Saturday, November 22, 2008

Eating Out

Eating out is a certified sport in the Keys, second only to drinking and getting pie faced as a recognized activity. People talk about restaurants and hold strong opinions and don't hold back. Myself, I've learned not to be so opinionated, not least because it's easy to have a bad day in any local business. A chef who's lost his apartment, or who's boyfriend has kicked her out or who may just have a neck wringing hangover may not be in the best mood to cook. So I offer up two new restaurants with some trepidation. On the other hand they both, though very different offer similar recession busting menus.The first place has a peculiar name and an eye popping color scheme. Help Yourself is a command to the customers to do themselves a favor by eating right and not adding to the Styrofoam waste stream. I think that's what it means. It offers noodles wraps and a mix-and-match array of ingredients that makes my head spin so I went for the eight dollar Ecuadorian soup made of vegetables (turnip? Who cooks with turnips?) and quinoa a fashionable legume of some sort, pronounced kwin-wah, full of nutritious Aztec nutritiousness and little grainy balls that get wedged in your teeth. The soup was quite good actually though next time I'm coming with my own bottle of hot sauce to give its some zip. Of course I had my own reusable utensils:The kitchen at Help Yourself has been in use as a restaurant for a long time and the past couple of most recent incarnations didn't survive for whatever reason. This one bursts with energy and industriousness so I'm hoping they make it:There again I liked the Monsoon Cafe, eclectic Indian food, that was operated by an opinionated Englishman who wasn't very find of motorcycles, unlike this lot who have the bumper sticker displayed at the top of the essay. The tough times for this location come in the summer when it rains and it gets hot and sticky and people eating out do like a little air conditioning. This time of year the outdoor tables are excellent in the weak winter sun:The restaurant's street address is 829 Fleming but I still think of this location next to the laundromat as being "across from Flaming Maggie's" which was the gay/lesbian bookstore across the street named after the intersection, more or less, and which was killed they said by the Internet:
The other al fresco dining establishment that has popped up recently is a bit further up the Keys in a location that suits me perfectly on my way home, but with a very different menu:Mad Dawg'z took over a defunct garden center at Mile Marker 21.5 on Cudjoe Key and turned it into a garden restaurant:It's a brilliantly simple idea really, stick a trailer in the garden center, make the place look nice and sell excellent barbecue:We took our half rack of pork ribs with two sides to go for $12 and my wife split the food onto two plates as there was plenty for both of us. This was my share (I took the picture at home. I don't carry my own Deruta pottery around for meals to go):Barbecue is another of those touchy subjects that everyone has an opinion on, and I have enough experience of this as my wife's family lives in North Carolina, land of the endless debate with South Carolina over vinegar versus tomato. I liked the Mad Dawg'z version, not too sweet, tomato based but with a vinegar bite.You can buy meat by the pound for twelve bucks, and they also encourage bring-your-own-bottle if you want to eat on the spot. If you forgot to BYOB there is the Kickin' Back store just across Highway One. All other considerations aside they like dogs here and that makes them all right in my book, Barbecue controversy notwithstanding:And they offer sandwiches for just seven bucks apiece with one side. I'm thinking that some day when my wife's not looking a brisket sandwich with peach cobbler would make a man sized lunch.