Monday, 26 December 2011

Key West - Liquid Food

For you non alcoholic beverage drinkers out there, you may wish to skip this post. All the food discussed here is of the liquid variety.

This is the reason many tourist come to Key West. This is Duval street.

It is one mile long and stretches from the Gulf of Mexico (A couple of blocks behind where the picture was taken) to the Atlantic Ocean ( In the far distance).  It is said that there are more bars in Key West per-capita than any other place in the US. ( The same goes for churches. A lot of "Sunday morning after Saturday night" I guess.) Most of those bars are right up this street.  Duval street is one the main things that brought us here at first as well. We love live music, and every one of those bars has great live entertainment.

Most of the cruise ship tourists never get much beyond this crossroad of streets. That is Sloppy Joe's on the left there at the corner of Green street. The Lazy Gecko is right beyond it. On the right down Green is Cowboy Bill's and Captain Tony's next to it. On up Duval on the right is Ricks. Behind the photographer to the right is Hog's Breath Saloon. This is all you need if liquid food is what you are looking for.

You cannot beat Hog's Breath Saloon for it's drinks, it's food, or it's music. It is mostly just a big tent with trees growing through it's top. There is a smaller inside area for wimps who require air conditioning. They have their own beer which is pretty much my favorite on the island. We have spent many good hours here.

We always spend some time at Rick's. It has the best Margarita's on Duval street. It seems like a pretty small place, but it has an upstairs. Unfortunately we have never been upstairs because as you can see from the picture it is closed.

It is always that way. It is to keep tourists out. Up there is often full to the rafters with locals and really cute girls who the stair guards let through. Downstairs there is always an often raunchy guitar dude who spends as much time messing with the tourists as singing. On the pictured night they were having a pub crawl where rowdy crowds would come in and drink until someone would blow a conch shell and then they would head for the next bar. The goal was to have at least one drink in every bar on Duval street. Many didn't make it.

Captain Tony's Saloon is a Key West legend as was Captain Tony himself. He came to town from New Jersey in the 50's and had many famous adventures until he passed on a couple of years ago. Everyone has a Captain Tony story. This building with its huge tree growing through it's center (they say it once was the town's hanging tree) was the first Sloppy Joe's. In 1937 the original owner bought the slightly larger present Sloppy Joe's location. They say one day he came in the bar and made all the drunks (including that hack Hemingway) carry the bar and all the furniture the half block up Green street to the new location.

There are a lot of other cool bars on Duval like Irish Kevin's with it's continuous risque Irish music and The Bull and Whistle with it's rooftop nudist bar. Up the street a ways you will find Margaritaville, very famous, but not a place we  often go because the prices are high and the food and drink are nothing special. I'm going to mention that to Jimmy the next time I see him.

If any of you want to get the feel of the music and fun of Key West bars, several places have bar cams you can watch on the web. Three that we often watch on cold winter afternoons are Sloppy Joe's, Hog's Breath, and Schooner Wharf.

Bon  Ton  Roulett  Y'All
Gene and Nancy

“I want to go back down and lie beside the sea there. With a tin cup for a chalice Fill it up with good red wine,”   ---- JB

Key West - The Lazy Gecko

Greetings, y'all!  Sorry I've been slacking on the post a day, but between Christmas & computer issues, well... yeah.  I'll be on vacation myself this week, so I'm setting up a couple posts.  When I return, we'll finish out w/ the remaining ones.  Thanks again to Uncle Gene & Aunt Nancy for writing such great material!  Hopefully when I return I will also have some nice posts about East Coast seafood... : )  
Also, I hope you all had a very merry Christmas and will enjoy a blessed 2012!  Until next time... 

We were wandering around old town one day and decided to hit Amigos Tortilla Bar on Green street and try one of their shrimp breakfast fajitas. We were disappointed to find them closed, not permanently we hoped. We figured we would settle for some simple bar food, so we stopped into Cowboy Bill's about a half a block away. But Bill didn't serve food. The bartender told us to check out the Lazy Gecko just around the corner. The old dude sitting at his own well worn bar stool said as we walked out, “Be sure you and your gal friend come back and have a drink with us after you fill your stomach.” He thought he was Captain Tony, and he could have been but I know for sure that Captain Tony is gone.

We got some pretty normal food at the Lazy Gecko. Nancy got a tuna sandwich ( she never gets that at home when I'm around because I don't like the nasty dead rotten fish smell. How can anyone eat something that smells so bad?  But, we were pretty much in the open air at our sidewalk table so I tried to deal with it. I'm a nice guy like that) and I got a French dip with Swiss cheese.

Gee, we could of got that at home in the Midwest, but it was just the mood we were in. They were both quite good and the bill came to $33 with tip and drinks, a little high for lunch, but we sat there for awhile having several drinks being lazy like the sign said and watching people stroll by on Duval street.

Just the attitude to have on a hot Key West afternoon.

Bon Ton Roulett  Y'All
Gene and Nancy

“Got a schoolboy's heart, and a novelist's eye” – JB

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Key West - Island Grill

We found that visiting the Keys in September had some drawbacks. It is the slowest month of all in Key West. There are no big festivals or events like the rest of the year, hurricane season is going full blast, and the snowbirds are still up north. A number of businesses close up and the owners take vacations. (Why do you need a vacation from paradise?) We did not realize how much this might affect our eating plans.

After walking around old town for days we decided it was time for a road trip. We took the 50 mile drive  up beyond the 7 mile bridge to the nearest town of Marathon. We had planned to eat supper on the way back at Boondocks, where we knew the food was great. It was closed for remodeling. OK, we said, let's try the Square Grouper that everyone talked about on Summerland Key.  It was closed too with not even a sign to explain why. We ended up back in the Key West area for supper. It is not really unusual for eating joints to close down suddenly and reopen later as something else. Our favorite BBQ place in Key West, The Meteor Smoke house closed a couple of years ago. This last year Captain Mario's Seafood Buffet closed, the only place I could get enough crab cakes at one sitting. That is hard for old folks like us who don't like no stinking changes in life.

On our trip to Marathon we stopped on Big Pine Key for lunch. We couldn't believe the “for Sale” sign on the Island Grill.

We had eaten at the grill a number of times last year when we were staying on Big Pine. It is a nice bar/grill with really good bar food. We knew it was having some troubles from comments on the Coconut Telegraph web site. (Yes Big Pine Key has it's own crazy web page) But, we didn't expect it to go out of business altogether. We had what will probably be out last ever juicy Island Grill cheeseburgers.

The bill was $32 with tip, and worth every penny.

Bon Ton Roulett Y'All    
Gene and Nancy    

“I want a cheeseburger in paradise” --- JB

Friday, 16 December 2011

Key West - Sloppy Joe's

If you go to Key West you will find that everyone knows about Sloppy Joe's. You can't miss it at the corner of Green and Duval streets.

Everyone knows that the hack writer Ernest Hemingway got drunk there on a regular basis. They hold the annual Hemingway look alike contest there in July. (No, I've never won.) It is a tourist must stop. The building is kinda cool with it's wide open sides , tropical ceiling fans, and rustic wooden walls, a place right out of an old movie set. You would not be surprised to see Humphrey Bogart and Grace Kelly smoking and drinking in a secluded corner. (For you young folks who have no clue who those people are, ask your parents. Well, maybe your grandparents!)

It is definitely not a hang out for locals though. It is certainly aimed at the tourist trade. We tend to hang out there ourselves because of the music. There is someone playing on their stage everyday from noon on. We never eat there because we had a bad food experience there the very first time we came to this town. We just decided the place was a tourist trap restaurant.

A little side story about the picture. There is a guy sitting on the sidewalk playing with leaves. He is making hats out of palm leaves. It is a thriving business. You see tourists all over town wearing his creations. There are all kinds of rules in Key West about street vending. The guy has to have a permit to sell his hats. Before him, the first few times we came to town there was a guy in the same spot who would tell a dirty joke for a dollar. I hear he retired to his mansion in North Dakota.

We were in Sloppy Joe's one afternoon and didn't want to leave because the music was just so good. We  both had enjoyed several refreshing drinks and decided we needed a bite to eat. We ordered some cheesy bread appetizers and they were great. (Hey, they were cheese. You can't hardly mess that up!!)(Carrie says - heck yeah, cheese makes everything better!!)  

We went back another day for supper to give it a try. Nancy had chicken alfredo pizza and I had a crab cake sandwich and fries.

Both meals were excellent. I'd been hungry for crab cakes and those were nearly perfect. The bill came to $45 with tip and drinks. That is really pretty reasonable considering it included several cool beverages. We won't pass up Sloppy Joe's on our next Key West trip.

Bon  Ton Roulett Y'All
Gene and Nancy  
 “I ate the last mango in Paris”   ---JB

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Key West - Snacks

Carrie's note - sorry for the delay, folks!  Technical difficulties have been figured out, thankfully!  : ) 
Enjoy, and don't forget to enter the Giveaway!  : )  

I'm not going to lie to you, it's pretty hot in Key West even in September. It's still in the mid 80's to low 90's most days. We always try to stay inside somewhere in the middle of the day. But, this was a walking vacation, so we were caught out in the mid day swelter a few times. There is only one way to stave off the heat and that is eating key lime sherbet.

It is better than water to cool you down and refresh. There are two main places we got the heavenly stuff, the conch train depot at the corner of Duval and Front streets downtown and the Island Ice Cream Shop on the harbor walk.(They call it sorbet at the ice cream shop. I don't know the difference, they taste the same to me) They were about $8 for two at both places. We tried some ice cream at the Front street ice cream shop one day and it just wasn't the same.

Other than our sherbet fix we didn't snack all that much. Once in awhile we would get something like a crab dip at Schooner Wharf when we hung around late on the upper deck lazing around and listening to the music and enjoying a couple of brews. That cost us $22 with beer and tip. One kinda crazy late night we grabbed a couple of slices of too chocolatey chocolate cake at Harpoon Harry's and took them back to the room. Man we were sorry for that. A real intestinal battle was fought in both of us that night. (D'oh!) 

The last night in the Keys calls for our long standing tradition, Key lime pie while watching the sunset.

This night it was Schooner Wharf's upper deck . Two pieces of pie, a Landshark, and a Margarita (it is a requirement when you are in Margaritaville) cost us $30 with tip. (I was tipping big, it was the last night and Eric was a good friendly guy even though he said he never wanted to go back to Illinois. He had found his home here). Schooner Wharf's Key Lime pie is a little creamier than Turtle Kraals', but they are equally good.

Bon  Ton Roulett  Y'All    
Gene and Nancy

“Yeah, I wish I had a pencil-thin mustache,
then I could solve some mysteries too.” –- JB

Friday, 9 December 2011

Giveaway Break and a note from Carrie

Hi folks!  There are more Key West posts in the pike, but I'm having a little trouble w/ Uncle Gene's 2nd batch. Hopefully I'll have time to work on them Sunday & get some more posts out next week!  

Meanwhile, I would like to thank everyone for reading!  Thanks to Uncle Gene & Aunt Nancy for sharing their trip with us!  : )  

To show my appreciation, I've chosen to do a giveaway, if anyone's interested.  Whadda ya say?  : )  I say "Hooray!"  LOL  

How's it gonna work?  Well, I'll tell ya!  If you'd like to win one of Uncle Gene's beautiful prints of Key West, just leave a comment below.  I'll be taking entries on this post until the end of the Key West posts, at which time I'll pick a random number for a winner.  

What the winner shall receive - A copy of one of the photos listed in this post, framed and sent to your door.  Or someone else's door, if you'd like to gift it!  *laugh*  

Sound good?  I guess we'll see... ; )  

Until next time... here are the choices!  (Mostly sunsets - the fish & the crab are there in case you have eclectic taste like me!  *grin*) 

 the one above is the picture they gave me for my birthday.  it's now on the wall above my computer desk, so i can look at it all the time!  i loves it!  : ) 

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Key West - Hog Fish Grill

I hope nobody has a heart attack, but this post talks about the most expensive lunch of our trip. We always hit this place every time we are in the Keys. It is just across the Cow Key channel bridge on stock island, too far to walk, but only minutes from Key West by car. It is called The Hog Fish Grill.

I guess this sculpture is what a hog fish looks like. I've never seen one up close and personal. A lot of folks love the fish caught in the waters around here but I'm not a real big fan, I've tried the grouper and the dolphin. (Carrie's mouth is watering. She loves those flipper sandwiches.)(Carrie edit: Well, I like mahi mahi, but it's not Flipper! LOL)  I prefer shellfish myself. That brings up to my favorite combination, lobster and shrimp.

I believe I have talked about Hog Fish's lobster bisque before.

It is the creamiest and richest tasting I have ever had. It has big old chunks of lobster floating around like icebergs in the North Atlantic.

Nancy had a Caesar salad and I had a garden.

We had both with some fat Gulf Coast pink shrimp on top. We sat at a picnic table on the dock in the warm sun slowly eating this lunchtime feast and throwing the shrimp tails in the water for the fish to fight over. Some other folks saw us doing that and started throwing bread in, The fish weren't interested in that. They were shell fish connoisseurs as well. The total cost was $55 with drinks and tip. This is a real local hangout but I don't have a clue how locals can afford to eat lunch there.

Next door is one of the local seafood retail/wholesale places. You can see the shrimp boat parked out front.

That is why the shrimp is fresh every day. You can have them ship you 5 pounds of shrimp on dry ice overnight to the Midwest for $75. We know, we checked. You can have fresh gulf pinks for your next cook out.

Bon  Ton  Roulett Y'All
Gene and Nancy

“Put it on the coconut telegraph
In twenty-five words or less” --- JB

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Key West - Turtle Kraals

OK, now you are all sure the old guy is losing it. Not only did the last post ramble on with little talk of food, but this time he is going to do a repeat of a post that he did last year. I bet he even gushes on about the brisket again, and what's with all these turtle pictures? He will probably tell more sick jokes about how they use to butcher poor little turtles here. Gee, guys give me a break, the turtles are pretty cute and the brisket is still quite good. You watch TV, just think of this as a rerun.

Yes folks, it's Turtle Kraals. (Check out last years post in case you don't remember what that means.)

We always hang out at the harbor a lot when we visit Key West. There are many restaurants around the harbor, and I must admit we have not eaten at most of them. Key West food can be pretty pricy, but the places near the water seem to be the most expensive. Most any evening you could find us sitting on the upper deck at either Schooner Wharf or Turtle Kraals. On the hottest day there is always a cool breeze blowing in from the gulf and there is much activity on the docks below to give you opportunity for people watching. Many beers and desserts were enjoyed there. There is always good music drifting in the air from the many live music venues nearby. This is what paradise is really like.

Well, we did eat the brisket with Southwestern yellow rice, vegetable medley, salad or slaw, and cornbread with jalapenos. (My beef got cold from me taking the time to pick all the peppers out of my cornbread. That is my only complaint.)

Good stuff and it only cost us  $45 with drinks and tip.

Another trip scored us some of their perfect Key lime pie.

Two pies, two beers, two ice teas cost $25 with tip. Sometimes I tip too much, but our waiter Eric was a good kid and came here from the Midwest and stayed. It is hard living in this town. Most young folks work 2 or 3 jobs just to pay the rent. But, like Eric, they all seem happy and glad they escaped  to the Keys.

The last image is of a place we did not eat at. The place is right next to Turtle Kraals. I don't care how much skin the happy lady on the sign shows, she ain't gonna convince me to eat fish bait.

Bon  Ton  Roulett  Y'all  

Gene and Nancy

“I will play for gumbo.” – JB

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Key West - Old Town Bakery (and a history of the Keys)

I'm going to take a little intermission from food. (He can't do that. This is a food blog. Who does he think he is?) (A note from Carrie - I LOL'd when I read that line!)  

Folks are always asking why we keep going back to the Keys. I gotta admit, It's not just the food. We have traveled a lot over the years and have visited lots of cool places. But, there is a unique cultural vibe that magnetically keeps drawing us back to the Keys. The sea breeze, awesome sunsets, and cold beer helps some as well.

Key West is not the last island in the Keys. There are lots more continuing out for another 60 or so miles South and West. But, Key West is the the last one you can get to on a bridge. The island is 4 miles long and 2 miles wide at it's widest.

For such a little place it has a big history.  It was home to Seminole Indians before the Spanish came. The American navy set up a base on the island to drive the pirates out. It was a union stronghold during the Civil War. (Florida was a confederate state, but Key West has always been different from the rest of the South.) Folks got rich down there as wreckers who made piles of money recovering the cargoes from the many ships that sank on the numerous reefs that surround the island. Cuban cigars were manufactured here from Cuban tobacco. (There seems to be money in smoking. Who knew?)

The seas around the Keys were full of tasty swimming things. That brought the shrimpers, spongers, and turtlers. (My spell check tells me that isn't a word. What do you call those turtle catching guys?) That is all gone except the shrimp. The navy had a sub base there for years. It was at one time the largest and richest city in Florida. That changed when the 1936 hurricane destroyed Flagler's railroad that had brought the first tourist trade to the island.

Key West had lots of ups and downs in the twentieth century, but it became a refuge for misplaced souls from all over the world. Artists, writers, refugees, musicians, gays, Cubans, sailors, drunken poets, smugglers, and anyone else who needed to be part of a weirdness of culture found nowhere else. They say most folks who moved there from somewhere else didn't move there, they escaped to there. It became a place where no one was judged. It is not obvious from a brief tourist stay, but that culture still exists if you look hard enough. Jimmy Buffett, the new highway in 1982, and cruse ships made it into a tourist haven. But old Key West is still there if you just look.

Old town Key West looks old. All of it isn't. Hurricanes and terrible fires over the years have eaten away at vintage Key West. But, when they build new they make it look old. You never know until you turn on the air conditioner and see how much it rattles and check the termite damage on the siding. It is fun just walking around the streets looking at old architecture and cool tropical plants. We ain't got that kind of stuff in the Midwest. We always log at least 2 or 3 miles a day just exploring.

I don't know how old the Old Town Bakery building is. I do know that it wasn't always a bakery. It has been a couple of different cafes and I think a gift shop once or twice just since we started visiting the island. Now it is a really homey bakery that has great baked goods and sandwiches. The day the rains came and streets flooded  and trapped us in our room for half the day I made an escape down the back alley and waded the half block to the bakery. We knew before we booked our rooms in old town that there were lots of nice places to eat, but the bakery was a pleasant surprise.

We had enjoyed breakfast and sweet pastries, but this time we were looking for lunch. Nancy had a Blue LT (Bacon, lettuce, tomato, and blue cheese dressing. She knew what she wanted because she had picked up a menu on another visit); I had turkey and cheese.

With drinks, chips, cookies, and tip the bill came to $21. That was the most we had ever payed at the bakery, but we didn't mind, the storm floods had us trapped and we were hungry. The geckos on our balcony were starting to look possibly tasty.

Bon Ton Roulett  Y'All
Gene and Nancy

“If we couldn't laugh we would all go insane” –- JB

Monday, 5 December 2011

Key West - Geiger Key

There is a rustic rough hewn tiki bar in a little marina surrounded by mangrove islands where mostly locals hang out, drink beer, and talk about diving and fishing. It's called the Geiger Key Smoke House. They have barbeques every weekend with lots of beef and country or blues bands. They have great seafood as well. We got in the car and made the 10 mile drive up the Keys to get our favorite lobster BLT. Bad news. Not on the menu anymore. Oh well you shouldn't eat the same thing all the time. Time to try something new.

Nancy tried their shrimp scampi and I got shrimp tacos.

They were both really great. The grilled shrimp were much kinder to the stomach than the fried lobster we usually got. Seafood tacos always seemed kinda strange to me but these gave a new flavor to south of the border menu regulars. You won't find this at Taco Bell. Nancy had a more healthy meal than I did. She had some tasty yellow rice, steamed veggies, and creamy coleslaw. The bill, including some beers and tip, came to $39.

We ate slow and enjoyed the cool breeze while watching schools of fish playing their fishy games in the water nearby. We enjoyed listening to the boat dudes telling their fish stories. A couple scruffty sea hounds talked two young bar girls into taking a “ride in their boat”.  Not the normal tourist stuff. We felt like locals ourselves as we watched the sun set over Geiger Key.

Bon  Ton  Roulett Y'All
Gene and Nancy

“When you see the Southern Cross for the first time,
You understand now why you came this way.” --- JB

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Key West - Jack Flats

They allow smoking in restaurants in the Keys (and dogs as well, which I don't get, will horses be next?). It is not a big problem for us nonsmokers because most places are mostly outdoors and only macho cigar smokers showing off for their girlfriends blowing out foul smelling clouds of smoke cause any real irritation.

(They will be not so cool later on barfing in an ally from that strong Cuban tobacco.)

It is really nice to see no smoking signs in an indoor bar and grill. The place is called Jack Flats and it is always full of happy folks.

Jack Flats is another place that the locals think is their own secret, but anymore there are as many tourist as Conchs in the place at lunchtime. I learned about it from Conchscooter's Key West Diary blog. He praises the lunch sandwiches there. I ordered the bacon and shrimp club.

Nancy wanted something that didn't swim for a living. She wanted some cow. She ordered hamburger sliders.

We were supposed to share, but she only allowed me one. They were quite good, but you can't beat bacon and shrimp. It wasn't a super cheap lunch. It came to $30 with the tip. Again the locals were right. That old web surfing came through once more.

Bon  Ton Roulett  Y'All    
Gene and Nancy

“Mother, mother ocean, I have heard you call,
Wanted to sail upon your waters since I was three feet tall.” ---- JB

Saturday, 3 December 2011


I think maybe sometimes waitresses spit in my food.

Mangia Mangia is a cafe recommended to us by Ray the desk clerk at our motel/hotel.

I noticed as soon as we walked in the overpowering odor of garlic in the air. It was even worse than Olive Garden where they put the strong smelling root in everything they serve. (Try their garlic ice cream sometime!) I asked the waitress if they put garlic in their Alfredo sauce. She gave me that “poor senile old fellow” look and said, “We are an Italian restaurant.” I gave her my “Italian food isn't suppose to be all nothing but garlic” lecture. Alfredo was intended to be an escape from strong herbs. (After all I am an expert. I've been to Italy you know) The young lady didn't smile as she took our orders and walked away.

Well the food was really good, spit and all. Nancy had rigatoni with shrimp and marinara sauce.

I daringly had lobster linguini in pink sauce (four different kinds of cheese. I'll eat most anything if you put enough cheese on it). I couldn't even taste much garlic, cheese covers up all evil tastes.

I really can't eat the stuff because it battles in my stomach like other spicy things. The bill was a whopping $60 with tip. I guess extra cheese and spit adds to the cost. I felt kinda guilty. I may have tipped a bit too much. Will I ever learn?

Bon Ton Roulett  Y'All  
Gene and Nancy

“Half baked cookies in the oven
Half baked people on the bus
There's a little bit of fruitcake left in everyone of us” – JB

Friday, 2 December 2011

Key West - Harpoon Harry's

We ate at several restaurants more than others. Across the street from BO's on Caroline  street was a local hangout called Harpoon Harry's. Inside looked like any other small town cafe except  the strange and wonderful art and collectables all over the place. It was often full of people with many obviously regulars and tourist as well.

Sunday night was the spaghetti and meatball dinner with Cuban bread instead of garlic bread. It tasted like the stuff mom used to make. Well, not my mom, but probably someone's Italian mom. It was $32 with tip. One day at lunch Nancy got the Cuban mix sandwich she had been longing for. She likes those  spicy things loaded with strange herbs flavor. Even if I liked it, my digestive system would declare war if I shoved that stuff down. I had another breakfast. The cost was $35 with tip.

It is a fun friendly place to eat. We missed getting pictures of some of our food because the waitresses were so friendly and talkative  and even seemed to start recognizing us after about the third time in. The decor was weird though. The hanging Barbies (They had a bit a Barbie fetish we were afraid to ask about) were the first thing you saw as you walked in the door.

Bon  Ton  Roulett  Y'All  
Gene and Nancy

“Can't you feel 'em circlin' honey?
Can't you feel 'em swimmin' around?” --- JB