Sunday, November 17, 2013

The World's Most Expensive Twinkie

When I take a shower in the middle of the day Cheyenne knows I'm heading to work without her. So she gets on the couch and pretends to sleep. That I was going in to town to see a movie didn't register with my dog as she can't tell the difference between shorts and long pants. She just knows she is being abandoned so she gets on the couch and makes me feel guilty. Good dog.
The true pain in the ass of living up Highway One is the oddball stuff that happens along the road. A roll over by some poorly trained teenage driver will close access for hours. A tanker crashing and catching fire could cut us off from Miami for a couple of days- no bad thing in itself of course but road closures are annoying. Because this is the Overseas Highway lots of groups think it would be cool to use our main drag to "raise awareness" of some cause or another. Anyone out there not "aware" of cancer? Human trafficking is a new favorite celebrity boredom chaser. I have no idea what the cyclists were making me aware of Saturday morning but I became very aware of the fact that they weren't using our new expensive bicycle path in the places where it is freshly paved and lovely. Instead they stuck their spandex bums in our faces, ran the red lights on Stock Island while cars showing support for all this important awareness paced the cyclists while waving white flags out of their windows. I was very good and sat back and enjoyed the approach to Key West at human powered cycle speed.
The sad part is that our effort to enjoy some local cultural activities fell flat on its face as the movie was a total bust. The Key West International Film Festival seems to be run by twelve year olds who when informed by me that their website sucked and I couldn't buy tickets online they responded by looking at me like I was their grandpa who had soiled his diaper once again. Which could explain why only two dozen wooly heads were in the theater to watch Big Sur a film about Jack Kerouac going through a horrendous bout of depression on the cold dank Central California Coast where I used to live. Redwoods and otters, fog and crashing waves are considerably less enticing when you've spent many years among them and know how cold and wet and windy that rugged coast really is. Give me the flat warm waters of the Keys any day. The plot unspooled inside the brain of a writer hellbent on hating everyone, a group of people left as two dimensional cyphers by the film's writer such that I realized that Key West at lunch time held far more appeal than Big Sur on the silver screen. So, my wife said as we crept out of Jack Kerouac's latest alcohol fueled death hallucination, how about Blackfin Bistro?
We strolled to the 900 block of Duval and I was looking forward to this pretty little Bistro where I have wanted to eat for some considerable time. It may be that the movie depressed me but I think I was on an even enough emotional keel to realize that this was not good value for money shortly after we arrived. Well, at last you have got this place off your chest my wife said tartly as we admired the menu. Soup du jour was expensive so we went with a small bowl of eight dollar gazpacho. And two other appetizers washed down by tap water came to 36 dollars including state sales tax.
I like to think that this is not a restaurant that uses ingredients off the Sysco truck, which criss crosses Old a Town early every morning selling "Food Products" whatever they are. I glumly approved the presentation of our first shared dish, shrimp and polenta, an upscale version of the Key West classic shrimp and grits. Pretty enough but two shrimp and a postage stamp sized piece of polenta for fourteen bucks was rough. I earn twenty four bucks an hour so subtracting taxes etc I have to work at least 45 minutes to buy this morsel. Ho hum.
We had goat cheese croquettes next with sweet onion slivers and drizzled with honey but sauce free. Twelve bucks for this dish and luckily they use quality goat cheese as the cheaper stuff I do not like as it reeks of goat to my delicate sensibilities. However a wodge of fried cheese does not a luncheon make. We could have had a main course for thirty bucks but the menu was not imaginative, sandwiches salads and sirloin steak, and all I could think was that Santiago's Bodega on Petronia is a warm inviting place where Blackfin's acoustics prevented us conversing across our table, Santiago's wine list excites my curiosity and we get a ton of tapas for the same money. Sitting up all night taking 911 calls to pay for this does not compute. Bummer.
I am not a compulsive restaurant goer and as time goes by I am more and more inclined to buy quality to go food, have a picnic or eat at home on the couch (with Cheyenne snoozing on her bed thank you). I know Dion's fried chicken isn't fine dining, bad boy burrito is just a funny sandwich, and a Cuban sandwich is packed with calories but value for money makes a treat taste good. Hell's teeth I can make a plate of pasta for pennies and I know I like the wines in my cooler at home. I am astounded how many people I see packing these restaurants day after night after day in Key West and they seem to love spending money in places I feel no affinity for, so I feel like I am missing something at BlackFin Bistro, Key West.
For some reason Kilwins a newish chocolate shop has been nudging the edges of my consciousness. Two of my colleagues love this place, two tightwad hot blooded, opinionated Cuban women who started batting around the idea if having ice cream and candy apples after work one day. I was surprised by their vehemence but I ignored them, calorie conscious me. Ha! Then my wife, as we played tourist on Duval yesterday suggested pudding at Kilwin's out of the blue. Okay I said, always the follower and never the leader (I tried at Backfin) when it comes to menu making. Kilwins Key West is some kind of franchise thing with those bland corporate "values" Head Office likes to sentimentalize like "having fun" on the job, which sounds like a substitute for a benefits package, as usual. The chocolates speak for themselves without any need for Orwellian sales talk. They are good. The one I had was at any rate.
The kid at the front expressed the proper corporate sentiments and offered us a taste of fudge. I thought that would do my wife but she was ready to buy. Kilwins was the antidote to the cultural shortcomings of the weekend thus far. I haven't yet mentioned our foray to the Red Barn Theater Friday evening to see a new play written by an actual Key West resident who has had a career I am told selling dust catchers on television. This guy goes by the name of Bobby Bowersox, which sounds like an alliterative stage name but not so apparently, and he used to make a living selling zirconium whatsits on one of those shopping channels. Anyway he wrote a play and the Red Barn put it on and we went to see it. The setting was an Irish pub in Philadelphia sometime in the past when coin phones did the work of cell phones. One of four friends has died and the other three have slipped away from the wake to drink whiskey. The widow shows up as does a stranger with a story to tell and everyone gets annoyed. I found the drama a little pat and the loose ends tied up too easily but it was a pleasant night out even driving home through the rain that lashed the Lower Keys Friday night.
I don't want to give away the plot of the drama which plays through the 23rd at the Red Barn Theatre but I did want a bit more confrontation when deep dark secrets are revealed about a character of whom we know too little but chocolate repairs all human heartache and what the Red Barn lacked the chocolate shop had in spades. I skipped the candy apples though I could see why Nelly could have difficulty erasing them from her mind once tasted. A modern day Eve is my colleague...I resisted the temptation.
I went with a six and a half dollar Twinkie, which considering you can buy 20 normal Twinkies for the same price (I checked online) must make this a pretty damn pricey Twinkie in normal commerce. I know that Twinkies nearly disappeared recently when faced with a drive to wreck a few more working class benefits and idiots everywhere were prepared to pay silly money for the things. That fiasco left me cold, as I have no nostalgia for Twinkies and the few Hostess cakes I have entertained have been bland and generally flavor free, but the loss of decent union jobs however does leave me steamed. I watched people bid on the "last" Twinkies with amazement, sure that corporate America had a back door union busting plan in place. My cynicism was justified of course and a few saps were left holding monstrously expensive flavor-free cakes. I on the other hand had a delicious Kilwin's Twinkie yesterday. Astonishing but true. And they give a local's discount though the clerk actually did check my wife's ID so don't you try it on.
My wife decided to get two pieces of cheaper candy to my one and we left the store spending one third what we spent for lunch. It really is bloody difficult to explain value for money, but I left this place feeling okay about the absurd price. Human nature is just one more reason I would make a terrible businessman; it baffles me, even in myself does human nature.
We strolled Duval Street like tourists, side stepping the shuffling crowds on the sidewalk. It felt as though winter must be cold Up North seeing all these people Down Here trailing their flip flopped feet as they ride rental scooters.
I grew up enjoying pasta and olive oil and garlic on vacations at my mother's home in Italy, flavors that we consider sophisticated these days when pasta in a can is no longer acceptable. Yet in England in school I learned to like the peculiar foods of my boarding school youth including Marmite and sticky pudding and sponge cakes, custards and the particular sweet milk chocolate only the English know how to make. It turns out a Kilwin's Twinkie makes a very passable milk chocolate sponge cake hitting two of the essential food groups. I woofed the thing before we got to St Paul's. Embarrassing.
It was fun playing tourist on Duval and let me say we checked the traffic and the lights before we crossed the side streets. Locals like to boast that they never go to Duval Street, but people come from all over the world to see this place so I figure I can do no less from time to time. Besides I'm getting low on cheap pink Crocs in men's size 12.
The Croc shop had nothing on sale so we went back to the car empty handed - the Kilwin's was long gone!
All kinds of wildness you will see on Duval Street. Even Harley riders wearing all the gear. Bloody tourists. I was one for a bit and it was fun. You're the loser if you don't stroll Duval from time to time.