular pie. He also told us about his more recent restaurant project Geiger Key Marina (another reason to get a car when you’re here – so many great keys besides Key West to explore). Follow Boca Chica Road to the end and you’ll see this fabulous little spot on the water with great views and good food.

I just found out also that Roostica has brunch! I’ll definitely be back to give that a go.

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Sloppy Joe’s and Sunset

Sunset Celebration – Photo Credit:

Seeing as we had guests this week, we popped down to Sloppy Joe’s on Key West for a little nip before Sunset celebration. For those of you unfamiliar with Key West rituals, each night the sunset is celebrated with live street performers, food and drink vendors, and of course the often gorgeous sunset itself. This all takes place in Mallory Square which is a beautiful square right on the water and also the location of where many cruise ships dock. Due to their size, the ships are required to leave before sunset or they’ll end up blocking the view for folks in the square. The sun sets right over Sunset Key – perhaps the most expensive real estate in the Keys – which oddly enough used to be called Garbage Island because it was a former dump. Waste disposal in the keys, as you might imagine, is complicated. Recycling is fairly big here and waste is now shipped up to the mainland instead of dumped onto one key or another. In any case, sunset can be a wonderful experience. Some advice for you newcomers – don’t go to the square until just before sunset (30-10 min before) because a) it is hot as satan’s pants until the sun actually dips in the sky and b) the performers drag out their shows as long as possible to get to the good stunts in order to draw big crowds and make more money, so the best part usually takes place near sunset.

To occupy yourself in the meantime you might consider grabbing a bite at one of the many restaurants off the square or off Duval Street (the main drag). As with any tourist center of town, you have your traps. For instance, right of the square, Red Fish Blue Fish looks appealing enough, but their food is underwhelming at best. There is also a Cuban restaurant off the square called El Meson de Pepe. While locals wouldn’t call this the best Cuban food in key west (more to come on that), I have always had a satisfactory experience here. It is roomy, comfortable, and the food does offer a good selection of Cuban favorites. Perhaps the coolest part, and fun for kids as well, is the memorabilia around the restaurant. They’ve set up a kind of “story” of Cuban history and culture for you to walk through which is very interesting. My go-to dish here is an appetizer of fried cheese. They also make excellent mojitos.

My favorite place to grab a bite with guests before sunset is Sloppy Joe’s. First because it covers two “must do” things in one night – SJ and Sunset – but also because I like the atmosphere, the entertainment, and the food. The drinks are okay, but somewhat pricey for what they are, so prepare yourself. However, the menu offers more than standard pub fare which is nice in this part of town. The other day Mr. Foodie ordered the pork tacos and they were wonderful. They are prepared in the Cuban fashion with onion and garlic – and the black bean sauce was incredible. It was also the perfect amount and went well with our Papa Dobles (a sweeter/tarter version of what Hemingway used to drink). Recently, Sloppy Joe’s added a Tap Room behind its main restaurant space. I haven’t tried it out yet, but it looks enticing (if they can keep the beer cold – an always tricky thing to do down here).

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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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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!)

Square Grouper – Review

The Square Grouper is the companion restaurant to The Joint which we visited on my birthday. My future in-laws and my parents were in town for the long weekend, so we have been eating out a lot. Fine with me, I have so many places in the lower keys I love and so many new ones to try now that I live here. The Square Grouper has been a family favorite for years. We stumbled in once in mid-August when most of the tourists were gone and the restaurant was still packed (mostly with locals).

The first thing you need to know is that a square grouper is a reference to the drug-smuggling history of the Keys. A massive amount of marijuana used to be smuggled by boat trough the keys and then shipped up to the mainland via trucks. If the coast guard was heading your way and you had bales of mary jane, you’d simply dump them overboard where they became known as “square groupers.”

Key Lime Pasta 

The second thing you need to know is that this amazing establishment is owned by a woman which pleases me immensely since so few restaurants are. She definitely knows what she is doing and her Yelp reviews reflect that.

One of the first things I tasted (and fell in love with) was their sweet potato fries. It is perhaps strange to start out a review of a fish place with a side dish, but that is how good these things are. These are by far the best I’ve ever had anywhere. If you are like me and prefer your sweet potatoes savory, then these are the fries for you. They are perfectly fried with a hint of seasoning that perfectly balances out the sweetness of the potato. I dreamt of these fries for years when I lived in D.C. and never found their equal.

Lamb Ribs w/ Crostini

The second dish I remember loving and mooning over afterwards is their key lime pasta. I did not get a bite of it this time because it is a dinner dish and we were there for lunch, but I wanted it so badly! Again, strange to review a pasta dish before their fish, but you won’t be sorry if you order this (and you can add fish of course). The pasta is perfectly cooked bow-tie with this light, creamy, with the perfect touch of lime that sends this dish over the top.

Fish tacos w/ sweet potato fries

On this trip I ordered the lamb with crostini (I swear I’m getting to the fish soon) because I can rarely pass up the chance to eat lamb since I have it so rarely. I was not disappointed! It was two cuts of ribs each packed with a rosemary spice mixture and falling off the bone delicious. I was delighted to walk past their on-premises herb garden where they grow many of their flavors (they also fish for their own catch!). The lamb dish was a small plate, but I found it a perfectly good amount (especially since I also had the sweet potato fries). The crostini had a good flavor combo (green olives and goat cheese), but could have benefited from some moisture.

Salad w/ Scallops

My mother ordered fish tacos and my future mother-in-law ordered a salad with scallops. I tasted both, of course, and they were declared wonderfully tasty by the whole table. The dads ordered fish sandwiches, one grouper and one the catch of the day which was mangrove snapper. My review of their fish dishes joins many others in saying that they know how to prepare fish. The scallops were cooked perfectly, the fried fish breading is light and crisp, the flavors are incomparable. Grouper, of course, makes frequent appearances, but they serve many types of fish and always have a catch of the day option.

To cap off our experience, we ordered a scoop of salted caramel ice cream which was topped with whipped cream and mint. It had a subtle salt/caramel flavor that was nice and light after the big meal. Check this place out the next time you’re near Cudjoe Key right off of US-1.

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.

Dooryard Garden

Our little Planter

This weekend we have our first guests in time for the 4th of July long weekend. While we intend to eat out quite a bit, we also plan to take advantage of our new home and grill to make some delicious dishes. For the past week, my fiance and I have been discovering our new home – the good, the bad, and the requires-more-than-a-little-elbow-grease. The garden in particular grows with a level of enthusiasm I’ve never seen. We have pulled, trimmed, sawed, and pruned more in the past few days than in my life entire. We also discovered a little planter that had previously an herb garden in it. I’ve since learned that it is not at all uncommon for Keys folks to have a “door yard” garden in which they grow herbs, fruit, and anything else that will thrive in this wet, hot environment. Our little planter already has a bit of rosemary and Greek oregano growing in it, but as you can see – it will require quite a bit of work to get it in shape again.

Even in its withered state, I let it dictate what we would make for the first night to utilize its current bounty. We trimmed some Rosemary to go with red potatoes and the Greek Oregano to dress a cucumber and tomato salad. All we did is quarter or halve the potatoes, roll them in olive oil, salt and pepper, and chopped Rosemary, then bake them at 400 degrees for 30 minutes (you may need longer depending on how many potatoes you are cooking). For the salad, we diced tomatoes on the vine, cucumbers, added herb feta, olive oil, and chopped Greek Oregano from the garden (a little goes a long way as with Rosemary).

To go with these delectable sides we made foil packets for tilapia filets to grill them easily. Whether I bake or grill tilapia (or any white fish) I make it the same way: drizzle a little olive oil, lay 1-2 onion rings and a slice of lemon, a few bits of chopped garlic, and a pat of butter on each filet or set of filets if you are using foil packets. Sometimes I add a bit of white wine in place of oil or butter – whatever you have on had from this set of flavors works nicely with this fish. Then grill or bake for 15-20 min depending on the thickness of the fish.

Of course in the hustle and bustle of playing host, I neglected to take any pictures of these dishes, so you’ll have to suffice with imaginary vision of them for now until I make them again some day. I’ve added some more suggestions and links to my favorite eateries under Restaurants should you be looking for a good place to try delicious food in the lower keys this weekend.

Bistro 31 on Big Pine Key – Review

Our first restaurant stop when we hit the Keys was at Bistro 31. We were exhausted from driving 18 hours with a crying kitty cat from Virginia, but even accounting for the fact that anything would have probably tasted great to us at that point, this place was a surprise delight.

It is harder than you might realize to spot a good place to eat along US-1 because there are more than a few “tourist” traps where the food is lackluster at best and the most interesting thing about the place might be its watered down drinks served in a pirate cup. I was armed, of course, with some insider knowledge, but we didn’t want to “waste” one of our great places on ourselves when we were feeling so tired and eager to get to the house.

So we stopped in this little joint filled with locals (always a good sign) and the dated decor so peculiar to the keys. You can read my review of the place here (yes, I’m a brand new Yelper). Standard fare in the keys is seafood, fry baskets, pasta, and key lime pie – you will find this menu almost everywhere. What set this place apart was the obvious house-made quality of our rather simple lunch picks – Taco Salad and Chicken Fingers. Everything was good from the breading on the chicken to the tortilla holding the salad. This place may have service problems (as other Yelpers note), but our waitress was wonderful.

If you’re heading down the lower keys and need a place to grab a bite, try Bistro 31.