The Keys may have been created equal, but Key West is most equal of all. Especially when it comes to restaurants. The list of iconic restaurants—up, mid, down and no-scale—that call the Southernmost City home is almost as long as a hose. Coming immediately to mind are Louie’s Backyard, the Half Shell, Schooner Wharf, Blue Heaven, BO’s Fish Wagon, Antonia’s, Sarabeth’s, El Siboney, Cafe Marquesa, Michael’s, Square One ... let’s just say it’s a long list.
But despite the town’s small size, isolated location and the seeming presence of a restaurant in every other storefront, more eateries just keep opening. Awhile back I had the chance to spend a few days in Key West, sampling the fare at some of the town’s newer restaurants. Here are a few recommendations:
Azur (425 Grinnell St., 305/292-2987). When most restaurants claim to be Mediterranean, what they really mean is Italian. Michael Mosi and Drew Wenzel’s classy Old Town restaurant, however, isn’t kidding about drawing on the cuisines of various countries around the Mediterranean Sea, exemplified by such dishes as puffy salt cod and potato croquettes, gnocchi with asparagus and wild mushrooms and meltingly tender braised lamb with curried chickpeas. It’s open for breakfast, brunch and lunch too.
Better Than Sex (926 Simonton St., 305/296-8102). While the fare at this good-humored, dessert-centric spot may not really be better than. . . well, you know. . . they are quite delicious and will satisfy the most lustful sweet teeth. Done in an ornate, whimsical style that might be dubbed “neo-cathouse,” it makes a fun way to cap a night on the town. Might I suggest the achingly luscious Peanut Butter Perversion, creamy peanut butter pie on a chocolate cookie dough crust.
Blackfin Bistro (918 Duval St., 305/509-7408). A last-minute decision to drop in for lunch at this captivating little eatery with the nicest staff on either side of the Mississippi made me wish I could stick around for dinner. A couple of Bellinis and an excellent yellowfin tuna burger, actually a big slab of seared-raw tuna with spicy chili aioli, were enough to ensure I’d be back for the goat cheese croquettes with red onion confit, Kobe beef burger with smoked gouda fondue and hanger steak with port-shallot sauce.
Onlywood (613½ Duval St., 305/735-4412). If you like the pizzas at Scuola Vecchia in downtown Delray, then you’ll love the pies turned out at this tiny pizzeria tucked away on a quiet alley with perhaps the prettiest outdoor patio in the Keys. Not only does Onlywood adhere to the strict standards of authentic Neapolitan pizza making, but its pizzaiolo (and partner) Alessandro Piazzo worked at Scuola Vecchia before moving to Key West. A variety of pastas and antipasti are also offered, though it’s tough to pass up any of those thin-crusted, oh-so-Italian pizzas.
2 Cents (416 Applerouth Lane, 305/414-8626). If there’s a contender with Onlywood for prettiest outdoor dining space in the Keys, it’s Chris Otten and Chris Schultz’s wittily designed restaurant next to a Leather Master shop. (It is, after all, Key West.) A truly enormous banyan tree, its tendrils dripping down from seemingly above the clouds, shelters a spacious wood-plank deck, where you can knock back Key West pink shrimp with Caribbean succotash for dinner or addictive churro donuts with cafe con leche whipped cream at Sunday brunch.