Sunday morning, we woke up to warm weather and sunshine – perfect for a day at the beach. Key West has several public beaches; but everyone says the beach at Ft. Zachary Taylor State Park is the best. So we packed our towels and books and walked a pleasant few blocks from our B&B to the beach. The park offers several amenities, including umbrellas, beach chairs and rafts for rent, tours, and a concession stand. Perhaps another time, I’ll explore these offerings. But that day, I just wanted to get to the beach.
Several things about Ft. Zach’s beach surprised me. I had expected the beach to be crowded. It was relatively deserted, making for a peaceful atmosphere. I had also expected nothing but soft sand and warm water. While there is gorgeous white sand, the beach at Ft. Zach is also rocky. Since it was mid-February, the water was cooler than I’d expected. Fortunately, years of swimming in Lake Erie have made me used to swimming in cooler water and wading on rocks. And I absolutely could not resist how clear and sparkly the water looked. I splashed around, watched the seagulls and pelicans, and took lots of pictures before settling into that beloved beach pastime – reading & sunbathing.
Sometime in the afternoon, I began to get hungry. I checked out the selections at Ft. Zach’s concession stand, and decided against what were likely to be mediocre burgers & hot dogs. This turned out to be a good decision since it started to drizzle as we were leaving the beach, and because we stumbled onto the best fish sandwich I have ever eaten.
B.O.’s Fish Wagon, located at 801 Caroline Street, doesn’t look that great from the outside. It is constructed out of a random selection of planks, plywood, sheets of metal, and even old garage doors; and is decorated with fishing nets and license plates and graffiti left behind by past patrons. Honestly, the place looks like it could fall down at any second. Being the type of person who prefers holes-in-the-wall and little local joints to trendy restaurants and big, pristine chains, B.O.’s is my type of place. Upon arriving, you’re greeted by a sign that essentially says “if you’re in a hurry, prissy or whiny, this is not the place for you”. The girl taking orders sits on top of the cashier’s counter and answers questions about the menu. Behind her, you can see your food being prepared. Upon placing your order, you sit down at a picnic table or on a barstool or at an old cable spool and wait for your food to be delivered.
Jared & I both ordered the fried fish sandwich with fries. At the order-taker’s suggestion, we shared a “small” order of fries. This turned out to be more than enough for both of us. The fresh-cut fries were good, especially when seasoned with salt and malt vinegar, but nothing special. It was the sandwich that was the star of this meal. The snapper was battered and fried, and served on cuban bread with cheese, onion, lettuce, tomato and Key West Lime sauce. It was perfectly-fried and crispy without being greasy. One of my fried-food pet peeves is when there’s more batter than there is meat. This was not the case with B.O.’s sandwich. While it was coated in a generous amount of batter, there was even more fish, giving it the perfect fish-to-batter ratio. The sauce complimented the other toppings very well. Overall, the combination of soft bread, crispy fish, fresh lettuce and creamy-tangy sauce made for a perfect fish sandwich. I hear that their sandwiches are best when washed down with a beer. Not being a beer drinker, I had the Key Limeade which was also delightfully refreshing.
The one problem with B.O.’s is that its construction makes it a bit risky on a rainy day. We lucked into a table that was covered. Some of the others were not. This was fortunate because it rained harder as the afternoon went on, derailing my plan to return to the beach. Lazing around moved to our room at The Duval Inn, where we read, napped, and generally enjoyed being away from the snow and cold of Ohio and the stresses of work.
When we decided to go to Key West, one of the things I wanted to do the most was go to the Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square. Growing up on Lake Erie, I have seen more than my share of beautiful sunsets over the water. There is something magical about seeing all those reds, oranges and purples reflected onto the water. Being a night owl, I also like the sunset because it signifies the start of my favorite time of day. I knew that because of the clouds and rain, Sunday wouldn’t be a good sunset night. But we went to Mallory Square anyway. Sure enough, the sky stayed a steely blue that eventually faded to gray then to black. But that didn’t put a damper on anyone’s spirits. Several vendors, street performers, and tourists braved the drizzle to come out and bid the day goodbye.
Once the sun set, it was time for dinner. The Upper Crust was not my first choice of restaurant. Pizza places never are. But if Jared didn’t care about things like eating a balanced diet and gaining 50 pounds, he would eat pizza for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day of his life. We had passed The Upper Crust, located at 611 Duval Street, several times while walking around town. We decided to give them a try that night.
Upper Crust is a casual restaurant with hardwood floors, stainless steel tables and TVs showing the Olympics. We decided to split a pepperoni pizza with bacon on one half for him and jalapenos on the other half for me. This was another beer-only place, so we both got pop to go with our food. The Upper Crust is yet another place that you wouldn’t want to eat if you were in a hurry. I think that by this time, I’d decided that if you wanted food quickly in Key West, your best bet was Denny’s or Wendy’s. Being in no hurry, we settled in to watch the employees toss our pizza crust, top it and bake it.
Eventually, we were presented with large pizza. From looking at the pizza, it’s obvious that Upper Crust pays some attention to the quality and freshness of their ingredients. They use full strips of bacon instead of the crumbles that so many places use, and freshly-sliced jalapenos. The sauce had a strong tomato and garlic taste but wasn’t sweet at all. The crust was on the thin side, but airy and perfectly cooked. All-in-all, it was a good pizza. It wasn’t the best I ever had. But it certainly wasn’t the worst (that dubious honor goes to Gino’s soggy deep-dish in Chicago).
Post-pizza, we passed another relaxing Key West night exploring the nightlife, making random friends and enjoying life and one anothers’ company.