By Skip Mays
Welcome from the Conch Republic. Today is Monday and it’s been in the mid to high 80’s for
the past couple of days and we have covered an amazing amount of “ground” in our
wanderings. We capped things off last night with Sarabeth’s “World Famous Southern Fried
Chicken”. I’m not so sure about the “World Famous” part, but it was yummy. Sarabeth’s has
been a fave of ours for years and has been a “must stop” for one or more meals. It’s at the
corner of Southard and Simonton in an old synagogue that owner David Case refurbed when he
moved to Key West roughly a decade ago after managing Sarabeth’s in NY. It is his personal,
hands-on style that have made this place so wonderful. His staff have all been hand-trained in
extraordinary levels of customer service and hospitality and boy, does it show. Sarabeth’s
dinner service was scheduled to open at 6pm and at 5:30 there were already forty-plus folks in
line on Simonton Street. During the interim, David, the owner, worked the crowd like an old
pro. The fried chicken was OK, but the ambiance and service were over the top.
Dinner was preceded by a classical music concert at St. Paul’s Church (a cultural centerpiece in
Key West that sponsors free daily piano or other musical recitals during the noon hour for
anyone who happens to have an interest). The Sunday concert was by up-and coming cellist
Jonah Kim, a 22 year old extraordinary Korean musician who is reputed to be the next Yo Yo
Ma. He was accompanied by a young Chinese pianist Toa Lin and the two provided well over
and hour of marvelous classical entertainment. Ah, such cultcha.
Our arrival on Friday went without a hitch. Southwest has just launched service to Key West
with one stop in Tampa and at 10:45am we were headed out the door at the airport ready to
tackle the fun and sun. The first thing we discovered is that Obamamoney had flowed into a
total rework of Roosevelt Boulevard, Route #1 from the northend of the island to almost
downtown (Old Town) (3 miles?). Previously a fourlane highway, it’s now down to two lanes
flowing southbound only. Oh my, what a cluster %$#&. And it’s supposed to be that was for the
next two years. Fortunately Fran and I know most of the side streets and that has minimized
the stress factor on getting places. The tourist traffic is another matter and it’s one big snarl.
Because our arrival was well before check-in at the Navy Lodge, we decided to head north on
Route #1 to Geiger Key to the Geiger Key Fish Camp where we have enjoyed many a delightful
meal. It’s a quasi redneck joint, right on a little inlet where barbeque, grilled fish and beer are
the staples…along with country and western music. It’s clean as a whistle and meals are served
on picnic tables under a thatched roof, right on the waterway where the pelicans and seagulls
vie for passing fish. It’s right under the immediate arrival and departure flight path for the Boca
Chica Naval Air Station and a low pass by a supersonic Navy jet is not unusual and keeps you on
your toes. It’s like total immersion in Top Gun. Fran and I both ordered hogfish sandwiches:
mine was blackened while Fran’s was grilled. (No jet fuel needed) Delish! It settled us in for
the Island Time transition and we headed back towards Key West. We checked in and decided
our zero dark thirty wakeup call (3am) required a nap.
Dinner was at another old fave, the Kennedy Café, an unassuming “joint” in a nearby stripmall
just outside the Navy base. We had discovered this place several years ago and have enjoyed
scores of outstanding meals as their guests. “Joint” is not the right word to describe this place,
but it “fits”. It’s run by a family of Uzbekis who offer an amazing range of international meals
(with an emphasis on Middle Eastern delights)). The bulk of their business is takeout pizza but
the locals have discovered the rest of their menu is also appealing. I think the only meals we
have not had are from their “Italian” specialties. Friday night’s repast consisted of three mixed
lamb and potato “calzones” (my term for a smooshed mixture rolled in a pastry wrap) and a
kebob combo made up of charcoal grilled chicken, lamb and ground beef meatballs on multiple
skewers and served on bed of rice mixed with carrots, scallions and garlic.
Our waitress was Latvian and she recommended a Russian beer (“Balkin”?) that worked
perfectly with the meal. Dessert was a huge slab of Tiramisu that we split.
Drinks, dinner and a doggie bag for less than $45.00. In Key West, that’s tough to beat. Not
fancy, but worth every dime. We went back for breakfast Sunday morning and I enjoyed a
Cuban ham and egg sandwich while Fran dined on scrambled eggs and grits (from the
Sunday afternoon included a visit to the annual arts and craft’s fair that resembles a miniature
Wickford Art festival. Neat stuff and wonderful ideas.
Lunch today was at Blue Heaven where you fight with the local chickens for your meal. It’s
another old standby like Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville where we ate Friday night. In addition to
my usual Cheeseburger in Paradise, we enjoyed a yummy starter of a crab and shrimp dip with
fresh garlic bread. I could have stopped right there. Mmmmmm.
Fran enjoyed a Mac and Cheese and shrimp dish that was also yummy.
As in years past, a mandatory stop at Besame Mucho was on tap while we waited for our table
at Blue Heaven. It is a French-styled, decorator’s dream, so they have a nice chair on the porch
for non decorators like me who just enjoy people (and cat) watching on Petronia Street. A full
shopping bag will somehow find its way back to RI.
And the best part is that we have another week to go.
Part II Next.
Thanks Skip for contributing. ~MDH