When you think about it, Thanksgiving sometimes seems like a limp piece of bologna in the holiday seasons sandwich. Before you turkey lovers get all upset, hear me out: These days, Halloween decorations appear on shelves in August and choruses of, “What are you dressing as?” seem to pepper conversation as early as Labor Day. This is especially true in Key West, where we celebrate an entire week’s worth of Halloween parties during Fantasy Fest, with seasoned vets hand-crafting unique costumes for each day of the week.
Halloween hysteria is real, and for what? So you can get a few photos to post to social media showing how amazing you look in (insert slutty costume variation here)? Give me a bag of fun-size Snickers, a glass of pinot noir and a good serial killer documentary and I’m just as thrilled as your average trick-or-treater.
Then, as soon as the last jack-o’-lantern has melted into a slack-jawed, goopy mess (which tends to happen in Key West before Halloween more often than not, thanks to the year-round humidity that ruins so much of our seasonal fun), twinkle lights and fake snow and animatronic reindeer are EVERYWHERE, reminding us that Christmas and Chanukah are upon us and we must buy ALL THE PRESENTS for our friends and family or else how will they know that we truly love them and want them to be happy?
To me, all of that is the real baloney. In my humble (and hungry) opinion, 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 shamelessly unbuttoned (or, if you’re a seasoned vet like I am, in pants as close to 100% spandex as possible), and yell at the television while burly dudes run around tackling one another for three hours (go Cowboys!), all in homage to some apocryphally idyllic breaking of bread in the historical equivalent of the most uncomfortable in-law dinner 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 wool socks and floor-length puffer coats to Thanksgiving dinner). And because the 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 and realize that none of your clothes fit.
If you’ve escaped to Key West for Thanksgiving to get away from an interminable family dinner during which your Grandma Tucky won’t stop asking you for the millionth time when you’re going to stop wearing tutus and finally settle down and have kids, you’re in some serious gastronomic luck. Key West’s infamous 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 (the Olive Garden was really onto something with that slogan). 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 will be a distant memory after you’ve experienced the overwhelming number of options for a gourmet Thanksgiving meal. And you don’t even have to do the dishes, which sounds like a holiday miracle to me.
Though almost all Key West restaurants will be open and serving their typical menus, a substantial number of them are also preparing special Thanksgiving menus (some traditional, some less so). At the A&B Marina waterfront, you have A&B Lobster House (700 Front St.), Boat House Bar and Grill (700 Front St.) and The Commodore Waterfront Restaurant (700 Front St.) to choose from. The Commodore’s $39 three-course prix fixe menu featuring maple butternut squash bisque, turkey with all the traditional side dishes and sticky toffee pudding sounds fantastic, but a little lobster at A&B Lobster House would make for a deliciously unconventional Thanksgiving meal.
Around the corner, hotel restaurants SHOR at the Hyatt Centric (601 Front St.), Hot Tin Roof at Ocean Key Resort (0 Duval St.) and Bistro 245 at Margaritaville Resort (245 Front St.) are also offering specials, including a Champagne Thanksgiving Brunch at Bistro 245 for the early birds, a $55 family-style dinner at SHOR and a $79 four-course prix fixe menu at Hot Tin Roof.
If none of those appeal to you, all of the following restaurants plan to be open on Thanksgiving, some offering special menus: Azur (425 Grinnell St.), Antonia’s (615 Duval St.), Bagatelle (115 Duval St.), Benihana (3591 S. Roosevelt Blvd.), Bliss Key West (411 Petronia St.), Café Solé (1029 Southard St.), Conch Republic Seafood Company (631 Greene St.), Duffy’s Steak and Lobster House (1007 Simonton St.), Firefly (223 Petronia St.), First Flight Island Restaurant & Brewery (301 Whitehead St.), Grand Café (314 Duval St.), Hard Rock Café (313 Duval St.), La Te Da (1125 Duval St.), La Trattoria (524 Duval St. and 3593 S. Roosevelt Blvd.), Martin’s (917 Duval St. — did somebody say turkey schnitzel?!), Matt’s Stock Island Kitchen & Bar at The Perry Hotel (7001 Shrimp Rd., Stock Island), New York Pasta Garden (1075 Duval St.), Nine One Five (915 Duval St.), Ocean Grill & Bar (1075 Duval St.), One Duval at the Pier House Resort (1 Duval St.), Pepe’s (806 Caroline St.), Prime Steakhouse (951 Caroline St.), Rooftop Café (308 Front St.), Sarabeth’s (530 Simonton St.), Shanna Key (1900 Flagler Ave.), Spencer’s by the Sea (1435 Simonton St.), Sun Sun at the Casa Marina Resort (1500 Reynolds St.), Tavern ‘n Town at the Marriott Beachside (3841 N. Roosevelt Blvd.), The Saint Hotel (417 Eaton St.) and The Stoned Crab (3101 N. Roosevelt Blvd).
Though turkey dinner options abound, these restaurants will get booked up fast, 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 — especially when it comes to a meal as crucial as Thanksgiving dinner). And honestly, you can’t go wrong with a single one of the options above. From Matt’s Stock Island Kitchen & Bar’s Thanksgiving Day Seafood Buffet (which looks ridiculous and indulgent) to the Grand Café’s $29.95 traditional Thanksgiving Feast, you’re guaranteed to be well-fed and waddling away from the dinner table.
If you’d rather enjoy a restaurant-made meal from the comfort of your own kitchen table and you’re craving a little smoky flair, we recommend you check out two of Key West’s best BBQ options: The Dirty Pig (320 Grinnell St., ) is a new BBQ joint whose smoked meats and homemade desserts are winning Key West’s hungry hearts, one happy belly at a time. For $110, you can feed a family of six (at least) with turkey breast and legs, mashed potatoes, stuffing, collard greens, cranberry chutney, gravy, cornbread muffins, pumpkin pie, carrot cake and pumpkin roll. Smoked BBQ (1801 N. Roosevelt Blvd., 305-741-7409) is offering $40 12-lb. smoked turkeys and a $90 full Thanksgiving dinner for four, which includes the turkey, a choice of three sides, 24 dinner rolls and one delicious apple pie.
On a budget but still want to chow down like it’s your last meal on Earth? Locals’ favorite Mary Ellen’s Bar (420 Appelrouth Ln.) has got your back. For ridiculously low price, Mary Ellen’s will be serving a perfectly cooked and carved turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes and roasted seasonal vegetables. As if the meal wasn’t enough, Mary Ellen’s bar is fully stocked (hello, Moscow mules on tap!) and the bar will be showing all of the Thanksgiving Day football games starting with the Bears v. 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 rotund version of the Great Beyond.
If the thought of leaving the house (or the hotel room, as the case may be) and braving the holiday crowds gives you hives, the fabulous folks over at Great Events Catering have exactly what you’re looking for. Order ahead and you’ll enjoy rotisserie-style carved turkey, gravy, green bean casserole, cranberry chutney, garlic mashed potatoes, cornbread roasted apple sage stuffing and herb monkey bread, all from the comfort of whatever soft surface you care to rest your tush upon. And the best part? This gourmet turkey dinner feeds four and will only cost you $140. Now that is something to be thankful for.
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 ten-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 lovefest.
And for something completely different than what you’d usually get at home, Bourbon St. Pub (724 Duval St.) will be hosting its Annual Turkey TurnAbout Show & Thanksgiving Buffet beginning at 5 p.m. During this one-of-a-kind event, you can nosh on turkey and all the fixings while your favorite bartenders and Bourbon St. Pub staff perform in drag. The show begins at 10 p.m. and all tips from the buffet and the performances go to the Sister Season Fund, a favorite local charity (you can’t spell Thanksgiving without “giving,” after all).
If you’re reading this after Nov. 28 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 (naturally) 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 and you may be looking to explore our stunning 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 $159.95 for adults and $124.95 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. Book online at www.furycat.com/ key-west/thanksgiving.
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 to 7 p.m. on Nov. 28, they 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 sunsetwatersportskeywest.com/thanksgiving-day-sunset-dinner cruise/.
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 26th 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 apple cider 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/ hog-trot/.
On a more serious note, 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 asking you repeatedly when you’re going to move out of your mom’s basement. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours from the Florida Weekly. ¦