Michael and I have traveled to Key West several times, but our first visit to Key West was interesting, fun, and entirely enchanting. We were very very young and very poor. We wanted to stay long enough to be bored. Ah, youth. We booked a guest house for two weeks, just off Duval Street that had a courtyard in the center with a pool and lounge chairs. They offered breakfast in the morning and cocktails at the appropriate hour in the afternoon. That suited our budget perfectly.
Even back then, Key West was expensive. We arrived with three pounds of home-made pimento cheese, crackers, several bottles of vodka and White Cheddar Cheese "Poofs". This would be our cottage home sustenance for two weeks We had a $50.00 a day budget between the two of us to last two weeks, which included a $20.00 a night door charge for the Copa Cabana Nightclub. That left us with $30.00 a day for food and drinks.
We spent the days scootering around the island, stopping at various bars and cafes and occasionally sunning on the few beaches Key West had to offer. We were young and our food palates were young. Fried food was fantastic. We usually had to share plates to stay within our budget; and that usually carried a $15.00r extra plate charge at most places. We would split fishermen's platters, fried scallops, cuban sandwiches, and even cocktails. We were rich in spirit, but pocket poor.
We did discover the joy of conch chowder and conch ceviche one afternoon when our scooters ran out of gas on the west side of the island near a dive road-side restaurant. Never before had we had anything that chewy and fabulous at the same time. Tart, salty. savory, and sweet. A food discovery and an adventure!
Every night Mallory Square & Dock beckoned everyone on the island to celebrate the sunset. Carnival!
A crazy kind of love happened every night on Mallory dock. A love affair with the food, the drinks, the island, the water, and the sunset. Afterward, we would share a dinner, take a disco nap and ready ourselves for a night at the Copa.
On our last night in Key West, we went to Sloppy Joe's because that's what you did (and still do) in Key West. We drank at the bar and played drinking games with all of the normal people until we got hungry. After two weeks of sharing plates, eating pimento cheese, and White Cheddar Poofs we were hungry.
Next to Sloppy Joe's was a take-out food joint. It was literally a hole in the wall, cut out of the side of a building for walk-up business with a shelf to lean on while-you-ordered your food.
We ordered barbecued ribs, vinegar-splashed black beans, yellow rice, and fried shrimp. The ribs, rice, beans, and shrimp all came in individual little red & white checkered paper boats with waxed paper lining. We gathered up our dinner and walked down to Mallory dock. There were couples walking hand in hand, kissing, fighting and drinking almost in quiet reverence. Private public moments. Gone were the sword swallowers, the fire eaters, the jugglers, the food hawkers, and even the Key Lime Tart woman. It was quiet.
We sat on the edge of the dock with our legs and feet dangling over the water like three-year-olds at the grown up table, and ate.
The shrimp were huge and long, perfectly fresh, sweet, and crisp, needing only a lemon drizzle. The ribs were sticky and messy, coating our lips. The rice and beans were soothing. We had forgotten to take any plastic silverware, so we ate with our hands, using the ribs as utensils for the rice, licking our fingers and laughing. Each lick was a mouthful of sweet barbecue, tart vinegar, shrimp grease, lemon, and yellow rice. Stained hands and fingers. Laughing.
It was delicious.
We finished our dinner and stared out over the black blue water, knowing this was our last night in Key West.