Marathon often gets dissed as just a place to stop in for a bathroom break or to stretch your legs on the way to Key West or back up to the mainland. But there are several restaurants-slash-cafes in town that are worthy destinations of their own, offering both good eats and gorgeous water views. A few of my favorites are. . .
Keys Fisheries (3502 Gulfview Ave., Marathon, 305/743-4353). This squat little pillbox of building at the edge of Florida Bay houses a counter-service seafood restaurant, retail market and marina, and is a classic example of a vanishing breed of Keys dive. Its fleet of boats, however, supply much of the Florida lobster and stone crab served at tonier eateries on the mainland so you know the seafood is impeccably fresh. Sit at picnic tables a crab claw’s throw from the water and chow down on the signature lobster Reuben, a sandwich large enough to have its own area code and worth every calorie.
Leigh Ann’s Coffee House (301 Sadowski Causeway, Key Colony Beach, 305/743-2001). Looking for a place to stop in for a quick bite at breakfast or lunch? Or to fortify yourself for the road with some ice cream or a house-baked pastry and espresso? Then set your GPS for Leigh Ann Card’s modest, charming little cafe in Key Colony Beach. The buttery scones and light, flaky croissants are of big city quality, and the selection of high-end wines rivals that of many upscale urban wine shops. There’s even Tuesday night Italian dinners, each dish paired with a bottle of fine Italian vino.
Sparky’s Landing (589 Sadowski Causeway, Key Colony Beach, 305/289-7445). Despite the address, Sparky’s is located next door to Leigh Ann’s at the Key Colony Beach Marina. A true locals hangout, the restaurant features rough-hewn tables on the covered outdoor patio overlooking the water, plus a funky indoor dining room with—natch—a big bar. Sparky’s is known for its fish tacos and broiled oysters topped with Parmesan and garlic, but my advice is to split a nicely done Caesar salad and the signature shrimp and bacon pizza, washed down with a cold Key West ale.
Sweet Savannah’s (11287 Overseas Hwy., Marathon, 305/743-3131). If your sweet tooth is aching uncontrollably or you need a good sugar rush to keep awake for the long, slow roll along U.S. 1, help is as near as this plain-Jane bakery-cafe just north of Marathon Airport. All manner of pastries are baked fresh every day, and there’s a large selection of ice creams to be had in cones or sundaes or house-made cookie bowls. Savannah’s specialty is cupcakes; the Key Lime Cooler (vanilla cupcake with key lime curd and buttercream) is addictive. There’s also a cute tropical garden patio out back.