Sunday, August 19, 2012

Key West (oh, and Lobster Fest too)

Note to readers: The original title of this post was supposed to be Key West Lobster Fest, however, said event turned out to be a bust. Read on.

I love me a food festival. Although I hate crowds, lines and masses of people in general, I don't (really) mind the madness that are food fests. The smells, sloppy eating on your feet, drinking a few beers ... why not? As soon I heard about Key West Lobster Fest I gathered two fellow foodies (and serious food fest/eating partners) and their men to join the husband and I on another indulgent adventure. We had high hopes for the event - I mean, how can Lobster Fest not be amazing, right? But boy were we all disappointed. Again, read on.


Husband and I got there early on Friday. After searching and digging through many well reviewed dinner spots on Yelp, I decided to make reservations at Seven Fish. Seven Fish is a tiny spot in a residential area, totally off the beaten, drunken path that is most of the Conch Republic. I am glad I listened to my fellow Yelpers and made reservations - the place was packed. This tiny spot is small, cozy, dimly lit and very cute. The staff is super friendly and incredibly hospitable. Our waitress was very attentive and knew the items well.

We started with one of their specials, the Warm Grouper Roll. Pretty simple dish but very tasty - warm grouper, avocado, sesame. Served with soy sauce and wasabi. My husband didn't care for it, he said it was bland. Then again, he hates wasabi and has no appreciation for it's enhancing properties. I added wasabi to my bites and loved it. The fish was warm, flaky, fresh. The wasabi added a swift kick in the ass that was just what the Dr ordered.

Next up - Fish Taco with Scallion Mayo and Spicy Cabbage. The fish was very fishy and there was no flavor explosions in my mouth. My husband liked it, he said it was fresh. But I thought it was boring. I like my fish tacos to seduce me with serious flavor and get me worked up - these did not do their job. But they sure were pretty.

Next in line, Tropical Shrimp Salsa. They were stingy with the shrimp but the flavor was on point. The mixture of the papaya, mango, avocado, cilantro and whatever else was in there was really good. My dear spouse was not happy with the chips though... as soon as he tasted them he recognized the familiar flavor of Tostito Lime chips and he was pissed. It's hard to accept bagged, commercially produced chips with your ceviche when you're a Caribbean dude used to freshly fried tortilla chips to go with your salsa/ceviche. He was very unforgiving and I don't blame him, the lime in the chips did enhance the dish a bit but it would've been much better with plain, freshly fried chips instead. Just a thought...

My entree was the Gnocchi with Mellow Blue Cheese and Sauteed Fish. These people obviously don't know Scott Conant and his hatred for fish and cheese. But whatever. The dish was OK. It was super flavorful - the sauce was very rich and blue cheesy. The gnocchis were plump but not very flavorful inside. The fish (I went for mahi-mahi) didn't really belong in the dish but it was pretty good. There was also mushrooms in there, which were good. But not with the fish. The fish in the blue cheese sauce with the mushrooms were just odd. The bread on the side however, was marvelous! Garlicky and full of aromatics like rosemary, fluffy and delicious.

Husband had their most popular dish, the fresh fish in thai curry sauce. He loved it. So did I. It was really, really good. The thai flavors, coconut milk, perfectly cooked rice, crisp veggies, everything! Everything made sense and worked well together. Major win.

Lastly, and thank goodness for this redeeming moment, dessert came to save the day. We debated on some of their more adventurous choices (sweet potato pie, key lime cheesecake) but decided to K.I.S.S (keep it simple, stupid!) and went for the brownie with Tahitian vanilla ice cream and toasted coconut. This. Was. The. Bomb. Warm, ooey, fudgy, rich... everything one imagines a perfect brownie to be and then some. The ice cream was a strong but mild vanilla, and the coconut added a nice crunch to the mix. We devoured this sexy beast in an embarrassingly short time.

Even though this review isn't stellar, I would still recommend Seven Fish for dinner. I feel like they have potential (the reviews can't be wrong) but we may have gone on an off day.

Seven Fish  - 632 Olivia St, Key West, FL 33040
(305) 296-2777

Saturday morning we rose bright and early, rented some scooters (because we're badasses) and headed to Sarabeth's for breakfast. This was probably my favorite meal this entire trip. I love, love, love breakfast. Love it. I love the coffee, the juice, the pastries, etc. This place was also highly recommended by fellow Yelpers. We were lucky enough to have had a very short wait (20 min) and were sat in a cozy little room with big windows overlooking the patio and street. This is another hidden gem off the main roads in the middle of a beatifully tree-lined residential area.

Extensive selection of breakfast items - so hard to choose!

I had the Green & White - which is scrambled eggs with scallions and cream cheese. Sounds plain, but it was crazy good. I would've never though of adding dollops of cream cheese to my eggs, but it was so good! This came with a choice of muffin (pumpkin, eight grain, or sourdough) and I went for the pumpkin, which was amazing. It also comes with fruit preserves, which were tart, sweet and fresh.  

I also ordered the fresh herb and turkey sausage with apple butter. This was SO good. I hated that I had to share with my fellow diners, but I am a caring fatty and that's how I roll.  

Husband had the Key West Pink Shrimp and Bacon Omelet with scallions and herbs and smoked mozzarella, which was so good. The bacon and shrimp with the creamy and melty mozzarella was such a fantastic combo. The house potatoes were seasoned generously and perfectly cooked. Glad he ordered this as this was my second choice. He loved it too.

Michelle has the Spinach And Goat Cheese Omelet. Simply stated and just as described, generous amounts of fresh spinach and globs of tangy, creamy, savory goat cheese. Thank you Michelle for letting me try it.

Danny had the Farmer's Omelet with sautéed leeks, ham and chunks of potato with gruyere cheese. I didn't try his dish because I do have manners, but he seemed to enjoy it. It sounds really good now and I regret not asking for a bite.

 Lastly - dessert! Because seriously, how can you not have dessert for breakfast? Lemon Ricotta pancakes which were amazing. Fluffy and tangy and oh so yummy. They haunt my dreams until this day.

I can't say enough great things about Sarabeth's. Everything was incredible. Service was on point, ambiance was lovely (feels like you're in someone's home, which you technically are but now it's a restaurant) and food was superb.

Sarabeth's 530 Simonton St, Key West, FL 33040
(305) 293-8181 

After a post-breakfast drink and a very short scooter ride, my inner fatty was feeling naughty. My inner Homer Simpson recalled another place I had found on Yelp (God, I love Yelp!) After my trip to San Fran last year and then to NOLA this March, my husband and I developed a love for gourmet donuts. Upon Yelping for yummy places while in Key West I found Glazed Donuts.

Glazed is tiny spot off of Duval. I will keep it simple since the pics speak for themselves. Everything is as delicious as it looks.

Mango Hibiscus

Maple Bourbon w/ Candied Bacon - super meaty and sweet chunks of bacon! So good.

Key Lime Pie

Key Lime Pie inside - perfect rich key lime pie filing with charred merenge spikes, amazing!

Orange Creamsicle

Plum Bullseye - perfectly glazed

This place is not to be missed while in KW. The donuts were amazing! So fresh, fun and creative flavors. You do not get donuts like this everywhere.

Glazed Donuts - 420 Eaton St, Key West, FL 33040
(305) 294-9142

After a long scooter ride around the island while waiting for the rest of our eating crew to make their fashionably late entrance, we trotted over to Duval for the main event: Lobsterfest! We strolled... and strolled... and strolled, in search of lobstery bites. In a sea of sweaty drunken people and countless tents offering crafts and such, we finally found 2 places worth stopping and making a line for. Or so we thought.

Fresh grilled lobster on Duval Street
The first spot was pricy and stingy. I had one thing in mind during this trip, and it was to stuff my self retarded with lobster fritters. We finally found them at Smokin' Tuna Saloon's tent. They were OK, but didn't give me an "a-ha!' moment and that's always a heartbreak for me. We also ordered the Lobster Ceviche. Which was stingy with lobster and lacking in flavor. I am spoiled - my brother in law is a culinary student and if there's one thing he knows its his ceviches. But I think I'll dedicate another entry to him at a later time.

Lobster Fritters

Lobster Ceviche - the visible chunks of lobster were the only ones in the entire serving

Next up, we found another spot we thought would be worth the 20 minute line in steamy, drizzly weather. One of my fellow foodie friends was on the hunt for lobster tacos. We stopped at Bagatelle (where I've had brunch before and it was amazing) due to their attractive menu. Lobster Mac & Cheese? Tacos? Tempura Tail? We were sold.

Sadly, everything was a huge disappointment. The tacos were horrible. Flavorless, gritty, sandy, dry. They were so bad we all threw out our second taco since it was so unappealing. The lobster mac was bland and more mac than lobster. I didn't touch the corn because it was pale and unattractive.

The only thing that went right with Lobsterfest was this beastly beauty - a tempura fried lobster tail dipped in honey butter. The lobster was meaty, the batter was crunchy and tasty, and the honey butter was sweet and rich. Yum.

Don't let our smiles fool you. We were some hungry, dissapointed people.

On the way to the hotel we made a pit stop at a place called Better Than Sex. This dessert only restaurant serves sinfully decadent desserts boasting to be better than doing the deed. We walked in and found out it was a reservation only establishment. I tried to weasel my way into a reservation telling the host we were from out of town and I even pulled the food blogger card (shameful.) As I stood there schmoozing a couple walks out and thanks him "for getting us in." He must have noticed the WTF look on my face and said "see, if you were someone local that I knew, like her, she's a food inspector, I could get you in." This douche wasn't budging so we ordered the Cookie Nookie Pie to go. In the words of my wise husband "you can get this sh*t at Mrs. Fields at the mall." As pretty as it looked, this sucked. It tasted defrosted and old, like something you stored in the freezer as a "when I lose these 10 lbs" reward. Six sexy people tried it and we all agreed, this was not better than sexy time with your honey. Talk about some serious blue balls.

Later on that night as we sat around poolside at our bed & breakfast (great spot, btw!) my friend got a grumbly in her tumbly and called for pizza from a spot that caught her eye on the way back from Duval, Upper Crust Pizza. We ordered a large sausage & pepperoni. It arrived quickly and steaming hot. If you're in a pizza mood in Key West, this is the spot to order from. The crust was super thin and crispy. The toppings were plenty and tasted fresh. The cheese was perfectly golden & bubbly.


Before hitting the road back home, we fueled up with a place that was not only well reviewed on Yelp (top breakfast spot in KW) but also highly recommended by friends. Blue Heaven. We were hungry and desperate so we opted out of a 25 minute wait and sat at the bar. Service was incredibly prompt and we were in and out fast.

Husband ordered their Rooster Special: 2 eggs, seasoned potatoes, country sausage and toast (the bread is baked on site, which you can absolutely taste.) He liked it and so did I.  

I had the Shrimp Benedict with bacon and lime Hollandaise sauce. I loved my dish. The mix of shrimp, bacon and rich Hollandaise was just what I needed to prime my belly for a 3 hour drive.

I was enjoying the daylights out of my food until I found an un-deveined shrimp. Eek. Good thing I found this in the end.

Lastly we ordered a single pancake to share. This thing was outrageous - super fluffy, thick, cakey, delicious. What's in it, I asked. The young man shared the secret is Budweiser... in the batter. Who would've thunk it? The bomb.

It comes with warm syrup served in a Grolsch beer bottle. Beautiful and very fitting.

Definitely a place I would return to and highly recommend to those seeking a hearty and delicious breakfast while in the area.

Blue Heaven - 729 Thomas St, Key West, FL 33040
(305) 296-8666

We started to get hungry so we stopped at this new spot in Islamorada which was recommended by a friend (more on her later.) M.E.A.T Eatery & Tap Room recently opened in a tiny strip mall on the side of the road. M.E.A.T. is tiny and cozy and not what you expect to find in the Keys. The place has a large bar and a few tables. The menu is short and sweet but the food truly speaks to the old adage about "quality, not quantity."

We started with the Hummus & Crackers and fell in love. The hummus was super, duper creamy. It was so rich and flavorful, it had plenty of garlic and whatever other stuff they added made my tongue seize in excitement. The crackers it comes with aren't exactly crackers. I think they are pita chips. I asked, and they are so damn delicious because they are fried in duck fat. I tore this baby up.

Mu husband ordered the Nancy Pants burger - 5 oz Angus with lettuce, tomato and fries. He loved it. The MEAT print on the bun was a nice touch. The fries were very good. They are the perfect vessel for their homemade mango-chipotle house Ketchup. These people don't play around.

I ordered the Lobster Mac & Cheese. It came in a touch-this-and-you're-dead hot metal casserole straight from the oven. Made with cheedar, parmesan, and white wine. The lobster is a Maine lobster, which I found interesting since we were coming back from KW Lobsterfest in the Keys. Whatever. This mac kicked all other macs in the ass. The sauce was so rich and cheesy. The lobster chunks were almost overwhelming since there were so many. But I can't complain since I didn't get my lobster fix where I should have.

Massive chunk of lobster claw meat

Chunk of lobster meat. Therse were aplenty in this dish.

To seal the deal we ordered a Sugar Momma's cupcake. Here's the story: Sugar Momma is an old friend from middle school. Homegirl started baking recently and posts all sorts of torturous pics of her delicious creations on Facebook. Why so torturous? Because homegirl lives in The Keys. When she saw me post a pic on FB about being in KW she suggested we stop at MEAT and order one of her cupcakes for dessert. I actually ran into her as she was making her daily delivery, so how could I turn down one of these babies? Here' the thing about Sugar Momma's - she doesn't do the itty bitty mini cupcakes that are in these days. Sugar Momma is serious about her treats. They are jumbo, rich, no holds barred, packed with sweetness and flavor. This day's special was her version of an old classic, the Hostess Cupcake. A rich chocolate cupcake, topped with rich chocolate ganache and filled with a marshmallow cream that will send you over the edge. The cake itself was super moist and fluffy, the ganache was perfect, the filling was plenty and oh so sweet. It was definitely the perfect ending to a less than stellar eating weekend.

M.E.A.T. Eatery & Tap Room  - 88005 Overseas Hwy, Islamorada, FL 33036
(305) 852-3833

Sugar Momma's Cupcakes - 305-393-2725

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