Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Summer In Winter

It's been a while since I was last here and not much has changed since August 2008 at 616 Louisa Street...
Key West Diary: Gato Village Pocket Park

However I guess the big difference was the temperature when Cheyenne and I ambled by the other day. We've had a couple of cold fronts almost back to back and temperatures have been below seventy degrees.
We had been walking in a giant circle around Old Town on a gloriously cool afternoon under crude sunshine and I think we were both a bit tired after three hours slow steady tramping. This recreation of a cigar worker's 19th century cottage was just the spot for us to put our feet up. My plan was to use the bench near the entrance, but Cheyenne had other ideas.
As though it were an actual house she took up residence on the porch and when I sat next to her, my back to a roof support pole she rolled back and passed out.
I love having my Kindle on my phone so when she passed out I had my book in my pocket. I have got into the fifth novel in the Aurelio Zen series and I was reading all about his police work in Naples which was a chaotic contrast to my surroundings.
Her rhythmic pulsating snores made me sleepy and my head started to droop as I sprawled in the sun. It felt like a summer afternoon in a more temperate climate. All I missed was the buzzing of bees.
Eventually, perhaps after forty five minutes of reading and napping I jerked myself awake. I was alone at home and had to dinner to prepare for both of us. Which can be stressful trying to sort out who's slop goes into who's bowl.
Reluctantly I swung the gate closed behind us and off we tottered as I tried to clear the sleep from my head and remember where I parked the car. Cheyenne was no help but I figured I could always call 911 if I couldn't find it.

Monday, January 27, 2014

This Month's Signs

For the first time I actually read the marker the Methodist church on Eaton at Simonton Streets. Cheyenne was sniffing the bushes and I took the time to ponder the church's history and it was quite unusual. Apparently a couple of Methodists showed up in 1832 just four years after the city was chartered and they built a wooden church. Eventually I guess they were sowing on fertile soil because they mined the rock at the church site and built the stone church around the wooden one as they were able. When they were done they disassembled the wooden church and carried it out through the front door. There endth the lesson.
The sign below puts me in mind of Matthew 25:40 as it is at the back entrance to St Paul's parking lot.

On Duval Street they are offering special tote bags at the Harley shop. Once there was an actual Harley dealer on Truman Avenue, but Horne's closed after the owner retired and that was that. All we have left is a Harley lifestyle store.

This sign was on the north end of Duval and while I knew skating on Duval is prohibited by the city the bit about adjacent streets was new to me. In Florida as a general rule bicycles are allowed on sidewalks as long as they yield to pedestrians.
Race Week came in the middle of some wind and when I was at Mallory Square I caught the Conch Republic flag streaming madly as the fleet set off for the race course outside the harbor.
The free weekly paper put excitement on their cover but the actual racing is not visible to viewers on land, unless you count a gaggle of triangles bopping around on the distant horizon.
The illuminated signboard shown below is the rankings in the various classes as displayed at Race headquarters on Caroline Street. The strategically placed fencing keeps hoi polloi like you and me far away so even if we evinced an interest in this non-spectacle we can find out nothing. With this sort of attitude sailboat racing is in no danger of supplanting football as a widely followed sport.
I spotted a signboard new to me advertising the Latitudes Restaurant on nearby Sunset Key. I guess exclusivity is a disadvantage in a weak economy. So out comes the advertising, and I will say I really enjoy lunch, a reasonably priced meal on the island with free ferry service from the Westin hotel dock.
I've seen the poster before but the hand written note, in caligraphy anyone might envy, I found charming. Seen on Simonton Street.
From the sublime to the irritating. I know it's only a bar and I have a pretty good idea the sign means noon because opening at midnight would be absurd, BUT if you are to put up a sign to inform people taking the time to get it right...should be second nature. What a garbled society we have become.
These billboards may be a sign of the future, a future of more electronic information. Key West The News used to publish weekly in print. After the original publisher retired they went to a digital format supllemented by these ingenious billboards posted in the among the traditional new stands. Not how this reader is actually holding a rival's paper copy. Key West the Newspaper (The Blue Paper)
I hate the idea that paper newspapers will disappear but reading the signs it seems inevitable. For now we hold on. Mind you without electrons this page wouldn't exist.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Clams And Cronuts

A friend of mine came to Key West from New Jersey and had a hole in his life for many years. Then DJ's Clam Shack opened on Duval where the Middle Eastern falafel joint used to be. He told me that at long last Key West had a place where you could buy a proper lobster roll. D J's Clam Shack on Duval doesn't have a huge Menu but it's interesting because it's unusual for around here.

What, I asked naively, is a lobster roll? He rolled his eyes at my hopeless ignorance. Is it my fault I grew to maturity as an adult in California, and East Coast delicacies passed me by? I am told Maine makes lobster rolls as a state institution such that McDonalds in Maine sells them as part of their local menu.
D J's has Yuengling on draft which is a good sign but I can't drink in the middle of the day else I pass out, so I settled on a soda. The food? Well that had to be a lobster roll for a first visit. What, I asked the rather bored dude behind the tiny counter, are Ipswich clams, thinking of their namesake place in eastern England. They are specially flown in from Massachusetts so they can be fried he said. The clams on display he added were regular clams, the ones I like in broth or on pasta. Clams fried? Weird. I'll try the Ipswich model next time.
My lobster roll showed up in short order and I took a seat overlooking the nine hundred block of Duval. Hmm, cold lobster chunks in mayonnaise. I prodded the red flesh cautiously with an inadequate plastic fork. It was the roll that shocked me, consisting as it did of soft sweet yellow bread. The lobster was fine, not too goopy and the whole thing was surprisingly good. The coleslaw was fresh and crisp. I enjoyed lunch.

Here's a thing. I heard the gloomy guy telling another customer this clam shack is going to on the food channel in a couple of months. I had heard the drive-in guy was in town and apparently it will be an all Key West show with reviews of Badboy Burrito and Garbo's. So as it happens my culinary travels while my wife was away has helped me cover these local take out eateries. I love Badboy and my first encounter with Garbo's was excellent and both those joints represent Key West cuisine, a local twist on classics. A lobster roll though doesn't seem particularly Key West, as good as the food was, and I am going back for the clams...and another lobster roll! However if you wanted a third Key West dive or diner I would plump for El Mocho on Stock Island as representative of Cuban cuisine, because Cuban is actually a true local ethnic cuisine. Perhaps for a TV show El Mocho is maybe a tad bit too ethnic. So then why not El Siboney or even Sandys or Five Brothers...pick your poison. But New England lobster? Weird.

Hey, it's their TV show and I'm sure we all have opinions. Good luck to 'em. Meanwhile back in Old San Juan my wife was having a farewell lunch in the other Commonwealth. I rather liked the look of the pork chop in guava sauce, and wondering about that...got me wondering why we are so afraid of how other people do things. I wonder why the food channel is so white and so mainstream. We don't have TV at home so perhaps our occasional glimpses while on the road have revealed an excessively monochrome food channel.

On the other hand before we get carried away, judging solely by the exterior, that eatery in Puerto Rico does not look like a diner, and certainly not a dive, and drive-ins weren't around in the 17th century when the "Rich Island" was living the high life and English colonists were floundering around in bogs and forests.

After the lobster roll exploration I figured I had less than twelve hours before my wife got home so pudding was in order, another opportunity to explore outside my usual haunts. In my world pudding is anything sweet eaten to end a meal and it so happened I had left my dog in the car in a shady spot in front of a bakery called Key West Amazing Cakes and Creations on Fleming Street just off Duval.

I'd heard about the doughnut and croissant crossover started in New York and breathlessly reported on a National Public Radio. They also told of huge lines and limited sales at the bakery to spread the wealth of a few hundred Cronuts among the masses. I could not imagine standing in line for hours to buy a pastry. But I was curious.

I guess by the time deep fried croissant pastry shaped more or less into a doughnut, reached Key West the lines have thinned. I only had to wait a couple of seconds for the nice lady to come out from the back before she offered me the choice of chocolate vanilla or strawberry and with a vanilla I took a stool balancing my bun and a cup of coffee. Here goes nothing.

It wasn't bad at all. Fried pastry can't taste bad but ambrosia it's not. I'm not certain I would choose fried croissant dough over a "proper" doughnut given the choice. A cruller ("old fashioned" in California) might beat out a Cronut in a contest. On the other hand let me get back to you. I texted my wife and she wanted a taste when she got home so I put a chocolate and a strawberry in a to-go container for home later. Then I'll know for sure which tastes better.


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Crowds, Pedestrians, Cyclists, Oh My!

Don't get me wrong, you can never have too many visitors to a tourist town. But, by gum, you can have a damned sight too many for misanthropic old me. These folks on the dock were having a three way conversation in French and English to see about going fishing. Thats what's needed to keep everyone employed in a town with no other resources.
It was a lovely sunny day before this latest cold front came into town to give us gray skies and the usual drizzle. It wasn't hot but it was warm and the air was cool and refreshing. I have been on day shift for a while and my lunch breaks in the middle of the day have put me downtown among the madding crowds.
The traffic gets to me as it always does in winter. There are bound to be tons of tentative confused drivers nosing their way through the narrow streets. That they come to Key West in unsuitably large cars doesn't help, and would you believe how few people know how to parallel park, a vital skill in this cramped city.
Much better the visitors keep walking and look for big sleek tarpon haunting the harbor waters looking for crumbs in the shade of the docks. Or like the young woman below standing contemplatively like a widow on her walk waiting for her ship to come in.
No, it's not the pedestrians that clutter the streets, and though the cars do you have to expect that. The cyclists worry me a lot more, not least because I will be the bad guy if I mash an innocent on two wheels. The thing is I am generally sympathic to two wheelers, especially if they riding instead of driving, I have encouraged termed some cyclists already this winter whose habits are death inducing.
I had one crowd of half a dozen filling both lanes on Windsor near Virginia and wobbling as they went and when I tooted gently I got gestures from the idiot riding furthest across in the oncoming lane. It's not as though I was herding them I just wanted the oncoming lane to get past the clusterfuck. Then there are cyclists talking on the ubiquitous phone.
The wobblers, the inexperienced riders who think Key West is Disneyland and thus a good place to rekindle long dormant cycling skills. On public streets. I worry these cretins have offspring who will be foisted early on an unsuspecting world and that they will drive their foster parents mad if they are as dim as their biological patents currently themselves regressing to childhood on two wheels in Our Fair City.
Let's face it cellphones are a wonderful tool and I love mine as a resource, but who wants to be tethered to someone who is glued to their phone? I've heard tell of people who take Facebook to bed with them, and rather them than me.
I have noticed far fewer snowbirds on my suburban streets outside the city but Key West itself is packed. I am not a fan of sidewalk crowds, but I have to say its encouraging to see people enjoying the act of walking, with phone or not.
When I see these people cycling I wish they would take these new habits home with the but I suspect the spread out life on the mainland won't translate to cycling as it does here, briefly, on vacation.
Walking certainly doesn't, and frankly I see locals vying for the parking spots closest to the store when I am out in the modest shopping malls we have down here. The no walking disease is rampant everywhere in daily life. Even the bums in Key West, who walk incessantly put their feet up quite a lot of the time.
And on the subject this year's slow driving award in Key West goes to operators of cars with Tennessee tags. With no apologies to GarytheTourist I make this nomination because for some reason every time I get stuck behind some lost slow poke I see the green tag of the Volunteer State smiling back at me. They are probably just rental cars but still...
Then of course there are the sailors, in town for Race Week, identified by their North Sails backpacks, and the thousand yard stares of titans engaged in unholy toil that we mere mortals could never comprehend...
But if these crowds are the price we pay for a quiet summer and long hot days of empty streets, I say it's an excellent deal. Roll on Easter, when the caravans line up to leave town, and all those Tennessee tags will be gone.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Garbo's Grill

There is this weird little silver box planted in the ground on the six hundred block of Greene Street. It's called Garbo's Grill and it's Key West's nod to the food truck fad sweeping the nation and the Food Channel. I have been curious for a while but it's only open in the middle of the day and every time I've been by it's been closed.
Until now.
This place has a massive reputation and under the old ownership was listed number one on Trip Advisor's Key West restaurants page. Which in my opinion says more about the unreliability of Trip Advisor than anything about Garbo's Grill. Considering this is my first taste of the place what do I know, perhaps it deserved to outrank Key West's many other quality restaurants that offer actual sit down eating space. But who you know is as important I guess, as what you do when it comes to getting rated.
Happily all that ranking stuff is now off the shoulders of the little kitchen that could and the lines are interminable. The ice chest in front of the trailer contains the non alcoholic drinks. It's a bit like a fishing trip, reach down and grab a cold one.
The truck itself is tiny, like three small phone booths stuck together and with three busy people inside it seems a hell of a way to make a living. They seemed cheerful enough, blasting disco music while they sliced, diced and cooked.
They had a line of people to keep happy too, and a crowd of people who were too busy chewing to look happy.
The menu is simple enough, yet each item is filled with complex flavors which makes me want to go back and try more than just the Kobe beef short rib burrito I ordered. I spoke with the bearded cook and he said they can't do quesadillas in winter when they get backed up because they simply take too long. Other than that I heard people moaning as they bit into the burgers so I guess not having quesadillas isn't the end of the world.
I suppose a large part of the allure, beyond the food, is that it's not uncomfortable to be roughing it outdoors eating al fresco in January in Key West. For people coming from snowdrifts Up North that has to be worth a lot. That and fresh fish within sniffing distance of salt water.
So what does all this brouhaha taste like? Give them credit it was good. But consider this: I took the rib burrito back to work, stuck it in the fridge then later took it home, then I put it another fridge and took Cheyenne for a two hour walk, did some food shopping and went home. Then I zapped it in the microwave, and after all that mistreatment it was still very good. It had a lightness and freshness that took me by surprise. The meat was sweet like teriyaki but I figure it was as teriyaki was supposed to be, not sticky and sugary but a delicate sweet flavor. The Kobe beef was firm and full of flavor but not full of gristle or fat. I will go back for another go round for sure.
Key a West is doing quite well in the relatively cheap street food department, Badboy Burrito (and their Indian counterpart hopefully), Paseo sandwiches, Cuban food across town of course, the Uzbek sandwiches at Cafe Kennedy, the pizza at Onlywood and the galettes at Key Plaza Creperie.
And these guys were having fun too. I wish them all the best in a town where they have chosen a tough path to success.