The most traveled and visible street in Key West is only the beginning, the surface, of what the town has to offer. Ask the locals about their favorite spots, stroll through quiet neighborhoods or down alleyways off Duval and you’ll begin to dive deeper into the quieter, more diverse and less readily apparent offerings. Here are nine spots that you might not see at first glance.
The Café, 509 Southard St. 305-296- 5515; www.thecafekw.com. This cozy, innovative restaurant has been redefining vegetarian cuisine for over 13 years. With a warm Bohemian décor that includes local art adorning the walls, its menu offers a variety of options to suit all tastes along with craft beers, organic wines and an array of sangria flavors plus fresh juices, flavored house-made tonics or Café kombucha on tap. Omnivores will appreciate seafood dishes like blackened mahi-mahi and P.E.I. mussels. The famous veggie burger is not to be missed along with the falafel, house-made spring rolls, quinoa and avocado salad, stir-fries or fresh fish chimichurri tacos. Finish with vegan key lime cheesecake or vegan carrot cake. Everything is made from scratch, so be sure to check out the nightly specials. The Café also has an extensive weekend brunch menu with bottomless mimosas. Grab a comfy, colorful seat in front of the window, or opt for takeout. They even deliver.
Cornish Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, 702 Whitehead St. Established in 1864 by former slave Sandy Cornish and his wife Lillah. The current building was built in 1894.
The Reverend Long organized the Bethel A.M.E Church in 1870 at 712 Duval St. It was destroyed by a fire in 1922 and the congregation then moved to the corner of Thomas Street. and Truman Avenue. The building features masonry walls, twin towers in front and pointed-arch windows reminiscent of the Gothic Revival Style.
Key West Island Bookstore, 513 Fleming St. www.Keywestislandbooks.com, 305-294-2904. This decades-old boutique bookstore offers a surprisingly varied wealth of current and used titles, from best sellers to rare titles. Often open late, it’s an inviting place to browse among the crowded stacks.
Cuban Coffee Queen, 284 Margaret St. 305-292-4747; www.cubancoffeequeen.com. The strong Cuban coffee at this hole in the wall is also rich in Key West heritage. A Café Con Leche paired with a classic Cuban sandwich or some Havana rice and beans will keep you going long into a Key West night.
Better than Sex, 926 Simonton St. 305-296-8102; www.betterthansexkeywest.com). A great place for couples. Swing by this dessert only, adults only restaurant late in the evening. Indulge your senses with chocolate dipped wine glasses and cheeky, homemade desserts and beverages such as an Ephemere Apple Spiced Ale in a tall beer glass with a signature caramel rim-job. Lick it good.
Deuces “Off the Hook” Grill, 728 Simonton St. 305-414-8428; www.offthehookkeywest.com. Tucked in a quiet neighborhood, Off the Hook serves breakfast and lunch, but the creative and well-executed dinner menu featuring fresh seafood is especially enticing. Grouper in a French bouillabaisse broth, Fish and Chips featuring mahi-mahi, and slow roasted Jamaican Jerk chicken thighs are recommended along with dark chocolate covered banana bread for dessert. The Duck BLT pizza is also delicious. It’s a small space so reservations are recommended.
La Rubia Fine Hats, 510 Fleming St. 305-296-6059; www.larubiakeywest.com. The Florida Keys’ only importer of authentic Panama hats. The owners developed this boutique to carry on the centuries-old tradition of hand weaving hats, which come from Ecuador and not Panama, by the way. There are styles for both men and women in a wide array of colors and weaves. They also offer a nice selection of wearable, fair trade crafts such as jewelry, ikat wraps and shigra bags.
Little Pearl, 632 Olivia St. 305- 204-4762; www.littlepearlkeywest.com. Nestled in the heart of Old Town Key West and away from the bustling downtown streets sits an excellent spot for fresh local catch and innovative cuisine with a tropical twist. It’s new, it’s hot and reservations are required. ¦