As a guest of the Key West Business Guild during their annual Pride Fest last week, I did not object to being introduced to some of the local restaurants that were gay-owned or gay-friendly (check out everything gay in Key West). I don't resent the few extra pounds I acquired as a result of this indulgence (despite having had a bicycle and an Island House gym pass) because what I sampled was extraordinarily good. In fact, the other travel writers at the table with me agreed that Key West cuisine seems to have improved (g)astronomically in the last year. I don't know why this has happened - especially since there have always been some great Key West dining options - but I am not complaining. Here are four recommendations for eating the best of Key West. (Click the pics for max delish!)
I Ate The Best Of Key West
The Flaming Buoy is a comfortable, spacious place dedicated to the premise that you should never have to shove your butt into the breadbasket of the adjacent table when you leave your seat. The owner could easily wedge more tables into this homey space, but he is more concerned with quality than he is with volume and turnover. Go here for that special celebration or romantic dinner. Get the Lobster Mac 'n' Cheese and the caramelized bacon-wrapped scallops. (Sorry, I left the camera at the hotel that night.)
Antonia's is located on Duval Street and is therefore livelier and able to handle the larger numbers that crowd Key West's biggest tourist street. Surprising is the fact that Antonia's manages this without sacrificing quality. I honestly would have passed it by with the assumption that any Italian restaurant this big and centrally located would probably be inferior. I was happily proven wrong, and when I informed the owner of my affection for bold flavors before letting him select our dishes, he did not disappoint me. Get the calamari and the shrimp and their signature salad.
Azur is a gracious place with cool blue and white décor and lots of indoor or outdoor seating at the charming (with no hectic traffic) intersection of Grinnell and Fleming. Where the seasonings and flavors of Antonia's are powerful and dazzling, Azur delivers mellow Mediterranean specialties. Trying both places with a prospective husband will tell you what your domestic kitchen will be like after the honeymoon. If he loves Antonia's, learn to use garlic. If he prefers Azur, learn to work with rosemary. (If he is like my husband, have both on hand and let him do the cooking.) Try Azur's salads and tapas.
You can't beat La Crêperie Key West for a breakfast or brunch or just for excellent coffee and something sweet. It's located on Petronia Street in my favorite Key West neighborhood, soulful Bahama Village. Everything they put on our table was wonderful. The pâté, the crêpes, and the eggs were dreamy. This is the kind of charming French bistro that makes you linger. I hope it never changes.
Those are my top four picks, but I'd like to add a mention of that always-delightful, -casual and - authentic Cuban experience called El Siboney. If the Guild had not chosen to include it in their tour, we'd have demanded it. Get the Siboney steak, the yellow rice and the plantains, and don't pretend you don't want it when they offer you more of their bread.
(Cross-posted from an expanded version, which will be live this week - with more photos - at South Florida Gay News).
Images by Father Tony