Rick's Reviews: Key West Diary

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We’d already planned an overnight trip to Key West to visit friends vacationing there when we discovered two happy coincidences. As soon as we decided to head to Key West, we found out that one of our idols, Ed White, one of the godfathers of the post-Stonewall gay literary movement, was available to meet us for lunch.

Ed is best known for his autobiographical novels, “A Boy's Own Story” (1982) and “The Beautiful Room Is Empty” (1988), which were groundbreaking at the time for their unapologetically gay sexuality. He also co-wrote (with Dr. Charles Silverstein) the landmark book “The Joy of Gay Sex” in 1977, a biography of Jean Genet and another biographical novel, The Farewell Symphony (1997). For a literary nerd like me, the chance to meet my idol and his husband, Michael Carroll, also a celebrated writer; was nirvana.

My husband Gregg and our friends (and fellow literary nerds) Dan and Eric met Ed and Mike at the Sun Sun Restaurant at the Casa Marina Waldorf Astoria Resort (1500 Reynolds St., 888-303-5717 casamarinaresort.com). It’s a bit pricier than most places I would choose, but when you’re meeting your idol, sometimes you have to shell out a few bucks, especially when you’re sitting at a table on a manmade beach. Ed and his husband spend a month or so in Key West each winter and this restaurant was close to their home. To read Ed’s recollections of his days in Key West, check out the website. Ironically, the restaurant is just yards from what was the Atlantic Shores Resort, which was infamous for its decadent tea dances on its “Dick Dock.”

As we chatted our lunch arrived. Trying not to fawn too much, I turned my attention to the fish tacos, which topped slabs of perfectly cooked Mahi with a tropical slaw, jalapenos, guacamole and mango salsa. I didn’t even care that the tortilla chips were stale. My husband ordered a fish sandwich and subbed fries for chips (a $5 upcharge!). Ed enjoyed his cheeseburger. I limited myself to one cocktail; cucumber lemonade made with vodka, agave, fresh mint, lime and lemon juice, because one does not want to get sloppy while lunching with a literary legend.

Alas, lunch had to come to an end and we bid farewell. I took some comfort in knowing that by meeting Edmund White, I’d now spent time with all three of my literary heroes, including Andrew Holleran and Armistead Maupin (younger readers, do yourself a favor and check out their work, as well as Ed’s). We headed back to Alexander’s Bed & Breakfast to relax by the pool and chat with some of the handsome men sunbathing there.

That night we decided to check out Blue Heaven (729 Thomas St., 305-296-8666, BlueHeavenKW.com), one of the town’s funkier restaurants. It’s a bit of a tourist trap and dinners are outrageously over-priced (stop by for lunch, brunch or breakfast to soak up the atmosphere for a lot less money). It truly encapsulates the Key West mystique. The shuttered blue building on Petronia Street in the heart of Old Town, has been around for a hundred years or so (at least parts of it have) and in the past, housed a bordello, an ice cream parlor, theater, billiard hall and even hosted cockfighting, gambling and boxing matches refereed by Ernest Hemingway. In the 1990s, it was taken over by a pair of artists who started dishing up beans, rice, and fish to help make ends meet.

There are chickens running around, almonds falling onto the mismatched tables and chairs and candlelight everywhere. The food is beautifully prepared and runs the gamut from organic vegetarian combinations to steak and grilled fish, all with a bit of a Caribbean vibe. We began our dinner with a combo of carrot and curry soup garnished with mango chutney and a rich vegetarian black bean soup topped with sour cream and a sprinkling of grated white cheddar. Both were delish and satisfying enough that each bowl was shared by two.

An entrée featuring Caribbean jerk shrimp would have been better if the shrimp were a bit larger. However, they were perfectly cooked before being deglazed with Red Stripe beer, which added a nice tang to the dish. It was served with rice and black beans, corn salad and a giant wedge of yummy cornbread dripping in butter. Another entrée showcased pork tenderloin so tender that it could be cut with the side of a fork. That dish was served atop mashed sweet potatoes.

The cornbread was the perfect vehicle to mop up the rich curry butter sauce. An eight-ounce portion of Black Angus filet mignon paired perfectly with a dark cabernet demi-glace. My vegetarian husband thoroughly enjoyed his macrobiotic bowl of grains and veggies. We eyed the mile-high meringue on the Key Lime pie, but we were too full to consider ordering it.

As it would happen the next afternoon Key West was one of many cities that held a march to protest Herr Trump’s inauguration. While Monroe County voters overall chose Trump, Key West remained solidly blue, with Hillary Clinton winning all 10 of its precincts. We joined the group on Duval Street, where Key West Police estimated the crowd to be 3,000 to 3,500 people. Bearing posters reading, “Dump Trump,” “Love Trumps Hate,” and “Not My President,” the crowd included visitors and locals alike. At the end in Mallory Square, chief organizer Jamie Mattingly, who wore a rainbow flag as a cape, asked the crowd to hold hands and sing along with John Lennon’s “Imagine.”

After the march and rally, we dragged ourselves back to Alexander’s before hitting the road for the drive home. As we were getting to Islamorada, about the halfway point, we realized we hadn’t eaten lunch and decided to pull over at the next place that looked nice. Although it was that name that attracted us, we hit the culinary jackpot with Ciao Hound (84001 Overseas Hwy., Islamorada, 305-664-5300, holidayisle.com/islamorada-restaurants/ciao-hound) just a few yards off U.S.1.

The Holiday Isle Resort is a compound of buildings, which at first glance, appears to be the kind of mid-century modern places we’d stay on family vacations when I was a kid. However, upon closer inspection, we realized everything had been renovated. Ciao Hound is one of three dining establishments on the property and has the feel of a classic Italian-American neighborhood spot, yet pairs Tuscan flavors and fresh locally sourced ingredients.

My grilled mahi-mahi featured fish so fresh I wanted to slap it. It was served atop a mound of pasta with a surprisingly mild puttanesca sauce. My hubby’s lobster ravioli showcased tender pillows of pasta enveloping a creamy lobster filling bathed in tomato cream sauce. Although the dish only featured flakes of lobster, not chunks, as the menu promised, it was so perfectly prepared we didn’t mind that much. Freshly baked garlic bread, served with a drizzle of balsamic syrup was all that was needed to complete this meal.

There’s a full bar serving local and imported beers, wines by the glass or bottle, classic mixed drinks and nearly a dozen Italian-inspired cocktails, including the Limoncello Sunrise. We passed on the liquor since we were about to drive back to WilMa and it was already pretty late and we were fairly worn out by our whirlwind Key West weekend.


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