I DON’T CARE WHAT ANY Noël- crooning chanteuse has to say about the winter season — to me, Thanksgiving is the real most wonderful time of the year.
When else are you allowed — nay, encouraged — to gorge yourself on a week’s worth of food, walk around with your pants unbuttoned (or, my sartorial preference, the stretchiest pants you own), and yell at the television while impossibly burly dudes throw a ball back and forth (go Cowboys!), all in homage to some apocryphally idyllic breaking of bread in the historical equivalent of the most uncomfortable dinner date of all time?
Though there will be no crispness in the air, and no leaves or snowflakes falling, we here in Key West will be giving thanks the only ways we know how: with good food, copious drink and an outdoor activity or two for good measure (after all, we’re mostly thankful that we don’t have to wear itchy sweaters and clunky boots to Thanksgiving dinner). And because Florida Weekly is also thankful for you, our loyal readers, we’re going to let you in on our favorite turkey day activities. Just promise us you’ll still love us after you emerge from your delicious, delicious food coma.
If you’ve escaped to Key West for Thanksgiving to get away from an interminable family dinner, during which your Great Aunt Gwendolyn won’t stop asking you for the millionth time when you’re going to settle down and have kids, you’re in for some serious gastronomic luck. Key West’s motto is “One Human Family,” and we don’t suspend that mentality during the holidays. No matter when you visit our island home, you’re family while you’re here. To ensure you feel as warm and fuzzy as you should during Thanksgiving, many restaurants around town will be serving dinner on Thursday night. Your dad’s dry-as-sandpaper turkey and that awful canned cranberry sauce be damned, you’ll have an overwhelming number of options for a gourmet Thanksgiving meal, and you won’t even have to do the dishes. Now that sounds like a holiday miracle to me.
Though a substantial number of restaurants will be open and serving their typical menus, a handful are preparing Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixings, including: Bagatelle (115 Duval St.), The Boat House (700 Front St.), Café Solé (1029 Southard St.), Commodore (700 Front St.), Duffy’s (1007 Simonton St.), Grand Café (314 Duval St.), Hot Tin Roof (0 Duval St.), La Trattoria (524 Duval St. and 3593 S. Roosevelt Blvd.), Martin’s (917 Duval St. — did somebody say turkey schnitzel?), One Duval at the Pier House Resort (1 Duval St.), Prime Steakhouse (951 Caroline St.), Rooftop Café (308 Front St.), SHOR at the Hyatt Resort (601 Front St.), Spencer’s by the Sea (1435 Simonton St.), Sun Sun at the Casa Marina Resort (1500 Reynolds St.), and Tavern ‘n Town at the Marriott Beachside (3841 N. Roosevelt Blvd.). A full list of restaurants open on Thursday can be found at www.thekeywester.com/2017/11/keywest thanksgiving-2017/. These restaurants will get booked up fast, however, so make sure you call ahead and snag a reservation as soon as you make the difficult decision of where to eat (analysis paralysis is real, people).
Most of the above-listed restaurants are serving traditional meals (all of which are going to be delicious and way better than having to roast a turkey for 26 hours while trying to cook eight side dishes and juggling a glass of wine because, let’s be honest, making a large meal is stressful and wine is delicious), but a few restaurants are coloring outside the culinary lines in their own weird and wonderful ways. One such restaurant is Firefly (223 Petronia St.), thanks to rock star head chef Russ Ferstle. From 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, Firefly will be offering a three-course Southern-inspired meal for $50 a head that has honestly made me want to cancel all of my plans and post up there for as long as they’ll feed me.
Chef Russ is starting his meal with poblano cheddar cornbread muffins served with cultured butter and a relish tray with assorted pickles, pork rillettes and Asian pear mostarda. I’m pretty sure they didn’t have Asian pear anything at the first Thanksgiving, but I am suddenly very thankful for cross-cultural culinary exchange. There will, of course, be turkey but Russ’ two versions are house smoked and pressure fried and served with a madeira gravy, sage sausage, cornbread stuffing, mashed potatoes, brussels sprout casserole and baby rainbow carrots with toasted benne seeds. Dessert (my favorite part) will be cheesecake and fresh berry cobbler. Napping is encouraged (though you might have to leave the restaurant before you bed down). And did I mention that you get all of this for $50? Pardon me while I preemptively unbutton my pants.
Firefly owner Tricia Coyne opts to serve dinner on Thanksgiving because she truly loves the spirit of the holiday.
“Thanksgiving is one of my favorite services of the year,” Tricia says. “We have people who come back every year for Thanksgiving. One family even asked if they could come to my house for Thanksgiving if we weren’t serving at the restaurant. I’ve also been emailing with a British couple who is excited for their first American Thanksgiving dinner. Southern food is all about tradition, and I think Thanksgiving traditions are often some of people’s fondest memories. We’re only serving from 4 to 8 p.m. so that our staff can spend time with their families, but we all usually end up hanging out and eating the leftovers with our Firefly family.”
On a budget but still want to chow down like it’s your last meal on earth? Chef Patrick Rooney (Paddy to his friends) at locals’ favorite Mary Ellen’s Bar (420 Appelrouth Ln.) has got your back. For the ridiculously low price of $15, Mary Ellen’s will be serving turkey noodle soup, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, creamed carrots, roasted potatoes, turkey in a Guinness gravy, traditional stuffing and pumpkin pie cheesecake with chocolate mousse. As if the meal wasn’t enough, Mary Ellen’s bar is fully stocked and the bar will be showing all of the Thanksgiving Day football games starting with the Vikings vs. Lions at 12:30 p.m. If this is a dream, please don’t wake me — food, booze, and sports all day. I think I may have died and gone to my own little twisted version of the Great Beyond.
I’m sure there are some of you out there who are having a hard time reconciling the fact that you won’t be preparing a 10-course meal this Thanksgiving. Bobby and Art at Bobby’s Monkey Bar (900 Simonton St.) understand that, for many, cooking is an expression of love (for better or for worse, we all have that one family member who insists on bringing her flavorless green-bean casserole year after bland, uneaten year, and so, every year, Bobby’s plays host to an eclectic Thanksgiving potluck. Regulars sign up to bring dishes way in advance (as much to stake their claim to their favorites as to avoid redundancies) and the night always ends as every night ends at Bobby’s — in a beautiful, drunken, karaoke love fest.
If you’re reading this after Nov. 23 and fear you’ve missed your opportunity to indulge in the traditional Thanksgiving cornucopia, don’t fret. Pepe’s (806 Caroline St.) serves Thanksgiving dinner every Thursday of the year. Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and cocktails with fresh-squeezed juice. What goes better with turkey and stuffing than a Greyhound with grapefruit juice fresh from the press? Pepe’s, we are so very thankful for you.
Chances are, if you’re in Key West, the weather is beautiful (they don’t call this paradise for nothing) and you may be looking to explore our beautiful aquatic surroundings. If you want to work a little for all the calories you’ll inevitably be consuming, Fury Watersports is offering its usual Ultimate Adventure Thanksgiving-style – a six-hour catamaran sail that includes snorkeling the only living coral reef in North America, parasailing, jet skiing, an inflatable water park, and Thanksgiving breakfast and lunch. The trip runs from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. and costs a mere $154.95 for adults and $109.95 for children – a total bargain when you consider you’re spending six hours cavorting in the middle of the ocean and enjoying an entire Thanksgiving meal at sea. When was the last time you ate turkey and sweet potato casserole on a catamaran? And you’re not truly living until you can say you got to see Key West from above with a belly full of stuffing. A word to the wise: if you book online at www.furycat.com/ key-west/thanksgiving, you can save 10 percent on the Thanksgiving Ultimate Adventure using the code ONLINE.
Sunset Watersports appreciates that some of you want to get out on the water, but don’t have any inclination to be up or active that early in the morning (or active at all, really). From 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Nov. 23, it will be offering a Thanksgiving Sunset Dinner Cruise. For $69 per person and $39 for children, you get a traditional turkey buffet and unlimited mixed drinks, draft beer, wine and champagne plus live music and an unobstructed view of the breathtaking Key West sunset. To reserve, call Sunset Watersports at 305-296-2554 or visit www.sunsetwatersportskeywest.com/ key-west-special-thanksgiving.html.
If, for some inhuman, unnatural reason, you have the energy and the desire to do anything over Thanksgiving weekend after you’ve spent two days stuffing yourself fuller than you stuffed your poor turkey, Hog’s Breath Saloon will have its 24th annual Hog Trot at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning. Starting at Hog’s Breath, the course tours down Whitehead Street to Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, which means you pass the Green Parrot twice. The Parrot doesn’t open until 10 a.m., but if you walk real slow I bet you can stretch that 5K into a two-hour excursion that involves a pit stop for a root beer barrel at Key West’s most famous watering hole. If you’re running for the actual health benefits (for which we salute you), a 5K is the perfect excuse to spend your day face deep in mimosas, drunk eating the remainder of your Thanksgiving leftovers. And since the race ends at Hog’s Breath, you can have your first beer of the day (for free) the minute you cross the finish line. You know, the more I think about it, the better this race sounds. If you agree, you can register online at www.hogsbreath.com/keywest/index.php/hog-trot/.
To wax serious for a rare moment, we residents of the Florida Keys are a self-selecting bunch of people who, for the most part, moved down to the end of the road because we appreciate the simple things in life and recognize that it takes very little more than good food, good weather and good company to be happy. Choosing to spend your holidays with us is an indication that you value those same things and we are truly thankful that you are here supporting our local economy and contributing to the good vibes we strive to cultivate.
Welcome to our One (Weird) Human Family. We promise not to get (too) drunk at Thanksgiving dinner or spend the meal repeatedly asking you when are you going to get a real job.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours from Florida Weekly. ¦