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Southeast Florida and the Keys


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Would you believe I have relatives in Key West? Yes, people actually live there, and yes they tend to be very interesting people. My uncle is a producer at the local TV station and my grandmother is an art professor at the Florida Keys Community College (she is an abstract sculptor). It has been too many years since we've been down there, so none of my restaurant recommendations would be current. I don't want to be too pessimistic, but if the restaurant situation now is similar to what it was a few years back you shouldn't expect any grand meals. You'll mostly find the types of places that think it's a big deal that their food is "cooked to order" and that they offer "beef, chicken, and seafood." I got the impression that most of the local restaurants are bar/hangout type places that happen to serve some food. Seafood is, for obvious reasons, the way to go, but you want to make sure you're actually getting local stuff. You'll also find some nice hotel breakfasts. I'm not in frequent contact with the Key West branch of the family, but if I can get some recommendations for you I will.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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  • 2 weeks later...

Lreda:  I haven't been in several years but the best restaurants in Key West are Louie's Backyard and Bagatelle.  Both have very good food for a vacation place like Key West.

However, the can't miss place is Pepe's.  Go for breakfast, it is very good.  I always ate a late breakfast there and then migrated to the outdoor bar where they squeeze the juice fresh to order (grapefruit and orange).  Ask the guy to fill a glass with ice, three fingers of vodka, and then place under the grapefruit press.  You might end up staying at Pepe's all day. It used to be much less touristy, but then again so did Key West.  Have a great trip.

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It's close to two years since I've been in Key West and this message may be too late to help you, but the best conch fritters we had in the Keys, were on the pier in Key West. Hot, crisp, not greasy and a good amount of conch in the batter. I think they won on all counts. Cold beer and the sunset didn't hurt either.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Nice article and map about Key West in current Conde Nast Traveler. Walking (staggering, actually) tour of historic sites and bars, with stops at various restaurants and bars,  which could theoretically be done in a day.

Apparently it's easier still to dictate the conversation and in effect, kill the conversation.

rancho gordo

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  • 7 months later...

During our recent week in South Florida, we had a few notable meals. Right in Deerfield Beach (where my father lives) we found a very good sushi place called Masamune, at 310 S. Federal Highway, Deerfield Beach. We shared a "Chef's selection," for two, which included 2 miso soups, 2 salads, 16 pieces of nigiri sushi, a rainbow roll and 2 eel hand rolls for $33. The fish was beautifully fresh and varied, but since I didn't take notes, I cannot list the specific types.

I don't know anything about sake, but the sake list was extensive and the restaurant offers sake-fish pairings that we may try another time.

On our way to Key West, where we spent two days in the middle of our visit, we stopped at the Islamorada Fish Market for excellent grilled mahi-mahi sandwiches that were served with a small mound of spiced french fries. Good!

In Key West, we stayed at Heron House, more like a small hotel than a B & B, on Simonton Street, in the heart of the historic district, but away from the tacky madness of Duval Street. We booked a couple of days in advance through Expedia for slightly less than the rack rate. If we had known how lovely this hotel is we probably would have stayed for two nights rather than one.

The high point of our Key West trip-let was a visit to the Little White House, where President Truman used to take long working vacations. I'm old enough to remember Truman, so this was a lot of fun for me. The Little White House is on the grounds of the former naval station (now condos.)

We had dinner at Blue Heaven, a rather self-conscious "Bahamian" place.

You sit in the courtyard under an almond tree with canvas above and standing fans to push the humid air around a little. Somehow, even for an air-conditioning lover like me, it's ok in Key West.

We had rum punches (not as good as in Trinidad or Tobago or Dominica.)

Alan had Caribbean barbecued shrimpt with jerk seasoning that he wasn't sure about at first, but came to like better with each taste. I had Florida lobster tail with an expertly made citrus beurre blanc. Both plates were

loaded with sides -- corn off the cob, fresh string beans, a rather solid, heavy and unsweet cornbread that Alan liked better than I did. His plate also had black beans and plaintains.

The Florida lobster tail (spiny lobster) was coarser and less sweet than the best Maine lobster, but the beurre blanc added some refinement to the dish.

Alan drank Kalik, "beer of the Bahamas," a pilsener that comes with a slice of lime, which he eschewed. He says it was perfect with seafood.

Of course, no visit to my father is complete without a stop at Tom's Ribs, on Federal Highway in Boca Raton. We tend to have the baby back ribs. The ribs are smoky, the sauce is tomatoey and mildly sweet. Sides like collards, coleslaw and black peas are fine examples of their kind. We love this place.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Living in Boca Raton for like 10 years I can say that I don't like Tom's. People think I am nuts but there are other places that I like a lot better. My favorite is called Scruby's and they have locations in Davie and Hollywood, FL.

Babybacks, cole slaw, sweet potato, garlic bread.. sweet tea.. yum yum yum

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  • 3 weeks later...

Scruby's is great. I've been searching out bar-b-q joints in S. Florida for 25 years and Scrubby's is at the top of the list. The Georgia Pig in Davie is also excellent. Shory's is over-rated but the cole slaw is the best. The Pit out on the Tamiami Trail is good but not as good as it was before civilization spread west to almost engulf it. It used to be literally in the Everglades.

As for Spiney lobster tails there are a few things to keep in mind. Most are frozen and are tough and not too sweet. Even fresh ones are tough if over cooked. However, good fresh grilled "bugs" when not over cooked are as sweet and suculent as any Maine lobster tail I have ever eaten.

KR

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  • 1 month later...

Scruby's is definitely one of the top BBQ places in South Florida. You should also try:

Jack's BBQ - Fort Lauderdale

Tom Jenkins - Fort Lauderdale

They both have big follwings with Tom Jenkins being more established. I believe that Jack is a relative (and former employee) of the owner of Tom Jenkins. He went out on his own earlier this year.

South Florida

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  • 2 weeks later...

When I used to work on Las Olas, sometimes we would go over to Tom Jenkins. They have some odd hours there and the place is tiny. It's good for lunch. There is also a place on 84 that I forget the name but we used to go there sometimes and it's good. It's one of those places that have been there for years and years.

Scruby's - still my favorite.

We have a place that just opened here in NJ now called Famous Daves and I think they are from the mid-west and they are pretty good. I don't get the baby backs however.

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I was curious about dinners at Blue Heaven and enjoyed your report. I've had breakfast there on a number of occasions and it's outstanding. The fact that they charge extra for real maple syrup is understandable but a bit annoying (regular "table" style maple-flavored syrup is already on all the tables). Their breakfast is outstanding. Very good cafe con leche and the pancakes made from scratch are incredible - I'd always thought that the quality of pancakes couldn't vary much from one place to another but they disporve that theory. We also had shrimp with vermont white cheddar in white grits. Sound weord btu it was possibly the tastiest breakfast dish I have ever tried. If you get back down to KW be sure to try dinner at Siboney's - very authentic family operated Cuban place. Reasonable prices and good food. My GF of that time was (is) Cuban and she was very pleased with the food, as was I.

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Anyone that visits Key West and likes a good, funky bar can't miss Captain Tony's. Sloppy Joe's on the corner claims to be Hemingway's old hangout, but Capt. Tony's is the physical, historical location. Don't know if Tony's still alive. Legend in his own time.

Also, as said above, when in KW get into the Cuban food, if nothing more than a Cuban sandwich. I've tried to get the recipe for the way they do pork for twenty years without success. It's a closely guarded secret.

On the way back up, or down, the keys check out Monty's Seafood for dinner. It's somewhere around Big Pine on the right headed toward KW.

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  • 6 months later...

We are in the very early stages of planning our first trip to the Florida Keys. We'll mostly be in Key West, but we'll be driving the whole length and probably stopping in a couple of other spots.

Where should we eat? We're interested in the full range, from cheap local specialties at roadside shacks to top-end fine dining.

Fire away...

Chief Scientist / Amateur Cook

MadVal, Seattle, WA

Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code

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As you're driving down the Keys (toward KW) there's a seafood place on the right somewhere around Big Pine that has some of the best southern fish I've had. I think it may be past Big Pine on the way to KW and has no huge sign and is a low-roofed unassuming place. Mostly a local place that also sells fresh fish. I've been trying to think of the name since you first posted, but it hasn't come to me. And then it's been 6-8 years since I've been there so it might have changed - but I doubt it. It's one of those places that's been around forever and nearly everytime I went to visit my father (Saddlebunch Keys) we'd go to eat there.

If you want fresh seafood and have a place to cook it, check out E. Fish (wholesale and retail.) Left side of the road about 15 minutes above the Saddlebunch (Sugarloaf) keys. Sorry to be so vague about this - it's one of those things that if I were there I could drive there with no problem.

Also, once you get to Key West, take a trip to Stock Island and stop by the Rusty Anchor. It's a local place down by the shrimp docks. I used to stop in to have a few beers there and talk with local fishermen, but never ate there though though I think it might be pretty good. Last fall when I did my Gulf shrimp thread here I ended up getting some of them shipped from Patty at the Rusty Anchor - Key West pinks. By all means try the pinks while you're in KW. They easily beat the flavor of Gulf whites in our taste test here in Maine. Also try to find a place where you can get a good "Cuban sandwich." They're generally little places located in strip malls and on back streets. I've tried for years to get the recipe as to how they do the roast pork - it's delicious.

You're headed to a good place. My father lived down there from '74-'98 and I always liked going down there. If you're driving from the mainland, watch out for "suicide alley." It's a stretch of two lane road with an occassional third lane for passing, and impatient people do foolish things thinking they'll get somewhere a little faster.

And thanks for your recommendation on crabcakes when I was down near Baltimore last month. It was too bad I didn't get in town to try them.

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I haven't been down toward the Keys in a while, but here are some of my favorites. I love Marker 88, a seafood restaurant on the Florida Bay side of US 1 at mile marker 88 (MM 0 is in Key West.) They make this Snapper Rangoon, covered with a sweet fruit topping, that's fabulous.

The Islamorada Fish Company has a branch up here in Dania, but their original location is at MM 81.5. They're generally reliable for fish. The Green Turtle Inn, at the same MM, is an old reliable, too.

Of course, check out Louie's Backyard in Key West, particularly at sunset.

Neil

Author of the Mahu series of mystery novels set in Hawaii.

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Remembered the name of the seafood restaurant I mentioned up above - it's Monte's. While I didn't expect them to have a website (not that kind of place), I did a Google and did find how to find them - MM (mile marker)24.5 - though I'm not sure there are any markers between each mile. The site I found the info at is here. Check it out as there are lots of places listed going down the keys.

I'm pretty sure it was The Island Tiki Bar & Restaurant on Marathon that's listed where I stopped for lunch the last time I was down that way. Small, kind of funky looking place on the right, part way through town. Sit by the water, great service, and decent food.

Now that I'm thinkin' about all this I want to head back down that way and dig the whole Key scene again. :biggrin:

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If you have a designated driver a must do is the rum runner at the Tiki bar in Islamorada. I know, I know touristy sophmoric but, man it's a ritual for many. Manny & Isa's in Islamorada has good cuban food, I especially like the minty house dressing good roast pork, and a true key lime pie with limes grown in their own garden. I'm more familiar with the upper keys. Drop a line if you have more questions.

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I haven’t traveled US 1 from Miami to Key West in over ten years, so I’m not sure what is there anymore, but I am in Key West regularly and once you hit town I would park my car and walk everywhere or better yet, rent bicycles to get around. Seven Fish on Olivia Street is one of my favorite spots lately. It’s a small place and the menu is whatever fish is fresh, prepared simply but done very well. I think you will probably need a reservation. Every time we go to Key West, we pick up Cuban and pork sandwiches to eat on the beach or at our hotel pool from El Siboney at least once or twice during our stay. I remember having paella there for dinner about ten years ago that I really enjoyed because of all the fresh seafood in it. There is a deck in the back of Louie’s Backyard that I think is a must for lunch. I like the food better at lunch over dinner (maybe it’s a better menu at lunch) and you won’t find a nicer setting anywhere on the island. Camille’s on Simonton Street has a good breakfast and if you want something lighter there is a place on the east end of Duval Street that has beignets and coffee. I can’t think of the name, but it will be easy to find – I have friends who have breakfast there every morning when they are in town. When we have our kids with us Mangia, Mangia is good place for pasta. I think it’s the best Italian on the island and very reasonably priced. The Half Shell Raw Bar is a lot of fun and an old standby. It’s on the dock and covered but open to the water. You sit at picnic tables and eat buffalo shrimp, poor boys, raw oysters, etc. and drink lots of beer. My friends who go to Key West two or three times a year, say a place opened up down the street on the dock and it does the same thing – only better, I think its name is Alonzo’s. Café Marquesa on Fleming Street (part of the Marquesa Hotel www.marquesa.com , my favorite place to stay if you don’t have a place yet) is where I’d go if you want an upscale meal. It’s a small place originally opened in the late 80s by Norman Van Aken as Mira – he did one seating a night, with a tasting menu. I ate there twice and it was phenomenal. It’s nowhere near as extravagant now and Van Aken is long gone, but it still tries to remember its roots and the food is very good. Key West is the most casual, relaxing place I have ever been to – you can wear shorts in the nicest restaurant in town no problem. I hope you have a great time.

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Here are a few of my favorites....

The Islamorada Fish Company MM81.5 bayside - Great casual outdoor dining on the bay.

Herbie's in Marathon MM50.5 - Used to be my favorite for blackened fish, still ok but cook thats been there for a long time left a few years ago and IMHO it isnt the same.

You wont be there for stone crab season, but still worth checking out is the keys fisheries market and marina in marathon, bayside 35th street. Again outdoor dining on picnic tables. Order from a window and pick-up from a window. Real keys informal. This place supples joes in miami with their stone crabs, and during the crab season is the best place to get them.

And although there is are many conflicting reviews, the best, most romantic, most incredibly keys dining is at louies backyard. Must specify outdoor dining when making the reservation. Sipping champagne, while watching the sunset, ahhhhhh.

What ive found is the simplier the better in the keys. Youll find shacks offering you veal oscar for 26.95 or 23.95 for fresh fish dishs and the food is barely edible and service is laughable. Thats why I look for well frequented local places and order simply prepared dishs. Louies is always our 1 big splurge in Key West.

Have fun.

"Who made you the reigning deity on what is an interesting thread and what is not? " - TheBoatMan

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I ate at a pretty good French restuarant in Key West, Cafes des Artistes. It is not all that creative, but it is solid, and very different from native Conch seafood style cuisine, which I love but tends to be repetitive after a while. I also recommend Marker 88 in Plantation for food that runs the gamut from Continental to Keys seafood. Rusty Anchor on Stock Island does have good Keys style seafood and usually a Cuban dish or two. In Marathon, I would recommend the Barracuda Grill for good New American that takes advantage of local seafood. Lazy Days in Islamorada has some of the best cracked conch and crispy fried fish around. It has a nice view of the ocean and is also a great place to bring your own fish if you intend on going fishing. Some off the beaten path places are Castaways in Marathon which looks like a real dive, but has great all you can eat beer steamed shrimp and fish dishes in rustic surroundings. The Lorelei cabana bar in Islamorada is great for light fare and drinks at sunset.

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