Several people have asked my husband and me how we spent our inaugural stay in Florida's southernmost city.
My reply: "We ate very well."
Others drank their calories in this anything-goes, bar-hopping haven. We paired our cocktails with flavorful food that left us wishing we could biggie-size our stomachs to fit more in.
Here's how we ate our way through a weekend in Key West, where we saw lots of chickens, but didn't consume a single one. (Though my husband had fleeting homicidal thoughts for the rooster that crowed outside our room in the wee hours.)
The danish pastries on the Key West Express ferry out of Fort Myers Beach didn't appeal to our palates, so we were famished by the time we disembarked.
B.O.'s Fish Wagon (801 Caroline St.) took care of that. The pigeons fluttering around this open-air shack watched jealously as we devoured hand-pulled fries (delicious) and lightly fried grouper sandwiches (good enough). A couple of Coronas kept us company until our order arrived.
That late lunch (and a $5 chocolate chip cookie the size of a salad plate) left us seeking lighter fare for dinner. We ventured into a somewhat rundown part of town known as Bahama Village. Within stumbling distance of Duval Street, the historic neighborhood served up the best eating we did all weekend.
Our first of three meals there commenced at Santiago's Bodega (207 Petronia St.), a tapas-style restaurant with a casual-chic vibe. The sangria tasted a bit too similar to grape juice, but we forgave its faults after sinking our teeth into roasted red pepper hummus and black olive tapenade on pita bread. Tasty shrimp and chorizo skewers and a tartlet filled with creamy goat cheese made us believe we liked that sangria after all.
Breakfast at Blue Heaven (729 Thomas St.), another Bahama Village joint, came highly recommended. To lots of people, apparently. No problem. We filled our hourlong wait with a walk to the Southernmost Point marker for a cheesy photo op.
Back at the outdoor restaurant after the unexpected exercise, I felt less guilty diving into an eggs Benedict variation featuring bacon and grilled tomato. The lobster version sounded too rich for my blood that early in the day. An icy mimosa, however, was not.
We indulged in dessert for lunch, just because we could. Eating a piece of key lime pie dipped in chocolate and served on a stick felt quintessentially Key West. So did watching drag queens race each other down Duval Street after we ate.
Following the sunset festivities at Mallory Square, we dined at the Conch Republic Seafood Company (631 Greene St.).
Our worries that the sprawling seaside establishment might be an overpriced tourist trap with average food quickly faded. Four jumbo shrimp stuffed with lump crabmeat and wrapped in bacon tasted just right topped with mango salsa and a sweet chili glaze. The accompanying yellow island rice and crisp vegetables earned their places on this pretty plate.
Walking back to our inn, we passed Better Than Sex (411 Petronia St.), a dessert restaurant with some seriously suggestive menu descriptions. Tempting, but we were still stuffed like the shrimp we had for dinner.
For breakfast, we headed back to Bahama Village with the charming La Creperie (300 Petronia St.) in our sights.
Picking a favorite meal of the weekend is tough, but this may have been it. Credit the friendly staff, cozy porch seating and frothy cafe au lait for starting the meal on a high note. We opted for savory crepes over sweet, bypassing Nutella and fruit for dreamy blends of prosciutto, Swiss cheese, tomato and eggs (his) and goat cheese, mushrooms, spinach and tomato (hers).
"Bon appetit," our server wished us. A good meal, indeed.
For our final stop on this ad hoc culinary tour, we made like Hemingway and headed to a bar. Back at the Conch Republic Seafood Company, conveniently located near our ferry's dock, we caught a few innings of the Rays game over smoked fish dip and a meaty Cuban sandwich.
A final mojito, and we had to go. We returned to the boat with just one regret: We didn't leave time, or room in our bellies, for one more chocolate-covered key lime pie on a stick.
Colleen Jenkins can be reached at [email protected]