Kickin’ It In Key West

[Warning: this is a long post full of borderline food porn deliciousness. I cannot be held responsible if it inspires you to spend all your money coming  to paradise just so you can stuff your face]

I’ve already written about how much I like when the Keys get their moment in the spotlight because I want everyone to love these islands as much as I do. Being a foodie, I am especially excited when other foodies take note of the offerings down here. To my delight, Paula Deen is just the tip of the iceburg! Bobby Flay has also filmed an episode in the keys, hitting Cheeca Lodge and Spa in Islamorada, The Fish House in Key Largo, and, my favorite, the Little Palm Island Resort brunch which I blogged about not too long ago. “Man v. Food” was also filmed here in 2011 and Vanilla Ice was featured (you know I saw him in “concert” in college? It was $1 to get in!).

But in 2014, Food Network star Guy Fieri’s show Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives showcased three Key West joints. Being a major fan of this show and this chef, I was more than a little excited to see if Guy’s recommendations held up. Below is our evaluation of each of the three places featured in the Kicking It in Key West episode.

Bad Boy Burrito

Mr. Foodie and I were in this part of town running errands, so we decided to pop in and see if the burritos at Bad Boy Burrito were as good as Guy thought when he was here. There is a tiny (two space) parking lot in front of the joint with some surrounding street parking. The burrito ordering window backs up against a bar which luckily allows you to use their tables inside and out to eat your burrito. The bar itself was dark, divey, and definitely had a keys vibe. IMG_20160819_114225.jpg

As a number of reviews note, the lady at the window was not particularly friendly, but she was efficient and fast, so we were satisfied. Our burritos came out fairly quickly and we chose to eat them from inside the bar since it was a hot day. 20160819_114731.jpg

As you can see from my rather blurry picture, the burrito was packed with the carnitas we had ordered as well as sliced radishes, rice, cheese, verde and black beans. There were a number of toppings you could have added, and Mr. Foodie went with sour cream, cheese, and peppers. The tortilla was grilled, but not homemade. The ingredients were full of flavor, but needed to be mixed inside the burrito more. I could see what some people were saying about the burrito not having a “wow” factor as they were expecting. Perhaps the hype is just too high. We found it overall satisfying and priced reasonably ($8), but not as good as the carnitas bowl at Amigos, for example.

Garbo’s Grill

Every so often Mr. Foodie and I like to pop down to Key West for a few hours and see the sights (otherwise known as “stuff our faces with food“). The last weekend in August was Museum Weekend during which you could get free or BOGO museum tickets (kids are almost always free on this weekend) which is a screaming deal considering that most Key West attractions are $15/adult, so Mr. Foodie and I decided to take advantage and go to Mel Fisher’s Treasure Museum because he had never been. Most people have never heard of Mel Fisher let alone the reason he might have a museum, but my family has known him/known about him for years. Mel is credited with discovering the Atocha shipwreck – a Spanish galleon ship laden with treasure that sunk on a reef in the early 1600s. It has a fascinating history, and the museum does an outstanding job telling both the history of its cultural past as well as its artifact present. It also does an excellent job of showcasing the discipline of underwater archaeology and Mel’s life. My mother tells me about how she used to see Mel walking the streets of Key West with a large gold chain dangling from his neck, mingling with the locals. He found the wreck on July 20, 1985. Years later in 1998, she was both saddened and lucky to catch a glimpse of the clipper ships heading out during sunset to scatter Mel’s ashes over the site after he had passed away. He is definitely a fixture in the local lore.

Before heading over to Mel Fisher’s Museum, however, we stopped to grab a bite at Garbo’s Grill to see, again, if Guy’s hype was worth it. It was. This little grill is housed in a silver retro-looking camper behind a bar named Grunts. In a pretty courtyard with Edison light bulbs strung overhead you can wait for your order while sipping a cola or head inside the bar to knock back a beer.

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Mr. Foodie ordered the Umami Burger which cost $10.50 and was worth every penny. The burger is 80/20 angus beef with bacon, tomato, and a chipotle gouda – a seemingly basic/classic combination, but man what a burger! It was juicy, rich, and bursting with flavor. If I was the type to say “mouth feel” I would say that my mouth felt good.

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I didn’t quite have meal envy, though, because I chose the Kogi Dog ($8.50) and almost wouldn’t let Mr. Foodie have a bite – it was that good. In the first place, it doesn’t even look like a hot dog when it comes.

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Can you see a dog in there?! The complete list of ingredients includes: National deli quarter pound dog, house made kimchi fried cheese, sesame mayo, napa cabbage, carrots, daikon scallions, citrus soy dressing and sriracha. That impressive line-up does things to your soul as you dive in to savor the juiciest hot dog you’ve ever tasted with bright pops of spice and cool slivers of slaw. Forget about being lady-like. You will go through 10 napkins before you’re through and still have sauce all over your face. And yet, it isn’t heavy with sauce or moisture, but balanced on a perfectly toasted bun wrapped in that kimchi fried cheese. Um, you had me at kimchi.

Let’s just say that it lives up to the hype and more. I will be dreaming about this dog for years to come. It was so good that even though it started raining on us, Mr. Foodie and I kept eating. It was only when lightning struck so close as to make our hair stand on end that we pulled up from the deliciousness and sought the shelter of the Museum.

DJ’s Clam Shack

We finally made it around to the third location included in Guy’s Triple D show about Key West – DJ’s Clam Shack. As the name suggests, it is a tiny shack-like structure sitting open to the street on Duval (the main drag) with street-side as well as backyard seating.

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The staff was clearly having a good time, and we found their energy was contagious! We chose street-side seating and ordered the Garlic Steamed Middle Neck Clams and Crab Cakes with a sangria and beer. Mr. Foodie never met a crab cake he wouldn’t at least try, being a lover of all things involving crab meat, so I wasn’t surprised when he ordered them. My crab preferences extend to the juicy leg and claw meat, but not often to crab cakes which I find to be either too full of breading or too fishy tasting. But man did these ones blow. me. away. Those delicate round patties were melt-in-your mouth good with a creamy, perfectly seasoned flavor. Despite being packed with meat and only lightly held together by breading, it did not taste fishy at all. The sweet thai chili sauce that came with them amplified their goodness, lending the creamy patty a sweet-hot pat on the back. They were hands down the best I’ve ever had, and even Mr. Foodie was impressed.

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We are both huge fans of mussels in broth, so we were eager to taste the clam version that DJ’s offered up. The broth was a garlic base with a stimulating jalapeno kick, but mellowed throughout with a sweeping hand of herbs and lemon. The clams themselves were perfectly cooked, flavored fully with the gorgeous broth, and accompanied by a crusty, also garlicky, bread to sop up the remaining broth. I scooped. I sopped. And then slurped straight from the bowl.

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While our whole meal was a little pricey for what is essentially street eats, we felt it was more than worth it – as was the Triple D hype. It’s right on Duval. You have no excuse to miss it and every reason to run there from your hotel or cruise ship.

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Selfie w/ Guy’s Autograph!

This concludes our evaluation of the three locations featured on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. Not a bad line-up! I have a few more FL Keys diners and dives that Guy could add to the list, but these three didn’t disappoint. If you did your own Triple D episode, what diners, drive-ins, or dives would you include?

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Mailbox Monday

One of the wonderful peculiarities of the Keys is the elaborate mailboxes that pop up around the neighborhoods. Understandably, most of them are sea-themed, but all of them encapsulate the creative, sun-loving, and laid back lifestyle that is so unique to these islands. The idea is to feature one weekly here, and I am already looking forward to next week’s because I find it delightful. Happy Fourth of July all!

Sea Horse

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.

It’s a Wonderful Life!

Our canal – isn’t she gorgeous?

As much as I day-dreamt about some day moving to the Florida Keys over the past decade, I never did believe it would happen. I wasn’t honestly sure that I wanted it to happen. It is one thing to vacation somewhere. It is another to live there. And yet for me, the Keys have always been more than a vacation destination. My brother was born here. My earliest memories of life were shaped by these blue-green waters, this heat, and this never-ending sky. I was only four when we moved away, but those memories are imprinted on me. I’m fairly certain I learned to swim before I could walk. Water is still my favorite place to be. And now we are here. At a new home in an old familiar place. I created this blog for a couple of reasons. One, I am far away from family and friends, so I wanted a venue to share our experiences and adventures with them. We have Facebook, of course, but I find blogging to be more substantial – like writing heartfelt letters to the world instead of short bursts of emotion or sentiment. Two, I am a PhD student at the end of the road who would like to have a fun reason to open her computer and a break from my normal research and writing routine. Three, I want to realize my dream to become a genuine foodie. My major form of recreation in the past seven years of grad school hell fun has been cooking, feeding people, trying new places and new foods…and now I have a garden! And the bounty of the sea! And all of these new/old places to eat and enjoy. I want to share this and how incredible life is in the Keys. So stay tuned for one delicious adventure.

My fiance and I cooling off in the pool after a long morning of landscaping work