Happy New Year! Welcome to 2022. It is a time to look ahead while also peaking back. It is winter. As I write this, our days have been hovering around 80 degrees. I cannot complain much about that, especially in January! So, with that, it’s time for a look back at the best and worst Key West meals of the past year.
Living on an island comes with many blessings. Among them, I count the plentiful dining opportunities and unique flavors being cooked up in the local kitchens. Of course, not all your meals can be the best, and you hope most are memorable.
The Good List
Here are the ones, both good & bad, that stuck out for me in the past year, starting with the good.
Santiago’s Bodega is a favorite for many locals and visitors alike. The quality, preparation, and flavors of the food are consistent and keep people coming back. I have several items of theirs that rank as the best things I ate in 2021, with some adjectives next to them. For more of my thoughts on Santiago’s click here
- Beef Tenderloin – tender, mouthwatering, market price and worth it
- Spicy Shrimp Bisque – palate-pleasing, perfect heat, you’ll want to lick the bowl clean
- Beef Carpaccio – seasoned perfectly, flavors combined that pop, light and fresh
Getting Happy with More Tapas
Martin’s was an overdue discovery for me in the year. I must admit I am very late to the party on this one. Who knew I liked martinis? This restaurant right on Duval St has a damn good happy hour (4-6), and you should give it a go. Think upscale tapas with fair portions and lots of flavors.
- For me, one of the best things I ate all year was Martin’s grilled lamb chop. Three perfectly grilled lollipop-sized chops with a jalapeno remoulade. Knock a plate of those back with a martini, and you are doing happy hour right.
A Crowd Favorite
Louie’s Backyard would make its way onto many people’s lists and with good reason. Ambiance, menu offerings, and top-notch service. However, Louie’s made good and bad lists for me.
- Grilled Bacon Wrapped Shrimp comes with avocado, papaya, and passionfruit mustard. A dish that is so refreshing and light, and everything on the plate compliments each other. I fell in love with this appetizer. One not to be missed! *This dish is not on the weekend brunch menu*
You Gotta Roll with It
The Lobster Shack is where I am heading if I want a winner-winner lobster dinner in a bun. You’ll find an intriguing menu with decadent options to satisfy your crustacean cravings. In Key West, you pretty much have three options (Lobster Shack, DJ’s, Eaton Market) when it comes to getting a lobster roll. This one makes my list because of the key lime and butter preparation instead of mayonnaise.
- You have to try the Key West Lobster Roll! Traditional rolls are swimming in mayo, which is not very appealing to my taste buds. Saute up the meat with key lime juice and hot melted butter, and I’m there all day for this delight.
Brews, Booze, & Views
The Conch Republic Seafood Company, aka Conch Farm, is a perennial favorite. If you have heard about a particular offering not found on the menu and tasted it, you will know why. Mix that with an extensive menu, waterfront views, and daily happy hour, and you have a winning combination. Like Louie’s above, the Conch Farm made both lists.
- The best thing I ate quite a few times this past year was the Royal Red Shrimp. I have written about these magical shrimp before, and you can read all about them by clicking here.
Honorable Mention for Tastes That I Have Not Forgotten About Go out To
- Off The Hook – Phenomenal red grouper ceviche and a pleasing citrus hogfish. On the 2022 Bar Card
- Shanna Key – Is my favorite chippy, as they say across the pond. I usually eat grilled fish, but their Fish & Chips is done right. Can we talk about portion sizes, prices, and the comfort food found here?
- Grand Cafe – The best tasting steamed clams and salted caramel cheesecake
The Not So Good List
And now we move on to the not-so-best of the best. The memorable disappointments I came across in the past year. In no particular order, they are as follows.
Where’s the Fish?
I ordered the Snapper Sandwich on Onion Roll with Remoulade at Louie’s Backyard. As I mentioned above, Louie’s made both lists. Unfortunately, this lunchtime sandwich was rather disappointing. It was paltry, scant, and non-existent! And I’m talking about the fish! The dinkiest portion I have had to date on a fish sandwich in Key West. Coming in at just under $20, please skip this sadness on a plate.
He Swings and He Misses Twice
The next offender who also made both lists was the Conch Republic Seafood Company. You know that feeling you get when you know what you should order (royal reds) and stray off course and aren’t happy with your decision? It happened to me twice during the same meal! They like Louie’s scored some of the best and worst Key West meals on this page.
Sesame Crusted Tuna Tataki – I opted for this as an appetizer, figuring I’d get a light, delicious seafood starter. I’m spoiled as far as tuna goes, having lived in Hawaii. I’m not sure what this purple-looking thing was on my plate. It wasn’t a bright red vibrant piece of fish for sure. It somewhat resembled a bruise. The menu description says, “premium tuna seared rare.” this was not so to my definition of a premium piece of fish. The seaweed salad was good, wontons were soggy, and the key lime ponzu and wasabi vinaigrette missed the mark.
Bacon-Wrapped Stuffed Shrimp – For my entree, I went with this “winner of the Masterchef classic, People’s Choice & Judges Choice Awards.” I enjoyed the bacon and the shrimp once I got everything else off of it. I wasn’t able to appreciate the lump crab stuffed mixture. The signals sent to my brain were bland, dry, and not well seasoned. It didn’t taste like crab.
What is the Attraction?
The Boat House has a bigger location now and fantastic happy hour. I see in groups and forums people raving about the Boat House Bread with chef toppings. I don’t get it! The price is excellent, and that is about all I can say. I love bread; however, this one is not for me. *See note about mayonnaise above.* I’m glad there are other more favorable options on the menu to keep me happy and full.
I Don’t Wanna Taco Bout It
Rams Head Southernmost is the former Blue Macaw in Bahama Village. I was craving a good lunch and saw Mahi Mahi Street Tacos. I’ll freely admit I’m from Southern California and a bit of a Baja taco snob. Rubio’s (in San Diego) was the first place in the US to serve fish tacos. However, after having those countless times, these were not what I would get or be used to. Pineapple slaw, queso fresco, and their chipotle aioli are a no for me. The fish was grilled and blackened nicely. The taco was a bit messy. I’ve had better and hope to find better in Key West. Any suggestions? There is a build your own bloody mary bar, so bonus points for that!
Goldman’s Bagel Deli is spoken highly of by many people I have met over the years. My dad had an early appointment, and we paired that with a stop here. I was excited to try out the early bird special. For $5.95, you can get two eggs, home fries or grits, bagel or toast, and a coffee to start your day.
Eggs are eggs; it’s hard to screw those up. The toast was kind of meh. I should have ordered a bagel since it’s in their name and kind of what they do. My issue was with the home fries: Bland, boring, no crisp, no flavor, onion, herbs, nada. According to the menu, they should have salt, pepper, and paprika. They fooled me! Kick it up by adding some onions or rosemary, or bell peppers.
I will go back to sample my way around their deli sandwiches. I should go back to eat a more significant breakfast as well. So skip those taters and get the grits for now.
Here’s To Discovering New Favorites in 2022
Thankfully, there is so much great food to eat and experience in Key West. Most meals will stay with you in a good way, and some will miss the mark. These were among my highs and lows in 2021.
I’m looking forward to many, many more in this new year. What have been your favorites or disappointments in the past year?