Blue Heaven in Key West, Florida

I was chatting with a local artist in a gallery on Duval Street when we realized it was time for lunch. I asked for a recommendation. “Where the locals eat,” I prompted. Blue Heaven was his pick.  We were directed just a few blocks off the busy main drag of [amazon_textlink asin=’0147546745′ text=’Key West’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’theyums-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’fd8581f5-3ff6-11e8-8eb2-bfe7bd45a88a’], walking to the historic Bahama Village neighborhood. The small sign on a fence led us to a backyard filled with tropical foliage. Dueling guitarists were playing, gypsy chickens and cats were wandering, and the place was packed. The contrast between the quiet neighborhood streets and the bustling backyard was a good indication we had happened on something special.

Location: 729 Thomas Street, Key West, [amazon_textlink asin=’1465440941′ text=’Florida’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’theyums-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’6779af09-3ff7-11e8-a185-99915007ebb0′]

Menu:  Seafood, Caribbean, Vegetarian.  Chef David Dorsty likes to describe his style as “clean and highly developed flavors with an emphasis on fermentation, spice, and authenticity.”  Examples of this include the Carrot and Curry Soup garnished with mango chutney or the Miso Baked Eggplant Salad with goat cheese and orange vinaigrette.

Yellowtail snapper is a local staple and can be found on the menu as a salad, a dinner entrée, or at lunch in the Yellow Submarine Sandwich, a snapper filet on a baguette with vinegar, slaw, mango and tartar sauce. The Caribbean influence is evident in the vegetarian black bean soup or the Loaded Bowl, which includes black beans, rice, romaine, coleslaw, salsa, sour cream, cheddar cheese, avocado, and jalapeños.

The restaurant boasts the best key lime pie in town.  Freshly squeezed lime juice, a graham cracker crust and a heaping topping of meringue make it one of the tallest. Banana Heaven is the restaurant’s take on a traditional bananas foster, with the signature feature of serving the bananas flambee over a slice of banana bread before topping it with Tahitian vanilla ice cream.

Thoughts: Before cock-fighting was outlawed in the 1970s, this was a gathering place for the so-called sport. It was also famous for local boxing matches. Rumor has it [amazon_textlink asin=’0684843323′ text=’Ernest Hemingway’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’theyums-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’9cde5b0f-3ff7-11e8-bf11-7fc8d45590e2′] refereed Friday night boxing matches here.

In addition to the rooster and cats roaming, we were entertained when a small iguana jumped from a nearby rooftop onto the table of a couple near us. He quickly scurried off, leaving the adrenaline flowing in the patrons, and everyone looking around to see if he was alone or traveling with companions.

The food is fresh and delicious. The ambiance is unique and authentic. The live music adds a fun-loving tone to the atmosphere.  I knew this was different from home, and I was on vacation.

Price Range: $10-$30

Victoria Hart

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