The Florida Keys have become a sophisticated culinary destination in recent years, influenced by the Caribbean and locally grown tropical foods. “Best foods” in Key West range from conch fritters at a walk-up stand to fine dining in a reservations-only restaurant, so it’s up to your own personal tastes to discover your favorites.
Instead of highlighting the well-known dining establishments, I’ve decided to tell you how to sample some of Key West’s signature items on your own. If you want to savor the flavor of the Keys and you’re unable to get there, just swing by your local bookstore or library and pick up Linda Gassenheimer’s The Flavors of the Florida Keys. It’s a great collection of recipes from locals as well as celebrated restaurants throughout the Keys. Cook up a few of these specialties, put on your flip-flops, get the Jimmy Buffet playing, and you’re halfway there!
For more serious foodies, there’s no better way to sample the culinary offerings of Key West than the Key West Food and Wine Festival, January 26-29, 2012. Highlights include 2-hour strolls through some of Key West’s unique neighborhoods to sample food and wine from various restaurants, seminars, wine tastings, and even coconut bowling. It all culminates in the 18th Annual Master Chef’s Classic, the premier culinary competition of the Lower Keys. Not only is there a panel of judges, but there is also a “People’s Choice Award” up for grabs...if you are lucky enough to attend this event, you’ll get to sample the chefs’ creations and put in your vote as well!
If you can’t make it to the Festival this year, consider Key West Food Tours for when you do visit. You’ll get insight into the local history of Key West, as well as a sampling of some of the best restaurants on a 2 -hour walking tour around town.
If it’s seafood you’re after, check out the 7th Annual Florida Keys Seafood Festival January 14, 2012, from 11am to 8pm at Bayview Park in Key West. Many types of fresh seafood will be on the menu, including Grilled Spiny Lobster, Stone Crab Claws, Key West Pink Shrimp, and Conch Fritters. There’s also live music, and even activities for the kids.
Other upcoming food and drink events this year include Taste of Key West (fundraiser for AIDS Help) in late April, June’s Key West Bacchanalia (proceeds benefit Breast Cancer research), and if you’re a beer aficionado, don’t miss the Key West Brewfest over the Labor Day weekend.
If fancy food and wine isn’t your thing, there’s still plenty of fun to be had with drinking and eating. Did you know that Key West has more bars per capita than any other city in the United States? Work your way through some of Key West's famous drinking establishments on the Key West Pub Crawl, or if you don’t like organized group tours (or want to visit more bars!), do it yourself with these tips from the Travel Channel.
If you are looking for a more family-friendly (or alcohol-free) tasting experience, why not go in search of the best Key Lime Pie? In 2006, the Florida House of Representatives and Senate actually passed legislation declaring that Key Lime Pie is the Official Pie of the State of Florida! There’s plenty of debate over who has the BEST Key Lime Pie in Key West. Featured on Food Network, Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Shoppe offers more than just Key Lime Pies - you can choose from salsas, spices, jellies, and even Key Lime Dog Treats! And the Key West Key Lime Pie Co. is home to The Original Key Lime Pie Bar: slices of their handmade key lime pie dipped in rich chocolate and served on a stick. Have fun sampling and decide for yourself!