time is a dream come true 364 days out of the year, but sometimes it feels necessary to change up the usual routine in favor of something less … Key West-y. And while it’s practically vulgar to complain about the particular strain of bourgeois malaise that comes from having too much access to the finer things in life — caviar at The Roost, briny oysters at Thirsty Mermaid, small-batch ice cream from Flamingo Crossing or a Nutella-smothered crepe from La Creperie hidden on Petronia Street — those of us lucky enough to call Key West home, or those in town looking to simply change it up for a day, needn’t look too far for a good meal off the island. There’s a whole archipelago’s worth of delicious divertissement just on the other side of the Cow Key Bridge. So top off the gas tank and buckle up for a Florida Keys foodie road trip U.S. 1. Don’t forget your appetite.
¦ Stock Island
Roostica Wood- Fire Pizzeria 5620 Macdonald Ave. www.Roostica.com
You don’t have to venture far from “the rock” to hit our first must-eatery, home of what some would argue is the best pizza in the Keys. Eating at Roostica, owned by husband-and-wife restaurant rainmakers Bobby and Michelle Mongelli, is like having Sunday supper with your big, fat Italian family. A study in textural perfection, the pizzas are crunchy on the outside, soft and pillowy on the inside and bubbly in all the right places from the blaze of the woodburning oven. And the ingredients are of the highest quality; only San Marzano tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella will do on a true Neapolitan pie.
If you’re not much of a pizza eater (do those people even exist?), the rest of the menu reads like a hit list of Italian favorites. You can’t go wrong with the hogfish piccata, the chicken parmesan or the veal marsala … or anything else, really.
¦ Big Coppitt
Bobalu’s 301 U. S. 1
You should plan on arriving ready to gorge yourself at this down-home favorite, where owners Tina and Steve serve family-style (read: enormous) New York pizzas with names like Garbage Pie (sausage, pepperoni, ham, bacon, mushrooms, onions and bell peppers), Key West Flare (ham, pineapple, bell peppers and onions) and New Haven Classic (clams, bacon and garlic, served red or white).
The vibe here is decidedly chill, the décor modest and the parking plentiful. Homemade desserts and reasonable prices make this an excellent choice for families as well as for those who simply enjoy a bargain.
¦ Saddlebunch Keys
Baby’s Coffee 3180 U. S. 1
Anti-establishment French press fans and Starbucks snobs alike will feel at home at Baby’s Coffee, a highwayside coffee shop and mini-grocery at mile marker 15 whose symbol — a redrimmed eye, wide awake and visibly caffeinated — communicates perfectly the strength of its famous brews. Baby’s has been doling out caffeine fixes to drivers heading to and from Key West for decades and in recent years has added an increasingly gourmet selection of snacks and swag to the menu. Load up on treats and an iced coffee that will keep you wide awake for the rest of your drive.
¦ Cudjoe Key
My New Joint 22668 U. S. 1
For years, legendary Lower Keys restaurant Square Grouper Bar and Grill has drawn huge crowds (and corre- spondingly huge wait times) thanks to a consistently incredible menu of excellent food, artisanal beer and wine and a friendly, funky atmosphere. Those who often found themselves twiddling their thumbs in the parking lot waiting for a table were understandably thrilled when the restaurant announced it was opening a second location … in the same spot as the first. Plunked directly on top of the Square Grouper itself, the groovy My New Joint is easily accessible, although its popularity has (predictably) reached the same stratospheric levels as its downstairs neighbor. That said, the innovative menu of sharable small plates, creative cocktails and not one, but two fondue offerings is absolutely worth the wait.
¦ Big Pine Key
Bucktooth Rooster 29943 U. S. 1
If you’re looking for some down home, stick-to-your-ribs comfort food cookin’, Bucktooth Rooster is the spot for you (and we hope you brought an army). The menu is a smorgasbord of scrumptiousness, from the Rooster Wraps (pulled pork, roasted chicken, veggies and cheese stuffed into an egg roll wrapper and fried until golden) to the World’s Ultimate Lobster Roll (served on a home-baked hoagie roll) to the six variations on a Reuben — and that’s not even a fraction of the options available. Come hungry and find out why Bucktooth Rooster is where to go for “food worth crowing about.”
¦ Big Pine Key
Good Food Conspiracy 30150 US- 1
Just down the road from Bucktooth Rooster is local hippie heaven Good Food Conspiracy, immediately recognizable from the road by its rainbow flag and Technicolor murals. It’s been in the business of selling fresh organic produce, juices, dry goods, amenities and raw and cooked vegetarian and vegan cuisine for more than 35 years and makes Whole Foods look like an Olive Garden. The walls are lined from floor to ceiling with all manner of wellnessfocused pills, potions, exotic herbs and tinctures, plus about a zillion glutenfree products. It’s famous for its homemade soups, which change daily, and made-to-order smoothies. Order one of the vegetarian sandwiches paired with a Carrot Colada (carrots blended with fresh coconut nectar), and your body will thank you. Namaste.
Keys Fisheries Market & Marina 3390 Gulfview Ave. www.Keysfisheries.com
On the north side of the Seven Mile Bridge (make sure you wave at Fred the Tree as you zoom past), Keys Fisheries is the kind of shack-chic, authentically rustic roadside eatery that screams “insider secret.” Casual, dockside fried fish and fritters, beautiful sunsets and a catchy slogan — “Good Fish Isn’t Cheap, and Cheap Fish Isn’t Good” — make this a great place to grab a quick nofrills bite, enjoy the view and then get some fresh fish to take home with you. (There’s also a comprehensive online seafood market for those who prefer ordering their mahi-mahi filets from the privacy of home, but it’s the unfussy, inperson experience that sets this place apart from its imitators.) The muchlauded Lobster Reuben, loaded with sauerkraut and served via a walk-up, to-go window, is by far the most popular dish. Eat it while throwing a few fries to the tarpon that wait patiently beside the docks, hoping for a free meal.
Bad Boy Burrito 103 Mastic St. www.Badboyburrito.com
First, they conquered Key West with their fresh, flavorful take on Mexican standards. Soon, a certain spikey-headed Food Network star took notice, all too happy to make the trek down to sample the restaurant’s Kobe beef burritos and locally-caught fish tacos. Now, they’re set on world domination.
First stop: Islamorada. Beloved Key West restaurant Bad Boy Burrito, home of the famous thick-rolled “phatties,” has been churning out the island’s best, baddest “Floribbean” food for years. But it was only last year that owners Chris and Erin Otten decided the upper Keys were ready for a dose of their particular brand of cool-kid Mexican food. You can bookend your trip with a Key West pink shrimp burrito from both the Key West and Islamorada locations.
Whatever you choose, rest assured it will pair particularly well with whichever fresh juice-based concoction is on the menu that day.
Ziggie & Mad Dog’s 83000 U. S. 1
At the end of a long drive up the Keys, sometimes all you need is a nice glass of wine and a good steak to unwind from a strenuous day of stomach-stretching. If that’s the case, Ziggie & Mad Dog’s is where you want to book a table for dinner. The wine list here is among the best on the island chain, rare Bordeauxs to Dom Pèrignon and everything in between. Start with the phyllo-encrusted escargot, then dig into a perfectly cooked Delmonico and pray they have the Viennese chocolate gateau for dessert — it’s absolutely divine. ¦