KEY WEST CUISINE

Bringing the Big Easy to Key West


 

 

If you step into the walk-in refrigerator at Blossoms Cajun Kitchen at the quiet end of Old Town you would be hard pressed to find any store-bought non-perishable ingredients or ready-made sauces and seasonings. Instead almost everything will have been crafted just hours ago and labeled accordingly in its own reusable container. Whenever painstakingly possible, all that is made at Blossoms is carefully curated from scratch whether it be the muffuletta bread or the andouille sausage. That makes sitting outside on the patio, along the edge of a charming residential neighborhood while enjoying an authentic gumbo feel as though you have suddenly been transported to the humble yesteryears of the French Quarter before it was crowded. Except it is here, 1,000 miles away and located at 408 White St. with none of the pretense and with all of the charm.

“When you make it from scratch, you tend to run out of stuff sometimes because you only made enough for that day,” Blossoms owner Shannan De La Rosa admits. “It’s happened to us a few times. Once we ran out of almost everything and had to close early.”

 

 

For those seeking a change but not wanting to give up their identities, Key West can be the welcoming hug that you’ve been looking for. For Louisiana natives Shannan and her husband José, it was the sun they first came looking for. After Hurricane Katrina led them to the freezing winters of upstate New York for seven too long, cold years, they decided to go as far south as they could legally go. It took them only four hours to fall in love with the island that reminded them a little bit of where they came from. The couple moved down exactly 365 days later, having found the paradise they were looking for. But paradise was missing one thing: the food they were accustomed to eating.

Key West and New Orleans have a lot of similarities. Both are a little quirky. Thanks to their Bourbon Street and our Duval Street, both have developed a reputation as laid back and easy-going drinking towns, where walking around with a beverage in your hand is not only tolerated but perfectly normal. Yet even with all the boxes that each place simultaneously ticks off, one of the obvious differences between the Conch Republic and the Big Easy is the cuisine. With its blend of French, Spanish, West African, Amerindian, Haitian, German and Italian influences it is hard to compete with the assertiveness of this uniquely particular fusion that is the backbone of New Orleans. And although Key West lacks no shortage of world-class restaurants, most would argue that nothing comes close to not only the history, but the flavor of Creole and Cajun cooking.

 

 

“This is so much in Key West like New Orleans except there is way less crime here and you can swim in the ocean,” Shannon says.

“And the food is different,” I can’t help but add.

With that said it seems only natural that they would pool their years of experience in the hospitality industry with the knowledge of the dishes they grew up eating, buy the small café known as Blossoms and turn it into their own little culinary destination. What was once a sandwich shop with a shady history is now a mom-and-pop restaurant with all the fixin’s and it’s worth mentioning that they have recently renovated. Gone are the bags of animal feed that used to be piled high in the corner. Brand new floors, a fresh coat of paint, up-cycled tiffany lamps and intimate tables have all been added.

“Everyone used to reference it as a hole in the wall or a dive,” Shannan explains. “Now they say it’s like eating at home with your family.”

Shannan and José have created a family of loyal patrons. Locals and tourists alike come back again and again for comfort dishes like the crawfish étouffée, the jambalaya and the bayou trio, a mix of alligator, crawfish and shrimp over rice in a rich, creamy sauce. Shannan tells me takes more than six hours to make the sauce. And she won’t share the recipe.

“It’s orgasmic!” she exclaims. “Our food is authentic and savory and keeps you coming back for more. I’m very proud to say that we’ve gotten awards from Yelp because we are the only fivestar restaurant in town with over 100 reviews. Even with 132 reviews we’ve managed to keep the five stars.”

They also come back for the laughs.

“We joke around as much as we can. If they dish it out, then I dish it right back,” Shannan smiles.

The two make a dedicated team by respectfully honoring both their heritage and their customers. If Shannan isn’t managing the front of the house and José isn’t in the kitchen then that’s because they are not open.

Although Blossoms does not offer alcoholic beverages for sale, it is BYOB certified so make sure that you bring a six pack with you to go along with your traditional fried shrimp po’boy. An ice cold one will help wash down the little bit of heat from the homemade remoulade. They also offer catering for large events or will pack up quarts of their delicious stews for you to take home and pass around the table family-style with your friends. One thing is for certain though, that if you choose to visit their newly renovated dining room then it will be like you are hanging out with Shannan and José in a place that is a little like New Orleans, but without a doubt unmistakably Key West.

Bon appétit! ¦

Blossoms Cajun Kitchen 408 White Street 305- 294- 9496

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