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Florida and Keys report (long)

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Florida and Keys report (long)

Lars Murray | Feb 5, 2003 12:18 PM

Went down to Florida last week: Chow highlights

I stupidly left my stack of Chowhound recommendation in my printer, so we had to wing it..

West Palm

Cuban—El Colonial on Rte 1 for Lunch. They were running a lamb shank special, and I couldn’t resist. A falling off the bone shank in a tomato-based sauce with olives and onions. Just the thing for a coldish day. Also checked out the roast pork with tostones appetizer, which was excellent, with a couple of lime wedges helping out.

Next day, decided to hit the fast food joint Pollo Tropical. Judged against a real restaurant, forget it, against McDonalds or Denny’s it was great. Yuca with garlic sauce was not overdone as expected, and the roast pork was better than I have had in many family joints.

Unfortunately, most of our other meal opps were wasted on eating in with Family.

Keys

Islamorada Fish Company (first visit)

This place is my pick for Stone Crab, over Joe’s. We ate on the dock, and ordered the Large Claws. You get what you pay for with Stone Crabs were fresh, chilled just right, and accompanied by pretty decent battered fries. The big bonus was the basket of hot sauces available to spice up the rather tame mustard sauce. We also order the Islamorada fish sandwich of the day (dolphin) Blackened. A great sandwich, Crisp on the outside, moist on the inside. They put cheese on it, which isn’t necessary, but was actually one of the leas-infringing uses of America Cheese that I’ve encountered.

Key West
Seven Fish was jammed, and we were starving , so we went to Mangoes. Conch fritters were superior, with same sweet corn mixed in, nuggets of conch, and cocktail sauce. The star of the evening was the PiriPiri shrimp, which I am trying to replicate at home (any clues on where to get PiriPiri In NYC, anyone). I love PiriPiri’s lemon and spice marriage, and this was sublime (I think it was the Cumin). Add that to the freshness of Gulf Shrimp right off the boat, and you’ve got something pretty spectacular). We found Key West a little tickytacky for our tastes, so we got out fast and headed back out to see some nature.

Marathon
After a day on the beach at Bahia Honda, we spent the night in Marathon at Hidden Harbor (cheap, clean, and they take care of injured Sea Turtles). The manager sent us to a place called the Castaway. We were skeptical, (It’s not in ANY guidebook or on these boards) and when we walked in and sat down and they steered us to the salad bar, I felt like I was in a time warp. We were a little scared.

But the Castaway is in my Hall Of Fame, for one dish only: the Beer-steamed shrimp.

Remember what shrimp used to taste like before they were all farmed? Back in the 70’s, or even the 80’s? They TASTED like shrimp, which was half the fun. The texture can still be found, but most shrimp today are just a shovel for cocktail sauce.

The Beer- steamed shrimp was just a basket of shell-on medium ”Key West Pinks,” served with a slice of Lemon and cocktail sauce. That’s all. And the lemon and cocktail sauce are superfluous. I dug in and forgot all about industrialized. Frozen, tasteless farm product. I was so enthusiastic that Nancy practically stopped eating her Yellowtail snapper to watch. I was in heaven, and loathe to share, because I though sharing would nullify the “seconds are on the house” policy. That’s right -- the shrimp are fresh, flavorful, and require no adornment. But they also give you more if you finish them. Gluttony rewarded. The waitress saw me digging in and had the second portion on the way before I even finished the first.

Flushed with glee, I asked the waitress where they came form. Turns out the owner, John Mirabella, drives down to Key West every day and buys them fresh off the boat.

Beer-steamed shrimp at the Castaway washed down with an icy Yuengling. Oh my…

Next day Lunh at Islamorada Fish Co

Fried Conch and fried dolphin this time. So much for fried Conch. It’s a curiosity, but doesn’t deliver enough flavor. The Dolphin was perfectly fried, golden crisp and juicy inside, but probably a waste to fry such a nce piece of fish. Not as spectacular as the first visit, but certainly better fish than I’m used to.

The guidebooks say that the Islamorada Fish co owns the bakery up the road, so we stopped in for a slice of Key Lime pie. It doesn’tappear to be the same management, and the pie was undistinguished. I would not have wanted to order fish there, either.

Headed back to Miami the next day. Dinner at La Carreta. Lines, along with our casual dress us discouraged us from Versailles. Carreta just seems more Chowish to me. It was great. I ordered the “El Criollo” combo, which came with Yuca(great), one Tamal(excellent), one croqueta(good), Ropa Vieja (Best I’ve had anywhere), and Fried pork chunks(I like mine cut smaller, but good) and yellow rice (the best I’ve had anywhere). I really don’t think Cuban is an exciting cuisine, and more than once a week would have to cause obesity, but this was to-notch, and at 10.95 enough food for two. Nancy had the half chicken with beans and rice. We took most of it home after a couple of café con leches (I’m no coffee drinker, but this really did it for me).

That’s all. Missed a lot, but the hits were smashes.

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