Special Feature: Products Sally Recommends
Key West, Florida
If you enjoy a festive atmosphere, Key West is a winter destination worth investigating. Where else do people make a daily celebration of the sun going down? A nightly ritual in Key West, thousands of revelers congregate at Mallory Square Pier to watch the sunset every evening. When the pier’s activities and performers wind down, Duval Street, the main commercial street on the island, fills up with partygoers and remains in full swing until the wee hours of the morning. Leave your jewels and dressy clothes at home -- this island is as casual and laid back as it gets.
Alice’s Key West
1114 Duval Street
A Key West institution. At this fun and noisy hot spot, you’re likely to see Chef Alice while dining, as she regularly ventures from the kitchen in her colorful and oversized chef’s hat to make the rounds and visit with her loyal patrons. The appealing menu runs the gamut from meat loaf to daily fish specials. If you’re lucky, she’ll feature the flash fried spicy tuna roll with sriracha sauce the night you’re there.
615 Duval Street
If you’re searching for a fine Italian restaurant, this is the real deal. All of the pastas and breads are homemade and the veal is a standout. The New York Times has proclaimed their Key Lime Pie to be the best in Key West, which is quite a statement considering that it’s the island’s signature dessert. Great service, too.
729 Thomas Street
This may not be the most appetizing of spots for some, with roosters and cats roaming, sleeping and sunning all day long. The Floridian pink and blue trimmed house is funky all right, but it serves terrific and eclectic food. Try the shrimp and grits for breakfast, or scrumptious pancakes and eggs benedict in unusual varieties. It’s hard to park on this residential street, so plan on hopping in a taxi or walking.
1029 Southard Street
Away from the din of Duval Street, this cozy spot serving Provencal-inspired cuisine is consistently a Zagat guide favorite. Though the entire restaurant is charming, the outdoor garden, protected by a glass roof and warmed by heat lamps, is the choice of most diners. Try the island specialty, conch chowder, resplendent with grilled corn, caramelized onions and cream. This is definitely in the upper echelon of Key West dining experiences.
1202 Simonton Street
This local diner is a great place for breakfast, with or without kids in tow. It has to be the only place where you can get rum sauce on pancakes or crab cakes, and Godiva chocolate sauce on French toast.
Half Shell Raw Bar
Land’s End Village at Margaret Street
This waterside venue takes its casual atmosphere very seriously. Thousands of license plates from around the country cover the walls, all windows open to the water and there’s no air-conditioning. But if you don’t mind sitting at picnic tables, using plastic plates and forks, and reading blackboard menus, you’ll be treated to the freshest seafood available.
Hot Tin Roof
Ocean Key Resort
Zero Duval Street
Although a touch more elegant than most restaurants on the island because of the white linen tablecloths and soft lanterns, many people come in their shorts straight from the pier’s festivities. The local specialty, conch chowder, is prepared with chipolte flavored vegetables and is chock full of the little ocean delicacies. Or try the paella, prepared with local lobster, shrimp and fish.
700 Waddell Avenue
The perfect spot for a memorable lunch. A three-tiered terrace provides the ideal vantage point from which to watch boats as they sail or cruise along the coast. Try the Asian salad with unusually tender and flavorful chicken atop green tea soba noodles and gingered cucumbers in a Chinese peanut dressing. The dinner menu is equally inviting, but is one of the most expensive in town.
500 Duval Street
For those who can’t come to Key West without checking out Jimmy’s Buffet’s place, try the Cheeseburger in Paradise, prepared just as in the song. The restaurant is full of Buffett memorabilia and, of course, the adjacent gift shop sells the obligatory T-shirt.
532 Margaret Street
If you’re interested in having something other than seafood during your visit, this is the place for steaks. Though Michaels serves excellent fish as well, its prime meat is flown in from Chicago and is of the highest quality. Ask to sit in the lovely and intimate garden. If you have room for dessert after your lamb chops or filet, the chocolate volcano, with its melted “lava” center is the perfect ending. Great martini selection.
Nine One Five
915 Duval Street
915 Duval is the address of a hopping and trendy bistro with an eclectic menu. This charming house has a wraparound porch for relaxed outdoor seating and a sleek bar inside. The presentation of every dish is worth a photo, but don’t just admire the “tuna dome.” This signature dish has wonderful, complex flavors, pairing fresh Dungeness crab with tuna sashimi in a light lemon miso dressing.
Sarabeth’s Key West
530 Simonton Street
Serving classic, reasonably priced, American food in the heart of old town, Sarabeth’s is open morning, noon and night. This charming 1800’s house is the Florida outpost of the owner’s eponymous New York restaurant. Sarabeth Levine has received a James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef, so be sure to treat yourself to one of her delectable muffins or scones, smothered with her acclaimed jams.
632 Olivia Street
You’ll be comfortable in jeans or shorts in this cozy, renovated house in a nondescript neighborhood. In keeping with its name, the fish is the thing, and your best bet is to order one of the nightly specials. Be sure to also try the tropical shrimp salsa -- coarsely chopped, freshly caught shrimp with tomatoes, mango, avocado, onions and lime, served with corn tortilla chips.
Though most people make the trek to Key West solely to engage in the daily (and nightly) merriment, there are other equally worthy endeavors to pursue and should be part of your itinerary.
Fort Zachary Taylor State Park
Be sure to visit this unique state park. The gorgeous, but small stretch of beach, the brilliant blue hue of the water and the unique vegetation will make you want to stay forever. Fortunately, chairs and umbrellas are available for rent, along with snorkels and kayaks. Keep your parking receipt: your entry fee allows access for the entire day and you’ll undoubtedly want to come back for a picnic and bottle of wine.
Nancy Forrester’s Secret Garden
1 Free-School Lane
A tiny botanical garden in the heart of historic Key West. Exotic plants and orchids grow amidst gigantic palm trees in this lush and dense oasis. Another idyllic spot to sip some spirits.
Ernest Hemingway’s Home and Museum
907 Whitehead Street
Located in Old Town. Hemingway was a Nobel Prize winner and one of the country’s most honored authors. This is an oft-visited attraction on the island, but if you’re allergic to cats, you may want to settle for a second hand account of the experience. Dozens of felines roam the property, many of which are descendants of the original six-toed cat given to Hemingway by a ship’s captain.
Little White House Museum
111 Front Street
President Harry S. Truman spent 11 vacations in this Key West "Little White House" during his term in office. It was also frequented by his successors until it converted in 1974 to its original use as the home of the Naval Station Base Commandant. In 1991 it opened as an historic site and museum.
The Southernmost Point in the United States
Corner of Whitehead and South Streets
This spot is marked by a monument in the shape of a buoy. From this point, it is only ninety miles to Cuba, although you can’t see anything from there but the vast and sparkling ocean.
© Mary Bloch 2007