If Key West is indeed a city, as often advertised, bursting at the seams with world class restaurants, why are so many food-saavy folks I know here constanly scratching their heads and asking each other “where can we go to eat?”
Let’s try to imagine a venue that can supply its’ local gentry with thoughtfully prepared food, infused with a little imagination and then lastly, configured to fit a typical locals’ budget.
Let’s start with value. A chalkboard menu with just a few items, all no more than say, ten bucks.
Then, if we’re getting into anything ethnic or regional, let’s remember to be authentic.
For atmosphere, let’s suppose an under-the-radar storefront with just a few stools and a counter and maybe a bench out front. Hey, you can even make it a hole-in-the-wall take-out place whose decor depends mostly of what fresh fruits and vegetables were brought in this morning and what the customers are wearing that day.
And, this being Key West it needs to be healthy so we’ll add a separate chalk board with a mix-and-match approach to smoothies, fresh-squeezed juices and salads.
Located on Simonton Street just before United in a sliver of real estate so long and skinny it could be suited more for a car wash than a restaurant, tucked in between a dentist office and a motel, bad boy burrito just may the incarnation of our imagined eatery,
Here’s the chalkboard featuring today’s specials: Scallop Ceviche over mixed greens or a Taco Trio which consisted of any combination of a fish taco, a nopales (cactus paddles) and poblano taco, or a tongue (beef) taco, served with rice and beans and pico de gallo.
Also offered as a taco choice was a taco made with cuitlacoche, the earthy and somewhat smoky mexican fungus which grows naturally on ears of corn and is harvested and treated as a delicacy. Used to flavor quesadillas, tamales, soups and other specialty dishes, it is also referred to, in kind of a stretch, as the mexican truffle.
Here’s how my taco trio arrived: basmanti rice and beans and salsa at high noon on my plate, fish taco at 3 o’clock, nopales taco with poblano peppers, fresh crema and farmer’s cheese at 6 o’clock, and at 9 o’clock the beef tongue taco topped with cilantro, some perfectly sweet, pale-pink pickled onions and paper-thin sliced radishes. Excepting only the possible addition of a glass of horchata, no tacaria in Oaxaca or market stall in Guadalajara could have trumped this. All served up on a radioative-looking fiestaware plate with neon handled utensils. Not pictured: my delicious limeade.
The juice bar chalkboard offers salads, smoothies and fresh squeezed fruit and vegetable drinks. A footnote on their menu notes that jalepena peppers are one of natures most powerful, yet underrated antioxidants and will gladly be added to anything on their menu, including smoothies ( I tasted a mango-papaya smoothie with jalapena and it was indeed an eye-opener). Next to the chalkboard is a photo just brought in from Key West Light Gallery around the corner as kind of a housewarming gift.
Not pictured is the namesake burrito menu listing the day’s selection of burritos (“we roll phatties”). The chalkboard that day included, as I recall, pork, shrimp, kobe beef, a zuchinni/veggie medley, and a breakfast burrito.
fresh mangos and papayas lined up on windowsill,
local coconuts piled in the corner