Sometime in the early 1990s, Annette Foley was making her way back up the Overseas Highway after a short vacation in Key West when the sign for the Little Palm Island Ferry Service caught her eye. She had already fallen for this misfit town in the middle of the ocean and seeing that sign was like wishing on a star.
Shortly after returning back to reality — or what most people would just call the mainland — she came across a posting in the Boston Herald for that very same Little Palm Island looking for a chef de partie. She applied, got the call and they hired her over the phone. The rest, you can say, is just the story of an Irish girl now living the American dream.
“It’s a great country! Not as good as Ireland, but close,” Annette says. We’ll talk more about her sense of humor in a little bit.
Besides landing a position at one of the country’s top luxury hotels in the middle of paradise, Annette also won the green card lottery and went on to become a citizen. The Florida Keys have been her home ever since.
She made her mark in the culinary industry, first through the kitchen and then behind the bar. After Little Palm Island, Annette worked at Louie’s Backyard four years as the chef de cuisine and then she spent six months at A&B Lobster House. Then, when a broken hand kept her from cooking, she transitioned to the front of house as supervisor for both the upstairs and downstairs restaurants and then became the manager, running the whole show.
At the same time, she worked at a pizza place. “It wasn’t really about affording it,” she says. “I worked two jobs as a choice: one, to have some money for fun things and two, it kept me out of trouble.”
She worked so much for a such a long time that finally, feeling overworked and under-appreciated, she decided to take a break.
“I was sitting in Finnegan’s Wake reading an Irish newspaper and eating an Irish bacon sandwich when I happened to overhear the staff talking about a new patio bar that they were opening. My ears perked right up,” she says. That serendipitous moment turned into nine years at Finnegan’s Wake for Annette.
After leaving Finnegan’s, Annette worked at the Conch Flyer on the departure level of the Key West International Airport for 18 months. She then returned to management for three years at Azur and, before finding her current perch at the Roost, spent 18 months behind the bar at the Waterfront Brewery.
The Roost is a small, intimate and sophisticated bar within a liquor store where mixologists shake and stir up cleverly curated cocktails, like Annette’s self-titled Cheffy 75 made with Key West gin, Tito’s vodka, lemon, lime, a topping of Prosecco and a sugared rim (Cheffy is Annette’s nickname).
Other Roost favorites are the Blowin’ Smoke Up Your Glass, with Papa’s Pilar dark rum, pineapple, lime, smoked basil syrup and tiki bitters, and the Lonesome Dove, with Montelobos mezcal, Ancho Reyes chili liqueur, lime, simple syrup and grapefruit finished with a healthy splash of Prosecco.
Every day except Sunday, Annette starts her morning by checking on the small bites menu at the Roost. She creates straightforward but elegant dishes that the bartenders can easily prepare for the guests when she is not around. Her menu includes some of the finer things in life, like caviar service that is half off during happy hour (daily from 3 to 6 p.m.) and duck foie gras mousse paté.
Working out of a small commercial kitchen across the street, Annette carefully puts together plates of cheese and charcuterie, marinates cherry tomatoes and mozzarella and whips up an irresistible creamy and tangy egg yolk filling for the deviled eggs. Once everything is ready to go, she brings it all over to the bar where it can be easily assembled to order.
When Annette goes in for her 6 p.m. shift on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays and her 11 a.m. shift on Thursdays, she sometimes has a crowd waiting for her by the time she gets there. The customers find her dry humor and often snarky remarks hilarious. They tease and taunt her for more and Annette happily obliges and ‘round and ‘round it goes until the next customers come in. She’s quick with the wit and can catch an opportunity to be cheeky like a fly in midair if you’re not careful about what you say around her. She’ll keep you on your toes and on the edge of your seat.
“I’m a very attentive bartender, but I can be too fast at times,” Annette admits, then chuckles. “And I’m funny with an Irish twist. Some people call that sarcastic or sassy, but back home it’s just funny.”
Catch Annette on the other side of the bar and there’s a good chance she’ll be drinking Jameson Caskmates or her favorite, Yellow Spot. When she’s not busy being an Irish whiskey aficionado, Annette can be found cheering on the Tottenham Hotspurs or the Jacksonville Jaguars. This week though, as Annette takes another trip around the sun, she’ll be out on the town celebrating an entire well-deserved birthday weekend for a life well lived.
“My first New Year’s Eve at Finnegan’s Wake, this guy dressed as a giant rabbit asked me for a Red Bull and I went into the kitchen and brought him a red bowl of soup,” Annette remembers, “and I was so scared of him because here is this guy, dressed like a giant rabbit, asking me for a red bowl.”
Here’s to all the good memories that we can look back at and laugh about, and to the fun ones we will have in the future. Happy birthday, Annette, from the staff at Florida Weekly. ¦