I like Square Grouper and you can take that as a recommendation if you want though there are no guarantees you will like what I like. Certainly if you drive to Key West and pass through Cudjoe (pro: Kud-joe in American English) you probably won't spare a second glance at the barn like building on the south side of the Overseas Highway: There's a beauty spa of some sort upstairs but downstairs there is a transformation awaiting anyone ready to risk lunch or dinner is such an unpromising building:
Yes, the pyramid in the back of the dining room is a wine rack:
And if you wander all the way back past the second dining area you come to the dessert room. In the Lower Keys there is no better place to order chocolate fondue and sit around on cubical poofs and dip your fruit in melted chocolate:Fish is the theme here. In American English grouper is pronounced group-er. In British English for reasons I can't hope to understand they call these fish: grope-er. Which sound weird to me. But a trophy is a trophy to an angler and the walls are lined with them:
As is often the case lunch is a better deal than dinner and this place is packed every day it's open. We came late to lunch on the weekend and enjoyed a quiet nook with a friend.
Though the front room was buzzing with people still:
Whoops, more trophies. Goliath groupers, formerly known as Jewfish are no longer allowed to be caught. They changed the name because they thought Jews would be offended, however as far as I know no Jew spoke up on the subject so mostly people still call them Jewfish, including my wife, the preeminent expert on Judaism in my family, what with her being one (a Jew I mean, not a fish).I hoped someone would order panko encrusted yellowtail but Kathy and I both ordered the bistro steak while my wife got a plate of tuna, a dish she loves but finds it difficult to have it prepared as she likes it. Square Grouper is apparently reliable in the raw tuna (ugh!) department. I nearly surrendered to the blandishments of the blueberry banana bread pudding in rum sauce but heroically held off. You don't have to have a table full of people to enjoy Square Grouper either, they have a very welcoming bar. That flash of white is high speed bar service in action:
Wine by the glass at seven dollars a pop:
And time to lounge and talk and wonder at how lucky one is to live around the corner from this place:
And here's my wife's raw fish.
And my well cooked steak:
One has to explain the name of the place I suppose, and there was a clear illustration in the men's loo. That serious minded coast guardsman is presiding over a catch of square grouper somewhere in the Caribbean:In the 1970s the Keys were major entryway for marijuana and later cocaine into the Keys. Bales of marijuana such as those seen in the picture above were known jocularly as "square grouper" as they were frequently dumped at sea and could be found bobbing around in the water as smugglers evaded law enforcement and tossed the evidence over the side.
Smuggling has always been a component of life in the Keys, I read Charlotte's Story (reviewed March 20th, 2008 in this blog) about pioneering life in the Keys, and discovered much to my astonishment that they too encountered smugglers and the Border Patrol playing high jinks on the high seas much as today. I have always found talk of piracy in the Keys to be rather unlikely, yet smuggling is rooted here in reality and gets no place in the popular imagination. Aside from the posters in the loo there is a tongue twister above the bar. And a splendid bar it is too.