One of the greatest luxuries when visiting Key West is being able to sip a cocktail and have a delicious meal in the great outdoors, while a gentle breeze causes the palms above you to rustle and the sound of the waves lapping against the sand transports you to a world where deadlines, obligations and responsibilities no longer exist.
Although the entire island is technically surrounded by water, there are only a couple places where you can have a meal and then walk a few feet to feel the sand under your toes. Salute! On the Beach, located at Higgs Beach between the White Street Pier and the Casa Marina Resort, is a true beachside dining destination.
At its heart, Salute is an Italian trattoria that adapted to Key West’s island lifestyle by incorporating Caribbean-influenced flavors. Mussels steamed in white wine, lemon and garlic are briny and succulent and the broth is absolutely addictive. Calamari are sautéed, not fried, and tossed in a marinara sauce so light you won’t have a second thought about heading out to Higgs in your swimsuit right after you eat. Any of the salads can be topped with Key West’s famous pink shrimp, spice rubbed with a Caribbean-inspired mix. I recommend the spinach salad, a refreshing mix of fresh spinach leaves, grapefruit, pickled purple onions, mushrooms and feta.
Although some dishes are purely traditional Italian sans Caribbean twist, they are no less delicious for that fact. Spaghetti and meatballs may sound pedestrian, but when the meatballs are as juicy and delicious as Salute’s are you don’t need to think outside the box. The same goes for Salute’s pasta with pesto — the pesto is herbaceous and bright and truly glorifies the humble basil leaf. Linguine with mussels in a white wine and butter sauce is the ultimate representation of the combination of Italian cuisine and island ingredients. Al dente linguine are the perfect accompaniment for fresh mussels. And after you’ve indulged in a lovely meal, the only natural conclusion is a classic Key West dessert and key lime pie is the only way to go. Piled high with a fluffy meringue, lightly torched until golden brown, Salute’s key lime pie is legendary.
Although the food is five-star quality, Salute is hyper-casual. Diners can frequently be seen enjoying their meals in bikini tops and flip flops. Live entertainment is offered on the outside patio just about every night of the week, typically with an island-inspired flair although the lineup tends to be a mixed bag of Key West’s musical who’s who. And if you sit outside during the day, the people-watching is all the entertainment you’ll ever need. The restaurant fronts right on the Higgs beach volleyball court, so you never know what kind of eye candy will accompany your meal.
Salute serves lunch from 11:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. and dinner from 5 until 9:30 p.m. seven days a week. Plan your night right and you could find yourself eating fresh-caught fish on Salute’s patio while you watch the sun sink majestically into the sea. Now that sounds like the ultimate in relaxation. ¦
Salute! On the Beach 1000 Atlantic Blvd. www.saluteonthebeach.com