Continuing the sunny post from last week about Key West, today I would like to recommend a few places you won´t regret to visit for a bite (or two) while in the island! First, this needs to be said: there are plenty of restaurants there and, from our experience, their overall quality is pretty good. With such flavorful Caribbean influences and fresh seafood pouring from Its ports every day, it is indeed hard to have bad food in Key West. However, the prices can be quite high…
Surprisingly (and here is where this article comes in handy!) our favorite places to eat were not the most expensive we have gone to! So, if you are not afraid of trying some regional fresh but simple food, this list is definitely for you!
I´m not sure if it was the name or the big lobster sign at the entrance that caught my attention first. All I know is that we weren´t even hungry while strolling along South Street towards the Southernmost Point – our sightseeing goal. But, the truth is, even though I had just had breakfast, there will always be space in my stomach for fresh seafood.
The shack looks like a vintage wooden beach house painted with a bright turquoise color. This means that, even if you wanted, this place is hard to miss. The inside is very clean and simple, which completely matches the delicious unpretentious food they serve. On this note, this is not a table service restaurant, meaning there are no waiters. You order at the counter and the owner will bring the food to you once it´s ready. By the way, the owner is soooo friendly!
The menu is small and focuses on the star of the house: the lobster. If you are like me and loves to watch culinary competition shows, for sure you have heard about “elevating” simple dishes. Here, the opposite happens: the fancy lobster is transformed into easy snacks, showcasing the freshness of the sea and creative combinations.
We had the Traditional New England Lobster Roll, the Lobster Grilled Cheese and the Diablo Lobster Roll. All three were absolutely delicious! We were also impressed by the quantity of lobster pieces each sandwich had. Though we were not hungry before, we felt that the portions were definitely satisfying (and by now I guess you know how demanding I am about portions! lol).
Do you know the feeling of eating somewhere and, after trying your friend´s food, you wished you had ordered that instead? This won´t happen here. We were three people who ordered completely different food and…OMG….everything was delicious. If I went back, I wouldn´t honestly know what to order.
The DJ´s Clam Shack is another laidback wooden cottage that sells yummy uncomplicated food. Here, you will also have to order at a window, but you will have to go back to collect your food once they call your name. Though they have a quiet area on the back, I recommend sitting right at the outside table facing the famous Duval Street. You won´t be bored!
Their menu is bigger and more varied than The Lobster Shack, offering different street food dishes containing fish, shrimp, clam, lobster, conch, chicken, pork and beef. Normally, I would be suspicious of this place. One thing I learned watching Anthony Bourdain´s No Reservation show is that the true gems are those places with concise menus and one cohesive theme. However, we are talking about very straightforward dishes here, which are not depending on long recipes. The shack´s fame is definitely based on simple food which contains quality ingredients and is super well seasoned.
We tried the Split Grilled Beef Hot Dog, the Grilled Garlic Shrimp Roll and the Roast Pork Tacos. I can´t tell you which one was better, they were all so flavorful. Mathias did think though that my Garlic Shrimp was hands down the best seafood sandwich he ever had!
We all need a little treat from time to time. In case you don´t want to go for something regional – or just got sick of lime pies, which are sold everywhere in Key West -, you should pay Mattheessen´s a visit! There you will find creamy ice cream, decadent fudges, huge cookies and moist brownies!
I can´t say the ice cream was out of this world. Honestly, it´s not the store´s fault…..I became veeeery fussy about ice cream after trying them in Italy. So far, there´s only another store in the world I have tasted as good ice cream as in Italy (talk about being picky….). However, their cookies and fudges are to die for!
I normally don´t like oversized cookies, but when they are still this moist inside…all my respect! I also like that they have different combinations of flavors like milk chocolate with walnuts, milk chocolate with peanuts, white chocolate with milk chocolate and walnuts, and so on…The best part is that you can order the cookies or the brownies covered in hot fudge AND ice cream. I mean…what else can you want in this world?!
The Conch Shack is located right at the busy Duval Street. It´s a humble place only with some outdoor seats. It could definitely be easy to pass by without giving much of a thought, especially at a street where so much catches your eye. Yet, it was this modesty that actually got our attention: the shack looked authentic and modest with its old food truck vibe.
Though the conch shack is quite small, its menu is somewhat varied. I feel that it´s a great place to meet friends since there´s something for everybody. They offer American fast food like burgers and hot dogs, as well as local seafood snacks like Mahi bites, lobster rolls and the legendary conch fritters. The conch fritters are a deep fried Bahamian shellfish, which, to me, taste like fried fish balls. Here, they are served with Key Lime aioli and a spicy sauce. YUM!!
We tried The “Best Ever” Conch Fritters, The Seafood Sampler Platter and The World Famous Hot Dog. Everything was simple and delicious! You can definitely taste the freshness of the seafood! We also loved the sauces, which complemented the conch fritters very well. We ended up eating there twice!
My mom arrived in Key West with a clear mission: to find THE best key lime pie in the island. And, boy, did she (and all of us, in the end!) try every single dessert store we came across. Because of this endeavor, we actually learned that tradition can, indeed, taste very differently depending on where you choose to bite it. Needless to say, we did find a clear winner.
The Key Lime pie is a lime juice pie with condensed milk in it (like all things good in the Earth). It is usually served cold with a merengue topping. What sets this pie aside from any other lime pie you ever tasted is that it is made with the small Florida Keys´ limes, which are more acid than the more common Persian limes you can find anywhere. So, you can imagine, this is a hard dessert to master. You have to balance sweet and sour flavors to perfection in order not to end with a super sweet tart or, even worse, a very bitter one
We did find some of those along the way, unfortunately. Others had good flavors but were REALLY dense. We did not expect such a difference from place to place. The only one the four of us could not fault was the Key Lime Pie from the Key Lime Pie Company. It was creamy, light, had really well balanced flavors and did not make us full or desperate for a bottle of water after. It was soooo enjoyable to eat it!
The Key Lime Pie Company is specialized in the dessert, offering different versions of it. You can not only get a classic key lime pie slice, but also cold pie in a cup with merengue, frozen pie dipped in chocolate on a stick, key lime pie milkshake or key lime flavored pie (with strawberries, toasted coconut, mango…). The choices are vast, so it helps if you are in a group and can try a bit of everything.
By the time we went to the KLPC, we were almost fed up with key lime pie, so only my mom and I ordered. We got the traditional slice and a milkshake. She loved the pie so much she made us all try and….BINGO!!!! Hands down the best we tried in Key West. My milkshake was a-b-s-o-l-u-t-e-l-y delicious too – I even dare to say, more delicious than the pie. I seriously remember turning to Mathias and saying that was the best milkshake I had ever had. He tried it and we ended up sharing it cause he couldn´t stop coming back for more, lol! It tastes like they put a slice of the pie in the blender with some ice-cold milk. It´s just perfection.
By the way, while you eat, you can see them preparing fresh new desserts in the glass kitchen. Check their calendar in order to try to catch a key lime pie cooking class. I would love to have done this and have brought the recipe home! (I don´t mind if you go and share it with me after, ok?!)